If you've never seen a full-blown flamenco production, you're really missing something: brightly costumed dancers combining fluid movements with dazzling footwork; flashing fans and chattering castanets; clapping, yelling, and stomping-the excitement and spontaneity are positively riveting. And energizing it all is music so lively and compelling, you'll find yourself on the edge of your seat. Whether it's the mournful, heartfelt laments of the seguiriyas; the driving, pulse-pounding rhythms of the bulerias; or the lively, festive sounds of the alegrias; flamenco has something for everyone.
It is therefore not surprising that flamenco music has enjoyed a kind of renaissance lately. Forward-thinking guitarists such as Paco de Lucia, Vicente Amigo, and Tomatito have introduced flamenco guitar techniques, styles, and idioms into other types of music, and they have explored the use of nontraditional instruments within the context of flamenco. Groups like the Gipsy Kings have gained enormous popularity by adopting a pop-music style based largely on a few simple flamenco techniques and rhythms (mainly rumbas).
Film scoring is one field in which knowledge of flamenco might serve you well. Movies such as the recent Mask of Zorro (starring Antonio Banderas) provide many opportunities to flavor a soundtrack with some Spanish-sounding music. In fact, flamenco music is featured in a number of movie classics. That's Vicente Gomez, for example, playing the guitar parts in the Tyrone Power movies Blood and Sand and Captain from Castile. (If you'd like to see motion pictures based entirely on real flamenco performances, check out the films of director Carlos Saura, especially Carmen-a mesmerizing flamenco interpretation of the Bizet opera.)
A little flamenco music can go a long way in scoring for television commercials as well. For example, Los Angeles-based studio guitarist Ted Owens was recently called in to lay down a flamenco guitar track for a Nissan commercial. The spot called for several seconds of upbeat flamenco playing that segued into a rock piece. Fortunately, Ted is a versatile guitarist who can play in any style. He cooked up a convincing bulerias that led into the rock section, and the producers went away happy.
But what if you aren't a guitarist, and you find yourself in a similar situation? In this article, I'll discuss some of the desktop music tools that can help you add the excitement of flamenco to your next project. With a sampler, a sound module, and a MIDI keyboard controller, you have the essential tools you need to infuse your music with a dash of exotic spice.
Of course, "desktop" flamenco can never fully capture the depth and spirit of the real thing. But if you understand how the elements of flamenco interact to create that characteristic sound, you can open the door to many new creative possibilities. Unfortunately, sampling CDs and other resources seldom offer any help in this area, so I'll begin by introducing the elements of flamenco music and the roles that they play. A little later I'll look at flamenco sampling CDs from Discovery Firm, Universal Sound Bank, Zero-G, and Best Service.
The Sounds of FlamencoThe three primary elements in a flamenco performance are the song (cante), the dance (baile), and the guitar playing (toque). These can occur in any combination, with performances ranging from intimate solos to large ensemble productions.
Flamenco music can trace its lineage at least as far back as the 15th century, when Moorish, Jewish, Indian, Christian, Byzantine, and regional Spanish music coalesced into the musical art form of the Andalusian Gypsies (Gitanos) in southern Spain. In its early days, flamenco served as the private expression of a long-suffering outlawed people, but by the mid-19th century flamenco had emerged as an international cultural phenomenon. Today, when most people in the United States think of Spanish music, flamenco is what first comes to mind. (For more on the evolution of flamenco, see the sidebar "A Brief History of Flamenco.")
Although its style borrows heavily from the Spanish folk-music tradition, flamenco retains its unique sound due in large part to the musical elements absorbed from Arabic, Jewish, Indian, and other Eastern cultures. Many flamenco songs clearly show these influences, with modal melodies, melismas that seem to go on forever, microtonal passing tones, and other chantlike qualities. However, flamenco also includes many works with simple folklike chord progressions that are clearly not of Gypsy origin.
Flamenco pieces are named for the song form upon which they are based, although singing is not always involved. For example, names such as soleares, bulerias, alegrias, and tientos are not specific titles of fixed pieces, but rather musical forms with associated meters, rhythmic patterns, tempos, harmonies, and other characteristics. (More on these later.)
Improvisation and spontaneity are also important elements in flamenco. During a performance, onstage participants add rhythmic clapping (palmas) and shout quips and encouragement (jaleo) to singers and dancers. Audience members, too, shout their approval as the performance gains momentum, and the room acquires the atmosphere of a festive jam session (juerga).
