Music of Spain

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Musical genres, styles, eras and events

Music of Spain
Andalusia Aragon
Balearic Islands Basque Country
Canary Islands Castile, Madrid and Leon
Catalonia Extremadura
Galicia, Cantabria and Asturias Murcia
Navarre and La Rioja Valencia
Genres: Classical - Flamenco
Jazz - Folk - Hip hop - Opera - Pop - Rock
Timeline and Samples
Awards Amigo Awards
Charts AFYVE
Festivals Benidorm, Eurovision, Sonar
Media Fans, La Revista 40, Mundo Joven

For many people, Spanish music is virtually synonymous with flamenco, an Andalusian genre 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, and 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. The style of Spanish popular songs of the time is presumed to be closely related to the style of Moorish music. Music of the King Alfonso X Cantigas de Santa Maria is considered likely to show influence from Islamic sources. Other important medieval sources include the Codex Calixtinum collection from Santiago de Compostela and the Codex Las Huelgas. The so-called Llibre Vermell de Montserrat (red book) is an important devotional collection from the fourteenth century.

Renaissance and Baroque

In the early Renaissance, instrumental music was still influenced by Arabic music. Mateo Flecha el viejo and Castillian dramatist Juan del Encina rank among composers in the post Ars Nova period. Some renaissance songbooks are the Cancionero de Palacio, the Cancionero de Medinaceli (also known as cancionero de Uppsala as it is kept in Carolina Rediviva library), the Cancionero de la Colombina, and the later Cancionero de la Sablonara.

Early 16th century polyphonic vocal style developed in Spain was closely related to the style of the Franco-Flemish composers. Melting of styles 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 travelled within the empire, which extended to the Netherlands, Germany and Italy. Music for vihuela by Luis de Milán, Alonso Mudarra and Luis de Narváez stands as one of the main achievements of the period. The Aragonese Gaspar Sanz was the author of the first learning method for guitar. 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. Most Spanish composers returned home late in their careers to spread their musical knowledge in their native land.

18th to 20th centuries

By the end of the 17th century the "classical" musical culture of Spain was in decline, and was to remain that way until the 19th century. Classicism in Spain, when it arrived, was inspired on Italian models, as in the works of Antonio Soler. Some outstanding Italian composers as Domenico Scarlatti or Luigi Boccherini were appointed at the Madrid court. The short-lived Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga is credited as the main beginner of Romantic sinfonism in Spain.

Fernando Sor, Dionisio Aguado, Francisco Tárrega and Miguel Llobet are known as composers of guitar music. Fine literature for violin was created by Pablo Sarasate and Jesus de Monasterio.

Zarzuela, a native form of light opera, is a secular musical form which developed in the early 17th century. Some beloved zarzuela composers are Ruperto Chapí, Federico Chueca and Tomás Bretón.

Musical creativity mainly moved into areas of folk and popular music until the nationalist revival of the late Romantic era. Spanish composers of this period include Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla, Jesús Guridi, Ernesto Halffter, Federico Mompou and Joaquin Rodrigo.

Pop Music

Spanish pop radio flourished at the end of Francisco Franco's regime. By the late 1950s, a generation of performers were coming of age. 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. Inspired by the Italian Festival di San Remo, it was followed by a wave of similar music festivals in places like Barcelona, Majorca and the Canary Islands. 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. During the 1960s and early 70s, tourism boomed, bringing yet more musical styles from the rest of the continent and abroad.


From the English pop-refrain words "yeah-yeah",ye-yé was a French-coined term which Spanish language appropriated to refer to uptempo pop music. It mainly consisted of a fusion of American rock from the early 60s (such as 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 an imitation of French pop, at the time itself an imitation of American and British pop and rock. Dark passion and flamenco rhythms, however, made the sound distinctively Spanish. From this first generation of Spanish pop singers, Rosalia's 1965 hit "Flamenco" sounded most distinctively Spanish.


Some of Spain's most famous singers in alphabetical order are:

  • La Orquesta Mondragón
  • Luis Eduardo Aute
  • David Bisbal
  • Maria del Mar Bonet
  • Miguel Bosé
  • Enrique Bunbury
  • Camarón de la Isla
  • El Chivi
  • Paco de Lucía
  • Pepe de Lucía
  • El Fary
  • Enrique Iglesias
  • Julio Iglesias
  • Paco Ibáñez
  • María Jiménez
  • Lluís Llach
  • Loquillo
  • Antonio Molina
  • Enrique Morente
  • Ramoncín
  • Raphael
  • Miguel Ríos
  • Joaquín Sabina
  • Alejandro Sanz
  • Joan Manuel Serrat
  • Álex Ubago
  • Víctor Manuel

In addition to these, famous Spanish pop groups include Los Brincos, Los Bravos, "Cánovas, Adolfo, Rodrigo y Guzmán", Fórmula V, Triana, Orquesta Mondragón, Loquillo y Los Trogloditas, Nacha Pop, El Canto Del Loco, Pereza, Pignoise, Sonblue, Falling Kids, Ketama, Los Secretos, Siniestro Total, Obús, Burning, Radio Futura, Mecano, Héroes del Silencio, El Último de la Fila, Barón Rojo, Estopa, Amaral, La Oreja de Van Gogh, Mojinos Escocíos and Gigatron.

