What is spanish music called: Spanish Musical History and Famous Artists

Spanish Musical History and Famous Artists

When you think about music in Spanish, flamenco might be the first thing to come to mind. This unique musical genre and dance style, which come from humble origins but enjoy a universal cultural appeal, is often associated with Spain and especially with Andalusia. The flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía and the revolutionary cantaores (flamenco singers) Camarón de la Isla and Enrique Morente helped modernize the genre, dramatically increasing its international popularity. We know you’ll love listening to these artists and many others who perform flamenco in its purest form, but the very nature of this heart-wrenching way of singing may make it difficult for you to understand the words… much less sing them. One solution is to try a less intense version: many Spanish singers and soloists, such as Raimundo Amador, Ketama, and Rosario Flores, have successfully fused flamenco with pop music.

Spain has also produced internationally successful composers and singers of classical music: some of Spain’s world-famous opera singers include soprano Montserrat Caballé and tenors like Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, and the late Alfredo Kraus. Once again, it’s not easy to get your vocal chords up to the task of singing along, and furthermore, operas aren’t usually sung in Spanish. Instead, we recommend that you listen to recordings of these artists — along with works by Spanish composers like Albéniz, Manuel de Falla, or Pau Casals — to get to know Spanish musical culture a little better, and maybe to use as background music when you’re doing your Spanish grammar homework.

What’s known as Spanish popular music began to spread near the end of the 19th century thanks to the development of the phonograph industry and the first recordings of folk music. Genres such as the copla andaluza, the cuplé, and the bolero became enormously popular in the early decades of the 20th century and continued growing until the 1960s. These types of melodic songs were usually performed by a singer and an orchestra or a band. Romantic ballads became a big favorite, and some of Spain’s biggest stars of the moment were Raphael, Camilo Sesto, Nino Bravo, Rocío Dúrcal, and, of course, Julio Iglesias. This musical genre was heavily influenced by both French and Italian music.

Starting in 1964 with the British Invasion, bands influenced by rock and pop acts from the United Kingdom became fashionable in Spain. In this same decade, the first Spanish pop hits began to earn a certain amount of fame abroad. The first song to successfully cross the border was Black is Black by Los Bravos, although as the title reveals, the song was sung in English, not Spanish. Reaching number one in Canada, number four in the U.S., and inspiring a French version by Johnny Hallyday, Black is Black was one of the first clear signs of the influence that music in English had begun to exert on Spanish creators.

During the 1960s and 70s, the Eurovision Song Contest popularized some of the songs and artists who participated in the contest representing Spain, and many of these tunes have become true karaoke anthems that are still famous today. La, La, La, written by Dúo Dinámico, launched Massiel to victory in 1968, but the song that made the biggest impact thanks to Eurovision is, without a doubt, Eres Tú, by Mocedades, who won second place in 1973 with Spain’s highest score in the history of the contest. In addition to being one of the few songs by a Spanish artist to reach the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart (where it stayed for 17 weeks, peaking at number 9), more than 70 versions have been made of the song in different languages. This means that it’s possible that you’ve hummed along this Spanish song without even knowing it.

The 1970s saw the rise of protest songs, which often hurled veiled criticism at the Franco dictatorship, stood up for the disadvantaged, and vindicated popular culture, sung by artists like Lluís Llach and Joan Manuel Serrat.

Another important moment in Spain’s musical history was the counterculture movement known as la Movida Madrileña (the Madrid Scene), which emerged in the capital city around 1980, showing influences from British punk and new wave. The Movida represented a radical break from the conventional values that characterized the Franco dictatorship and encompassed multiple forms of artistic expression, including Pedro Almodóvar’s early movies and the music-focused TV show La Edad de Oro. Some of the movement’s most representative groups and artists are Radio Futura, Naca Pop, Los Secretos, Tino Casal, and the various bands that singer Alaska formed part of, including Kaka de Lux, Alaska y Los Pegamoides, and Alaska y Dinarama.

What about Spanish music today? It exists, but it’s not as well known. But we assure you, it goes a lot further than the omnipresent, unsinkable Macarena, which became a worldwide sensation in the 1990s.