Song. In recent years, dancers and guitarists have often eclipsed the singer (cantaor) in flamenco shows, especially when presented to audiences that are largely non-Spanish-speaking. But during its genesis, flamenco centered entirely on the song, which was offered with only simple rhythmic accompaniment or none at all. (Guitar and dance were not added to flamenco until the 19th century.) The song provided the Gypsies an emotional outlet and a means of expressing the grief and suffering that they endured daily. Common song themes include sickness, persecution, death, prison, and of course, unrequited love.
Good flamenco singers are prized for their coarse, unrefined vocal quality (think the opposite of Bing Crosby); the evocative, wailing, strained delivery of many songs is often difficult for modern audiences to appreciate. However, these songs best illustrate the non-Western influences that have shaped the flamenco sound and offer a direct link to the ancient gitano aesthetic. Examples of these ancient song forms include soleares and seguiriyas.
On the other hand, many song forms in the flamenco repertory (such as alegrias and bulerias) are more upbeat in nature and typically deal with less profound issues. These and other popular song forms, such as rumba gitano and tangos flamencos (not to be confused with the Argentine tango), work well in a variety of modern musical settings and are readily appealing, so they're often included on flamenco sampling CDs.
Dance. When dancing was first added to flamenco performances, a clear distinction existed between the male and female styles. The man concentrated on complex, percussive footwork (zapateado) and heelwork (taconeo) performed with relatively little upper-body movement. Because it demands great physical stamina, this style reinforced a strongly masculine quality. The woman, on the other hand, emphasized graceful, sinuous movements of the hands, hips, and arms. She further expressed her femininity by manipulating her full-length skirt to produce either a sultry or a coquettish effect, depending on the nature of the dance.
These distinctions have remained largely intact except in one important area. Following in the footsteps (so to speak) of dance legend Carmen Amaya, most of today's female flamenco dancers emphasize a great deal more zapateado and taconeo in their performances. As a result, the exciting sound of complex footwork by both men and women has become an expected part of flamenco performances, and all of the sampling CDs I reviewed include a variety of loops for creating footwork patterns.
Guitar. For a great many musicians, the guitar playing is the most exciting part of a flamenco show. The guitarist (tocaor) must provide a compelling and solid accompaniment to the dancers and singers and respond quickly to cues from the performers. The tocaor must also know all of the song forms including their rhythmic and harmonic structures. At times throughout a piece (typically at the beginning and during transitions), he provides one or more short solos (falsetas)-essentially a series of variations based on the particular metric and harmonic structure of the song form.
Although flamenco guitars resemble classical guitars in several respects, a number of significant features are quite different (see the sidebar "Flamenco Guitar Anatomy"). More important, however, flamenco guitarists use highly idiomatic techniques that are unique to the genre. Unlike classical guitarists (who strive for a clean, elegant style), flamenco guitar players favor an earthy, less polished, more powerful sound that is both bright and dynamic.
Among the most notable flamenco techniques are the various types of strumming (rasgueados). These are created by fanning or brushing the fingers across the strings to generate a kind of rolling effect (sometimes quite thunderous) at different tempos and with different rhythms. Rapid, forceful runs producing bursts of notes (picado) are another staple of flamenco technique, as is tapping on the top, or soundboard, of the guitar with a right-hand fingernail (golpe). This percussive ornament reinforces important rhythms and accents and is frequently used during falsetas and accompaniment sections. (Flamenco guitars are equipped with a special plastic shield akin to a pick guard that protects them from rasgueado and golpe damage.)
Classical and flamenco techniques also differ in their use of the capo (cejilla). Although seldom employed in classical playing, the capo is used extensively in flamenco. It allows the guitarist to change keys for different singers while preserving the chord voicings and idiomatic performance elements associated with the various song forms. Because the capo shortens the vibrating string length, it also brightens the guitar's sound; on some pieces, flamenco players may use a capo for that reason alone.
If you're recording your own guitar samples, be sure to include some chords, strums, and arpeggios using a capo at a couple of different frets. Pitch-shifting your samples too much may not provide the desired effect. For picado passages, you can use a sequencer to record notes slowly at first, then speed them up later. If you're recording your own samples, however, remember that picado notes are always performed with the "rest" or "support" stroke (apoyando), as are most notes played with the thumb (pulgar).
