Alegrías is the best known form in a family of lively, vibrant songs known as Cantiñas.
Cantiñas developed during the Peninsular War in the early 19th Century when Spanish partisans gathered on the Atlantic coast near Cádiz to launch the first attacks against Napoleon. The music of Cádiz blended with jotas from Aragón, and the Cantiñas and its variations were born: Cantiñas, Alegrías, Mirabrás, Caracoles and Romeras. The Alegrías emerged as the most popular version in this style.
If you hear a flamenco singer announce "Ahora, algo de Ca'i." (Now, something from Cadíz) you know s/he is going to sing some form of an Alegrias.
Alegrías is a fairly simple song form and its major tonality is familiar to anyone raised on Western music. However, it is also one of the most complicated dance forms in flamenco, with numerous sections and changes in tempo, mood and phrase structure.
Featured Alegrías Video
Baile: Patrica Guererro
The form of the alegrías changes depending on whether it's being performed by a dancer, a singer or a solo guitarist.
When sung, alegrías consists of one to four letras, each with three or four 8-syllable lines. One distinguishing characteristic of the cante por alegrías is the familiar salida: ti ri ti ti tran tran tran refrain in which the singer imitates the sound of a guitar.
When danced, alegrías can become much more complicated, particularly in a concert setting. Danced, an alegrías por baile would always include letras, whether or not there is a singer accompanying the dancer. It will also include one or more escobillas, sections that are devoted to footwork, and a silencio, a slow dramatic section in which the guitarist plays a traditional theme in a minor key. See Alegrías Baile below for a complete description of the dance form of the alegrías.
A solo guitarist can imitate all or none of the forms alegrías takes when sung or danced. A solo guitar alegrías will, however, retain alegrías' essential compás and harmony, and will often include the same falsetas and phrases the guitarist would play when accompanying singers or dancers.
Alegrías Compás y Palmas
Alegrías has a 12-count compás with accents on 12, 3, 6 (or 7), 8, and 10. To get the feel of this pattern, try this exercise we do with our students, clapping out compás patterns with alternating accents on 6 and 7.
V V V V V V V V V V
12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
There is no hard and fast rule about when to accent beat 6 or 7 in a given piece. Listen to the samples, and any other alegrías you can get your hands on, and you'll hear that there are musical and rhythmical reasons for accenting one or the other at any given moment. For example, because the chord changes in many letras fall on beat 6, it's common to accent count 6 in letras.
For the letras, the phrases and count starts on beat 1. During the silencio, llamadas for dancers, and the escobillas, the start is also beat 1. Like the Soléa por Bulerías, count 12 is an important beat, as most dancers use it as the starting point for choreographic sequences.
The standard palmas for Alegrías is:
V V V V V V V V V V V V V
12 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 + 11 +
Sample Baile por Alegrías
Baile: Milagros Mengibar
Cante: Chano Lobato
Toque: Quique Paredes & Antonio Marquez
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Entrada - Entrance, often performed to a guitar falseta or to the singer’s entrance (salida) ti ri ti tran, tran...
Llamada - The dancer's call starting on count 1, indicating that a new section is about to begin. This can be a long sequence of footwork or just one or two sets of compás (12 or 24 counts). This is also the cue for the singer's entrance.
Letra - The dancer's call starting on count 1, indicating that a new section is about to begin. This can be a long sequence of footwork or just one or two sets of compás (12 or 24 counts). This is also the cue for the singer's entrance.
First Escobilla - The first extended footwork section. The dancer displays virtuosic footwork here while the guitar plays a standardized arpeggio pattern. The singer doesn't usually sing during an escobilla. This builds to a subída, two or more sets of compás in which the dancer builds to a climax.
Silencio - This is a traditional 6-12 compás falseta performed by the guitarist. The music is slow and in the parallel minor key. The dancer interprets the music, usually in a lyrical rather than percussive manner. The final compás moves back to the major key and the original tempo, leading to the castellana.
Castellana - This is a combination footwork/remate section that leads away from the silencio into an escobilla. Usually 4 compás long, the singer sings the traditional 'tiriti tran tran tran" or a shortened verse. This generally ends with one or more sets of compás for the remate. This section is not always performed, but is often included in a completely traditional version of the dance.
Seco - This footwork section is often performed a palo seco, where the guitar acts as a rhythm instrument as the guitarist strums muted strings, and palmistas perform strong palmas. The dancer can establish the tempo with palmas and traveling steps for two or more compás, and will continue on to perform many intricate footwork variations.
Third Escobilla - The guitar returns with traditional escobilla music while the dancer performs more intricate footwork variations.
Cambio - The traditional escobilla starts on count 1 of the compás while the Bulerías de Ca'i, the closing section, starts on beat 12. In the cambio section, the guitarist and dancer move the accent structure to beat 12 to segue into the bulerías.
Buleria de C'ai - Bulerías de Ca'i is performed as a finale/remate for the entire dance. The singer sings the traditional bulerías de Ca'i in a major key. This section transitions into the salida/cierre with a desplante llamada - a standardized 12 to 24 count pattern that is the bridge/cue into Bulerías e Ca'i.
Salida - The dancer dances off stage to traditional closing music. The dancer can also end on stage, but will usually perform a long traveling pattern leading to the closing cierre.
Sample Toque por Alegrías
Toque: Manolo Sanlucar, Juan C. Romero
Cante: Diego Carrasco
Accompanying a traditional alegrías is largely a matter of listening. Often, the chords are just I, IV and V7 (E, A and B7 or C F and G7 or A, D and E7, etc.). With practice, you'll be able to hear the chord changes implied in the way singers emphasize chord tones in the melody. Meanwhile, practice these one- and two-compás patterns to get the feel of accompanying alegrías.
The chord changes on beats 3 and 10 as in the lamada.
E B7 E
12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
The chord changes on beat 10. This is often used to accompany marking steps.
E B7 E
12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
The chord changes on beat 6. This is common in accompanying letras.
E B7 E
12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
While accompanying cante involves knowing how to respond to the music of the moment, the escobilla and the silencio are traditional or composed passages. Guitarists need an escobilla and a silencio or two under their belt to be able to accompany dancers.
Here is a traditional escobilla.
Here is a traditional silencio in E minor.
A complete Alegrias ends with a Bulerias de Cai, a bulerías played in the same key as the letras.
E B7 E
12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Sample Cante por Alegrías
Cante: Diego El Cigale
Diego El Cigale sings a traditional alegrías
A cai (Cádiz) no le llaman cai
que le llaman relicario
porque por patrona tiene
a la virgen del rosario
Una tórtola canta en un almendro
y en su cante decía: viva mi dueño.
Viva mi dueño hermana, viva mi dueño,
una tórtola canta en un almendro.
Soy aquel contrabandista
que siempre huyendo va
que cuando salgo con mi jaca
del peñón de Gibraltar.
Y si me salen al resguardo
y el alto a mi me dan
que dejo mi jaca al escape
que ella sabe adonde va.
Cuándo va andando, cuando va andando
rosas y lirios, lirios y rosas
Me olvidaste y te olvidé
me quisiste y yo te quiero
me olvidaste y te olvidé
con un pago que me diste
siempre lo recordaré.
Intenté de dejarte(s)
entrañas míasque si tu me dejaras
Están puestos en balanza
dos corazones a un tiempo
unos pidiendo justicia
y otros pidiendo venganza.
A los titirimundi
que yo te pago la entrá
que si tu mare no quiere
qué dirá qué dirá
que qué tendrá que decir
que yo te quiero y te adoro...
(que yo me muero por ti)