Spanish Music: Artists & Types

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

Different cultures like the Moors, Celts, Gypsies, and others have come together in Spain and left a mark on local music. In this lesson, learn about Spanish music, explore its different types, and discover some local artists.

Spanish Music

Picture yourself in Spain. You are drinking wine, enjoying some tapas, and listening to live music. What music would that be?

You probably thought about flamenco and maybe you're right; that is one of Spain's most famous music genres. But it's not the only one. This country has a huge musical diversity.

Spanish music groups all the different music genres that are found in this European nation. It includes traditional forms like flamenco, folk music like sardana, and contemporary productions from commercial pop to new interpretations of traditional pieces.

Music is an important part of the Spanish life. It is present on most social occasions and is valued as part of the national and regional heritage.

You can find several different influences in Spanish music. Depending on the genre, there might be Arabic elements brought by the Moors, who occupied parts of Spain for almost a thousand years. In northern Spain, Celtic influences were very strong during the Middle Ages. All those influences have merged with a unique local character and resulted in outstanding and rich music genres.

Artists and Types of Spanish Music

Many Spanish music genres have developed together with specific dances, and we usually find people participating in events that combine both singing and dancing.

Flamenco

Flamenco is probably the best-known genre of Spanish music. It started in the Andalusia region (southern Spain) and has become famous worldwide. It is an exotic blend of Moorish, Gypsy, and native sounds.

The lyrics are intense and full of emotion, accompanied by a dramatic musical background. The main musical instrument is usually the classical guitar. Hand-clapping is also common but castanets (small percussion instruments worn on the fingers) are sometimes used instead. Dancing is often an important part of the show, and women wear colorful dresses and make passionate movements.

Seville is Spain's capital of flamenco, and many locally and internationally known artists have started their careers there. Some well-known flamenco artists are Carmen Linares, José Mercé, and Estrella Morentes. Rocío Jurado was one of the most influential flamenco singers of the 20th century.

Flamenco show in Seville
Flamenco

Jota

Jota is a traditional music genre that started in the region of Aragon. It was a local phenomenon in the early 20th century, and Jose Oto is remembered as a major jota composer. Today, it remains popular in Aragon, Navarra, and Rioja. The name is believed to have evolved from the Moorish word for ''jump''. It has a rhythmic style, characterized by repeating patterns.

The classic guitar prevails and other traditional string instruments, like bandurrias (a flat-backed instrument belonging to the lute family), are also common. Tambourines, castanets, and accordions are used in some local variations. People often dance to jota music in performances that consist of several group jumps.

The famous opera Carmen, composed by George Bizet, features a jota as a transition between the 3rd and 4th act.

Zarzuela

Zarzuela is somewhere between music and theater, combining dramatic representations with sung and spoken scenes. It started in the 17th century, as a form of entertainment for the royal court. In the 19th century, Francisco Barbieri wrote over 60 zarzuelas, and the genre gained popularity among common people. Zarzuelas are still popular today, both locally and among immigrant communities outside of Spain.

Performance of La Taberna del Puerto, a zarzuela
zarzuela performance

Bolero

Spanish bolero was invented in the 18th century and combines music with a characteristic dance. By the 19th century, it had become popular in Madrid and the southern regions. During the 1960s, bolero gained followers in many parts of Spain.

It is a moderately slow music, sensual and usually consisting of three verses that set the time for the dramatic dance movements. The dancers sometimes use castanets while dancing.

Sardana

In Catalonia, sardana is an important folk music and dance. It was created around the 16th century and has been very popular in the region since the 19th century.

People dancing sardana
People dancing sardana

The music is rather slow and usually consists of two sections that are repeated in a pattern to make the full song. The 19th-century composer Jose Maria ''Pep'' Ventura is often regarded as the father of modern sardana. He established the characteristic rhythm and duration and many of his pieces are still sung nowadays. The dance is usually performed in a circle while holding hands.

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