Also from Spain was the famous trio of singing clowns Gaby, Fofó y Miliki.


Flamenco is a mainly Gypsy art-form, strongly influenced by Andalusian traditional folk music. It consists of three forms: the song (cante), the dance (baile) and the guitar (guitarra). First reference dates back to 1774, from Cadalso's "Cartas Marruecas". Flamenco probably originated in Cádiz, Jérez de la Frontera and Triana, and could be a descendant of musical forms left by Moorish during the 8th-14th century. Influences from the Byzantine church music, Egypt, Pakistan and India could also have been important in shaping the music. The word flamenco is most commonly considered derived from the Spanish word for Flemish. Some claim that Spanish Jews in Flanders were allowed to perform their music without oppression, and Gypsies that had fought there with distinction in war on behalf of Spain were rewarded by being allowed to settle in Andalusia. Main stream scholars recognize all these early influences but consider flamenco as an earlier 19th century performance stage music as tango or fado.

Regional folk music

Spain's autonomous regions have own distinctive folk traditions. There is also a movement of folk-based singer-songwriters with politically active lyrics, paralleling similar developments across Latin America and Portugal. While the bulk of today's Spanish traditional music can only be related as far as early 19th century, only a handful of ritual religious music can be dated back to renaissance and middle age eras. So-called Iberian, Celtic, Roman, Greek or Phoenician music influence only exists in the minds of fanciful dilettanti.


Though Andalusia is best known for flamenco music (see below for more information), folk music features a strong musical tradition for gaita rociera ( tabor pipe) in Western Andalusia and a distinct violin and plucked-strings band known as panda de verdiales in Málaga. The region has also produced singer-songwriters like Javier Ruibal and Carlos Cano, who revived a traditional music called copla. Catalan 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 keep alive-and-well Andalusian Sephardic music.


Aragon was inhabited by people of Iberian descent, primarily, though Celtic, Moorish and French influences remain. Jota, now popular across Spain, could have historical roots in the Southern part of Aragon. Jota instruments include the castanets, tambourines and flutes. Aragonese music can be characterized by a dense percussive element, that some tried to attribute as an inheritance from North African Berbers. The guitarro, a unique kind of small guitar also seen in Murcia, seems Aragonese in origin. Besides its music for stick-dances and dulzaina ( shawm), Aragon has its own gaita de boto ( bagpipes) and chiflo ( tabor pipe). As in Basque country, Aragonese chiflo can be played along to a chicotén string-drum ( psalterium) rhythm.

Asturias, Cantabria and Galicia

traditional Asturian dancers
traditional Asturian dancers

Northwest Spain (Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria) is home to a distinct tradition of bagpipe music that some tried to connect to the 1970s commercial label of Celtic-derived culture. All the languages in this area are of Latin descent but local festivals celebrating the area's so-called "Celtic" influence are common, with Ortigueira's Festival del Mundo Celta being especially important. Drum and bagpipe groups are the most beloved kind of Galician folk music, and include popular bands like Milladoiro. Groups of pandereteiras are another traditional set of singing women that play tambourines. Bagpipe virtuoso Carlos Núñez 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 includes characteristical alalas songs. Alalas, that may include instrumental interludes, are believed to be chant-based popular songs with a long history, perhaps closely related to Gregorian chanting. Though connected to jota, some whimsical dilettanti also point to a Greek origin, or Phoenician rowing songs.

Asturias is also home to popular musicians such as José Ángel Hevia (a virtuoso bagpiper), and famous Celtic group Llan de Cubel. Circle folk dances using a 6/8 tambourine rhythm are also a hallmark of this area. Vocal asturianadas show melismatic ornamentations similar to those of other parts of the Iberian Peninsula. There are many festivals, such as "Folixa na Primavera" (April, in Mieres), "Intercelticu d' Avilés" (July, in Avilés), as well as many "Celtic nights" in Asturias.

