The cante flamenco (flamenco song) is one of the three main components within the expression of
flamenco, along with "toque" (playing the flamenco guitar) and "baile" (dance). Foreigners generally mistake the flamenco dance as being the essence of flamenco, however it is the "cante" which actuates the soul of this complex musical and cultural tradition. Originally flamenco was composed purely of cante with the accompaniment of "palmas" (hand clapping) and knuckle-rapping percussion, and it was not until the 19th century that the toque had been gradually added to the cante.
The cante flamenco is part of the musical tradition in the
Andalusianregion of Spain, and traces its roots back to east Indian, Arabic and European Gypsy music. The stongest influences that are widely viewed as being most evident within the evolution of the cante flamenco include: the Punjabi singing of northern India, the Persian Zyriabsong form, the Classical Andalusian Orchestras of the Islamic Empire, the JewishSynagogue Chants, Mozarabicforms such as Zarchyas and Zambra, Arabiczayal (the foundation for the Fandango), Andalusian regional folk forms, as well as West Africaninfluences as seen in the cantes de ida y vuelta(songs that were brought back from Latin America) which include the Rumbas, Garotinand Colombianas.
Flamenco was born towards the end of the 800-year Arab rule in Spain and during the
Spanish inquisition, serving as a voice of protest and hope for the populations that were being subjugated at the time, including Christians, Arabs, Jews and the Gypsies. Flamenco thrived as a cultural and emotional expression, traditionally harnessing the deep sadness and suffering of a people who had been repressed for centuries. Many of the earliest flamenco songs are said to have been dark and profound in nature, concentrating on events such as bloody encounters, violent death, love and love betrayed, displacement, incarceration, sickness and loss. The cantaores(singers) would voice these experiences through cante, concentrating on communicating and evoking the same experiences and emotions within the listener.
Flamenco developed into its definitive form during its
Golden Age(1869-1910) with heavy development occurring in the abundant flamenco cafes (cafe cantantes) of the epoch. Beginning in 1910, cante flamenco was popularized by the opera flamenca which included the lighter forms of flamenco such as fandangos and cantes de ida y vuelta, including the rumba and garotin. Flamenco shows blossomed, and its influences began spreading around the world beginning in 1915. In order to maintain the lesser known and "authentic" cante jondo (deep song), acclaimed Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorcaand intellectual Manuel de Fallatogether organized the First Competition of Cante Jondoin Granada, in 1922. Their high hopes of reviving the cante jondo was met with an unprecedented success, with singers from all over Andalusia traveling to join in on the competition. The first two prizes of this momentous new ceremony went to El Tenazasand El Caracol.
Types of Cante
There are many variants of cantes or "
palos" (song forms), each expressing a unique emotion (which shares noticeable resemblance to the raga musicof Northeastern India- one of flameco's distant relatives). The flamenco songs of today may be classified into one of three categories: cante grande, cante intermedio or cante chico.
Cante Grande (also known as
Meaning "profound" and "deep," this intensely sad form of cante deals with themes of death, anguish, despair, or religious sentiments and is sung "a palo seco" (without guitar accompaniment. Major forms of cante grande include forms such as the "
tona", " martiniete", " siguiriya", " solea", and " carcelera". It is said that cante jondo (deep song) is the heart and soul of flamenco, which survives and is fed by the deepest needs of the heart. The following quote by Angel Alvarez Caballero describes the emotional depths reached by true singers of the cante jondo:
Sample Siguiria describing anguish in
Calo, Spanish and English:
Meaning "intermediate," this form is less profound but also moving, sometimes containing an oriental cast to the music. The term (between "cante chico" and "cante grande" that is) varies according who is singing and describing the "cante intermedio".
Literally meaning "little song," this form of cante sings of lighter subjects including love, bawdy humor and happiness to the accompaniment of the flamenco guitar. Festive forms of cante chico include forms such as the "
alegrias", " bulerias" and " tangos".
Varying forms of cante flamenco
There are two leading pure forms of cante flamenco, including: "
cante flamenco gitano" and " cante flamenco andaluz".
Cante Flamenco Gitano
Cante gitano (or the "Gypsy song") consists entirely of the original songs developed by Gypsies who immigrated in the 15th century, and which continuously developed isolated from outside influences. These type of cantes include the "tona", "solea", "siguiriya", "tango" and "buleria".
Cante Flamenco Andaluz
Cante andaluz began to spread during the middle of the 19th century, and is a combination of other forms of folkloric music from Andalusia which demonstrate a definite influence of Gypsy flamenco music. Cante andaluz genres include the many variations of the "fandango" and "cantinas".
Cantes Folkloricos Aflamencados
The styles of cantes folkloricos aflamencados are forms of cante that are not considered to be true forms of flamenco by the purists. Examples of these styles include the "
sevillanas", " Farruca", " Garotin", and the " Cuban Rumba". These music forms are the folk song and dances from Andalusia, other Spanish provinces including Galicia and Asturias, as well as South America which have been slightly influenced by traditional flamenco forms.
Famous Singers of Cante
By the dawn of professional flamenco in 1842, numerous cante performers had already gained fame for their unique styles of cante repertoire. One of the oldest records of flamenco performances indicate two master cante performers: El Planeta and his disciple, El Fillo. Their influence within the universe of flamenco cante are immortal, and are passed on through the flamenco generations.
Antonio Fernandez a/k/a El Planeta
Although concrete information about El Planeta is scarce, it is thought that he was born around 1770 in the Andalusian town of
Cadiz. It is widely acknowledged that El Planeta is the first within a long line of famous performers of the cante flamenco. Originally working as a Gypsy blacksmith, El Planeta soon became a renowned leader within the Gypsy community, and had been given the honorary title of "Count and Prince of the Fraternity." It is believed that he sometimes accompanied himself on the guitar, yet most often sang with no musical accompaniment at all. The oldest siguiriyas in recorded flamenco history are those of El Planeta. El Planeta died around 1850 (the exact date in unrecorded), most likely in or around the Andalucian city of Seville.