Speaking of the thumb, flamenco guitarists make much greater use of it than do classical players. In classical music, the thumb is primarily limited to playing the bass notes, while the other fingers concentrate on the treble strings. In flamenco, the thumb ranges over all six strings; in fact, some falsetas are performed entirely with the thumb. Treble strings played with the thumb have a slightly heavier tone quality than the same notes played with the fingers. When creating your own samples, you might want to record some separate thumb samples (played apoyando) if you're a stickler for detail.
All of the flamenco sampling CDs reviewed here include an assortment of rasgueados in different keys, and some also feature golpe samples, picado notes or passages, and phrases that highlight thumb playing. If you listen carefully, you may hear passages in which groups of notes are played as a single slur (ligado). This important left-hand technique is highly characteristic of flamenco playing. So too is the practice of muting the strings with the left hand while strumming with the right. This palo seco style of playing transforms the guitar into a versatile percussion instrument for rhythm-only accompaniments.
Percussion. To support the dancers and singers in a flamenco performance, the rhythms are reinforced in a number of ways. The most common and arguably the most important method is through the rhythmic hand-clapping (palmas) provided by the other members of the flamenco troupe (cuadro). It's important to understand that palmas is not simply clapping in time with the music-it's a true art form all its own. It takes study and a great deal of practice to develop the proper sound (and it takes even more practice to acquire the proper rhythmic sense). If you're thinking of using that "Hand Clap" preset in your General MIDI sound module, forget it. It's not even close to the proper sound.
There are actually two types of palmas. The loudest and most forceful is palmas fuertes, in which the fingers of one hand (held together) strike the slightly cupped palm of the other hand. When done correctly, palmas fuertes produces a loud, clear crack like the sound of a popgun. The other type, called palmas sordas, produces a softer, more muffled sound. Here both hands are slightly cupped and the palms are struck together. In general, palmas sordas maintains and reinforces the rhythm, while palmas fuertes adds an exciting percussive element to the musical texture. When two or more people are performing palmas, some of them may begin clapping on the offbeats (contratiempo), while others accent different places in the meter. The result is a fast and exhilarating polyrhythmic melange that may be combined with finger snapping (pitos), foot stomping, and other percussive effects. (I'll discuss this topic in further detail a little later.)
When most Americans think of flamenco, they also think of castanets (castanuelas). Although they've existed for hundreds of years as part of the Spanish folk-dance tradition, castanets are actually relative newcomers to flamenco. Some purists scorn castanets because they interfere with the beautiful hand movements of the female flamenco dancers. But castanets have become so popular with audiences that they're now widely integrated into modern flamenco performances. Keep in mind, however, that castanets impart a certain lighthearted quality to a piece, so they're most appropriate with folklike song forms such as sevillanas and fandangos de Huelva. It would be inappropriate and even jarring to insert a castanet part in one of the more profound song forms such as soleares and seguiriyas.
Unlike orchestral castanets, flamenco castanets come as a matched pair with a slightly fuller-sounding "male" set for one hand and a slightly brighter "female" set for the other. The castanets' different tone colors produce variations in sound as different rhythmic patterns are performed. The dancer may even strike the two sets together to produce an accent.
Castanet rhythms primarily reinforce the prevailing meter and rhythmic structure of the song form. Because of this, and because of the variations in tone color, the castanet presets in most sound modules (whether single notes or rolls) yield disappointing results. It's difficult to create a convincing roll with a single castanet click and a sequencer, and a single-roll sample seldom sounds correct. To solve this problem, all of the flamenco sampling CDs include an assortment of castanet loops at varying tempos and with different rhythms, and some discs come with individual hits so that you can create your own rhythms.
During the past decade, a new percussion instrument has become popular in many flamenco shows. The cajon is a large wooden box (measuring roughly 20 by 12 by 12 inches) with a sound hole in the back and a smooth surface on the front. The player sits on the box and strikes the front panel with his hands. The front panel is mounted in such a way that it produces a slightly raspy or buzzy effect in addition to the wood sound. Striking high on the front panel results in a bright sound; striking lower (toward the center) produces a deep, powerful sound similar to that of a kick drum.
The cajon can add another exciting percussive element to a performance, but it also provides important rhythmic reinforcement for the dancers and the other players. It's a testament to the rapid acceptance of the cajon by the flamenco community that all three of the flamenco-only sampling CDs I reviewed include an assortment of cajon loops for various song forms at multiple tempos.
