Archives for January 2016

Cantes de Ida y Vuelta

Sometimes people ask me to explain the meaning of  Cantes de Ida y Vuelta. We can perhaps translate this rather literally as Songs of Going and Returning.

I have a YouTube video of the Guajira which is a very typical example of one of these flamenco forms or palos flamencos as as we say in Spanish.

There is a theory which I will explain here but I do have certain reservations: I am not entirely sure that it is 100% accurate.

The generally accepted idea is that Spanish people moved to the South American continent many years ago and introduced the Spanish language, culture and music to the peoples of South America.

The indigenous people would have assimilated these Spanish imports and mixing them with their own language, culture and music thus created a kind of mixed or ‘mestizo’ culture of Spanish and indigenous Indian.

It is believed that in the early part of the 20th Century Spanish musicians visited South American countries to perform flamenco. These flamenco artistes heard and were inspired by the South American music styles and in turn incorporated these into flamenco music thus creating  a group of flamenco forms or ‘palos flamenco’ with distinct South American flavour yet modified to create once again a mixed or ‘mestizo’ musical expression.

This theory may well be quite accurate but I am tempted to consider a few ideas.

It is interesting that in Argentina Spanish people are called Gallegos which means native of Galicia or to use their language Galiza or Galica and Galego.

The people of Galicia have emigrated extensively throughout the world and especially to the Americas. So great were their numbers in their first excursions that the people of Argentina knew them as Gallegos rather than españoles.

The national instrument of Galicia is the bagpipes and they consider themselves to be ‘celtas’ or Celtic or Gaelic.

Their music is very different to flamenco from Andalucía in the South of Spain.

That is not to say that there are no similarities with flamenco music, indeed it is accepted that the flamenco form or ‘palo flamenco’ Farruca originated in Galicia and the Garrotín from neighbouring Asturias.

When I was a boy and beginning to play flamenco guitar we used to frequently enjoy the visit of  a Galician family to our home for lunch. Whenever I played the Farruca it struck a chord and the mother used to sing along with her own Galician folk song. She was clearly hearing Galician routes in my flamenco Farruca.

Many years later I played in Scotland with the master Galician bagpipe player Carlos Nuñez. We played his composition called Fandango de Vela so to him that was a fandango but I played something in the style of Alegrías from Cádiz and the two worked very well together.

The Alegrías of course was almost certainly an Andalusian development of the Spanish folk dance ‘Jota’ which is not specific to Andalucía and indeed is heard a great deal throughout Northern Spain.

So we begin to get a picture of different music from different people interacting and developing or indeed metamorphosing into a new expression.

This does not mean to say that all Galician music is close to flamenco; that certainly is not the case.

Turning now more specifically to the Cantes de Ida y Vuelta for us in Spain we would list our South American influenced flamenco as:





The Guajira is especially associated with Cuba but it is important to point out that the Cubans do have their own Guajira which is not identical to ours. The mood and timing is slightly different.

What I do not know for certain is whether  the Guajira is the result of the Spanish culture into Cuba and the Americas or whether on the contrary that musical style already existed among the Cuban people irrespective of Spanish influences.

The Colombiana sounds like it should be from Colombia but I have also heard some people dispute this and say that it may have originated in other parts of the Americas but as a Colombian style.

The Milonga is sure to be associated especially with Argentina and Uruguay and in the flamenco version it is typically slower and more sorrowful than the other South American styles.

Rumba is interesting in that there are so many variants. In its origin it was Afro Cuban but it also entered Argentina and later Spain. In flamenco there is a very clear authentic expression of Rumba which we call Rumba Flamenca and indeed is very flamenco in character.

However the Rumba has developed  as a somewhat pop style in Catalonia where it is known as Rumba Catalana. The famous French group the Gipsy Kings base most of their repertoire on a kind of Rumba rhythm and structure which may not be identical to the Rumba Catalana but certainly is quite similar.

So I do certainly think that Spain has contributed to South America but I am careful not to give all the credit to Spain and am very respectful of the original South American musical styles that have contributed a whole section to the flamenco repertoire.


The difference between Classical and Flamenco Guitars

What is the difference between classical and flamenco guitars?

