Neo flamenco, millennial flamenco, ex flamenco or flamenco 2.0 are just some of the names for the music of a new generation of Spanish musicians (like Rosalía and Niño del Elche) who blend traditional flamenco with the sounds of electro, R&B or rock… In communities of aficionados, the media and on social networks, this new trend both appeals and challenges, inviting us to rethink whether experimentation has a place in the development of flamenco in Spain and on the international stage.
Flamenco, a music of crossroads and small revolutions
Flamenco has never been a fixed genre : it was born at the crossroads of Arab, Andalusian, Jewish, Christian and primarily Gypsy cultures, mainly in family, working-class and peasant environments. In fact, the musical melting pot is a founding principle of this music, as demonstrated by the initial encounter between singing with Eastern influences – full of melismas and microtonal intervals – and the guitar, a Western instrument calibrated in semitones. Based on few written references, the learning and transmission of the repertoire is essentially oral, which makes it a relatively confidential art that is hard to access beyond Spanish borders.
Since the 1960s, several small revolutions have fuelled the evolution of the genre. After the first steps of Smash’s flamenco rock, Paco de Lucía and Camarón de la Isla attempted new encounters with Latin music and jazz, while integrating amplified instruments into the traditional singing-guitar-palmas-dance formation. The emergence of the fusion group Ketama – founded by El Camborio Carmona from Granada and José Sorderita Soto from Jerez, both members of Gypsy and flamenco families – marked the 1980s. After integrating Ibero-American influences, they brought together flamenco and Toumani Diabaté’s kora with the album Songhai, released in 1985. Finally, these multiple internal revolutions and musical encounters bear witness to the constant mobility of flamenco, which, coming out of the domestic sphere followed by that of peñas, has consistently become increasingly international.
Ketama, Toumani Diabate, Danny Thompson – Songhai
Niño de Elche, room for experimentation
More recently, artists such as Raül Refree and Francisco Contreras Molina – alias Niño de Elche, a testament to his roots in Elche – have nurtured this evolution of flamenco. A true virtuoso of flamenco singing, Niño de Elche lays claim to his experimental approach as constitutive of the origins of flamenco itself. Inspired by the rock movement as well as by politically-committed Spanish poetry, he released his latest album Antología Del Cante Flamenco Heterodoxo in 2018.
Niño de Elche is pursuing this radical reinvention through classical forms of flamenco (farruca, malagueña, fandagos) and lyrics by founding artists, accompanied by electric guitars, synths and electro-acoustic sounds against a backdrop of Gothic choirs. The lyrics, whether taken from the traditional repertoire or his own composition, resonate today as deeply socially committed. One thinks in particular of the title “Informe para Costa Rica”, inspired by words written by the poet Antidio Cabal González that depict the climate of terror and downward spirals of authority in Latin America.
Informe para Costa Rica, Informe para Costa Rica
The Rosalía phenomenon
Inspired by the romance Flamenca written in the 13th century, the album El mal querer (released in November 2018 and produced by El Guincho) describes the life story of an unloved woman who is locked away from society but gradually becomes emancipated. Constructed through a number of tableaux, which Rosalía draws both visually and musically, this unclassifiable album is disconcertingly modern.
The imprint of flamenco is clear. The young musician begins the song “Que no Salga la luna” with a compás de bulería (traditional flamenco rhythm) and a sample of the great classic, “Mi canto por bulerías”, by the Gypsy singer La Paquera de Jerez. The songs “Malamente” and “Di mon nombre” are both built on a tango compas marked by traditional palmas. While “Malamente” (currently approaching 110 million views on YouTube) is clearly tinged by the world of trap, “Di mi nombre” blends flamenco harmonies and pop piano against a background of vocoded jaleos. Finally, other titles, such as “Bagdad”, pull towards a profoundly R&B sound, to the extent of resembling Justin Timberlake’s “Cry me a River”…
What is unusual about Rosalía is her ability to create a baroque and poetic imagination by drawing on references to flamenco, bullfighting, motorbikes and dolls, as well as the visual world of rap or American R&B music videos. The success of the young artist has, however, very rapidly triggered a number of debates in more traditional flamenco circles. Artists have openly criticised her music, while hostile campaigns circulate on social media (“Di no à Rosalía, Si à la Paquera de Jerez”).
Rosalia, Di mi nombre
Neo flamenco : part millennial expression, part cultural appropriation ?
While flamenco has always been a cultural melting pot prone to evolutions, it has also been a battleground. The first bone of contention is long-standing and refers to the distinction made between purely “Gypsy” flamenco and “Andalusian” flamenco : two movements, two matrices that have nevertheless constantly influenced one another. Nowadays, neo flamenco ask questions of those who support traditional flamenco and want to preserve the musical training and traditional performance of this art, lest the standardisation of music and Western influence swallow up flamenco entirely.
On the other hand, there is a growing call in the Gypsy community to mount a challenge to these new musical aesthetics and reclaim the community’s place at the origin of flamenco. It seems worth pointing out that flamenco occupies a central place in the Gypsy domestic sphere, operating as a privileged means of communication, a vector for transmitting and preserving Gypsy identity. While this minority has long been persecuted and remains profoundly stigmatised in Spanish society still today, some see the restructuring of flamenco rhythms or the borrowing of words from the Calò language as part of a craze for folklore, or even culture appropriation.
Finally, this new flamenco movement can be found at a point of tension that is as uncomfortable as it is creative. At the same time, it is both the heir to an ancient form of music with an extremely rich patrimony, transmitted orally and traditionally performed in restricted family settings, while also the expression of a generation evolving in a globalised, intercultural and profoundly digital world.
 Associations of friends who come together to share an activity, often informally. Traditional flamenco performance venues.
 “Niño De Elche, extrémiste poétique flamenco” [Niño De Elche, politically extremist flamenco], by Benjamin Minimum, published on 12 July 2017 by Médiapart https://blogs.mediapart.fr/edition/plein-suds/article/120717/nino-de-elche-extremiste-poetique-flamenco
 A rhythmic pattern that corresponds to every musical form of flamenco.
 Words and vocal interjections called out to encourage flamenco dancers.
 See https://cordobaflamenca.com/entrevistas/82-flamencos/farruquito-rosalia-no-hace-flamenco-ni-lo-hara/
 See the El Païs report, “Lo que le gitanos piensen de Rosalia, Ofensa, burla o renovación” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnamovzq1UE