Music of Spain

From Academic Kids

Template:Spanishmusic For many people, Spanish music is virtually synonymous with flamenco, an Andalucian-Gitano form of music. However, regional styles of folk music abound, and pop, rock and hip hop are also popular.



Early history

In Spain several very different cultural streams came together in the first centuries of the Christian era: the Roman culture, which was dominant for several hundred years, and which brought with it the music and ideas of Ancient Greece; early Christians, who had their own version of the Roman Rite; the Visigoths, a Germanic tribe that overran the Iberian peninsula in the fifth century; Jews of the diaspora; and eventually the Arabs, or the Moors as the group was sometimes known. Determining exactly which spices flavored the stew, and in what proportion, is difficult after almost two thousand years, but the result was a musical style and tradition considerably different from what developed in the rest of Europe.

Isidore of Seville wrote about music in the sixth century. His influences were predominantly Greek, but yet he was an original thinker, and recorded some of the first information about the early music of the Christian church. He perhaps is most famous in music history for declaring that it was not possible to notate sounds—an assertion which reveals his ignorance of the notational system of ancient Greece, so that knowledge had to have been lost by the time he was writing.

Under the Moors, who were usually tolerant of other religions during the seven hundred years of their influence, both Christianity and Judaism, with their associated music and ritual, flourished. Music notation developed in Spain as early as the eighth century (the so-called Visigothic neumes) to notate the chant and other sacred music of the Christian church, but this obscure notation has not yet been deciphered by scholars, and exists only in small fragments. The music of the Christian church in Spain was known as the music of the Mozarabic Rite, and developed in isolation, not subject to the enforced codification of Gregorian chant under the guidance of Rome around the time of Charlemagne. At the time of the reconquista, this music was almost entirely extirpated: once Rome had control over the Christians of the Iberian peninsula, the regular Roman rite was imposed, and locally developed sacred music was banned, burned, or otherwise eliminated.


In the early Renaissance, instrumental music was influenced by Arabic music, most obviously by the development of the guitar, which had its origin in Arabic instruments. The style of Spanish popular songs of the time is presumed to be closely related to the style of Moorish music, but unfortunately this cannot be proven, since not a scrap of Moorish music remains from the entire period of their colonization of the Iberian peninsula. Music of the cantigas, and music from the great medieval collection at Santiago de Compostela, is also considered likely to show influence from Islamic sources.

After the reconquista, in the early 16th century, a polyphonic vocal style developed in Spain which was closely related to the style of the Franco-Flemish composers to the north. The unification of style occurred during the period when Spain was part of the Holy Roman Empire, under Charles V (king of Spain from 1516 to 1556), since composers from the north both visited Spain, and native Spaniards traveled within the empire, which extended to the Netherlands, Germany and Italy. The great Spanish composers of the Renaissance included Francisco Guerrero and Cristóbal de Morales, both of whom spent a significant portion of their careers in Rome; and the great Spanish composer of the late Renaissance, who reached a level of polyphonic perfection and expressive intensity equal to Palestrina and Lassus, was Tomás Luis de Victoria, who also spent much of his life in Rome. Unlike composers from the Netherlands, however, Spanish composers almost always returned home late in their careers to spread their musical knowledge in their native land.

17th and 18th centuries

A secular musical form which developed in the early 17th century was the zarzuela, a native form of opera. By the 17th century the "classical" musical culture of Spain was in decline, and was to remain that way until the late 19th century. Baroque music in Spain, when it arrived, was a pale imitation of Italian models; musical creativity mainly moved into areas of folk and popular music until the nationalist revival of the late Romantic era.

Pop Music

Main article: Spanish popular music

Spanish pop began during the end of Francisco Franco's regime. By the late 1950s, a generation of performers were coming of age having been through the end of the Spanish Civil War. At the same time American and British music, especially rock and roll, was having an impact on Spanish audiences.

