When an American thinks of Spanish music and culture, the images invariably conjured are those of Flamenco musicians, guitars, bullfights, beaches, and the sunshine. While these classic segments of Spanish culture are certainly an important part of the country’s rich history and lifestyles, there is much more to Spain and Spanish music and culture than that. Historically Spain has been and still is one of the cultural centers of the world. With an amazingly diverse mix of historical and modern influences, Spain continues to be one of the cultural hotbeds of the world.
Spanish music and culture have always had a profound effect on the rest of the world. The guitar itself was invented in Spain in the eighteenth century when a sixth string was added to the Moorish lute, giving a voice to the popular music that was to come dozens, scores, and even hundreds of years later. The guitar became the main voice of Spanish music early on with the classical guitar styling of Andres Segovia (1893-1997) whose work helped to establish the genre of classical guitar.
Flamenco hails from the south of Spain and is often misunderstood to indicate simply a form of music. Its adherents will tell you differently. Flamenco is at least an art form that transcends music and at most a culture unto itself; a way of life, depending on who you ask. Musically driven and descended from the influences of the Gypsies, Flamenco is comprised of el cante (the song), el baile (the dance), and la guitarra (the guitar playing). Modern mass media has, of course, brought wide renown and appeal to the art of Flamenco, but many say that you’ve never really experienced Flamenco until you’ve been in an intimate setting like a small café in Southern Spain with no sound other than that of a lone guitar and the shape of the dancer swaying beneath the light of the moon.
Spanish music and culture is often overlooked compared to other world locales like Paris, Vienna, and New York that are better known for their influences on art over the years, but one need only remember that Spain was home to Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso to see that the country had its share of contributions to the art world. Spain also served as a chief source of inspiration for the great American writer Ernest Hemmingway, who lived for some time in various Spanish cities, most famously Pamplona.
The Spanish music and culture live on to this day, but it is unlikely to be found in the tourist traps of Barcelona, Madrid, and Pamplona. If you’re there to experience the thrilling Spanish nightlife, the clubs and discos of these cities are for you, but the “real” Spanish music and culture is to be found in the smaller, out of the way cafes and locations that pass by most tourists’ roving eyes like the matador gracefully sidestepping the angry charge of el toro, the bull. For a wonderful overview of Spanish music and culture, see http://www.travelinginspain.com/culture.html