Now that you're familiar with the vocal and instrumental elements of a flamenco performance, let's take a quick look at some of the rhythmic and harmonic elements of flamenco and how they fit together. Afterward, I'll review several sampling CDs to see what they have to offer. (If you forget some of the Spanish terms, see the sidebar "Flamenco from A to Z.")
Flamenco FundamentalsAlthough many flamenco songs are sung in a rubato (free) style without a definite meter, most guitar- and dance-oriented pieces adhere to a strict rhythmic pattern called the compas. The compas is a recurring pattern of accents within a set meter that supplies the metrical pulse at the heart of flamenco. The compas not only helps define the song form, but also drives the music and galvanizes the performers as well as the audience. Staying "in compas" is therefore vital to properly performing most flamenco music and dance.
Simply put, the compas is a group of beats with a set of accents superimposed over the group. For example, soleares uses a repeating 12-beat pattern with accents on beats 3, 6, 8, 10, and 12 (see Fig. 1). The same compas-at a somewhat faster tempo-is used in alegrias. And at even faster tempos, the same compas is used for bulerias. Other song forms use other meters: farruca, tientos, and rumba have a 4-beat compas, and malaguenas and sevillanas have a 3-beat compas.
Whether you're playing a falseta or an accompaniment pattern for dancers, the pulse of the compas is always present. A single phrase from a typical soleares falseta is shown in Fig. 2. Notice how the accents affect the melody.
From a melodic and harmonic standpoint, flamenco music is often based on the Phrygian mode, although it uses major and minor scales and progressions as well. Improvising in the Phrygian mode-especially E Phrygian-is an easy way to approximate a "flamenco" sound. The half-step II to I progression is highly characteristic, as is the raising of the third scale degree to make the tonic a major chord, as illustrated in Fig. 2.
To get a feel for the compas, use your sequencer to step-record 12 quarter notes. Use a palmas sample if you have one; otherwise, a hand-clap or similar preset will suffice for now. Set the Velocity of beats 3, 6, 8, 10, and 12 to a value of 127; set the other beats to 50. Now loop the 12-note pattern at a tempo of 80 bpm, and you have a soleares metronome. Try improvising against the recurring pattern of accents, and after a while you should get a feel for the underlying pulse. Try playing at different tempos, too.
At faster tempos, other members of the cuadro may reinforce the rhythm and increase the excitement level by adding multiple palmas parts. In most cases, however, not everyone claps the basic compas. In bulerias, for example, the basic compas is the same as in soleares (accents on beats 3, 6, 8, 10, and 12), but there may also be a secondary compas with accents on 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 11. Meanwhile, other players may be clapping the eighth-note offbeats (the contratiempo). The result is a complex overlay of rhythms (see Fig. 3).
You can get a feel for how this sounds by using your sequencer. Place the soleares metronome that you created earlier into track 1, pan it to the far left, and increase the sequence tempo to 210 bpm. In track 2, enter the secondary compas as shown in line 2 of Fig. 3. Use a Velocity value of 50 for the notes, and pan this track to the far right. Now take a moment to listen to these two tracks. Can you still hear the basic compas? (Using different sounds for the different tracks may help you focus.) During live performances, the secondary compas may be played by stomping a foot instead of by clapping hands.
Next, enter 12 beats in track 3, but displace them by an eighth-note value so that they play on the offbeats. Set the Velocity to 30 for all the notes, and pan the track to the center. Loop the whole thing and practice improvising against it. Experiment with different tempos. Keep in mind that contratiempo isn't necessarily used throughout an entire piece-it's added only when the energy level warrants it and is most effective when not overdone. On the other hand, maintaining the basic compas through most of a piece with palmas sordas or cajon is common.
Sequencing flamenco guitar parts from a keyboard can be exasperating (if not impossible) because the music is so "guitaristic." If you have a MIDI-equipped guitar, you can try entering melodies from it. Rasgueados are a problem, however. Performing a convincing rasgueado on an electric guitar is a real challenge, and what ends up in the sequencer is seldom satisfactory.
As an alternative-especially for keyboard players-check out Twiddly Bits, volume 3: Electric and Acoustic Guitar (Mac/Win; $39.95) from Keyfax. Twiddly Bits are short Standard MIDI Files (usually about one measure) that you can combine into longer phrases or use as musical accents. Volume 3 is mainly devoted to folk, blues, rock, and jazz clips, but it also contains 15 MIDI files under the Spanish Strums heading. With a little editing, some of these major and minor strums and rasgueados might come in handy, and they don't sound as if they were performed on a keyboard.
