Today I'm going to show you how the same letra can (and definitely will be) interpreted in different ways by different singers. I'll also talk about why, as dancers, we need to pay attention to this. And finally, I'll share a tangos letra with you and dissect another one. (Oh, and at the end of the post I give you a practice activity to do from the comfort of your own home.)


How the same letra can vary

Depending upon who is singing, how they like to sing a given letra, and even how they are feeling at a given moment, one letra can be interpreted in many different ways.

Let's look at some examples:

  1. One singer may take a break (un respiro) in the letra while another may sing it straight through. 
  2. One singer may take a break in one place within the letra while another may take a break in another place. 
  3. One singer may break for just one compás while another may break longer. 
  4. One singer may hold out a particular word or sound for a number of beats while another may keep it short.
  5. One singer may sing the words one way while another may sing some of the words differently.

What does this mean for us as dancers?

It means that we can't expect a certain letra to be sung in a particular way just because we're used to hearing it that way.  

But why does it matter?

Because we must attune to the singing while dancing.

As we know, flamenco is a conversation, and listening to the compás and the cante while we dance is key.

In the beginning we may be so focused on the steps and staying in rhythm that we aren't able to focus as much on the cante while we're dancing.

That's okay.

But as we continue dancing flamenco and advancing, the ability to respond to what we hear in the cante while we dance becomes muy importante. The two are intertwined, and even though it may be difficult at first, we need to know that this is where we're headed...

And while being familiar with a variety of letras gives us an idea of what to expect, we can't really predict what a singer is going to do. We can anticipate how the cante is going to a certain degree if we know the type of letra. We might hear something in the singer's voice or tone that indicates to us what is going to happen next, but we must be careful because we never really know just how the singer is going to interpret a given letra. This means that in an improvisational or por fiesta setting, we can't just expect to go out and dance our choreographed piece and have it work out perfectly with the singing.

So, what do we do?

We listen well.

We remain open.

We respond to the cante when we can. (No need to freak out if we do a move that doesn't feel like it compliments the singing.)

And no matter what, we stay in compás.

What if we don't feel ready to respond to the cante?

No big deal.

Like I said, it can be difficult to focus on staying in compás, remembering steps, and following the cante all at once. Just know that this is where you're headed. (In the meantime, you might like to check out this article about the different levels of improvisation.) 

Also, we definitely want to listen a lot to develop familiarity with popular letras, especially tangos and bulerías as these are the palos we dance por fiesta. The more we listen, the better prepared we'll be to respond later on.

Now, let's look at a letra,

Below you'll find a popular verse por tangos. I posted a slightly different version of this one long ago here. With these you have two examples of the same letra with a slight variation of the words.


Mañana, mañana 
los van a prender mañana
a todos los ojitos moros
los van a prender mañana
y tú qué negros los tienes
te tendrás que cubrir la cara

Tomorrow, tomorrow 
they are going to capture
all those with Moorish eyes
they will capture them tomorrow
and you, what dark eyes you have 
you'll need to cover your face

You can listen to Miguel Poveda sing it here.

Now, if you really want to geek out with me, continue reading

Below I've dissected two interpretations of the same letra from recordings by two different singers. I did this to give you some real life examples. To get the most out of these examples, I suggest listening to the two versions so that you can actually hear the differences. (Seeing them written out alone doesn't really get the point across.) If you cannot get your hands on these songs, no biggie. Just try to find and listen to some examples of how different singers interpret a given letra in their own way. (Like this, for example.)

Example #1
from: Carmen Linares Antologia
Banderas Republicanas (Tangos de la Niña de los Peines) @ 1:40

This letra comes in after a guitar falseta.

Triana, Triana (holds for additional half-compas, 4 counts)
que bonita está Triana (holds out for an additional compás - 8 counts)
RESPIRO (break in singing)
que bonita está Triana
que bonita está Triana
cuando le ponen al puente
la bandera Republicana
que cuando le ponen al puente
la banderita Republicana

She then goes straight into another letra without pause.

Example #2 
from: Miguel Poveda Viento del Este
En Aquel Pocito Inmediato (Tientos,Tangos) @ 4:50

This letra comes in at the end of a tientos.

Triana, Triana
que bonita está Triana

RESPIRO (breaks for two compáses, 16 counts)
que bonita está Triana
que bonita está Triana
cuando le ponen al puente
la banderita gitana
cuando le ponen al puente
la banderita gitana

This letra is followed by a short guitar falseta.

By the way, in the above examples, each line is one compás (8 counts) unless otherwise noted.

And you can get the translation to that letra here.

One more thing

I should also mention that the same letra can be sung to different palos, like this, for example.

And now, two exercises for you:

1. What differences did you hear/see in the examples above? What did you notice about what each singer did with the break (respiro), the words, etc.? How might this affect your dancing?

2. Go to You Tube and find and listen to some other examples of one letra interpreted by different singers. Listen to the words, are there any variations? Listen for breaks. Listen for where the singer holds out a word or sound.

Let me know how it went in the comments below!

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