You already know about the two main settings for flamenco.
Today I want to discuss the five main elements of flamenco,
Let’s take a closer look:
[el cantaor/la cantaora - the singer]
El baile - dancing
[el bailaor/la bailaora - the dancer
La guitarra- guitar playing
[el/la guitarirsta - the guitarist]
Las palmas - rhythmic hand clapping
[el palmero/la palmera - the hand-clapper]
Los jaleos - calls of encouragement
[el festero/la festera - the person who animates]
Additionally, not all five elements have to be present in flamenco. Sometimes you’ll see only cante and guitarra, or baile and palmas, just guitar, etc. There are all kinds of possibilities.
I’ve chosen to share one video and discuss the five main elements of flamenco within it. I chose the following video for a number of reasons:
It has both a female and a male dancer.
It is short.
It has the five elements and only the five elements.
It is a tabalo setting. (Typically at a tablao, the dancers and musicians don’t have a lot of time to prepare together. David Romero explained to me that at Cordobés he doesn’t even find out what he’s dancing on a given night until he arrives at the tablao. Whoa!)
The video features the dancing of Jesús Carmona. You’ll see a snippet of his wife (Lucía Campillo) at the very beginning. So, there are two bailaores, two guitarristas, and three palmeros who are also cantaores and who also give jaleos.
It is normal to have more than one palmero, so one person can keep a base rhythm while another can accentuate the music by using different accents and contratiempo (off-beats). It is normal for a singer to double as a palmero though often times there are separate palmeros as well. The palmeros also deliver jaleos.
Notice how the performers are in conversation with one another.
This clip is focused on baile, so observe how the dancer commands the accompanying musicians using movement and sound.
The video begins with one guitarist playing a falseta (a melodic guitar solo) accompanied by the other guitarist while bailaora Lucía Campillo finishes her dance with the bata de cola. Bailaor, Jesús Carmona, enters, and together the two dancers transition from her piece into his.
The music stops, and Jesús sets the rhythm for his dance with palmas.
Once the rhythm is set the palmeros join him with palmas then the cante begins. Soon after that, the guitars come back in. Jesús stays in place, marking the music with upper body movements.
As the letra finishes and the coletilla begins, Jesús begins marking with his whole body as he moves around the stage. Here the palmeros begin playing altas (higher pitched, louder palmas) as opposed to the sordas (muted palmas) they were playing in the beginning. You’ll also notice that as the cantaor finishes the letra, Jesús looks at him before going into a llamada of footwork and turns. This interaction is crucial to the conversation. You are never in your own world in flamenco, you are always connected to the other musicians.
The elements are intertwined
There aren’t a lot of jaleos in this clip, but I imagine they'll increase as the piece progresses as this is just the beginning of a dance por alegrías. You can see a full (and very different) alegrías danced by Matilde Coral here.
Stay tuned, I’ll talk more about the structure of a dance in an upcoming post.
Some vocabulary from this post
falseta - melodic guitar solo
bailaor/bailaora - male or female flamenco dancer
contratiempo - off-beat, upbeat, backbeat, etc.
letra - song verse
coletilla - tail at the end of a letra, often repeated like a chorus
llamada - a call to signal a change
palmas sordas - muted, muffled clapping
palmas altas or fuertes - higher pitched, louder clapping
Care to go deeper?
We study the five elements of flamenco on the Flamenco Tour to Jerez. You can find out more about it here.
And, here is a comprehensive article on the history of flamenco from andalucia.com.
What did you notice in the interplay between the singer, dancers, guitarists and palmeros? What do they do to facilitate conversation with each other? How does Jesús’s baile differ from Lucía’s? What else do you notice? Let me know in the comments below.
Extra credit: Choose another video (from this site or from YouTube). Identify the five elements. Are there any additional elements? What happens when the cante begins? What do the palmas do during the guitar falseta? What is your favorite part of the piece? What element are you most drawn to? Can you play palmas along with the piece? Can you identify what the singer is singing about? What palo is it? What part do you like the best?