As in the Basque Country, Cantabrian folk music features intrincate arch and stick dances but tabor pipes did not play such a predominant role. Aside with a rich tradition for rebec, a popular instrumental setting encompasses drum and alto clarinet (here known as pito or requinto) players.

Balearic Islands

Xeremiers or colla de xeremiers is a traditional ensemble that consists of flabiol (a five-hole tabor pipe) and xeremies (bagpipes). 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.

Basque Country

The Basques have a unique language, unrelated to any other in the world and with uncertain connections abroad. The most popular kind of Basque folk music is called after the dance trikitixa , which is based on the accordion and tambourine. Popular performers are Joseba Tapia and Kepa Junkera. Very appreciated folk instruments are txistu (similar to Occitanian galoubet recorder), alboka (a double clarinet played in circular-breathing technique, similar to other Mediterranean instruments like launeddas) and txalaparta (a huge xylophone, similar to Romanian toaca and played by two performers in a fascinating game-performance). As in many parts of the Iberian peninsula, there are ritual dances with sticks, swords and vegetal arches. There is also choral music, as well as Basque stars that sang in Spanish like Luis Mariano and Duncan Dhu.

Canary Islands

The Canary Islands were formerly inhabited by a North African Hamitic people called the Guanches. Isa a local kind of Jota is now popular, and Latin American musical ( Cuban) influences are especially widespread, especially in the presence of the charanga (a kind of guitar). Timple, the local name for ukulele / cavaquinho, is commonly seen in pluked string bands. A popular set in El Hierro island consists of drums and wooden fifes ( pito herreño). Tabor pipe is customary in some ritual dances in Tenerife island.

Castile, Madrid and León

A large inland region, Castile, Madrid and Leon had predominantly Celtiberian and Celtic cultural background before the Roman rule, showing influences from North African sources. The area has been a melting pot, however, and Gypsies, Portuguese, Jewish, Roman, Visigothic and Moorish sources could have left a mark on the region's music.

Jota is popular, but uniquely slow in Castile and Leon. Instrumentation also varies here much from the one in Aragon. Northern León, that shares a language background to Portuguese Miranda do Douro and Asturias, also has Galician influences. There are also gaita ( bagpipe) and tabor pipe traditions. The Maragatos people, of uncertain origin, have a unique musical style and live in Leon, around Astorga. All over Castile there is also a strong tradition of dance music for dulzaina ( shawm) and rondalla groups. Popular rhythms include 5/8 charrada and circle dances, jota and habas verdes. As in many other parts of the Iberian peninsula, ritual dances include paloteos (stick dances). 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 its chotis music, a local variation to the European tradition of 19th century schottische dance. Flamenco is also widespread.


Though Catalonia is best known for sardana played by cobla, there are other traditional styles of dance music like ball de bastons (stick-dances), galops, ball de gitanes. Music takes forefront personality in cercaviles and celebrations similar to Patum in Berga. Flabiol (a five-hole tabor pipe), gralla or dolçaina (a shawm) and sac de gemecs (a local bagpipe) are traditional folk instruments that make part of some coblas. The havaneres singers remain popular. Nowadays, young people cultivate Rock Català popular music, as some years ago the Nova Cançó was relevant. Catalan gipsies have created their own style of rumba called rumba catalana.


Having long been the poorest part of Spain, Extremadura is a largely rural region known for Portuguese influence on its music. As in Northern regions of Spain, there is a rich repertoire for tabor pipe music. The zambomba drum (similar to Portuguese sarronca or Brazilian cuica) is played by pulling on a rope which is inside the drum. It is found throughout Spain but is characteristic of Extremadura. The jota is common, here played with triangles, castanets, guitars, tambourines, accordions and zambombas.


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 as well as rondallas (plucked-string bands).

Navarre and La Rioja

Navarre and La Rioja are small regions that has diverse cultural elements. Northern Navarre is Basque in language, while the Southern section shares more Aragonese features. The jota, a form of music more closely associated with Aragon, is also known in both Navarre and La Rioja. Both regions have rich dance and dulzaina ( shawm) traditions. Txistu ( tabor pipe) and dulzaina ensembles are very popular to public celebrations in Navarra.


Traditional music from Valencia is characteristically Mediterranean in origin, with a Moorish influence in it. Valencia also has its local kind of Jota. Moreover, Valencia has a high reputation for musical innovation, and performing brass bands called bandes are common, with one appearing in almost every town. It also shares some traditional dances with other catalan speaking people, like for instance, the ball de bastons (stick-dance). The group Al Tall is also well-known, experimenting with the Berber band Muluk El Hwa, and revitalizing traditional valencian music, following the Riproposta Italian musical movement..

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