Since the very earliest days of documented Spanish music-making, music on the Iberian peninsula has fused different rhythms, melodies, customs and cultures. The Ancient Greeks, the Romans, Christians and Moorish Muslims, roaming Romani and all sorts of refugee Jews…there were always people with varied interests and musical abilities passing through Spain, and they always had a story to tell. The earliest known Spanish music developed in the Catholic Church, most notably with “mozarabic chants,” a form of Latin plainsong that developed separately from medieval Gregorian chants and over time felt the melodic influence of Arab and Islamic Moorish culture. As Christians took back land from Muslims century by century the traditional Roman rite replaced mozarabic music and in the 11th century the Pope banned this kind of chanting altogether. During the Renaissance (14th to 17th centuries) and Baroque periods (from about 1600 to 1750) Spanish composers often spent a substantial portion of their careers traveling and even living abroad, particularly in Rome, sharing influences and ideas with musicians far and wide. In the 18th century a uniquely Spanish form of classical light opera formed called zarzuela. We’ll learn a bit about it in our section on Castile below.

Nineteenth century Spanish guitar-maker Antonio de Torres receives due credit with perfecting the design of the modern “classical” guitar. Twentieth century Spanish guitar-master Andres Segovia receives due credit for perfecting the playing of it.


The music of Spain varies from region to region, from community to community, probably even from neighborhood to neighborhood. Even five hundred years after Queen Isabella’s completed the “reconquering” of Spain in 1492 the nation continues to be composed of 17 autonomous administrative regions (and two autonomous cities), each with its own cultural and even linguistic identity. Inspired by National Geographic’s introduction to the music of Spain, and with the help of this map of Spanish provinces, let’s take ourselves on a tour.

For example, the music of GALICA, ruled by Celts for centuries, still retains a Celtic character. Music from THE BASQUE COUNTRY has a distinct sound in part due to the unique instruments used in creating it. CATALONIA, in the far northeast, encompasses the dynamic city of Barcelona and is home to the “Catalan rumba,” a genre that developed in the 1950s in Barcelona’s Romani communities. The primary ANDALUSIAN musical genre, and the closest Spain comes to having a “national” music, is FLAMENCO.

When the reign of long-serving Spanish dictator Francisco Franco ended with his death in 1975 a Madrid-based countercultural movement called “La Movida” rose to rebuild both the Spanish economy and its national identity, not to mention to resurrect creativity in Spanish music, film and visual art. Contemporary Spanish rock, pop, hip hop, ska, reggae, punk…they all have their roots in La Movida. [Watch early La Movida band Nacha Pop perform “Lucha de gigantes.” Watch Radio Futura, a prominent band from the early ’80s “La Movida area,” pin a video for “Venemo en la Piel.”]

Modern Spanish music may borrow structures and take musical ideas from American and British genres, but Spanish musicians approach them with instinctive inventiveness; many are eager to experiment yet comfortable enough with established Spanish folk music to not feel “old” when weaving it in. For example, Ojos de Brujo, whose “Sultanas de Merkaillo” we’ll hear in class, confidently create modern songs with flamenco heart and soul. Bands like La Rana Mariana create songs that are both catalan rumba songs and contemporary rock/pop. [See La Rana Marian’s video, with la Canija de D’Callaos, for “Palabras.” See a Spanish crowd in San Fermin Pamplona adore them.]

Comments are closed.