History and Origins of Flamenco

By Lindsey Fisher


Flamenco is a folk art of the Spanish culture (particularly in southern Spain in the province of Andalucia) that consists of singing, dancing, and playing the guitar simultaneously.[1] Flamenco also involves the use of rhythmic punctuation such as hand clapping. Flamenco first became a public, performing art in the second half of the 19th century; however, it was first mentioned in literature in 1774 and was historically known as a musical outlet of the poor and oppressed.[1] In 1782, flamenco was actually called "musica flamenca", meaning gypsy music, because people wanted to defy those who refused to accept that flamenco music originated with the gypsies.[2] There are hundreds of different types of pieces within flamenco that are defined by characteristic structures such as melody, rhythm, and harmony. Flamenco is a state of mind as well as a powerful art meant to convey deep emotions such as pain and sadness.[3] Today, flamenco is still the most famous Spanish dance and different forms are constantly being created and modified all around the world.


The song aspect of flamenco involves a combination of four cultures including the Gypsies, Moors (Arabs), Jews, and the indigenous Andalucians. The Gypsies, Moors, and Jews were combined during the general persecution that followed the events that occurred in 1492.[1] The key event in 1492 that contributed to the lack of historical evidence of flamenco was the persecution of the Moors (Arabs), the Jews, and Gitanos. [4] This persecution led to them being expelled during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 and is the reason that many of the songs in flamenco reflect the spirit of desperation and struggle that they faced.[4] Another reason there is a lack of historical evidence is because flamenco came from the lower levels of Andalucian society, causing flamenco to lack the prestige of other art forms in higher classes, which could be the reason it took many years before flamenco became a public performing art. Although there are many undiscovered details about the development of flamenco, it is certain that it originated in Andalucia. It is also evident that when Spain was under Arab domination, Christians and Jews modified and adapted the music and the musical instruments.[5] Historical evidence started to grow in the 1970s and 1980s because an increasing number of musicologists and historians began carrying out thorough research.[4] It is a fact that the art of flamenco became an essential part of a way of life at its peak, which is known as the Golden Age.

The Golden Age

The Golden Age was one of the greatest ages of flamenco performance, which took place during the second half of the 19th century when the Gypsy singers and the Andalucian singers came together and mastered many different forms of flamenco.[4] The reason these two groups came together was because of the emergence of music cafes called 'cafe cantantes'. The upcoming of the cafes resulted from businessmen who realized that commercial enterprises would be a great way to profitably exploit flamenco.[6] These cafes also increased the use of the guitar that soon became a major part of flamenco until the turn of the century and by 1910 its role was rapidly declining. The years 1910 to 1936 became the years of the theatrical presentation of flamenco because the public began to favor a smoother voice, which led to what's called the "theatrical" period.[6]

The "Theatrical" Period

Teatro de la Maestranza de Sevilla (the Grand Maestranza theater located in Sevilla, Spain)
As the use of the guitar in flamenco declined, the public desire to hear a smoother voice led to what's known as the "theatrical" period (Etapa teatral) or Opera flamenco. The cafe cantantes entered a state of decline and were eventually replaced by larger venues such as theaters, which led to a huge popularity of flamenco. The rise of Opera flamenco also caused flamenco to fall victim to commercialism and economic interests.
[4] The theatrical period also recognized a new genre that many people often incorrectly considered as flamenco. This new genre was referred to as copla andaluza (Andalucian couplet) or cancion Espanola (Spanish song) and the genre itself was a type of ballad with influences from Andalucian folk songs and flamenco, often accompanied by an orchestra.[4] The lead artist during the theatrical period was Pepe Marchena whose engaging falsetto voice and impressive vocal runs influenced an entire generation of singers, many of which achieved major celebrity status.[4] Many classical flamenco singers who grew up during the time of the cafe cantante disappeared as the rest adapted to the new tastes. Although the theatrical period was far from achieving the brilliance of "the golden age", it was an important time of general consolidation of the art of flamenco.

Forms of Flamenco Expression

The three main ways in which flamenco is expressed is through the toque (flamenco guitar), the cante (singing), and the baile (dancing). The flamenco guitar is very similar to the classical guitar and both are descendents from the lute.[4] The flamenco guitar differs from the classical guitar in which it is lighter in weight and slightly smaller in order to produce a 'sharper' sound. It is made out of Spanish cypress and spruce and it is equipped with a plastic tap-plate, or a "golpeador" that protects the body of the guitar from rhythmic finger taps.[1]

Foreigners often make the mistake of assuming that dance is the fundamental nature of flamenco when in actuality it is the cante (song). The cantes and bailes (dances) of flamenco follow strict musical and poetic rules. The verses, or coplas, of the songs are usually beautiful and concise poems that Andalucian poets often imitated.[4]

Baile is the flamenco dance that is a highly expressive solo dance known for its emotional sweeping of the arms and rhythmic stomping of the feet. Flamenco dancers devote a significant amount of time to studying and practicing their art form; however, the dances are improvised according to the rhythm of the music.


  1. ^
    "History of Flamenco." History of Flamenco. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012.
  2. ^
    Peters, Molly C. "History of Flamenco." Flamenco: Gypsy Dance and Music from Andalusia. By Claus Schreiner. Portland: Amadeus, 1990. 35. Print.
  3. ^ "The Essential Guide to Flamenco Dancing, Singing and Playing." Flamenco Dancing, Singing and Playing. Sandra Vallaure, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012.
  4. ^
    Lorenz, Roberto. "Flamenco - Its Origin and Evolution." Flamenco - Its Origin and Evolution. N.p., 1993. Web. 01 Dec. 2012.
  5. ^
    "Flamenco History." FLAMENCO History. N.p., 2000. Web. 03 Dec. 2012.
  6. ^
    Pohren, D. E. The Art of Flamenco. Morón De La Frontera, Spain: Society of Spanish Studies, 1990. 146-47. Print.