In their most commercial forms, Spanish pop and rock tend to be infused with Latin rhythms or inspired by music in English. A prime example of the first case is the career of Enrique Iglesias, an international superstar; while bands like Amaral or Vetusta Morla are good examples of the latter. Vetusta Morla holds the current record among Spanish artists for the biggest concert, with 38,000 spectators. In recent years, genres like hip-hop and trap have also found their way to the Spanish music scene, with artists such as La Mala Rodríguez.


10 Irresistible Types of Spanish Music to Make You Dance

By Maureen Stimola
Last updated:

Music gets your neurons moving and synapses grooving.

It stimulates your brain functions to improve your memory capacity, attention span, ability to focus and language skills.

This makes all types of Spanish music ideal resources for learning Spanish.

Get ready, there’s a whole wide world of Spanish music genres out there.


  • Why Language Learners Should Explore the Many Types of Spanish Music
  • The Types of Spanish Music
    • 1. Salsa
      • Salsa Playlist
    • 2. Merengue
      • Merengue Playlist
    • 3. Bachata
      • Bachata Playlist
    • 4. Reggaeton
      • Reggaeton Playlist
    • 5. Rock
      • Spanish Rock Playlist
    • 6. Reggae
      • Spanish Reggae Playlist
    • 7. Cumbia
      • Cumbia Playlist
    • 8. Vallenato
      • Vallenato Playlist
    • 9. Balada
      • Balada Playlist
    • 10. Música folklórica
      • Spanish Folk Playlist

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Why Language Learners Should Explore the Many Types of Spanish Music

So, we’ve noted that Spanish music is great for your brain and overall learning experience—but why should you bother exploring more genres?

  • They’re an enormous part of Latin American and Spanish culture. These genres of music are deeply rooted in history, culture and the Spanish language itself.
  • Each region of the Spanish-speaking world has its favorites. You don’t know the Dominican Republic if you don’t know about bachata. You don’t know Colombia until you know classic salsa. You can’t know Argentina without knowing tango.
  • They make for unforgettable Spanish lessons. Music is incredible for memory, even if you think you’re not the musical type. Learning a few choice lyrics can get vocabulary and grammar to stick in your brain effortlessly.
  • Singing a whole Spanish song is a major confidence boost. Dude, once you’ve memorized a whole song and can sing along without looking at the lyrics, you’ll feel like a legit native. You’ll finally feel the soul of Spanish.

The more you broaden your musical horizons, the better you’ll understand Spain and Latin America, and the more Spanish vocabulary you’ll pick up along the way.

The Types of Spanish Music

We’ll start off with the genres you probably already know since these tend to be the biggest and most popular genres throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

If you someday travel around Latin America, these genres will make up the background music of your life every day you spend walking around towns and cities—they emanate from every house and tiendita (little store).

Then, we’ll dive into some more niche and regional genres. After you get past the section about rock and roll, expect some new twists and turns.

With every type of music below, I’ve included a little playlist of songs that fit into the genre so you can get a taste of the sound.


1. Salsa

The earliest form of salsa arose in Cuba in the 1920s as a mixed salsa (sauce) of Cuban son and rumba music. This early salsa absorbed a number of other musical influences, including jazz, rock and mambo, over the decades to become the modern salsa we all know and love.

In any given salsa song, you’ll usually hear bass guitar, piano, bongo and conga drums, claves, maracas, a guíro or two—and maybe even a brassy orchestra to fill out the sound.

The guíro is a dry, hollow gourd with lines cut into it that can be scraped with a stick to make a scratchy, rhythmic sound, similar to the sound of a washboard. Claves are basically just two sticks that are banged together. When dancing salsa, follow the beat of the claves.

The often romantic, poetic lyrics are excellent for language learners to improve the richness of their vocabulary.

While it gained popularity in America the 1950s, it only really took off in the 60s, during “The Fania Years,” when Fania Records made a huge push to grow salsa’s popularity worldwide—obviously, with great success. The 60s are still considered the golden age of salsa, giving birth to the classic sound that was adopted and adapted by Celia Cruz, Marc Anthony and more over the years.