Francisco Ortega Vargas a/k/a El Fillo
Born approximately in the year 1820 in the Spanish town of
Villa Real, El Fillo was the chosen disciple of La Planeta. The duo remain in the heart of modern flamenco as the true cataores (singers of flamenco song) of early flamenco. El Fillo was able to perform all forms of cante, and has thus been known as "the father of cante." It is said that eL Fillo sang with a hoarse and harsh voice. These characteristics have remained to this day within the art of cante, and describes a voice of this type called "afilla" (taken from the singer's nickname). It is believed that El Fillo died in the year 1878 in Seville.
ilverio Franconetti Aguilar a/k/a Silverio Franconetti
Born in 1829, Silverio Franaconnetti was (and still is) known as the legend of flamenco's Golden Age. Franaconnetti was born in the Spanish town of
Moron de la Fronteraand was groomed to enter into the family business of tailoring from a young age. However, the young boy's heart was with the Gypsy cante, and at every opportunity he would escape from his home to visit and listen to the songs of the Gypsies at the nearbye blacksmith establishment. This is where Franconnetti first met El Fillo and was subsequently encouraged to engage his talents for the Gypsy cante. His latter life was spent in Argentina and Uruguay working as a " picador" within the bullrinksthere, and also served as an officer in the Uruguay Army. Franconnetti was arguably the best non-Gypsy singer of the Nineteenth Century, and left a highly influential legacy of being the only flamenco singer who was capable of singing every cante exceptionally well. Franconnetti died during the year of 1889.
Pastora Maria Pavon Cruz a/k/a La Nina De Los Peines
Born in Seville in 1890, La Nina de Los Peines is considered quite possibly as the most exceptional and innovative female flamenco singer of all time. Affectionately called "La Nina," she was commanded for her capacity and expression of the tangos, and was also often requested to sing siguiriyas at a time when women did not customarily perform in that style of cante. She is often accredited with standing alone and a distinctiveness among the other female singers of her era.
Manuel Ortega Juarez a/k/a Manolo Caracol
Manolo Caracol was the final genius coming from an exalted Gypsy dynasty which to this day remains legendary in the arenas of both flamenco and bullfighting. Born in Seville in 1909, it is commonly believed that his ancetral lineage included both El Planete and El Fillo. At the very young age of 13, Caracol had won the prestigious first prize at the celebrated and honored First Cante Jondo Competition, which took place in Granada in 1922. During the Spanish Civil War he worked in theaters as means of survival, and thus had appeared the first staged version of flamenco. Caracol emphasized his unique cante style, openly expressing that he had copied it from nobody. His style is remembered for having the unyielding capacity and power to evoke overwhelming passions from all of his listeners. Caracol innovated flamenco by performing frequently with full orchestras or pianos (much to the harsh remarks made by the purists). Caracol died at the age of fifty-four in 1973 in the capital, Madrid.
Jose Monje Cruz a/k/a Camaron de la Isla
Camaron de la Isla was born in
San Fernandoin 1950, and was the second child of eight to a Gypsy blacksmith and basketweaver parents. He had received his nickname early on due to his light complexion and blond hair, and began performing cantes at the age of eight. In 1969 he had made his first album in collaboration with the legendary flamenco guitar player, Paco de Lucia. Camaron de la Islawas known as the "Living legend of cante," and had revitalized the art of cante and flamenco almost single-handedly. The charisma of this social phenomenon attracted new listeners by flocks of thousands. Trained as a traditional flamenco singer, Camaron went on to break this conventional mold and found the Nuevo Flamenco. Camaron incorporated new musical instruments into the music of flamenco, including: the drums, zither, flute, moog, and the keyboards to name a few. In his comparatively short career of 20 years, and with the partnership with Paco de Lucia, this "Prince of the Island" revolutionized the art of cante. He had set flamenco on a new path and attracted vast new audiences who previous to Camaron had not heard of flamenco. Camaron met his untimely death at the age of forty-one, in the Cataloniancity of Barcelona.
Other Famous Singers of Cante
There are many more famous and very influential
flamenco singers, including:
Diego El Cigala"
Enrique El Mellizo"
Enrique El Granaino"
Pepe de Lucía"
La Perla de Cadiz"
ALVAREZ CABALLERO, Angel: "Historia del Cante Flamenco", Alianza Editorial, Madrid, 1981.
GARCIA LORCA, Federico: "In Search of Duende". Edition by Christopher Maurer. New Direction Books, New York, 1998.
TOTTEN, Robin: "Song of the Outcast - An Introduction to Flamenco", Amadeus Press, Oregon, 2003.
Federico Garcia Lorca
Paco de Lucia
Spanish translation in the Golden Age
* [http://www.camarondelaisla.org/index-english.htm Camaron de la Isla, Cantaor Flamenco]
* [http://www.centroflamenco.com/history.html Cante...The Song]
* [http://www.novareinna.com/romani/song.html Centro Flamenco]
* [http://www.worldmusiccentral.org/article.php?story=20030421193728879 World Music Central]
* [http://culturitalia.uibk.ac.at/hispanoteca/Musik-Spanien/Flamenco/El%20cante%20flamenco.htm El Cante Flamenco]
* [http://www.denison.edu/modlangs/spanish/musica/flamenco/flam_bai3.html El Flamenco]
* [http://www.serraniaderonda.com/flamenco/ida_vuelta.htm El mundo de Flamenco]
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