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Flamenco and Fado August 3, 2012

Posted by akessler47 in Travel Log.

Flamenco music, like Fado, is unique to the Iberian Peninsula and is a UNSECO World Heritage intangible art form. They come from similar roots and expresses similar melancholy emotions, but in essence they are two completely different forms of music, much like how Spanish and Portuguese have a common root in Latin but worlds apart in sounds, rhythm, and grammar. This blog will be a comparative analysis of the music theory, presentation, and cultural background of both Portuguese Fado and Spanish Flamenco. 

                The first thing I noticed about Flamenco was its incredible passion and furious temper. Playing at much faster tempos than Fado, Flamenco carried a very powerful rhythm, accented on downbeats by the slamming of heels on hardwood by dancers onstage. The music is much more driving and dynamic; I would not call it primal, but in tempo and tone it is aggressive and emotionally charged

Flamenco Dancer

Flamenco Dancer

. Flamenco, like Fado, plays in Modern Phrygian Mode (natural minor scale with a flat second, a remnant from gypsy and Moorish influences), creating a sadder minor sound. However by no means is it melancholy or mournful sounding, but rather strong and anticipatory. Quicker tempos, rapid guitar playing, clapping, and dancing all accomplish this distinct feeling. 

                Elaborating first on the guitar work, I noticed it was much more complex than in Fado. In Portugal the guitar and Portuguese guitar held consistent melodies for the singer, never varying too far from the common refrain of the song. It seemed to me that the singer was the focus on the song. In Flamenco, on the other hand, the guitar players arpeggiated (meaning to play arpeggios, the notes constituting the chord) and moved around the strings on the guitar, creating a more intricate melody. It seems that they never play the same ‘lick’ twice and that they are more akin to virtuosos than backup instrumentals. Yet all members of the performance, the dancers and singers included, had their moments sharing the limelight and showing off their ability to perform. No one person was at the center of the act, they all took turns much like a band takes turns performing solos.

                Next, the utilization of dancers made the act must more active and engaging than Fado. Clapping was an element that included the audience as well as kept a strong tempo for the dancer. Aside from the visual aspects (the large dresses, hair nets, make up, and jewelry) what I found most interesting was that the actual dance was little more than stomping rapidly in one spot to the beat of the music. But this is a good thing, because it allows the dancers to focus solely on polyrhythms, which I found simply amazing

Flamenco Classical Guitarist

Flamenco Classical Guitarist

. A polyrhythm is when two simultaneous beats are being played, such as when the dancer’s left foot would strike the floor every beat but the right foot would strike every other beat, or on beats 1, 3, and 4, for example. Again this shows a lot of complexity and skill, making the dancer a virtuoso in her or her own right. The dancer would speed up and twirl to show off their finesse, just little flairs to wow the audience and project dominance, much like a mating ritual. 

                Culturally, Flamenco seems to reflect the heartbeat of a proud and passionate people. Everything I have read about and witnessed in Spain supports this notion. People are animated and flamboyant with their hand motions when they speak, and they often are quick-tempered, explosive, and especially nationalistic towards their regions and identity (Catalan, Basque, etc). Meanwhile the Portuguese are kind, considerate, but above all, accommodating. It seems very clear to me which music belongs to which nation, as I feel it is an accurate synecdoche of the culture and people of both countries.



1. Chris - September 21, 2012

I have to say that the research and context of this blog is quite poor. As someone who appreciates both styles of music and culture you are making some very inaccurate assumptions.

Basically, fado is simpler than flamenco and Spaniards are passionate while Portuguese are passive. Talk about generalizations of the poorest kind.

The Portuguese are a very proud culture, who are just as passionate about soccer, food and politics as any of their southern European neighbors.

Secondly, it you think that fado is simple, listen to the works of one Carlos Paredes. His music will redefine the word “virtuoso” for you. If you only take the time to listen to one song, make it “Movimento Perpetuo” or Perpetual Motion.

He was known as the man of a thousand fingers and this song showcases why. The fado you speak of tends to have simpler chords, but that is to emphasize the singer.

There are 2 kinds of fado in Portugal. But more recently, in the 1970’s, men like Paredes, Pedro Caldeira Cabral, Raul Nery and others pushed the Portuguese guitar as an important solo instrument. The result is a complex, moving and sometimes melancholy music.

Next time, please do better research before making general and inaccurate statements about music genres and entire cultures.


Barbad J - June 9, 2013

whilst you’re right that Fado can be just as complex as Flamenco (though I don’t understand how it’s dismissive to call something “simple”)
the blogger is using a generalisation to present an overall comparison and give the layman a sense of the differences in the two styles

2. IMpossibru9999 - July 26, 2013

The blogger is simply helping one to better understand a style of music from another. He’s just connecting it through the popular music of the culture. It’s a bad generalization, but if it works for him as long as he doesn’t teach it that specific way, then I don’t see why he needs to be struck down. I’m sure he realized that the Portugese are like everyone else, proud in their ways. No single form of music characterizes any civilization’s way of life. It’s just impossible.

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