The primary Andalusian musical genre, and the closest Spain comes to having a “national” music, is FLAMENCO. Flamenco developed from the multilingual, multicultural mix of Arabs, Jews, Christians and Gitanos (“Gypsies”) present in Andalusia in the centuries after the 1492 Spanish “reconquest” of the Iberian Peninsula. Though the genre may have risen from the Andalusian streets by the 18th century it was well within the realm of professionals, with flamenco guitarists and dancers expected to pursue a rigorous course of study to develop their craft. Even so, flamenco music still moves performers and listeners most when it oozes emotion.
Flamenco is not truly flamenco unless there are three elements present–cante (voice), baile
(dance) and toque (playing guitar). Some would even add a fourth: jaleo (hand-clapping and hoots of encouragement from the audience).
Cante, flamenco singing, is a riveting art form in which a vocalist must reach deep down into his or her soul to channel pure power, pure anguish, pure love. The best
flamenco singers emote all the pain and joy of life’s many hard-fought struggles…and do it in rhythm, on pitch and within the right key.
While there are many flamenco singers who are a joy to watch, a disproportionate
number of the all time legendary flamenco cantores are Gitano/Gypsy/Roma–imninalu.net’s flamenco page lists several of them, as well as Roma flamenco dancers and guitarists. An obvious choice to top the list is Camerón de la Isla, a legendary cantaor who, from the start of his recording career in 1969 until his passing in 1992, recorded in almost all the palos, performed on nearly twenty records, sung at too many concerts to count and revolutionized the genre by introducing electric instruments into his band while still remaining true to flamenco’s highly-respected roots. Watch a young Camerón de la Isla perform “Bulerias” in 1976 with a young Paco de Lucia on guitar. Watch him perform “Algerias” in 1988 with guitar accompanist Tomatito. Watch him sing with his mom.
Despite his success Camerón de la Isla lived an arduous life in which he faced many demons. When he sang it was of his own hardship; he emoted from his own experience. On the other hand, upcoming flamenco vocal star Pilar Bogado hasn’t yet confronted monumental heartache, and ideally she never will…after all, made her debut singing flamenco on television recently as 2010. When she was not yet 12. But somehow Pilar Bogado has whatever a flamenco singer needs inside her to channel profound and powerful emotion. Maybe she had a rough go of it in a previous life. Watch Pilar Bogado sing “My Three Daggers.” Wow.
Flamenco dance is a high, dramatic art. Expressive and intense, powerful yet exuding grace, flamenco dance techniques take years of practice to master. Still, even when one has developed technical skill, if a dancer lacks the inner passion that flamenco requires, she may as well be doing this.
Tradtionally there have been two general schools of flamenco dancing: “flamenco puro,” which is flamenco dance that’s closest to the form’s gitano/Romani origins–watch Katia Vallvé dance flamenco puro in Barcelona—-and “classical flamenco,” which features less hip movements, a more formal upright posture, more strictly arched arms. (See Celina Zambon dance classical flamenco.) More recently a third style has emerged–“flamenco nuevo,” which invites moves from other styles of dance into flamenco, such as salsa, rumba and tango. Watch “Tango Gitano” for a taste of flamenco nuevo dance. Watch Omar Liebert, one of the guitar pioneers of nuevo flamenco, play “Snakecharmer.”
Think you’re too old to become a flamenco dancer? Never! According to the Wikipedia entry on flamenco dancing, “In traditional flamenco, young people are not considered to have the emotional maturity to adequately convey the ‘duende’ (soul) of the genre. Therefore unlike other dance forms, where dancers turn professional early to take advantage of youth and strength, many flamenco dancers do not hit their peak until their thirties and will continue to perform into their fifties and beyond.”
“Palmas” refer to the rhythmic hand claps that flamenco dancers use to accent their own performances and that backing musicians and audience members contribute to add
to the excitement of the song. As with everything in flamenco, there are a number of different types of palmas, which the knowledgeable dancers, musicians and even audience members use in specific to accent specific rhythms.
“Palmas fuertes” (also called palmas claras, or “clear”) are used during types of loud footwork or loud musical performing. To do a palma fuerte, hold the first three fingers of the dominant hand firmly together and clap them crisply into the open palm of the others. The fingers should strike the receiving palm more or less in line with the fingers on the other hand, hitting the bowl of the palm and making a crisp sound. See how it’s done.
“Palmas sordas” (also called palmas bajos, or “low”) are more for times when a guitar is playing or when the vocalist is singing to provide encouragement but to not overshadow the performance. To do a palma sorda, cup your hands and clap the dominant one into the other so the fingers on the dominant hand fit between the thumb and index finger of the receiving hand. Ideally the sound will be muffled but distinct enough to be heard.
While the “zapateado” can be used to refer to a specific dance flamenco dancers (mainly the male dancers) do to imitate Spanish cowboys (Cruz Luna demonstrates “Zapateado de Cadiz,” chaps and all [the dancing starts at 1:00]), the term can also refer to flamenco
foot-stomping, which a dancer uses to demonstrate his or her skill and accentuate the rhythms. There are three very basic moves in flamenco footwork:
— the tacon, in which the dancer stomps with his or her heel: Learn how to do basic tacon (heel) steps
— the planta, in which the dancer stomps with the ball of his or her feet: Learn how to do basic plantas
— the golpe, in which the dancer stomps with his or her whole foot: Learn how to do golpes
Combine a couple tacones, a planta or two and a string of golpes and you have quite an impressive foot-stomping dance.