For an even more authentic sound, you'll have to use samples of actual flamenco performers. With that in mind, let's take a look at several interesting sample collections.
Spanish SamplesIt may now seem obvious to you, but it nonetheless bears repeating that true flamenco can be created only after years of dedication and hard work. It involves an intimate understanding of the culture's roots and of an art form that encourages spontaneity within complex traditional structures. In other words, the quest for an authentic flamenco sound has no shortcuts. Still, even if you can't fool an aficionado, you can definitely capture some of flamenco's excitement with sampling CDs.
For this article I reviewed four popular titles: Discovery Firm's Flamenco-Made in Spain ($99.95), Zero-G's Flamenco Sounds ($99.95), Universal Sound Bank's Flamenco ($299), and Best Service's World Colours ($99.95). The first two are audio CDs that were recorded and produced in Spain. The third, recorded in Spain and France, is a two-disc CD-ROM set for Akai samplers. The last title is a two-disc audio-CD set produced in Germany that includes a flamenco section; it's also available in Akai format (one disc, $199.95). All of the titles were recorded with experienced Spanish performers who impart the proper styles and techniques to the phrases, loops, and individual samples.
Flamenco-Made in Spain. Recorded in Madrid, Discovery Firm's Flamenco-Made in Spain (see Fig. 4) offers a good assortment of guitar, vocal, and percussion samples and loops. The recording quality is generally quite good; most of the samples are close-miked and clean. The lack of heavy reverb gives the recordings an intimate quality and allows you to add your own processing later.
A quick look through the contents reveals that this collection is at least partially slanted toward a pop/Latin/ flamenco fusion style of music with lots of rumba patterns and even bongo samples. This CD should prove to be a great resource for creating music in the style of the Gipsy Kings. Plenty of traditional flamenco phrases and loops are featured throughout the disc as well.
The collection begins with several rasgueados in different keys followed by several contemporary-sounding rumba comping patterns with two guitars. The next group of samples includes an excellent full-length bulerias section (consisting of several falsetas) followed by some very fine bulerias, alegrias, seguiriyas, and soleares phrases. The guitar work of Pepe Nunez successfully conveys a true flamenco style and sound. After these phrases come a variety of two-guitar sevillanas fragments that many people will find useful for creating songs and upbeat styles of music.
The next large section features an extensive collection of male, female, and group vocal samples, including sung phrases, spoken expressions, and some wonderful jaleo. Many of these samples are suitable for looping; others could work well sprinkled throughout a piece for added excitement or humor. Percussion instruments include standard bongos, Moroccan bongos, and cajon. All are played in a variety of rumba patterns and with individual hits and flams. The bongos are of questionable value for traditional flamenco but may be useful for flamenco-fusion pieces. The individual cajon hits will be especially handy if you wish to perform your own cajon parts for a flamenco composition.
The disc has a generous assortment of solo and group palmas loops, many with contratiempo rhythms. Single claps are provided, too. In addition, you get finger snaps, castanets, and male footwork in numerous loops, phrases, and single hits. I particularly like the extended zapateado solo.
Guitar playing is well represented in the collection, with dozens of picado phrases (including some thumb work), accompaniment patterns, and falseta fragments. It's too bad that the falseta passages aren't identified by their song form-that might make them easier to use. Finally, this disc is unique in providing a number of muted (palo seco) guitar patterns as well as muted flams and single hits.
Overall, Flamenco-Made in Spain offers an excellent assortment of flamenco samples that could be combined in many interesting ways. My only gripe is that the accompanying booklet lacks key and tempo indications for many of the samples. More descriptive information would help a great deal. Nevertheless, this collection has much to recommend it, especially for fans of rumba.
Flamenco Sounds. Unlike Flamenco-Made in Spain, Zero-G's Flamenco Sounds (see Fig. 5) does not emphasize rumba rhythms and loops. Instead, this CD offers a broader assortment of musical elements from several traditional flamenco song forms. Although the recording quality is not as clean or consistent as that of Made in Spain, many performances are quite good. Moreover, nearly all of the entries are labeled with a key indication, as well as a tempo marking where appropriate.
The CD begins with 36 short guitar phrases from a variety of song forms including alegrias, bulerias, fandango, soleares, and tango. Many of the phrases were derived from traditional falsetas and have a highly characteristic sound. The next section offers more than two dozen arpeggio patterns, in addition to rhythms with arpeggios in different keys and tempos. These phrases are well played and appealing and could be used in a number of settings. The small group of tremolo phrases, however, is a bit disappointing-the phrases are performed too disjointedly to provide the smooth, continuous sound needed for a good tremolo effect.