This was a simple enough question to answer before about 1970 because classical and flamenco guitars were very different as indeed was the music and the players of the two styles.

The classical guitar was the larger of the two. The back and sides were made from either Indian or Brazilian Rosewood and the face from either Spruce or Cedar.

This large bodied guitar gave a deep, rich, sonorous sound. It could perhaps be described as a thick, rounded sound. Although these guitars did have volume they also projected very well so that a classical guitarist playing in  a concert hall with very good acoustics such as the Wigmore Hall or the Queen Elizabeth Hall could be heard right at the back without any microphone or amplification system.

These guitars were made for playing beautiful, sensitive classical guitar music.

The flamenco guitar was entirely different. It was made from Cypress for the back and sides and usually Spruce for the face or rarely Cedar.

This smaller bodied instrument gave a strong, percussive, forceful sound which was much more incisive than the classical instrument.

Although there may well have been flamenco guitar soloists right from the beginning of flamenco music and certainly there were notable flamenco soloists in the 1930’s and 1940’s these virtuoso players began to flourish from about mid 1960’s and especially early 1970’s or at least that is when they started to be frequently seen and heard in the concert halls throughout the world.

Flamenco guitarists in the early days of this art form tended to accompany flamenco dance and singing more often than playing solo. The flamenco guitar was made specifically to produce a strong sound with a lot of presence that was necessary so as to be heard through the percussive flamenco footwork. It was important that the note should not sustain too much; it should arrive quickly but also stop quite quickly without a long drawn out, fade out of sound. The strings had to be heard separately otherwise the notes would all mix together when playing flamenco techniques such as rasgueo (also called rajeo or rasgueado) and the resultant sound would be mushy which of course was precisely the opposite to what was needed.

The way of thinking began to change in the 1960’s. Certain ideas started to become more acceptable than they may have been prior to that time.

The flamenco guitarist wanted to be heard as a soloist and the classical guitarist became increasingly open minded and wanted to play music that was not strictly from the classical repertoire or to consider playing the existing repertoire perhaps with  a new fresh approach.

By this I mean when playing a piece by a South American composer such as Antonio Lauro or Augustín Barrios Mangoré the classical performer took an interest in the indigenous musical traditions of the South American countries that may have inspired such composers.

The classical guitarist  may have selected a guitar that was perhaps a little brighter or with a more immediate response.

Flamenco guitarists has always been moved by the intense message contained in flamenco singing and wanted to convey that same intensity in their playing.

Traditional Cypress flamenco guitars would certainly do this but there began a period of experimentation in which luthiers made flamenco guitars from typically classical woods such as Rosewood for back and sides while keeping the dimensions or build details of the instrument or what we say in Spanish ‘plantilla’ either identical to the Cypress guitar or with some small but important subtle changes.

The result was a flamenco guitar which while maintaining flamenco characteristics would also be able to produce some sounds which were more similar to the richness of the classical instrument, although we should be precise here. The guitarists were not seeking a change from a flamenco to classical sound, rather  a flamenco guitar with  added tonal characteristics.

It was hoped that these new flamenco guitars would help the player to better express the more soulful moods of flamenco.

Flamenco guitarists started to refer the lighter coloured Cypress guitar as ‘rubia’ or blonde and the  darker Rosewood guitar as ‘negra’ or black. Given that flamenco performers were especially drawn to the darker emotional sounds the word ‘negra’ was seen as a very positive, complimentary term. More recently the word ‘blanca’ or white is used instead of ‘rubia’ and that may be because luthiers nowadays tend to finish the guitars in a lighter coloured polish which allows the light colour of the Cypress wood to show through in contrast to flamenco instruments some years ago which were somewhat more honey coloured or even had something of an orange hue which may have been achieved by adding saffron to the polish.

I have heard it said that in the beginning of guitar making in Spain the first known luthier Antonio de Torres said that he did not make  a specifically classical or flamenco guitar, rather he made the guitar and it was up to the guitarist to play it in a classical or flamenco style.

Nowadays luthiers are offering a range of characteristics that make it possible for the guitarists to have a greater choice to suit their individual preferences.