FLAMENCO GLOSSARY (ENGLISH)
Updated: Oct 8, 2020
The essential vocabulary, translated and explained.
Abandolao : traditional rhythmic pattern, descending from the Spanish bolero, used in the majority of fandangos (with the notable exception of Fandangos de Huelva). Click here for an example.
Abanico : fan ; one of the many tools of flamenco dance. There is also a guitar technique called abanico.
Aficionado/da : someone who appreciates and tries to deepen their knowledge of the art of Flamenco ; someone who practices this art non-professionally.
At the end of his life, the great cantaor Enrique Morente said that all he wanted was to be “a good aficionado”.
Aflamencado / aflamencar : a ‘non-flamenco’ style of music is said to be aflamencado when it borrows aesthetic characteristics from Flamenco such as rhythm, melody, poetry or harmony.
Alegrías : literally means “Joys”. One of the oldest and most famous palos of Flamenco. Part of the family of Cantiñas. It comes from the bay of Cádiz and is said to borrow many of its melodic and harmonic contours from another Spanish musical style called jota. It is played in major mode and in 12-beats.
Bailaor/Bailaora : Flamenco dancer, specifically. The Spanish term for any other kind of dancer is bailarín/bailarina.
Bulería por soleá, a.k.a. bulería pa’ escuchar : a bulería melody, interpreted at the much slower speed of soleá or soleá por bulerías, with which it is often confused or voluntarily blended. It is a difficult palo for singers and guitarists, because of the use of ripios and the stretching of melodic phrases throughout various compáses. It is very popular in Jerez de la Frontera.
Caída del cante : last melodic phrase of a flamenco letra. It is probably called caída (“fall”) because the letras flamencas often finish with a melodic decrease in pitch all the way down to the low tonic (sometimes called “cadence”, cadencia).
Cantaor/Cantaora : Flamenco singer, specifically. The Spanish term for any other kind of singer is cantante.
Cante pa’ alante : a song interpreted without any dance, for active listening ; literally means “song in the front”.
Cante de atras : a song interpreted for dance ; literally means “song in the back”.
Cantes de Ida y Vuelta : a wide group of songs that spring from mutual appropriations and exchanges between Spain and the Latino-American continent. Examples : Guajira, Colombiana, Tangos del Piyayo, Tangos del Titi, Milonga, Vidalita...
Cantes de la fragua : blacksmith songs, born from the aesthetic of this particular professional world. The most famous of all are the martinetes.
The father or José Monje Cruz, a.k.a Camarón de la Isla, was a blacksmith.
Cantiñas : a family of rather happy songs, mostly born in the province of Cádiz. They are sung in major mode, using the compás of soleá por bulerías (12 beats, moderately fast). Examples : Alegrías de Cádiz, Mirabrás, Romera, Caracoles, Alegrías de Córdoba...
Cambio : switching from one palo to another in order to close a cante or a dance.
Here are some famous examples of cambios :
Tientos → Tangos
Alegrías → Bulerías de Cádiz
Tarantos (atras) → Tangos
Solea (atras) → Bulerías
Solea (alante) → coletilla in major mode
Seguiriyas → Cabales
Cierre : literally “closure” (of a falseta, a llamada, an escobilla…).
Coletilla : a short song that complements a letra or accompanies the end of a dance. Coletillas have a similar function to that of a chorus in popular music, although they are seldom repeated within the same song (if they are, they are called estribillo). They tend to be very rhythmic and easy to memorize.
Contestación : “answer”. The dance responds to the cante when the singer pauses (respiro).
A compás is a musical bar (which can be, in Flamenco, 3, 4, 6 or 12 beats long). Unlike classical music, they are almost never counted : compases flow by depending on the artists’ choices.
Compás is also the word that is used in Flamenco to refer to the general concept of rhythm. A person who is said to “have compás” is someone who has a good sense of rhythm (evenness, assertiveness, groove, wit...)
(Estar) cruzados : literally, to be “crossed”. This expression refers to the situations where different musicians and/or dancers are mistakenly not on the same compás. It can be seen as a kinder way to say that someone is fuera.
Estribillo : literally “chorus”. A short letra with a catchy melody, repeated various times in the course of a cante. The use of estribillos is rather uncommon in traditional Flamenco but it is very popular in aflamencada pop music and in rumba catalana.
A famous estribillo : "Leley Leley... Pasa / Que tenga la puerta abierta / La alegría de mi casa" (José Mercé - Aire)
Falseta : flamenco guitar solo. It can accompany a dance or be a piece on its own.
Fin de fiesta : "end of the party" ; Flamenco shows generally finish with an improvisation ‘por Bulerías’. The performers invite other Flamencos from the crowd to sing, play guitar and dance a pataita on stage. The idea is to recreate the joyful and spontaneous atmosphere of a juerga, for the public to enjoy.
Fuera : literally “outside”. Someone who is fuera is someone who has lost compás (hopefully not for too long).
Juerga : party. Flamenco feeds off parties (financially and spiritually). The greatest flamenco parties happen very late at night, sometimes into the morning. For an epic example of this, click here (from 3:38).
Juguetillo : a coletilla from the family of cantiñas.
