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This article from 1981 is Chapter Three of an in-depth series on Flamenco music written by Alain Gobin and translated by Professor Alfred Valerio. See the end of this article for links to all of the other chapters!

The structures of the "Cante" Indian, Hebraic and Byzantine Traditions

Flamenco is indebted to Indian music less for its melodic plans than for its harmony and rhythm. In reality, as we will have occasion to show, during the course of its more abundant developments, flamenco dance originates directly from the great sacred Indian styled dances such as the Bharata Natyam, Katak, Katakali and Manipuri.

Indian influence was very prominent in Andalusian folklore since, under the Greek domination, Hindu artists were often solicited to appear during festivals.

Hebraic liturgy furnished another stream of influence. A strong Jewish implantation in the fifteenth century seems to have impregnated the flamenco song. From this point of view, it is remarkable how many similarities exist between the Kol Nidei and certain songs of the jondo repertoire, especially the Saetas, Siguiriyas, Tonas, Martinete or Peteneras. It is a point to which we must return.

"Byzantine Music" is situated at the borders of oriental and occidental traditions. Her exact role in the elaboration of flamenco music is far from precise. Also, we must be content to note that on the one hand the details of rhythmic modal system, though often obscure and little analyzed, which characterizes Byzantine music can also be found in certain flamenco songs. On the other hand Byzantine music is not without ties to the Arabic and Persian music. Indeed, it is established that a number of composers have worked using some models of Turkish music. Isn't it also surprising that the song of Cana, to which we bestow a Byzantine accent, bears some similarities with certain Arabic songs!


The main interest of Byzantine music is its im-portance in the elaboration of Gregorian Chant. This latter has had a determinant influence in the forming processes of certain songs of the jondo repertoire; principally of the Tona Liturgica, Tona Grande and certain Saetas and Siguiriyas.

Initially the Gregorian Chant (a local characteristic creation) was the synthesis of several oral traditions. Among reliable contributers, one can point out those of Jerusalem and of Byzantium.

Little by little a common ground is created on which a great liberty of initiatives reigns. Improvisation is then seemingly the general rule. It isn't until the beginning of the fourth century that cleavages take place between the rites of Alexandria in Egypt, Byzantines (the great liturgy), Ambrosian in Milan, Gallican in Gaul, and Mozarabic in Spain; this latter was introduced by the Visigoths (It is certain that Celtic music has had an indirect influence, if we but consider the branch of songs issued by the "Fandangos". This music, nevertheless, will not penetrate Andalusia because the invading Visigoths going through Portugal stopped at its borders. There simply occured osmosis). Transmission is then accomplished according to a process of inhibition and the flow of memorized composition.

Just as today, in regard to flamenco, commonly known words, cadences and typical formulas were utilized.

Beyond its method, the Gregorian Chant contributed a profound source of inspiration to flamenco. Church music is at the heart of the Spanish soul. Thus, many similarities are explained and sometimes even borrowed directly by the singers.

This was the case of the celebrated El Mellizo, a profoundly devout singer who had the idea of utilizing themes from the Gregorian Chant for his Malaguenas and his Siguiriyas.

The Gregorian Chant's contribution to the flamenco domain was to introduce rigorous structures (forms). In fact, the most perfect ecclesiastical monophonic form, the Gregorian Chant, is patterned on the image of the church of Sainte-Sophia in Constantinople, or on the mosaics of Ravenna. The melodic principle of Gregorian Chant evolves in ascending and descending curves around a central theme, equivalent to a vaulting arch and the half circular ascending lines which make up the principal motif of Sainte-Sophia. Moreover, hasn't it often been said of this church that the architecture was music in stone!

You can see these diverse contributions are more often of religious origin. Now around the sixteenth century a synthesis took place which found application in the secular sphere and folklore. One of the principal characteristics of this synthesis was the creation of a natural scale, often called "Andalusian Scale".

Image of Andalusian Scale

Thanks for reading! Below, we've assembled a list of all the chapters so far in this exciting series!