What are the origins of the flamenco guitar?

As many of you may have known, in the origins of flamenco the singing was the only protagonist of the genre. The guitar was incorporated later and more recently it was followed by other instruments such as the piano, the cajón or the violin that reflect the contemporary features of the style today.

A majority of guitar musicologists and folklore experts estimate that the guitar became common in flamenco in the 19th century, to accompany singing which, until then, required no companion. In fact, there are several flamenco styles that are interpreted without the guitar melody, such as the a palo seco style where the human voice is the only instrument required.

Although there is a diversity of opinions regarding the exact time the guitar became incorporated into flamenco, experts such as Manuel Ríos Ruíz postulate that it was in the beginning of the 19th century, while others argue for the latter half of the century on the basis of the 1850, first ever reference concerning Francisco Rodríguez “El Murciano” documents that state that Antonio Mairena or Ricardo Molina “surely accompanied their Granada folk songs with a small guitar called tiple”.

One thing is sure: it is in the 20th century that the guitar fuses with the flamenco singing in very innovative ways, allowing this genre to surpass the limits of pure folklore, initiating the process of consolidation of different flamenco styles as well as shaping what we know as copla today, according to Ríos Ruíz.

In this way flamenco singing styles became more organized and enriched with melody. Modern flamenco is evolving in many different ways today thanks to ever more virtuous guitarists.

López Ruiz, Luis. Guía del flamenco. Akal. 2nd ed. 2007.

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