Enrique Morente in concert
For many people, Spain is synonymous with Flamenco. Nonetheless, relatively few people (outside of Spain) are familiar with the big names in Flamenco’s past and present – except the biggest of the big names, like Paco de Lucia. In the two years I lived in Spain, I became increasingly obsessed with Flamenco, at one point thinking I would open a Flamenco dance studio when I returned home. One of the biggest lessons from my Flamenco studies was that the things that outsiders tend to associate with Flamenco – especially the dance – is actually the least important part. Since Christmas is still fresh in my mind, here’s a Christmas-analogy for the roles of the three main components of Flamenco: The song (cante) is the trunk of the Christmas tree, the guitar is the branches, and the dance and dancer(s) are the Christmas ornaments.
Flamenco singing is not to everyone’s taste, although I like it. Whether or not you love Flamenco, it’s a good idea to at least be familiar with the big names in Flamenco. Here are five very well-known “classic” (that means they’re dead) Flamenco singers you should know about. A note about Flamenco vocabulary: The word for a singer is cantaor or cantaora. In Andalusia, the home of Flamenco, the ‘d’s are often dropped in the ‘ador’ or ‘adora’ suffix that refers to someone who does something. A cantaor refers only to a Flamenco singer; singers of other genres of music would be called ‘cantantes.’
Antonio Chacón lived from 1869 to 1929, and was one of the first Flamenco singers to make recordings – which are still available, although the quality is not what modern listeners are used to.
Camarón de la Isla
Camarón, who performed for the first time at the age of 5, lived from 1950 and died, of cancer, in 1992. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he is the most well-known and well-loved of Flamenco singers in the past 100 years – and since there weren’t really records kept before then, perhaps the most famous Flamenco singer, period. His album Soy Gitano (1989) is the most-sold Flamenco album of all time.
Chocolate lived from 1936 to 2005, and likewise started singing when he was a boy – singing on the streets for change. He grew up to become a big name in Flamenco, and his last album, in 2002, won a Latino Grammy.
Another extremely old-school Flamenco singer, Vallejo lived from 1891 to 1969, and worked with some of the most famous guitarists of his time.
One of my favorite Flamenco singers, Enrique Morente passed away in 2010 (he was born in 1942). Morente has been a big name in Flamenco since he was 25 years old, when his first album Cantes Antiguos del Flamenco, came out. His daughter, Estrella Morente, is also a Flamenco superstar.
Photo from Wikipedia