You too can learn how to play flamenco guitar! Sure, first you have to learn to play guitar in general, and then you have to learn to play guitar well enough that your fingers can do the intricate things flamenco requires of them, and then you have to not only have an instinctive sense of rhythm but be able to put everything together with enough technical proficiency that you can let all the thinking about technique go and you can just feel the flow of the music…but, once you’ve mastered all that, rest assured…you too can learn how to play flamenco guitar!
Learn how to play flamenco guitar in 10 easy steps. Step 10? “Buy an Online Course”u (of course!) | Expert Village’s Mario Amava will introduce you to the basics of the flamenco guitar and how to play it | The act of hitting your guitar with your fingers to accent the rhythm is called “golpe” | Learn how to strum flamenco guitar (called “rasgueado“) | Put your golpes and your strumming to good use: learn the rumba technique | Flamenco guitar master Paco de Lucia doesn’t need the online course or Expert Village
When you see a flamenco performance you will no doubt be moved so deeply that you’ll have no choice but to shout your encouragement to the performers. They won’t shush you! To the contrary…yells of audience encouragement, known as “jaleos,” are an essential element of flamenco. So what should you should? According to FlamencoTulsa.com, here are some of the essential jaleos you must learn to enhance a flamenco performance:
“Agua” — Water! It’s so hot I need water!
“Asi se baila” — That’s dancing!
“Asi se toca” — That’s playing!
“Asi se canta” — That’s singing!
“Eso es” — That’s it!
“Olé!” Or “Alé!”
“Toma” — Take it!
“Toma que toma” — Take it! Take it!
“Vamos” – Let’s go!
“Vamos alla” — Go there!
“Vamo’ ya!” — Let’s go!
Stepping back from the physical acts of performing flamenco, a true flamenco musician must have an instinctual understanding of the “palos.” Flamenco palos are the traditional forms that provide the overarching theoretical and emotional context for the music itself. Each distinct palo has its own characteristics–a particular rhythmic pattern–flamenco rhythms are called compas,
the scales or modes that the musicians use, the specific kind of rhyming pattern used for the lyrics–within which musicians will usually be able to perform a certain number of traditional songs. There are over fifty different flamenco “palos,” though not all are widely used. Let’s take a look at some of the more familiar, and more interesting ones:
— A PALO SECO:
“Cantes a palo seco” (a capella) are believed to be of ancient Gypsy/Romani origin and are therefore the oldest of all flamenco songs, song traditionally by peasants while working or reserved for religious procession. Want to get tricky and play your guitar to accompany a palo seco? Flamenco purists will shun you. As well they should. See an example of a palo seco known as a martinete, performed by Rasgos Flamenco.
Songs that fit within the soleá palo use the soleá rhythm, a 12 beat pattern with emphasis on beats 3, 6, 8, 10 and 12. Try clapping that out, counting from 1-12, only clapping on the numbers that are bold:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12.
Watch Tempestad perform a soleá. (try clapping along.) Watch Manuela Carrasco perform a soleá. (try clapping along.) Watch Paco de Lucia perform a soleá. (DON’T try clapping along. Nah, just kidding. Try clapping along.)
The “soleá por bulerias” is a subset of this palo that is somewhat of an exception to the 12 beat rhythmic rule, as it sometimes breaks down into sections of six beats or three beats. Wikipedia’s bulerias page presents several clear options for how to count out your bulerias. Get a sense of it, then watch this video and try to count along. Just to confuse matters more, bulerias counting usually starts on beat number 12 of the cycle. Watch Julia Chacon dance to a por bulerias song.
The seguiriya palos follow a 12 beat rhythmic cycle with emphasis on different beats than the soleá, at least depending on where in the cycle you start counting. Try clapping this one, putting the emphasis on beats 1, 3, 5, 8 and 11:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
This seguiriyas compas instruction may help. If it doesn’t confuse you more.
This is a palo in which songs are grouped primarily due to their being used to support fandango dances. If you’re curious, fandangos usually have a time signature of 3/4 or 6/8. Marvel at Pilar Bogado singing fandangos.
Within this palo are songs that are related to dances considered to be tangos. Many flamenco forms with a 4/4 beat fit into this palo. Watch Carolina Scalas and Corrado Ponchirolich perform tangos.
— DE IDA Y VUELTA
Songs within this palo are said to have been exported to Spanish colonies in the New World such as Cuba or Colombia, picked up local indigenous and/or African influences, and then returned with immigrants to Andalucia. (“De ida y vuelta” means “departure and
In class we’re going to sing a melody written in the “Por Colombiana” palo and learn palmas, toque techniques and jaleo foot stomps that accompany it. Watch Pilar Bogado
singing “Por Colombiana.” (then watch again. then watch again.) Learn the Colombianas
rhythm by seeing it played on guitar.