Flamenco Sounds includes more than 36 phrases and fragments emphasizing thumb work, and several include ligado passages. Many of the entries are quite good and provide a real flamenco sound. The same is true of the 51 picado phrases. These aren't particularly loopable, but you can easily combine them in different ways using a building-block approach. The remaining phrases in the guitar section combine several techniques including picado, rasgueado, ligado, thumb variations, arpeggios, and palo seco rhythms.
One of the CD's biggest strengths is its male singing section, which offers phrases from a number of traditional flamenco songs. The singing of Rafael Silva "Chocolate" provides the proper pathos with an evocative and earthy quality. The female vocal section is not quite as impressive: the singer's voice is too velvety and languid to generate enough excitement or emotion in many of the phrases. A section of jaleo shouts and expressions, though, is quite good and should provide plenty of colorful material for your next flamenco piece.
Another of this collection's strengths is the cajon section. The recording quality is better here than in some of the other sections, and the loops and phrases are excellent, especially the fast bulerias patterns. This section also includes a variety of hits, flams, and other short fragments.
A section of group zapateado offers some fine dancing (sometimes with palmas), but the recording includes a great deal of reverb-it sounds as if it were recorded in a dance studio. Consequently, blending these phrases with other tracks is difficult. Solo zapateado phrases are also provided, and the performances are excellent, although some of the phrases are too quiet.
Flamenco Sounds has a terrific palmas section with several exciting phrases that include contratiempo and foot stomps. The castanet section offers nearly two dozen very nice rhythmic patterns, but all of the samples include palmas sordas as well, so you can't get a clear castanet phrase if you need one-very unfortunate.
Although this collection is uneven in places, it boasts some strong sections with several excellent samples. Moreover, its creators have made an effort to represent a variety of traditional flamenco song and dance forms, adding to the disc's value.
Flamenco. As with Flamenco-Made in Spain, Universal Sound Bank's Flamenco, a two-disc CD-ROM set for Akai samplers, emphasizes contemporary styles, especially rumba and tanguillo (a close relative of tango). Unlike the other discs, however, Flamenco (see Fig. 6) offers little in the way of traditional song forms such as bulerias, alegrias, and soleares.
The first disc is devoted entirely to guitar strumming patterns, which are offered in major and minor keys at four tempos: 100, 112, 119, and 133.5 bpm. In addition, each pattern includes a palo seco version at each of the tempos. The disc also provides a few solo rasgueados and some handy ending patterns. The recording quality is good and the comping patterns loop nicely (although they don't immediately suggest a strong flamenco feel). These rhythm guitar loops might work well for folk, pop, Latin, or mariachi music-and of course, they could be used for flamenco-style rumbas.
The second disc begins with several arpeggios in major and minor keys. The patterns loop well and sound great, but the performances sound a bit too "classical"-they lack that flamenco edge. The disc also includes individual notes with Velocity-switching between hard and soft attacks. Other banks offer chords strummed slowly up or down, guitar slurs (with Velocity-switching), and solo phrases at different tempos for rumba and tanguillo.
The cajon section is one of this collection's finest features. It includes a wide variety of loops at the same four tempos as the guitar accompaniments-mostly for rumba and tanguillo. It also provides a good assortment of single hits, rolls, flams, and other effects for creating your own rhythms. Other banks contain some very good zapateado loops and single hits, as well as several excellent castanet loops (at the same four tempos) and single hits. I especially like several of the palmas presets, which include loops and short samples that you can easily combine into contratiempo rhythms once you get the hang of it.
A section of male and female singing offers a variety of short phrases for rumba and tanguillo in the established four tempos. Again, the male singing is a bit stronger than the female, but both are somewhat limited by the disc set's exclusion of other song forms. Unlike competing sample CDs, Flamenco comes with no lyrics-not even the opening lyrics-for the phrases, making them much harder to find and use. Other vocalizations include a section of male and female jaleo and nine samples of the cuadro milling around while talking and kidding with one another in Spanish.
This collection is rather limited in terms of the song forms that it incorporates, but it does include a number of excellent samples. Furthermore, because most of the samples conform to the same four tempos, mixing and matching loops should be relatively easy. But if you're looking for a broad range of traditional song forms, Flamenco may disappoint you, despite its otherwise fine samples.