The Festival de la Canción De Benidorm was founded in 1959 in Benidorm, a seaside town attempting to boost local tourism. It was inspired by the Italian Festival di San Remo and followed by a wave of similar music festivals in places like Barcelona, Majorca and the Canary Islands. The first major pop stars were all women, and they rose to fame through these music festivals. An injured Real Madrid player-turned-singer became the world-famous Julio Iglesias.

The 1960s and early 70s were a time of economic and cultural flourishing in Spain (the años de desarrollo). Tourism boomed, bringing yet more musical styles from the rest of the continent and abroad.


Main article: Ye-Yé

Ye-Yé was a French term which the Spanish appropriated to refer to uptempo pop music that was a fusion of American rock from the early 60s (such as the twist) and British beat music. Concha Velasco, a singer and movie star, launched the scene with her 1965 hit "La Chica Ye-Yé", though there had been hits earlier by female singers like Karina (1963). The earliest stars were in imitation of French pop, at the time itself an imitation of American and British pop and rock. Dark passion and Gitano rhythms, however, made the sound distinctively Spanish. Of the first generation of Spanish pop singers, Rosalia's 1965 hit "Flamenco" sounded most distinctively Spanish.


Main article: List of Spanish musicians

Some of Spain's most famous singers are:

In addition to these, some famous groups, like Mecano, Héroes del Silencio, El Último de la Fila and others came from Spain.

Also from Spain was the famous trio of singing clowns Gaby, Fofó y Miliki, and the humorist Chiquito de la Calzada.


Main article: Flamenco

Flamenco, an originally Gitano art-form strongly influenced by Andalusian music, consists of three forms: the song (cante), the dance (baile) and the guitar (guitarra). Its first reference in history occurs in 1774, from Cadalso's "Cartas Marruecas". Flamenco probably originated in Cádiz, Jérez de la Frontera and Triana, and is a descendant of musical forms left by Moorish invaders during the 8th-14th century. Influences from the Byzantine Empire, Egypt, Pakistan and India were also instrumental in forming the music. The word flamenco is most commonly considered derived from the Spanish word for Flemish, since in Flanders Spanish Jews were allowed their music without oppression, and where Gypsies had fought with distinction in war on behalf of Spain, and were rewarded by being allowed to settle in Andalucia.

Regional folk music

Spain's autonomous regions have many of their own distinctive folk traditions, especially in Basque Country, Galicia and Catalonia. There is also a movement of folk-based singer-songwriters with politically active lyrics, paralleling similar developments across Latin America and Portugal.

Basque Country

Main article: Basque music

The Basques are a unique ethnic group, unrelated to any other in Spain and with uncertain connections abroad. The main form of Basque folk music is called trikitrixa, which is based on the accordion and includes popular performers like Joseba Tapia and Kepa Junkera. There is also choral music, as well as Basque stars that sing in Spanish like Luis Mariano and Duncan Dhu.

Balearic Islands

Main article: Music of the Balearic Islands

Majorca's Maria del Mar Bonet was one of the most influential artists of nova canço, known for her political and social lyrics. Tomeu Penya, Biel Majoral and Joan Bibiloni are also popular.

Canary Islands

Main article: Music of the Canary Islands

The Canary Islands were formerly inhabited by a North African Hamitic people called the Guanches. Aragonese jota is now popular, and Latin American musical (Cuban) influences are especially widespread, especially in the presence of the charanga (a kind of guitar).


Main article: Music of Murcia

Murcia is a dry region which has very strong Moorish influences, as well as Andalusian. Flamenco and guitar-accompanied cante jondo is especially associated with Murcia.


Main article: Music of Extremadura

Having long been the poorest part of Spain, Extremadura is a largely rural region known for a strong Portuguese music. The zambomba drum, which is played by pulling on a rope which is inside the drum, is found throughout Spain but is characteristic of Extremadura. The jota of Aragon is common, here played with triangles, castanets, guitars, tambourines, accordions and zambombas.

Castile, Madrid and Leon

Main article: Music of Castile, Madrid and Leon

A large inland region, Castile, Madrid and Leon are predominantly Celtiberian in cultural origin, showing influences from Celtic and North African sources. The area has been a melting pot, however, and Gitanos, Portuguese, Jewish, Roman, Visigothic and Moorish sources have left a mark on the region's character.

