"Listen? To singing? But this article is about dance!" you say. Yes, it is. But we are talking about Flamenco! Flamenco is not a dance. It is a cultural art form of the Spanish Gypsy. Dancing is just one part of it. Singing and guitar playing are the other parts. (If you haven't read my first article, "It’s Flamenco, Not Flamingo!" you might want to check it out now).
Cante (CAHN-tay) is the singing in Flamenco. Right after the compas (rhythm), cante is the most important part of Flamenco.
The great Flamenco dancer El Farru said this when he taught a workshop we were honored to host for him: "If you want to learn Flamenco, you have to listen to the masters of cante".
And please... listen to the old masters before you start listening to the current Flamenco popstar. You must have a strong, clear, basic foundation from which to build your understanding of Flamenco on. For example, we all know the Beatles, right? Well today you can hear their music played in elevators as Musak. If you didn't go back to the beginning and listen to the original recording by the original Beatles (masters), then you are doomed to think that Muzak (popstar) is the original "real thing". Muzak might be great for its easy-listening background purpose, but it is NOT the original by a master artist by any stretch of the imagination. And you should know the difference if you are going to be studying about the Beatles... or Flamenco!
Another example: I worked as a Flamenco dancer for a jazz guitarist on a small Flamenco/Jazz fusion piece way back when. He wanted to do a piece by Chick Corea called "Spain". When I heard it, I knew exactly what it was. It was Corea's rendition of the adagio from the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo from 1939. The guitarist I was working with was stunned to find this out. He thought Corea's rendition was the original. How embarrassing for him!
The legendary Camaron
A former student asked me for some recommendations to start listening to cante. I let her borrow some of my CDs of the best masters. She brought them back a week later and said, "don't you have anything prettier?" Uh... no. Flamenco cante is NOT pretty, it is heart wrenching.
Flamenco comes from the heart and soul of an oppressed people, the Gypsies (now might be a great time to do some research about the Gypsies and Flamenco, or wait for one of my upcoming articles on the subject).
So I will give you a short list of recommended listening/watching. You can find them all on YouTube. These are MASTERS; some old some new. Most people find authentic Flamenco singing to be an "acquired taste". So don't overdo it! Just listen to a little at a time until you develop your ear; and remember, you are not looking for pretty, you are looking for heartfelt passion!
Tomasa Guerrero Carrasco, “La Macanita”
Bernarda de Utrera
Camaron de la Isla
El Indio Gitano
Fernanda de Utrera
La Paquera de Jerez
Los Fenomenos Jitanos
Pepe de Lucia
Here is one in particular by sisters Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera, singing the compás of bulerias.
And something a little more modern by husband and wife Lole and Manuel Molina:
Listening also means that you also must listen to compas. If you are working on tangos, then you need to be listening mainly to tangos music to train your ear to recognize tangos when you hear it as well as to understand where the cycles start and stop so you know where to start and stop as a dancer. The same goes for Alegrias, Farruca, Solea, or any other palo you are working on. Remember... as a dancer, you don't follow the guitarist, the guitarist follows you; you need to know your compas to be able to be accompanied by any guitarist worth his or her salt!
Please don't think about Flamenco dance as just "dance", a separate and individual art form; it is an integral part of something much, much deeper! So, start digging! And remember, before you can become a "Flamenco" dancer, you first must become an aficionado.