Letra : verse, stanza, song ; group of tercios that form a coherent whole, musically and poetically. Singing Flamenco means singing letras, one after the other, with the occasional coletilla in-between. The meaning of the different letras doesn’t need to be linked : one letra generally says all it has to say. In that sense, a letra can be compared to a Japanese Haiku.
Letra valiente (synonym : macho) : literally, the “bravest” letra of a cante, which means it is the hardest to sing. It is generally sung last in order to create a dramatic progression.
Macho (synonym : letra valiente).
Martinete : blacksmith song, sung a palo seco (without guitar), and originally libre (without rhythm). It belongs to the family of tonás. The members of the Agujeta family are known for their interpretations of this difficult and obscure cante.
Melismas : singing various notes within only one syllable. Melismas are one of the characteristics of flamenco cante which are also predominant in Arabic music.
Olé : exclamation that expresses enthusiasm, surprise, encouragement, admiration, respect and/or joy. For the ultimate flamenco effect, try to say olé inside compás (for example, on the 12th beat of a buleria, after a remate).
Palmas : probably short for “palmadas”. It is the art of playing percussion with the palms of your hands.
Palo : a palo is a style of song that is defined by melody, compás and specific guitar lines. For example, soleá, seguiriya, and alegrias are palos.
(Cantar a) Palo seco : singing without guitar accompaniment, “a capella”. Some songs, like tonás and trillas, are always sung a palo seco, although any palo can be sung a palo seco in order to give a special focus to the cante. For example, Arcangel does this por bulerias ; David Palomar does this por cantiñas.
Pataita : from “patada/patadita” ; small section of footwork por bulerías that belongs to the informal realm of parties and fin de fiesta. All proper Flamencos (guitarists, singers, and of course, dancers) have a pataita in their toolbox for the world to enjoy.
Rasgueo : when a guitarist rapidly strokes the strings of his guitar with various fingers, sometimes very loudly. Rasgueos accompany the strong moments of the dance and the cante. They open certain palos (like traditional Seguiriya) and they are abundantly used in remates and cierres.
Remate : peak of intensity of a cante, a dance or a falseta, sometimes accompanied by a skillful coming together of palmas. “Rematar” a cante means giving it the necessary emotional height that it deserves (maybe with a letra valiente) in order to elicit the famous ¡Olé! from the public. In Spanish, rematar means “finishing completely”. Therefore, remates often serve as cierres.
Respiro : literally, “breath”. A moment of respite of the cante between two tercios or before the repetition of the same tercio. It can last several compases but it shouldn’t be too long in order to keep the letra going.
Ripio : The singer stretches the melody, adding a few words. Very frequent in bulerías and bulerías por soleá. This sometimes forces the guitarist to delay the change of chords by ½, 1, or even 2 compases. The dance is also forced to adapt to this stretch if the letra becomes longer. Some examples of ripios :
Famous ripios that do not add any content to the letra : “compañera de mi alma”, “compañero maligno”, “prima mía de mi alma”, “valgame Dios”, “ay, mare”…
Some ripios are elaborations on the subject of the letra : “te tienes que volver loca”, “porque yo bien te camelo”, “por tus malas acciones”, “y yo culpita no tengo”, “tu pare y tu mare”...
Soleá : one of the most fundamental flamenco palos, descending from old jaleos. It is played in 12 beats, in “flamenco” (a kind of phrygian) mode, rather slowly. Its metric structure is often of three or four octosyllabic verses. It conveys sad emotions such as melancholy, solitude (hence the name, which comes from “soledad”), grief or misery. There are different families of soleares, depending on their geographical origin : Triana, Cádiz, Alcalá, Jerez...
Soleá por bulerías : playing a Soleá at a faster pace, tending towards Bulería.
Sonanta : old word from Andalucia that refers affectionately to the guitar.
Subida : a “raise” of the rhythm ; a speed-up.
Tablao : popular pronunciation of the word "tablado" (wooden surface), which refers to the stages on which Flamenco is danced and the restaurants that host these shows. Tablaos descend from cafés cantantes, where Flamenco was played alongside other musical styles, at the end of the XIXth century into the first decades of the XXth. From the 1970s on, tablaos became a very popular tourist attraction.
Tapao : derived from the term tapado, “covered” ; it is when the guitarist strikes the compás with his right hand while stopping the strings from resonating with his left hand. The result is a “chuck-chuck”, rhythmic but neutral type of sound that is often requested by dancers in order to underline a section of their footwork. Tapao is also used as an introduction for a dance or a cante, in order to settle into the compás.
Temple : the vocalizations with which a cantaor or cantaora prepares his/her voice at the beginning of a cante, on top of the guitar.
Tercio : melodic phrase of a cante, generally fitting with one line of verse. A group of tercios forms a letra. Example : In the letra “A quién le contaré yo / Las fatiguitas que yo paso / Se las voy a contar a la tierra / Cuando me estén enterrando”, the melody for “A quién le contaré yo” is the first tercio.
Tocaor : flamenco guitarist. The Spanish term for any other kind of guitarist is guitarrista.
Zambra : this word probably has arabic origins. It refers to two different elements of the flamenco universe :
The parties that are celebrated on the Sacromonte hill of Granada, where one can witness different dances which are linked to the gypsy wedding ritual ;
A blend of music and drama for film, developed by Manolo Caracol in the 1940s and 50s, with the noteworthy presence of the piano.