Flamenco origin and development

January 13, 2023

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Flamenco origin and development

In this article I will discuss Flamenco origin and development.

I will look at the earliest primitive flamenco song forms and the expansion of the flamenco repertoire.
Given that the song is probably the earliest flamenco expression I will also comment on the inclusion of dance and guitar.

My approach to discussing Flamenco origin and development

My approach is rather personal.

While I respect research and opinions by flamencologists and other writers, I do nonetheless want to offer some of my own ideas.

Although I am modest, I do feel that I want to be honest about what I think on this subject.
This means that I will not always share conventional wisdom.

Surely, simple repetition of ideas cannot make for very interesting reading.
In view of this I will offer my own ideas.

Flamenco proof and documentation

Proof and documentation.

What exactly constitutes proof and documentation?

To my mind the fact that a given writer managed to get a book published does not under any circumstances mean that said publication should be treated as gospel truth.

Hard evidence is difficult to find.
Unlike the ideas of mathematics and the sciences which were recorded at their development, flamenco was somewhat ignored by the academics who might have been able to collect data showing flamenco in its development.

This is quite different to the world we live in now.

People do not wait for approval from some publishing house or media outlet.
On the contrary they use the Internet platforms available to show their work.
Massive data exists worldwide that shows people’s work.

Cante Jondo

Cante Jondo predates flamenco, maybe.

The conventional wisdom is that in the beginning there was Cante Jondo. Thereafter, flamenco developed from cante jondo.

I am not sure if it is that simple, but I will come back to that a little later.

Cante Jondo in English means Deep Song. The term refers to depth of emotion and not to voice pitch.

In its earliest expression Cante Jondo could hardly be called singing.
It was a desperate wailing lament without any instrumental accompaniment. The lament was dry and raw in a sense beautiful and ugly at the same time.

We could say that they were intentionally monotonous and almost tedious.
No intention to entertain here. They were not for a performance situation. On the contrary, such wailing was private and personal.

Some examples of cante jondo at the origin of flamenco

Such unaccompanied laments were called Tonás, Martinetes, Deblas, Carceleras, Trilleras, Playeras or Plañideras and Saetas.
Just to give a little more information on each of these types of Cante Jondo.

Tonás: Perhaps the earliest, these were the vocal expression of simple tones. Using the voice to express tones of pain.

Martinetes: Some experts believe that the word martinete is derived from martillo which is hammer. The idea being that blacksmiths would lament to the rhythm of their hammer blows.

Deblas: Possibly of Sephardic Jewish origin and possibly with some religious undertone.

Carceleras: Carcel is a jail and Carceleras are the laments developed in jail.

Trilleras: Associated with rural farming areas. Expressed while working.

Playeras or Plañideras: The Plañidera is a professional or otherwise mourner at funerals. Their purpose was the give vocal expression to the lament of the surviving loved ones.

Saetas: The Saeta is sung during the Holy Week procession at Easter. While being a religious chant people tend to consider that it is part of cante jondo.

So, we can say that at this stage the vocal expression is very raw and primitive.

But what next?

The Spanish Guitar in Flamenco

The moment when the Spanish guitar joins cante jondo is crucial. I think that it is the most defining moment.

For at this stage the guitarist helps the singer to develop a melody, a sequence of chords and to be able to experiment with a wider range of rhythmical structures.

This is where I think flamenco itself really kicks off.

You take something like the Tonás and /or Martinete. You ask the guitarist to find some chords and the Seguiriya is born.

The Seguiriya is very similar to the early cante jondo, indeed it is classified as such.
But I find it to be more beautiful while still being very plaintive.

Other flamenco songs accompanied by guitar and classified as jondo include: Soleares, Solea por Medio, Caña, Polo, Serranas.

There is a type of flamenco that is particular to the Eastern region of Andalusia. Mining is very typical in this region and thus there are a number of mining laments. These are called Tarantas, Minera, Cartagenera, Fandango Minero and Levantica.

In each of these cases the guitar is certainly focussed on accompanying the song. Yet it is also creative. The music of the guitar helps to develop flamenco.

The origin and development of less tragic flamenco

How did flamenco become less tragic?

Flamenco academics tend to present a tree of flamenco.
That is to say that they show an artistic impression of a tree.

The roots would be the cante jondo.

A less tragic style of singing called cante intermedio is shown as the tree trunk.

Finally the branches represent happy cante chico as well as non Andalusian influences.

To me this suggests a linear development over time.
Furthermore, it kind of presents the idea of a development from tragic to happy.

I have a different way of thinking about the development of flamenco.

Spain is a country with an extensive musical panorama. Andalusia has always had music. Certainly, well before flamenco.

So I think of Andalusia as a garden with many varieties of plants and flowers.

Some of these may not be flamenco in their origin.
However, it seems that performers have developed the into flamenco.
One could say that over time a song becomes more flamenco in its expression.

This can be illustrated with the case of Fandangos, for example.

There are many varieties of Fandango.

Furthermore, each flamenco performer has their own personal way of interpreting flamenco.
Thus, they have their own way of singing Fandangos.

It is possible that Fandangos was not flamenco in its earliest expression.
Perhaps it was a local popular song, especially in Huelva.

We can say that it is the flamenco people who give the flamenco flavour to the Fandangos.
The same may be true of other styles.

Cante Chico or light flamenco

There are a great many flamenco styles which are joyous and celebratory.
That said sometimes flamenco singers express just a touch of melancholy in these lighter flamenco styles.

Here is a list of the most typical light flamenco styles:

Typical in Cádiz


Tanguillos (Although typical in Cádiz not from the same family as the previous)

With South American origin or feel


From all of Andalusia


Of folkloric origin

Garrotín (perhaps originally a song from Asturias)
Caracoles (very similar to Cantiñas but developed in Madrid)

Make an enquiry

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I provide and can adapt the following flamenco guitar services to make your event extra special:

Solo flamenco guitar
Flamenco guitar with flamenco dancer(s)
Duets of guitar and castanets
Flamenco guitar with Spanish singer
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