The Rumba Flamenca

© Eva Blanch -

© Photo by Eva Blanch – // In the photo: Petitet, the soul of Barcelona’s rumba.

The history of the rumba flamenca

The rumba flamenca (also called gypsy rumba) was born in the 18th century when the gypsies of Andalusia began to merge flamenco with the Cuban guaracha. The exchanges between the Spanish ports of Cadiz and Seville and the one of Havana were then very important. Merchants, workers and artists of all kinds traveled frequently from one continent to another. These exchanges, at first purely commercial, gradually gave rise to cultural interactivities, mixing the rhythms, songs, and dances of the Caribbean island with those of the South of the Iberian Peninsula.

Once considered frivolous and commercial by purists, Cuban music (especially guaracha, son or rumba guaguancó) gradually found its way into flamenco culture, until it became a separate style in its repertoire at the beginning of the 20th century.

Prestigious artists began to include flamenco rumbas in their recordings, such as La Niña de los Peines from 1918. The rumba flamenca became a popular style in the famous singing cafes. It will then give birth to the rumba catalana from the 1950s in Barcelona, with some influence of rock & roll and Puerto Rican sounds.

The style of the rumba flamenca

It is a dynamic, friendly and festive palo flamenco that can be accompanied by female or male voices, with a rather simple and repetitive rhythm. It belongs to the category of cantes de Ida y Vuelta (songs with back and forth).

The main instruments used are the flamenco guitar, castanets, cajón (a percussion box) but also palmas (rhythmic clapping), as in flamenco.

One of the characteristics of rumba flamenca is its jerky guitar rhythm that accompanies the singing, inspired by Cuban music.

Rumba Flamenca dancers use their shoulders, hips and pelvis to convey its sensuality. It is one of the flamenco styles that leaves the most room for improvisation, offering the dancers the possibility to be carried away by its rhythm and melody. It is a palo that recalls the joy and energy of the bulerías. It is probably for all these reasons that the flamenco rumba is danced today in discos and parties.

The Catalan rumba

Derived from the flamenco rumba, the Catalan rumba was born in the 1950s under the impulse of the gypsy community of Barcelona, especially in the popular district of Raval, Gracia and Hostafrancs. It’s a mixture of flamenco rumba, Cuban son and mambo, with rock & roll influences. Flamenco rumba groups usually include vocals, palmadas (applause), guitar, percussion (with a cajón) but also sometimes piano, bass and keyboards.

The emblematic artists of flamenco rumba

Born in Mataró in 1935, Peret popularized the Catalan rumba from the late 1960s, with songs like “Una lágrima” and “Borriquito”. He took his rumba to some of the most prestigious tablaos in Madrid of this time, such as El Duende and El Corral de la Morería.

You must know the Gipsy Kings, who popularized flamenco rumba (and are sometimes also associated with Catalan rumba) in the 1980s with several hits such as “Djobi Djoba” and “Bamboleo”. Famous flamenco guitarists such as Paco de Lucía or Paco Peña also had their own flamenco rumba band.

Among the most popular ambassadors of the genre, we can also mention Los Chunguitos (and their classics “Dame veneno” or “Me quedo contigo”), Rosario Flores (an icon of flamenco rumba), Azúcar Moreno (who represented the Spain during Eurovision), Los Chichos, El Fary, Las Grecas and Los del Río, who got millions of people dancing around the world in the mid-1990s with their unforgettable hit “La Macarena”.