Salsa Playlist

“Ríe y Llora” by Celia Cruz

“Idilio” by Willie Colón ft. Fonseca

“Amor y Control” by Rubén Blades

2. Merengue

Merengue can be fast, extremely fast—even impossibly fast for newbie dances. Luckily, the two-step, left-right-left-right dance is simple enough for anyone to master, so long as you have the energy to keep up with the crazy-fast beats.

It’s great for language learners because it covers such a vast array of topics and themes, and lyrics are often more humorous.

All you really need is a tambora drum and a guíra (a scraper instrument, similar to the guíro but made from metal) to get the merengue party started. Ask anyone in the Dominican Republic—the country where this music originated in the 19th century—and they’ll tell you.

Merengue Playlist

“El Baile Del Perrito” by Wilfrido Vargas

“Las Avispas” by Juan Luis Guerra

“El Niágara en Bicicleta” by Juan Luis Guerra

“La Cerveza” by Elvis Crespo



Bachata is another Dominican sensation that’s popular worldwide, and not just in Latin America and New York City—weirdly enough, this genre has a dedicated fanbase in Japan.

It’s a very slick dance with two partners dancing close, requiring lots and lots of hip wiggling and foot-pop flourishes.

The lyrics tend to be over-the-top romantic or sexual in nature, often including themes of heartbreak and forbidden love. It’s the kind of stuff you just want to belt out in a ridiculously dramatic way, which is, of course, amazing for studying Spanish.

I’ve heard it said of the above genres that merengue is having a crush in musical form, while salsa is love and bachata is sex. Do with that information what you will.

Bachata Playlist

“Recházame” by Prince Royce

“Papel en Blanco” by Monchy y Alexandra

“Mi Corazoncito” by Aventura

4. Reggaeton

Ah yes, the controversial, love-it-or-hate-it genre that’s undeniably popular in the Spanish-speaking world at large. It’s now also gaining popularity in the United States and other countries that aren’t majority Spanish-speaking.

Most recently, the popular reggaeton song “Despacito” beat out Taylor Swift in the U.S. top music charts. And you and I both know we danced the heck out of “Gasolina” by Daddy Yankee when we were back in middle school. It’s fine to admit it.

Reggaeton is usually straight-up party and dance music, which makes it perfect to blast loudly, dance to and sing along with. In my book, it’s perhaps the best genre for Spanish students just because of the fun factor.

And in terms of lyrics, it’s often very wordy music, especially between choruses, so it’s great for practicing informal Spanish, slang and yes, curse words.

Reggaeton Playlist

“Si Tú La Ves” by Nicky Jam ft. Wisin

“Danza Kuduro” by Don Omar ft. Lucenzo (Note: Lyrics are partly in Portuguese)

“Bailando” by Enrique Iglesias



Now, rock probably needs no introduction. Plenty of varieties of rock have made their way around the Spanish-speaking world, so you’ll find fans everywhere abroad.

Imagine my surprise upon arriving in Cuenca, Ecuador and finding roving gangs of rocker-dudes with all-black clothing, band T-shirts, bike chains and long hair grown out for headbanging.

Turns out, rock music is wicked popular in the mountain cities of Ecuador, for whatever reason. I can dig it.

There’s Spanish rock music out there featuring the classic styles from all big rock-and-roll decades in American history, including the 70s, 80s and 90s—there are even angsty emo-rock bands that capture the sounds of the oh-so-edgy early 00’s.

Spanish Rock Playlist

“De Música Ligera” by Soda Stereo

“Sin Documentos” by Los Rodriguez

“Para No Verte Más” by La Mosca Tse Tse

6. Reggae

Bob Marley was a huge sensation internationally and, of course, his music touched the heart of Latin America. You’ll hear his tunes playing all over, especially in coastal areas.

It’s just the perfect vibe for a little ocean town, isn’t it?

Naturally, the reggae love inspired a number of Spanish-speaking musicians, who now produce their own reggae with a bit of Latin twist. The lyrics are mellow, as you might expect, and you’ll usually hear Spanish reggae artists singing about love, unity, world peace and, uh, a certain herb.

