Flamenco, form of song, dance, and instrumental (mostly guitar) music commonly associated with the Andalusian Roma (Gypsies) of southern Spain. (There, the Roma people are called Gitanos.) The roots of flamenco, though somewhat mysterious, seem to lie in the Roma migration from Rajasthan (in northwest India) to Spain between the 9th and 14th centuries. These migrants brought with them musical instruments, such as tambourines, bells, and wooden castanets and an extensive repertoire of songs and dances. In Spain they encountered the rich cultures of the Sephardic Jews and the Moors. Their centuries-long cultural intermingling produced the unique art form known as flamenco.
The essence of flamenco is cante, or song. Flamenco songs fall into three categories: cante jondo (“profound song,” or “deep song”), cante intermedio (“intermediate song,” also called cante flamenco), and cante chico (“light song”). The cante jondo, whose structure usually is based on a complex 12-beat rythm, is thought to be the oldest form. It is characterized by profound emotion and deals with themes of death, anguish, despair, or religious doubt. The cante intermedio is a hybrid form that incorporates elements of Spanish music styles, especially the fandango. The cante chico, which is generally simpler in rhythm than the other two forms, also requires considerable technical skill but much less emotional investment, dealing as it usually does with humour and subjects of love, the countryside, and gaiety. Each song style is distinguished by a characteristic rhythm and chord structure; yet several types of cante may share the same rhythm but individualize accentuation, subtleties, and emotional content.