Is there an ideal type of voice for singing flamenco?
We review the types of voices that exist in flamenco and their relevance for singing.
Flamenco singing is an art that is characterized by its great emotional charge and subjectivity, but it also has an objective facet that allows us to classify and measure the different voices that interpret it.
While it is common to refer to flamenco voices as rotas (broken), gitanas (gypsy), jondas (deep) or aterciopeladas (smooth), there are objective measures that allow us to categorize them precisely, such as volume, location of the sound in the body, vocal range, pitch, etc.
Although more and more flamencologists and artists advocate an objective classification of flamenco voices, in this article we want to explore what subjective classifications have been given to flamenco voices and who represents each type of voice, which can only mean one thing: no matter what type of voice you have, they all have a place in flamenco.
Subjective historical analysis of flamenco voices
Just to give us an idea, Antonio Mairena was the first to draw in his journey through the flamenco regions, an encyclopedia of flamenco singing, written with the philosopher Ricardo Molina in which he already differentiated between several types of voices:
- Afillá voice: name given by the voice of the gypsy singer Antonio Ortega, El Fillo. It is a deep voice, hoarse, gruff. Manolo Caracol is an example of a "afillá" voice.
- Round voice: sweet and doughy. Example: Tomás Pavón or la Niña de los Peines.
- Gypsy voice: also called chest voice or natural. Very strong and deep voice, which becomes hoarse at high moments of the song, like that of Antonio Mairena. It was believed to be the best voice for singing flamenco.
- Singing voice: rhythmic, fresh and flexible. Ideal for the most joyful palos, such as tangos, bulerías or alegrías. Almost all flamenco women were included in this category, which generated debate since not all female voices were equal.
- Falsete voice: it was said that this voice was not very useful for flamenco, but very useful for the softer palos, such as the cantes de ida y vuelta: rumba, guajira.... In the book, Pepe Marchena is given as an example.
To these categories, the flamencologists would add new ones:
- Laína: a fine, sweet, clean, light, soft voice. This is the case of Rosalía or Estrella de Manuela.
- Rancia: dark, deep voices, like sandy and dirty, cavernous. Juana la del Pipa.
- Rajá: similar to the broken voice, very gritty but less than rancia. More than a voice, it is a moment in the cante in which the voice is "torn".
What is the most suitable voice?
As you may have noticed, these are very vague categories that neither accurately describe the nuances of cante nor fit all types of voices. Moreover, what often happens is that the same artist can emulate all of these characteristics depending on the palo he or she performs.
More objective categories of flamenco singing
For all of the above reasons, in recent years there have been numerous attempts to classify voices based on the pre-established categories of singing for other genres. The speech therapist Mónica Miralles and the singer and researcher Alba Guerrero, published an article in which, more than types of voices, they classified tendencies with respect to voice timbre. Among them, the following stand out:
- Predominance of pure-strident nasality.
- Predominance of falsetto (classic definition).
- Predominance of blown timbre
- Roto (various types)
- Scream (Belt)
- Aflamencado vs Flamenco
The cantaora Rocío Márquez also dedicated her doctoral thesis at the University of Seville to delve into "Vocal technique in flamenco: physiognomy and typologies", in which cante is analyzed from a scientific and less emotional perspective.