All around, it’s fun, slower-paced sing-along music for Spanish learners.

Spanish Reggae Playlist

“Felicidad” by Gondwana

“Verde, Amarillo y Rojo” by Gondwana

“Clandestino” by Manu Chao ft. Playing For Change

“Tú Sin Mí” by Dread Mar I

7. Cumbia

This genre of music originated in Colombia and was largely influenced by the culture and musical traditions of black Colombians.

In any cumbia song, you’ll hear the hollow, clacky sound of traditionally-handmade percussion, along with indigenous wind and string instruments. In modern cumbia, these instruments are sometimes replaced with modern instruments or even synthetic, electronic music that imitates the sounds.

It’s fun, percussive, upbeat and often features lyrics about life, community and happiness. And of course, like with any musical genre, it has its fair share of songs about love and loss.

This genre is definitely going to keep you feeling happy and encouraged while you sing along!

Cumbia Playlist

“Se Me Perdió La Cadenita” by La Sonora Dinamita

“Mi Cucu” by La Sonora Dinamita

“Loquito Por Tí” by Armando Hernández

“No Me Arrepiento De Este Amor” by Gilda

“Te Vas” by Américo

8. Vallenato

This is yet another genre of Colombian origin, with the name harking to the valle (valley) where it was created by cattle farmers.

It sounds similar to cumbia, having a distinct Colombian folk sound, but the main difference is that it includes an accordion and a “washboard” type sound produced by a folk instrument.

Often mushy and sentimental, there’s just something about a quality vallenato song that gives me goosebumps.

Vallenato Playlist

“No Voy a Llorar” by Los Diablitos

“Olvídala” by Binomio De Oro De América

“Te Perdoné” by Jorge Celedon

9. Balada

This is not my favorite genre in particular, but hey, we’re not dealing in opinions here, we’re dealing in facts. And the fact is that Balada (ballad) tunes are very popular.

They vary in sound, some being more pop and rock in nature while others have a more folk sound. Basically, a lot of different genres might fall within this—but the common factor of a balada is its powerful vocals and sappy, dramatic lyrics.

And it’s about 99% of the music in the books when you go out for a night of karaoke in Latin America. Locals there find it fun to drink their beer and sing sad songs as loudly and dramatically as humanly possible!

So, learn a few of the big hits of ballads and prepare yourself for nights out while traveling.

Balada Playlist

“Dime que no” by Ricardo Arjona

“Mientes” by Camila

“No Me Queda Más” by Selena

10. Música folklórica

Of course, “Folk Music” is a broad phrase that can hardly cover all the varieties found across Spain and Latin America.

At least in Latin America, this phrase tends to refer to music of indigenous cultures. Though, technically, cumbia and vallenatos are both good examples of folk music. It was produced by the more modern mestizo inhabitants of Latin America.

Every country in Latin America is home to different indigenous cultures, each with their own unique languages, instruments and musical stylings, so you can get lost in a sea of music if you begin exploring this genre. The trick for Spanish learners is to find folk music that’s sung in Spanish rather than an indigenous language so that it can supplement your language learning.

That said, some regional varieties of Spanish mix in indigenous words. For example, Ecuadorian Spanish speakers often mix a few choice Quechua/Kichwa words into their speech. It might be valuable for you to listen to music in indigenous languages, just to get a feel for how those sound.

Spanish Folk Playlist

Ecuadorian Folk Music

Peruvian Folk Music

Guatemalan Folk Music


You’re fully prepared to sing and dance your way to Spanish fluency now.

The key is exposure. Try all of these genres out and find which ones you enjoy the most.

Then, stick with it! Dive deeper into your favorite genres, make playlists, burn CDs, download them to your smartphone—whatever you can do to keep this music accessible to you at all times.

Or take music with your via an app. For example, FluentU is an online language learning program based on authentic Spanish videos (including music videos) with interactive captions so you can follow along (and sing along). The study features, like flashcards and quizzes, can also help you practice the vocabulary you pick up from music long term. 

Make it a goal this week to learn one Spanish song completely by heart and you’ll be amazed how much closer to fluency you’ll feel.

