Seguiriya is a heavy, expressive cante grande palo characterized by its stylized and ritualistic dance form and solemn, wailing song. It traces its origins to Cádiz, Sevilla, and Jerez de la Frontera in the 18th century and is one of flamenco’s oldest and deepest forms. The letras of seguiriya typically focus on tragedy, inconsolable sorrow, and pain.
Seguiriya is played por medio (on the sixth string in E phyrgian, relative to the capo). It usually starts at a moderate tempo, and passes through a wide range of tempo changes to accommodate singers, dancers, and guitar playing as the composition requires.
8 9 10 11 12 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Though other musicians count this meter differently, I find the easiest is simply to start on the eight count, and use that as the “home” beat. As with all palos, “how” you count isn’t important—as long as you stay in compas.
Basic Seguiriya Rhythm
This basic seguiriya, played by Curro Montoya of flamencoeduca.com, demonstrates several traditional seguiriya motifs, as well as stretching and compressing of the tempo common to this form.
Though cante is an elemental part of the vast majority of flamenco forms, due to the austere nature of the basic guitar patterns in seguiriya, it can be difficult to understand solo siguiriya playing without also understanding how the guitarist and singer work together in accompanied song. This performance of Camarón, accompanied by Tomatito, captures that collaboration and communication beautifully:
Seguiriya Stylistic Variations
As a solo guitar form, seguiriya’s expressiveness and unusual meter lend it to a wide degree of interpretation. In keeping with the form’s letras, guitar arrangements are always dramatic in on way or another and, no matter how far they may stray into stylistic innovation, almost always come back to the foundational phrases and transitions that characterize the cante accompaniment.
Diego del Gastor
Diego del Gastor, modern day patriarch of the flamenco gitano tradition, offers a look into how seguiriya’s unique compas and narrow tonal palette nonetheless provides a rich foundation for musical expression.
Dani de Morón
Contemporary versions of siguiriya expand and build on traditional foundations limited only by the musician’s creativity and skill. Dani de Morón provides a beautiful example of how far seguiriya can be taken musically, while still respecting the essence of its roots.
Siguiriya is a notoriously difficult form to accompany not only becuase of its unique compas, but also because a singer will often stretch the compas over a single letra (or all letras), and because singers and dancers alike will speed and slow the tempo for dramatic effect. All of this requires close attention to the underlying compas and tight communication between performers.
When danced, siguiriya usually includes the following sections:
- Introduction and Temple: A guitar falseta and a temple in which the singer matches tempo and “tunes” with the guitar
- Entrada: When the dancer comes on stage, which can be slow and lyrical, marked by driving footwork, or a combination of both.
- Llamada: From the verb “llamar,” to call. The dancer calls to the other people on stage that something is about to happen, for example a new verse or section of footwork
- Letras: Dance that traditionally accompanies passages of singing. Chord progressions suggesting the letra may be included even when a singer is not present.
- Escobilla: Footwork performed to a formulaic, rhythmic falseta.
- Continuation and Finale: Letras, escobillas, and falsetas are repeated to create a full arrangmement, which eventually culminates in a final escobilla. To close, the dancer may exit the stage, or transition into a buleria or tango for an on-stage finale.
To learn more about dance accompaniment, check out Introduction to Flamenco Dance Accompaniment.