Spanish Music

A general overview of the history of music in Spain and a brief look at some of the country’s top artists.
When you think about music in Spanish, flamenco might be the first thing to come to mind. This unique musical genre and dance style, which come from humble origins but enjoy a universal cultural appeal, is often associated with Spain and especially with Andalusia. The flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía and the revolutionary cantaores (flamenco singers) Camarón de la Isla and Enrique Morente helped modernize the genre, dramatically increasing its international popularity. We know you’ll love listening to these artists and many others who perform flamenco in its purest form, but the very nature of this heart-wrenching way of singing may make it difficult for you to understand the words… much less sing them. One solution is to try a less intense version: many Spanish singers and soloists, such as Raimundo Amador, Ketama, and Rosario Flores, have successfully fused flamenco with pop music.

Spain has also produced internationally successful composers and singers of classical music: some of Spain’s world-famous opera singers include soprano Montserrat Caballé and tenors like Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, and the late Alfredo Kraus. Once again, it’s not easy to get your vocal chords up to the task of singing along, and furthermore, operas aren’t usually sung in Spanish. Instead, we recommend that you listen to recordings of these artists — along with works by Spanish composers like Albéniz, Manuel de Falla, or Pau Casals — to get to know Spanish musical culture a little better, and maybe to use as background music when you’re doing your Spanish grammar homework.

What’s known as Spanish popular music began to spread near the end of the 19th century thanks to the development of the phonograph industry and the first recordings of folk music. Genres such as the copla andaluza, the cuplé, and the bolero became enormously popular in the early decades of the 20th century and continued growing until the 1960s. These types of melodic songs were usually performed by a singer and an orchestra or a band. Romantic ballads became a big favorite, and some of Spain’s biggest stars of the moment were Raphael, Camilo Sesto, Nino Bravo, Rocío Dúrcal, and, of course, Julio Iglesias. This musical genre was heavily influenced by both French and Italian music.

Starting in 1964 with the British Invasion, bands influenced by rock and pop acts from the United Kingdom became fashionable in Spain. In this same decade, the first Spanish pop hits began to earn a certain amount of fame abroad. The first song to successfully cross the border was Black is Black by Los Bravos, although as the title reveals, the song was sung in English, not Spanish. Reaching number one in Canada, number four in the U.S., and inspiring a French version by Johnny Hallyday, Black is Black was one of the first clear signs of the influence that music in English had begun to exert on Spanish creators.

During the 1960s and 70s, the Eurovision Song Contest popularized some of the songs and artists who participated in the contest representing Spain, and many of these tunes have become true karaoke anthems that are still famous today. La, La, La, written by Dúo Dinámico, launched Massiel to victory in 1968, but the song that made the biggest impact thanks to Eurovision is, without a doubt, Eres Tú, by Mocedades, who won second place in 1973 with Spain’s highest score in the history of the contest. In addition to being one of the few songs by a Spanish artist to reach the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart (where it stayed for 17 weeks, peaking at number 9), more than 70 versions have been made of the song in different languages. This means that it’s possible that you’ve hummed along this Spanish song without even knowing it.

The 1970s saw the rise of protest songs, which often hurled veiled criticism at the Franco dictatorship, stood up for the disadvantaged, and vindicated popular culture, sung by artists like Lluís Llach and Joan Manuel Serrat.

Another important moment in Spain’s musical history was the counterculture movement known as la Movida Madrileña (the Madrid Scene), which emerged in the capital city around 1980, showing influences from British punk and new wave. The Movida represented a radical break from the conventional values that characterized the Franco dictatorship and encompassed multiple forms of artistic expression, including Pedro Almodóvar’s early movies and the music-focused TV show La Edad de Oro. Some of the movement’s most representative groups and artists are Radio Futura, Naca Pop, Los Secretos, Tino Casal, and the various bands that singer Alaska formed part of, including Kaka de Lux, Alaska y Los Pegamoides, and Alaska y Dinarama.

What about Spanish music today? It exists, but it’s not as well known. But we assure you, it goes a lot further than the omnipresent, unsinkable Macarena, which became a worldwide sensation in the 1990s.

In their most commercial forms, Spanish pop and rock tend to be infused with Latin rhythms or inspired by music in English. A prime example of the first case is the career of Enrique Iglesias, an international superstar; while bands like Amaral or Vetusta Morla are good examples of the latter. Vetusta Morla holds the current record among Spanish artists for the biggest concert, with 38,000 spectators. In recent years, genres like hip-hop and trap have also found their way to the Spanish music scene, with artists such as La Mala Rodríguez.