This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you
can take anywhere.
Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Maureen Stimola

Maureen is a Vermont native and serial expat. She has a lifelong passion for travel, scientific research, languages and lizards. Maureen has formally studied Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Japanese—and casually absorbed some Kichwa while living 2 years in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

She’s thrilled to be working with FluentU and sharing some linguistic love with the rest of the world.

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Music of Spain: a short digression.

Spain in Russian

No matter how multifaceted a country with its different regions, traditions, customs and languages, music will always be its mirror. The gloomy monasteries of Galicia, the singing of the cantaor spreading in the sweet air of Andalusia, the magnificent halls of the palaces of Madrid — a short journey through the history of Spanish music will open Spain to us from a previously unknown side.

Monasteries of Catalonia and Galicia

The professional music of Spain, like that of other European countries, was born in monasteries, which in ancient times were not only a stronghold of spiritual life, but also major centers of science and art. Santa Maria de Ripoll (Vic), Santa Maria del Mar (Barcelona), the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela become the centers of Gregorian chant — monophonic accompaniment of the Catholic service by chanters.

Later, on its basis, the first theatrical performances, liturgical dramas, which were staged during the service, were created. Some of them continue to exist today, for example, the Song of the Sibyl can be heard in the Cathedral of Mallorca on Christmas night from December 24 to 25. In the XIII century, poetry in national languages ​​began to develop, and with it the work of minstrels — court singers and wandering musicians.

Their monophonic songs told about unrequited love for a beautiful lady, told about military campaigns and friendship. Often the image of the beloved in medieval poetry was transformed into the image of the Virgin Mary, and earthly love into heavenly love. The most famous monument of Spanish medieval lyrics, Cantigas de Santa María, reflects this trend: about 420 cantigas (songs), written, according to legend, by King Alfonso the Wise in the Galician-Portuguese dialect, contain wonderful stories about the Holy Virgin and prayers in her honor.

Bas-reliefs above the portals of cathedrals are famous for scenes from the musical life of medieval Spain, for example, El Pórtico de la Gloria above the entrance to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where you can see images of musical instruments of that time. In the 14th century, vernacular languages ​​penetrated into worship, diluting the dry and incomprehensible Latin for ordinary people. There are spiritual songs on a religious subject, which were performed by believers outside the church. A valuable collection is the Red Book of Montserrat, or Llibre Vermell, still kept in the library of the monastery: it includes songs in Catalan, Latin, which were performed by pilgrims in honor of the main shrine of this place — the Black Virgin Mary. Some of the songs in this book were accompanied by circle dances.

Music al Andaluz

The Arabs had a great influence on the culture of Spain: until 1492, the fall of Granada, they were full rulers of the southern territories of the state. During the period of the Caliphate of Cordoba, such musical genres as zajal and muwashshah flourished — couplet songs, in which the couplet was often performed by a soloist, and the chorus by the choir. The special sophistication of melodies, fine ornamentation and improvisation will not only become the hallmarks of Arabic music, but will also have a great influence on the musical culture of Christian Spain.

Later, in the 19th century, passionate and attractive flamenco is born in these southern lands — a synthesis of dance, guitar and voice. Having absorbed various elements of Andalusian, Gypsy, Jewish, Arab cultures, this genre reached unprecedented popularity by the end of the century. Cafes and salons have appeared in which such flamenco stars as La Macarrona, La Cuenca, Rita Ortega, Lamparilla perform.

In the 20th century and to this day, the popularity of flamenco does not fade away: elements of this dance are used in classical ballet, experimental platforms appear that combine traditional Andalusian dance with jazz, new stars continue to appear, such as Isabel Baylon and others.

Golden Age

The period from the middle of the 16th century to the middle of the 17th century is considered to be the heyday of Spanish culture in painting, literature and music. A national school of strict-style composers is taking shape, national genres of polyphonic music are developing, opera shines on the court stage, and the king of instruments — the organ — reaches the peak of popularity. Religious music continues to play an important role; Cristobal Morales, Francisco Guerrero, Thomas Luis de Victoria are famous for their sublime polyphonic compositions.

