Spanish music, over the centuries, has been heavily influenced by French, German, and Moorish cultures. All these cultures have left their indelible mark on Spanish music. Guitar and flamenco are words which instantly conjure up in our minds when we think of music from Spain. But there's much more to Spanish music than just this. Western classical music has been deeply impacted by Spanish music. The Renaissance period from 15th to 17th century saw a great many Spanish composers traveling all over Europe, especially Italy, and returning to Spain to spread their skills, armed with superior musical knowledge. The most notable among early Spanish composers was Tomas Luis de Victoria. The Baroque era saw the evolution of zarzuela, a form of light opera, which became immensely popular in the 18th century.
Spanish Music by Region
Every region in Spain has its own distinct genre and instruments. Let us see in detail the musical styles originating from the various regions of Spain.
Galicia, Asturias, and Cantabria
These regions lie in northwest Spain and the music is full of Celtic influence, since the Celts settled here as early as 1000 BC. Everything from the instruments, the rhythms, and the melody has a distinctly Celtic feel. Traditionally, people in this region use the gaita (bagpipe), more commonly in Galicia and Asturias.
Tamboril, a percussion instrument, which is similar to a snare drum, accompanies the gaita. These instruments are used in marches and processions. The different types of songs played using the gaita include the muineira, carballesa, redonda, ribeirana, chouteira, and contapaso.
Galician music essentially features the use of various harps, flutes, and fiddles. The most popular Galician form of music has to be the alalas. These chants, which were popular even in ancient times are melancholic in nature. As opposed to alala, pandeirada and foliada are swift, joyful songs and are often played at public gatherings.
Andalusia is synonymous with flamenco, arguably the most popular form of Spanish music and dance all over the world. Flamenco originated from the Andalusian gypsies. The guitar is the most important instrument used in flamenco.
Cante jondo and cante chico are the most popular type of flamenco songs. Cante jondo, popular in eastern Andalusia, is usually sung by one singer. It is replete with sad lyrics, with the main themes being death and unrequited love. Cante chico, on the other hand, is a lot more catchy, since it has a quick, dance-oriented beat.
Other popular styles include the sevillana and siguiriyas. As the name suggests, sevillana originates from Seville and is a kind of folk music. It has a lively, feel-good quality and its themes center around rural life, mainly maidens, love, and pilgrimage. Siguiriyas pertains to the cante jondo category and is noteworthy for its rich, colorful style.
Catalonia is most popular for its traditional music, cobla, which accompanies a dance style known as sardana. Cobla involves the use of clarinets, and other folk instruments including tambori and tenora. Other types of musical genres include the rumba catalana, which has been developed by the Catalonian gypsies. It owes its origin to the Afro-Cuban styles that were popular around the late 19th century.
Another world-famous music is the havaneres, which is sung at parties and special occasions. The story goes that havaneres were introduced into Spain by sailors, and hence this genre is more widespread in the coastal regions along the northeast of the country.
Castile, Madrid, and Leon
These regions, occupying central Spain, have been heavily influenced by Jewish, Moorish, Celtic, French, Visigothic, and Portuguese music styles. Jota, a style originating from Aragon has a slow tempo.
The most common musical instruments in use are shawm and tabor pipe. Tuna is a popular type of serenade, played by students, and originates from the city of Salamanca. Guitar, bandurria, and tambourine are traditionally used to play the tuna. Chotis, both a type of music and dance form, thrives in Madrid.
The Basque country has a long musical history, and the Basques are well-known for their songs, especially their choirs. Txitsu, txalaparta, and alboka are traditional instruments native to Basque music. Txitsu is a kind of flute that emits a shrill sound, and is typically played with one hand.
The txalaparta is a percussion instrument with wooden boards and sticks, while the alboka is in the shape of a horn. The music associated with trikitixa, a dance genre, is another very popular form of Basque music.
The most famous music style originating from Aragon is the jota. It is played using the guitar, bandurria, tambourine, and castanet, accompanied by singing. Characterized by repetitive drum beats, Aragonese music is influenced by the Berbers who lived in Northern Africa. Jota is often accompanied by dances and is rhythmic, with a fast tempo, as compared to its Castilian counterpart. Albadas and rondas make up the other genres of traditional Aragonese music.
A popular instrument used in Aragonese music is the guitarro, a small kind of guitar. Others include gaita de boto, a type of bagpipe, and chiflo, a kind of tabor pipe.
Navarre and La Rioja
Geographically close to the Basque region and Aragon, these regions share musical characteristics of both these areas. The shawm is a popular musical instrument, whereas public processions make use of the dulzaina and the txitsu.
Murcia was once colonized by the Moors, hence the music also reflects Moorish influence. This dry region borrows heavily from Andalusian music. Cante jondo, played using the guitar, is as popular here as it is in Andalusia. Rondallas are plucked-string instruments especially popular in Murcia.
Auroras are songs sung in churches, often unaccompanied by any musical instrument, other than the ringing of church bells. During festivals such as Christmas, people sing cuadrillas, which are often accompanied by a dance.
The music of Valencia is distinctly Mediterranean. Bandes, which are groups of musicians playing various brass instruments, are commonly found performing all over, even in small towns. The havaneres are popular along the Valencian ports, and religious and work songs, sung accompanied by musical instruments are well-known in Valencia. Other types of music genres popular nowadays include techno, Valencian rock, and Ska music, which is Jamaican in origin.
The music of Extremadura is heavily inspired by neighboring Portugal. Tabor pipe is the most widely used musical instrument, and the jota is also popular, and is played using castanets, guitars, tambourines, zambombas, and triangles. Extremadura is popular for different songs, like de ronda, de bodas, de quintos, and de Nochebuena.
Jota is the traditional form of music found in this region, has a slow tempo, and is often accompanied by rattles. Musicians gather together to play the colla de xeremiers, the traditional musical style.
Latin American influence prevails over the music of the Canary Islands. A variant of jota, known as isa, is practiced here. The use of timple guitar and charanga is widespread. Carnivals are popular in this area, and the music for them is lively and produced using brass instruments.
Contemporary Spanish Music
Madrid, Barcelona, and the Basque country dominate the rock scene in Spain. The Basque country produces its own style of punk-rock music. The rock music in Basque originated in retaliation to the oppressive regime of Francisco Franco, and the music reflected the struggles the people had faced over the years. It reached its zenith during the 1980s.
Jazz is Spain was heavily influenced by Americans. The regime of Francisco Franco saw a decline in the popularity of jazz, but after his reign ended, the jazz scene returned with a bang. The folk music of Galicia and Catalonia has a deep impact on Spanish jazz.
Live jazz festivals are very popular in the country, and crowds throng to attend them. Jazz clubs abound in Spain. Some of the well-known jazz festivals are Festival de Jazz de Vitoria, Festival de Jazz de San Sebastian, and Festival de Jazz de Terrassa.
This genre of music, which was repressed under Francisco Franco's dictatorial rule, witnessed a boom in the early 1980s, and continues to prosper. Deeply influenced by British and American pop music, contemporary Spanish pop is an amalgamation of various genres, including rock, punk rock, reggae, blues, etc. The industry has also produced several artists who tasted international success, the most famous being the father-son duo of Julio and Enrique Iglesias.
With an intense variation in style and form, traditional Spanish music has evolved and even seamlessly blended well with modern genres like pop and hip hop. You now know that music and dance is an integral part of Spanish culture, so if you ever visit Spain, enjoy and soak in the rich, beautiful music that's certain to leave you spellbound.