What is flamenco? A brief introduction

So, what is flamenco? That’s a big question. Let me give you a brief-ish answer. Flamenco is folk music from Spain. It developed in Andalusia over centuries, and took its current form in the 18th century. Its origins are still murky, as there isn’t much documentation about the early forms this music took.

The Spanish Gypsy people were key to flamenco development, but it is now believed that they weren’t its sole creators (that it was an art form that grew out of the mix of cultures living in Andalusia over a number of centuries). Initially it was performed in the intimacy of Andalusian homes amongst family members and friends, and it was in the 18th century that flamenco made its appearance in public spaces like cafés.

Nowadays, if you want to see live flamenco you could go to a “tablao”, which is a venue that specialises in flamenco performances, or you could choose to go to a flamenco concert or show in a bigger venue, such as a concert hall. In between these two options, there are also smaller venues that will from time to time host flamenco performances (such as bars or nightclubs). If you’re in Madrid, check my flamenco calendar to see what performances are coming up!

In a flamenco performance, there is usually singing, guitar, clapping and dancing, while other secondary instruments include percussion (flamenco cajón), piano or violin.

Flamenco is divided into many different musical forms called “palos”. Each palo has a distinct set of musical features in terms of rhythm, mode and lyrics. During a flamenco performance, you may hear a flamenco singer say, for instance, “alegría”, “bulería” or “soleá”, in order to inform the audience what palo is going to be performed next. Here’s an illustrative and easy-to-follow flamenco palo tree:

what is flamenco

 

Just kidding. It ain’t easy.

Like any concert, a flamenco performance is made up of a sequence of songs. Each song will use a different palo. And each palo sets the tone, rhythm and mood of the music and dancing. Some songs/palos will be somber, others jolly, some will be fast, others slow.

Enough theory for now. So what does flamenco actually look and sound like?

Well, it looks like this:

And like this:

And it sounds like this:

And like this:

 

Yolanda Martín Mendieta

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