El Levante, Spain's east coast, is named for the wind that blows across Spain from the Levante, the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.
Although the Levante stretches from Barcelona to Almería, in flamenco the term refers to a group of songs from eastern Andalucía, from Almería to Valencia, including Granada and Murcia. The flamenco songs from this region are known as Cantes de Levante, and because this is mining country, Cantes de las Minas - the songs of the mines.
The Catedral del Cante, the site of the annual festival de las Cantes de Las Minas in Murcia.
This music is the focus of one of Flamenco's most important annual festivals, the Festival del Cante de Las Minas, held annually in La Unión in the province of Murcia. These forms are essentially Fandangos, similar to the Fandangos de Málaga. What distinguishes the Cantes de Levante, apart from their source or subject matter, is their unique tonality, known as Tonos Tarantos.
There are many different Cantes de Levante. Some, including Murcianas, Cartageneras and Grana'inas are associated with a particular place. Others, including Tarantas/Tarantos, Mineras, and Fandangos Mineros are songs about miners' experiences. Here, we look at four essential Cantes de Levante - Tarantas, Tarantos, Grana'ínas and Cartageneras, and describe Tono Tarantos.
Cante: Carmen Linares
Toque: Rafael Riqueni
From Carlos Saura's Flamenco
People from the eastern Andalucían province of Almería are traditionally known as Tarantos. Tarantas is a cante or solo guitar form performed libre or arrítmico - without any underlying compás.
Like the Fandangos de Málaga, a Tarantas is a cante libre with four or five lines of which the first or second is repeated. It is the model for all other Cantes de las Minas forms.
A la hija de Agustina
toítos le llaman la santa
se va a la boca de las minas
a rezarle a una esperanza
a una esperanza perdía
The girl called Angustina
Everyone called her the Saint
She goes to the entrance of the mines
and prays for hope
but all hope is lost
This expressive form provides both singers and guitarists opportunities for virtuosic display. A taranta usually begins with an introduction on the guitar that establishes the F# phrygian tonality. This is followed by a temple in which the singer further establishes that tonality. This often includes an idiomatic musical gesture not usually found in other phrygian forms, where the singer and guitarist slide down from F# to F and back to F#.
The guitarist's role in accompanying a Tarantas is to support the singer as they move from one tonal point to the next. The journey between these points provides opportunities for expressive display. The guitarist may move through many passing harmonies between those points at which they directly support the singer. These passing harmonies are important in the sense that they help to define the style, but they are not functionally essential, and many guitarists choose a simpler approach to accompaniment.
As with the Fandangos de Málaga, the mode changes to the major once the letra begins. In this case, G becomes the tonal center.
Baile: Anabel Velos
Performed at the 2016 Cante de las Minas festival
Tarantos is the dance form of Tarantas. The presence of the dancer introduces a steady 2/4 pulse into the music.
How clear this pulse is at any given moment in the piece depends on whether the focus is on dance or music. When there is no dancer present, as in numerous pieces for solo guitar or voice and guitar, it can be close to impossible to distinguish between a Tarantas and a Tarantos. Whether the above letra, for example, would be considered a Tarantos or a Tarantas depends more on the presence of a dancer or, in the absence of a dancer, the intentions of the musicians, than it does on any formal aspect of the music itself.
Our friend John Moore, who is both an accomplished flamenco guitarist and a distinguished professor of linguistics, has addressed this question here.
When a dancer is present, Tarantos traditionally proceeds through a series of sections, including the following:
Opening Falseta/Temple - A tarantos opens with a guitar falseta, which may or may not adhere to the underlying 2/4 pulse. The singer enters with a temple. The dancer will enter when the guitarist begins, when the singer begins, or wait until after the temple. The dancer's entrance, the entrada or salida, can be as simple as a dramatic walk on stage, or it can be ornate and full of turns and footwork.
Llamada - singer's cue - Once a dancer has taken the stage, they will often perform a long series of footwork sequences ending with a llamada, a cue directed to the singer and musicians to begin the first letra. This cue can also be as simple and subtle as a glance or gesture.
First Letra - The focus in a tarantos letra passes back and forth between the singer and dancer. For this reason, the tarantos is one of the most difficult dances in flamenco. While the singer is singing, the underlying pulse becomes subtle, elastic, and essentially arhythmic.