Aragonese jota is popular, but uniquely slow in Castille and Leon. The instrumentation also varies here much more than in Aragon. Especially in northern Leon, Galician influences are common, especially in the appearance of the gaita. The Maragatos people, of uncertain origin, have a unique musical style and live in Leon, around Astorga. The city of Salamanca is known as the home of tuna, a serenade played with guitars and tambourines, mostly by students dressed in medieval clothing. Madrid is known for chotis music. Andalusian flamenco is popular throughout Spain, with the central regions especially known for flamenco.

Navarre and La Rioja

Main article: Music of Navarre and La Rioja

Navarre and La Rioja are small region that has diverse cultural elements. Northern Navarre is Basque in character, while the southern section is more Aragonese. The jota, a form of music more closely associated with Aragon, is also known in both Navarre and La Rioja.


Main article: Music of Aragon

Aragon is a rural region inhabited by people of Iberian descent, primarily, though Celtic, Moorish and French influences remain. The jota is a genre now popular across Spain with historical roots in the southern part of Aragon. Jota instruments include the castanets, tambourines and flutes. Aragonese music can be characterized by a complex percussive element, possibly a descendant of North African Tuaregs and Berbers. The guitarro, a unique kind of guitar, is also Aragonese in origin.


Main article: Music of Valencia

Valencia has a kind of popular dance called "La Jota" that we is also found in other parts of Spain, especially Aragón. Valencia has a reputation for musical innovation, and performing brass bands called bandes are common, with one appearing in almost every town. The group Al Tall is also well-known, experimenting with the Berber band Muluk El Hwa.


Main article: Music of Catalonia

Catalonia is best known for sardana played by cobla. There are other traditional styles of music like ball the bastons, galops, ball de gitanes. And the music take personality in cercaviles and celebrations similar to Patum. The habaneres singers remain popular. Today in the young people is very popular the music movement called Rock Català, and some years ago was relevant the Nova Cançó. The Catalan gipsies has created their own style of rumba called rumba catalana.

Galicia, Cantabria and Asturias

Main article: Music of Galicia, Cantabria and Asturias

Northwest Spain (Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria) is home to Celtic-derived culture and folk music. Local festivals celebrating the area's Celtic influence are common, with Ortigueira's Festival del Mundo Celta being especially important. Drum, bagpipe and pipe groups are the most common form of Galician folk music, and include popular bands like Milladoiro. Bagpipe virtuoso Carlos Nuñez is an especially popular performer; he has worked with Ireland's The Chieftains and Sinéad O'Connor, United States' Ry Cooder and Cuba's Vieja Trova Santiaguera.

Galician folk music is characteristically the alalas song forms. Alalas are believed to be chant-based popular songs of a long history, perhaps closely related to Gregorian chanting. Some scholars also point to a Greek origin, or Phoenician rowing songs.


Main article: Music of Andalusia

Andalusia is best known for flamenco, a popular form of Roma music (see below for more information). The region has also produced singer-songwriters like Javier Ruibal and Carlos Cano, who revived a traditional music called copla. Kiko Veneno and Joaquín Sabina are popular performers in a distinctly Spanish-style rock music, while Sephardic musicians like Aurora Morena, Luís Delgado and Rosa Zaragoza have made Andalusia a center for Sephardic music.


  • Download recording of "Venid pastores", a Spanish-American Christmas song from the Library of Congress' California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collection; performed by Aurora Calderon on April 10, 1939 in Oakland, California
  • Download recording - "Alfonso Doce" Minorcan song from the Library of Congress' Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections; performed by Maria Hugas de Aceval on September 26, 1939 in St. Augustine, Florida


  • Fairley, Jan. "A Wild, Savage Feeling". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 279-291. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
  • Fairley, Jan with Manuel Domínguez. "A Tale of Celts and Islanders". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 292-297. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

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