Flamenco is a genuine Spanish art form, or to be more exact, a southern Spanish art form. It has three branches: cante (song), baile (dance), and toque (the art of guitar playing). Flamenco was declared a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.
Gypsies are often credited with the invention of flamenco, but while it’s true that they played an important role in its creation and evolution, there are a variety of theories when it comes to the origins of flamenco. The most broadly supported hypothesis argues that flamenco’s roots are predominantly Morisco (this is the name for Spanish Moors who converted to Christianity), influenced by the mixture of cultures present in 18th-century Andalusia, where the flamenco we know today was born. This would explain why the gypsies from other parts of Spain and Europe did not develop this style of music.

During the 19th century, as a reaction to the French occupation of Spain and the Spanish War of Independence (1808-1812), the people’s affection for all things Spanish was especially strong, in opposition to the French influence. This sentiment fueled the popularity of the Andalusian art, which made it all the way to the court in Madrid. The newfound love for Spanish traditions helped Andalusian folkloric arts, including flamenco, reach new heights.

In its golden age (1869-1910), flamenco evolved into its definitive form in the numerous cafés cantantes (music cafés) of the era, where singers and dancers worked together, influencing each other and adapting to the audience’s tastes. This was the first step toward the professionalization of flamenco and it being established as a musical genre. The most intense form of flamenco, cante jondo, which expresses the deepest feelings, appeared during this period.

Flamenco’s increasing popularity and its link to other Spanish customs, such as bullfighting, led to its rejection by the Generation of ’98. This philosophical, literary, and cultural movement distanced itself from Spain’s downward spiral, which had reached its lowest point with the Spanish-American War and the loss of the last Spanish colonies in 1898. The movement’s drive for renewal flew in the face of the passion for Spanish traditions, and flamenco was discredited in the eyes of the era’s intellectuals, a view that would continue for decades to come.

Nevertheless, the genre’s popularity among the general public grew and grew. To please the crowds, many shows decided to focus on the palos (the different traditional flamenco styles) that were the most festive or celebratory. In response, in the 1920s an opposing trend defended purism and hailed cante jondo as the highest artistic expression of flamenco. In keeping with this ideal, Federico García Lorca and Manuel de Falla organized a cante jonde competition in Granada in 1922. Although it didn’t make much of an impact, partly because the organizers were searching for a “purity” that never existed in flamenco, the competition did show that the high culture was taking an interest in flamenco. In large part, this was because many of the members of the Generation of ’27 were from Andalusia and were more familiar with the art form’s true richness and depth.

During Franco’s dictatorship, flamenco played a dual role: on one hand, it was adopted by the regimen as one of the representative pillars of Spanish culture; on the other, it embodied rebellion and was used to oppose the regime — flamenco protest songs were common throughout the ‘60s. The first rigorous studies about flamenco, which laid the groundwork for researching, conserving, and promoting it, began to appear in the ‘50s.

The first edition of the Festival Internacional del Cante de las Minas de la Unión was held in Murcia in 1961. What began as a cante (singing) competition has gone on to become a legendary festival with professionals and amateurs competing in all three categories: cante, baile, and toque. Now celebrated every year in early August, the festival is considered one of the world’s most important flamenco events and has been declared a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest.

Over the years, the flamenco genre has continued to evolve as it has been exposed to all sorts of different influences. Flamenco fusion began in the ‘70s with its own mythical artists, such as the guitarist Paco de Lucía and the cantaores (Flamenco singers) Camarón de la Isla, Enrique Morente, El Lebrijano, and Remedios Amaya. Today’s flamenco reflects many influences from different types of music, including jazz, salsa, and bossa nova, and has incorporated instruments from other cultural traditions.

The transformations flamenco has undergone throughout its history led to its integration into the modern musical movements of rock, pop, and blues, with artists like Raimundo Amador, Ketama, and Rosario Flores, to name just a few. One of the biggest moments for this fusion came with the release of the 1996 album Omega, a collaboration between cantaor Enrique Morente and Lagartija Nick, a rock group from Granada. Several prominent figures from the flamenco world also participated in the project, which adapted poems from Federico García Lorca’s Poet in New York and songs by the Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. Today, Enrique Morente’s daughters Estrella and Soleá are two of the most successful and renowned artists with roots in the flamenco tradition.