Adding to this challenge, and at the end of the 1st, 3rd and 5th lines of the letra, the dancer performs quick and rhythmic remates that burst out and quickly fade back into the slow 2/4 pulse. The faster, rhythmic passages in the tarantos samples above are remates. The music and rhythmic patterns for these remates has become standardized over time, and it is the guitarist's responsibility to support these quick transitions while the focus moves from singer to dancer and back again. The other challenge for the dancer is in intepreting the singer's cante. The singer has the freedom to extend or shorten a line, and the dancer has to improvise movement that complements the singer's performance.
First Escobilla - Dancers usually perform the first long footwork section to this traditional falseta:
Second Letra - The second letra is identical in structure to the first letra.
Falseta/Second Escobilla - For the second escobilla, the dancer can dance to a falseta on the guitar, or they may perform footwork accompanied by a traditional tarantos escobilla pattern on the guitar, and they often do both.
The dancer ends the second escobilla with a subida, building up the tempo to transition into the Tangos por Tarantos.
Tangos por Tarantos - Tangos por Tarantos can be long or short, following the same choreographic structure as tangos gitanos. The music is in the tonos tarantos.
About Tono Tarantos
One of the things that distinguishes Tarantas and related forms is the F# phrygian tonality and the way that tonality lies on the guitar. This unique tonailty is known as Tono Tarantos. Although closely identified with the Cantes de Levante, the Tono Taranto can also be found in other flamenco forms, such as Sevillanas and Tangos Gitanos.
The tonal center, an F# chord, is played unbarred. This chord has no 3rd and three dissonant notes. A jazz guitarist would call this chord an F#11b9-no 3rd. A rock guitarist would call it an F# power chord. This slightly dissonant tonal center makes this tonality immediately recognizable.
The other chords associated with this tonality, also often played with open strings, are the other three chords of an Andalusian Cadence (IVm - III - bII -I) in F#:
Since the letras in the Cantes de Levante center on G rather than F#, one can often expect to find a D7/ F#, acting as a secondary dominant chord to the G chord.
As mentioned above, one further distinguishing characteristic of this harmony is in the way an unbarred F chord is used as a leading tone chord to bring the tonal center back to F#.
Cante: Luis de Cordoba
Toque: Ramón de Algeciras
Grana'inas, (the Andalucían pronunciation of "Granadinas"), is a Fandango cante similar to the Malagueña. Often performed as a guitar solo, Grana'inas isn't known as a dance form.
As the name indicates, the song is associated with Granada, and in particular with Frasquito Yerbabuena (1883-1944), an amateur singer from Granada. The Jerezano singer Don Antonio Chacón created a version of Grana'inas known as the Media Grana'ina.
Early recordings of this form describe it as either a "malagueña-granadinas" or a "granadinas-malagueñas," underscoring the similarity between the forms. Grana'inas has much in common with Tarantos, particularly in the way the underlying pulse alternates between a steady pulse in the traditional guitar passages and the free pulse of the letras. When performed as a guitar solo, a Grana'inas will often alternate between rhythmic and arrythmic. passages
Like Tarantos, Grana'inas has its own tonality - B Phrygian - known as Tono de Grana'ina. As with the tono taranto, the way this tonality lies on the guitar gives the form its special sonority. The essential chords are: Em, D, C, and B.
Also like the Tarantos, the tonal center of the letras is different from that of the letras. The letras are in G major. The tonal center moves back to B phrygian for the falsetas.
As with other libre fandango forms, the guitarist's role is to support the singer as s/he moves through the harmonic changes, providing the undelying chord at each point.
The most characteristic feature of Grana'inas accompaniment is the bass line figure in which the guitar slides from F# to B.
After the guitar introduction, the singer begins singing unaccompanied, and the guitarist enters to support the singer only after the opening harmony (D7) has been established:
As you can hear in the example above, the way in which the guitarist realizes the harmony at each point in the letra is highly stylized, using chords, bass runs, scales, and arpeggios.
1st line: D7 to G
2nd Line: G(7) to C
3rd line: D7 to G7
4th line: A7 to D7 to G
5th line: G7 to C7
6th line: (C) Em to D7 to C to B
Cante: Camarón De La Isla
Toque: Paco De Lucia
The Cartageneras is a cante based on a traditional fandango and associated with the city of Cartagena.
Like other Cantes de Levante, it is a toque libre. Once again, the tonality of the guitar falseta centers on F#, while the accompaniment for the letras center on G.
Here, we outline the underlying harmony for the letra of this Cartagenera recorded by Camarón de la Isla and Paco de Lucía.
1st line: D7 - G7 - (A7)
2nd Line: D7 to G
3rd line: D7 to E7 to A
4th line: A7 to D7 to G
5th line: D7 to G7
6th line: G7 - A7 to G7 to F#