World Colours. As the name suggests, Best Service's World Colours (see Fig. 7) offers a variety of samples from around the globe. In fact, this two-CD set is jam-packed with a surprisingly wide range of musical excerpts and fragments from such faraway locales as Russia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, India, Bali, and Africa. The Gypsy (Romani) selections from Eastern Europe include accordion, violin, and zimbalon samples as well as wind instruments, vocals, and percussion.
A modest flamenco section with an assortment of guitar strums, grooves, and solos begins the first disc. Some of the samples are so short (little more than a fraction of a second) that they're of questionable value. However, some of the longer patterns might make nice accompaniment parts. Most of the samples sound as if they were extracted from a recording of a larger performance: several clearly have palmas and other sounds in the background-that could cause trouble when looping and building tracks. In general, the guitar samples are presented as a potpourri of styles and sounds, with rasgueado, picado, and other techniques offered in no particular order.
Rhythm patterns using the guitar body as a percussion instrument (often heard during flamenco performances) are provided here, but the collection lacks the muted guitar sounds common in palo seco passages. A small section of group jaleo is offered, as are several short phrases sung by male soloists. The singers create a good gitano sound, but in several of the phrases guitar, palmas, and other elements are audible in the background, limiting the samples' usefulness. Furthermore, the recording quality ranges all over the place: some phrases sound relatively clean and close, while others sound more like field recordings. The same problem plagues many of the guitar samples.
A section of rattles and shakers is of limited use for flamenco (a cajon section would have been a welcome addition), but a number of palmas and zapateado samples have creative potential. Several samples combine palmas with vocals, jaleo, and footsteps, so they aren't particularly suitable for looping. Some of the extended palmas samples are quite good, with hand claps and foot stomps generating characteristic contratiempo rhythms. World Colours also offers individual palmas hits, but most were recorded with too much reverb. Group and solo zapateado patterns are included, and some are quite good, but they suffer from the same recording-quality inconsistencies as the earlier samples.
In general, the flamenco section of World Colours is a hit-or-miss grab bag of samples. The collection's value is unfortunately diminished by the poor organization of the discs, not to mention the lack of printed information: the flamenco section offers no tempo markings, key indications, lyrics, or identification of song forms, and the performers aren't even credited. Still, World Colours has a few gems, including some excellent palmas with contratiempo, some very good extended zapateado patterns, and a few nice guitar phrases.
Look and ListenAs you may have guessed, the art of flamenco encompasses far more than can be covered in a single article. If you aren't already familiar with the music, buy a few flamenco recordings and acquaint yourself with it. Most large CD retailers have a section for the music of Spain; you should have no trouble finding plenty of recordings from the past and present.
Many books and instructional videos are also available and worth exploring. If you don't know where to look for flamenco resources, start with your Web browser. The Internet is packed with flamenco information, and you can order anything from CDs to castanets online or over the phone. (For a list of places to start, see the sidebar "Flamenco on the Web.") Finally, keep an eye open for flamenco performances in your area. Watching and listening to live flamenco is unquestionably the best way to capture the spirit of this exciting art form.
EM associate editor David Rubin lives and works in the Los Angeles area, where he is currently studying flamenco guitar with Paco Arroyo.
To fully appreciate flamenco, it's important to know a little about its origins. The term flamenco refers to a genre of Gypsy songs, instrumental music, and dance that evolved primarily in a region of southern Spain called Andalusia. The Andalusian provinces include such familiar-sounding cities as Seville, Granada, and Malaga, which is why many flamenco pieces incorporate those names.
During the Middle Ages, the Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula and succeeded in driving the Spanish aristocracy into the northern parts of the country. For several hundred years thereafter, Andalusia flourished as a trading center and cultural melting pot, giving rise to great works of art and architectural marvels such as the beautiful Alhambra and the Alcazar, still popular with tourists today.
It is generally believed that the Andalusian Gypsies originated in India (probably in the Punjab region) and later migrated north to escape persecution. During the early 15th century, many found their way to southern Spain, where they encountered a rich variety of religious and secular musical styles from an array of Eastern and Western cultures. Unfortunately for the Gypsies, during the latter half of the 15th century, the Spanish aristocrats gained sufficient power to reclaim the country. In 1492-as Christopher Columbus waited impatiently for the go-ahead from Queen Isabella-the Spanish kings expelled the last of the Moors from Granada and reestablished the country under a unified Spanish rule.
