Flamenco - The Songs

Flamenco singer Rocio Bazan. © Michelle Chaplow
Flamenco singer Rocio Bazan.

Song styles - Palos

The most important thing to remember about flamenco is that spontaneity is of the utmost importance.



These songs were at first sung by everyday people from every walk of life; a blacksmith singing to the rhythm of his hammer, pouring out his heart about the persecution of the gypsies, or a lament, a passionate expression of grief, and at gypsy weddings, where a song sung to the bride and groom would drive people into fits of wild and frenzied dancing and singing, tearing off their shirts as if to release their pent-up emotions.

These early songs were not accompanied other than with the clapping rhythms and stamping feet of all of those present.

These early most pure styles of flamenco are called palo secos, unaccompanied or dry styles.

The flamenco song is dotted with many words from the Caló language, which is the andalucian gypsy language, which is a mixture of andalucian Spanish, and Romany, the gypsy language which is thought to derive from the ancient Indian Sanskrit.

The word Bajañi for example, is a gypsy word for the guitar, or Devé which is Caló for god, and Camelar, which means to love, and these words will all be used in conjunction with Andalucian Spanish in the lyrics of flamenco songs.

These song styles are known as palos, of which there are upwards of fifty.

The lyrics are the driving force of flamenco, and the singer’s interpretation of the song will differ depending on his mood.

The cante jondo or deep songs like the siguiriyas, are often sung of sorrow, heartache, and lost love, and the cante chicos or small songs will normally be of a lighter more festive style.

Because of the spontaneity and different interpretations of these songs, it means that that there are many different styles with-in that particular style.

The singer will stay within a basic framework of the song, but he will rarely sing the same piece twice, varying the songs lyrics and interpretation every time he sings that particular style.

For example, the singer will not sing a bulería because there are many different versions of the bulería, so therefore he will sing Por bulería, or in the style of the bulería.

These different palos can be divided into two different categories, cante gitano-gypsy song, and cante andaluz- andalucian song, and these songs are then divided into families of song as in the chart below.

It is believed that these palos originate from different areas of Andalucía, each town or village having their own particular version of the song.

Málaga’s flamenco is based around the fandangos, which arederived from the ancient verdiales, which are the folk songs from the villages that surround the city.

Seville is famed for its soleares, siguiriyas, which are the very heart of gypsy cante, and the martinetes which are thought to have originated from the blacksmiths of Triana.

Jerez de la Frontera is the home of the bulería, where as Cádiz is renown for its light breezy styles like the alegrías and tangos.

The Zambras which include the alboreá, are songs sung at different stages of the gypsy wedding.

There are also the “flamenco influenced” songs, which come from varying walks like the columbianas from Columbia and the villancicos, a peasant song that has now become the flamenco Christmas carol.

The song families

  • Toñas: toña- martinetes-carceleras- deblas- romances
  • Siguiriyas- livianas- serranas
  • Soleares- soleá por bulería
  • Polo- caña
  • Bulerías
  • Zambras: zambra- mosca- alboreá- cachuchas
  • Tangos- tientos- tanguillos
  • Peteneras
  • Cantiñas- alegría- caracoles- mirabás- rosas- romeras
  • Fandangos- verdiales- fandangos grandes- fandangos de Huelva- malagueñas
  • rondeñas- jaberas- granainas- bandolas- fandango abandalaos
  • Farruca- garrotín
  • Cantes de Levante: tarantos- tarantas- mineras- cartageneros
  • Cantes de ida y veulta: guarjiras- rumbas- colombianas-
  • Other Song styles influenced by flamenco: saeta- villancicos- caravanas- sevillanas-nanas