By the early 16th century, the political climate had clearly changed under the Spanish monarchs. Gypsies, Jews, and Arabs were actively persecuted by the Christian rulers. As a result, these seemingly disparate "outlawed" groups banded together against their common oppressor; in the process, the Gypsies began to incorporate Moorish and Jewish musical elements into their songs. This is hardly surprising, for the Gypsies had always been adept at absorbing and adapting musical elements from different cultures. The resulting amalgam of Indian, Arabic, Hebraic, liturgical Christian, and Andalusian folk musical styles was fused in the crucible of Gypsy experience, ultimately giving birth to the exciting music that we now know as flamenco.
In its early years, flamenco consisted primarily of solo songs with little or no accompaniment. These songs-which typically touched on the suffering, misfortune, and oppression of an outcast minority-were sung at Gypsy gatherings and in the caves where the Gypsies often lived. Over time, many types of songs were partnered with guitar accompaniments and dancing.
By the mid-19th century, flamenco had grown increasingly popular with non-Gypsy Spaniards and European tourists, and flamenco performers became essential fixtures in numerous restaurants and small cafes throughout Spain. This "Cafe Cantante" period (1850-1910) is often referred to as the Golden Age of Flamenco; the art form reached its zenith during this time, defining much of what we see and hear in today's flamenco performances.
Ongoing experiments in flamenco continue to push the artistic envelope by combining flamenco's techniques, sounds, and rhythms with jazz, pop, classical, and other musical styles (much to the dismay of flamenco purists). It is not unusual today to find flamenco guitarists and singers collaborating with players of nontraditional instruments such as flute, saxophone, and cello.
Flamenco and classical guitars look very much alike, but some significant differences contribute to their distinctive sounds and allow the various playing techniques employed with each instrument. If you plan to record your own flamenco guitar samples, you'll want to keep these differences in mind. The ideal timbre for a classical guitar is a clean, round, sustained, and elegant sound; conversely, the ideal for a flamenco guitar is strong, bright, penetrating yet earthy. Construction materials as well as structural characteristics are responsible for these and other differences.
To begin with, the body of a traditional flamenco guitar is lighter and not quite as deep as a concert classical guitar. The top is often thinner and the bracing is not as heavy. Whereas rosewood is used for classical guitar bodies, the back and sides of a flamenco guitar are typically made of a light-colored wood (most often Spanish cypress). In recent years, a kind of hybrid guitar has been gaining popularity. These flamenca negra models are constructed like traditional flamenco guitars, but with rosewood backs and sides. This imparts a somewhat darker and mellower tone to the instrument while still accommodating flamenco playing techniques.
On a flamenco guitar, the strings are set lower to the fingerboard (the bridge is thinner, and the neck is set at less of an angle), facilitating ligado and rasgueado techniques and contributing to the instrument's distinctive sound quality. The lower strings may produce some buzzing on the frets during playing, and a little buzz is considered acceptable for a flamenco instrument. In addition, flamenco guitars always have a plastic shield on the soundboard around the string and bridge area. This golpeador protects the top of the instrument from damage caused by the energetic finger taps and rasgueados that are an important part of flamenco music.
Fernandez Musicwww.fernandezmusic.com Ron Fernandez is a wholesaler of guitars and flamenco accessories. His site features numerous informative articles on flamenco-related topics.
Flamenco Centralflamencocentral.homepage.com This Southern California-based site features information and links to flamenco teachers, performers, and local events. It also offers pictures of flamenco performers and contacts in Spain.
Flamenco Connection flamenco.bizland.comThis site provides contact information for Flamenco Connection, a mail-order retailer in Virginia that specializes in flamenco CDs, books, videos, instruments, strings, and accessories. Flamenco Connection (888-FLAMENCO) has an extensive and impressive inventory, and it's well worth your time to contact the company and request a catalog.
The Flamenco Guitar Homepage www.guitarist.com/fg/fg.htmThis site provides information for aspiring flamenco guitarists and also offers printed excerpts of music and links to other sites.
Flamenco World www.flamenco-world.comThis important site, based in Spain, has a wealth of information about flamenco and its performers. In addition, it features RealAudio clips and links to sites that offer CDs, books, and flamenco accessories.
The German Flamenco Pageswww.multimania.com/germanflamenco/contents.htm This site has a ton of information on flamenco, including news, links, music, contacts, and much more.