On the other hand, secular compositions are gaining strength, rooted in folk genres — villancico and ensalada. Villancico, born from a simple folk song (no wonder its name comes from the word «villan», a peasant), in the XV-XVI century becomes an important theme in the work of composers such as Juan del Encina, Pedro de Escobar, Juan de Anchieta, Juan de Triana and many others. The music was preserved in the songbooks of that time — cancioneros (“cancioneros”), in particular, Cancionero musical de Palacio, Cancionero de la Colombina, and Cancionero de Uppsala, where Christmas villansico appear. In the 17th century, the love theme of Villancico was completely replaced by a religious one.

Ensalada (literally «salad») is a genre no less interesting than villancico. A little grotesque and sarcastic, he allowed a combination of different texts, styles and even languages ​​within one work. Composers such as Mateo Flecha (Senior and Junior), Bartolome Cáceres and others became famous for composing ensalads.

At the same time, the Spanish guitar was created — it is established in professional music along with other instruments. A large number of works by Lucas de Ribaillas, Antonio de Santa Cruz, Gaspar Sanz are published. Organ music is dominated by the tiento genre, whose brilliant authors are Juan Cabanilles and Francisco Correa de Arraujo.

On the stage of the Royal Theater in Madrid, with the collaboration of two outstanding figures of the era, Juan Hidalgo and Pedro Calderon, an opera appears: created according to the Italian model, it acquires national features on the Spanish stage. Such masterpieces as «Jealousy Kills with Just a Look» and «Purple Roses» were famous not only for the nobility of music and the metaphorical language of poetic language, but also for the spectacular theatrical machinery invented and implemented by the court architect of Italian origin Antonio Antonozzi.

From Enlightenment to Romanticism

In the 18th century, Spain is influenced by Italian music. Outstanding composers Domenico Scarlatti, Luigi Boccherini, Gaetano Brunetti and others work at the royal court. They bring new genres to Spanish music: the oratorio and cantata begin to develop.

At this time, the zarzuela enters the arena of musical life in Spain. It originates in the 17th century as a small experiment in the combination of theater, music and jokes. Its obligatory components were a comical uncomplicated plot and conversational dialogues, interspersed with music. In the 18th century, the zarzuela approaches Italian opera in the work of José de Nebra and Antonio Zamora. But already at the end of the century, this genre begins to acquire independence and national features, moving away from Italian influences towards Spanish plots and heroes from everyday life, as well as the use of Spanish folklore genres — seguidilla, fandango.

Silver Age of Spanish Art

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, the music of Spain is experiencing a «new birth», or Renacimiento. Under the leadership of Felipe Pedrell, a musicologist and composer, a national school of composition is being organized. Musicians are increasingly turning to national sources: ancient folklore (“cante jondo”), flamenco music. Poetic musical sketches of Spain appear in the works of Isaac Albeniz (piano suite «Iberia»), Enrique Granados («Spanish Capriccio», «Spanish Dances» for piano), and in the operas and ballets of Manuel de Falla, for the first time, flamenco dancers and folk singers («Love is a sorceress», «Short life»). The poetic miniatures of the Catalan composers Frederic Mompou and Javier Montsalvatje are influenced by romanticism, and Joaquin Rodrigo creates the famous Aranjuez Concerto for guitar and orchestra.

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Spanish music

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Spanish music

In different regions of Spain, musical trends, as well as culture, are different.

The most famous was the passionate Spanish flamenco, which originated in Andalusia (Malaga, Seville, Granada, etc.) in the lower strata of society, most of which were gypsies. It was they who passed on the art of flamenco from generation to generation. Traditional songs of Spain are passionate and emotional.

In the south of Spain, music is still of great importance today, locals often hide the venues of the most significant performances of artists so as not to lose the spirit of traditional flamenco. However, the great interest of tourists is driving the popularization of music in order to attract visitors to commercial theaters, bars and clubs.

Gradually, the popular music of Spain replaces the traditional music or significantly changes it. Many modern artists add Spanish influences to their hits, which are becoming famous all over the world.

The brightest representatives of Spanish music: Gipsy Kings, Manu Chao, Héroes Del Silencio, Julieta Venegas, Jarabe De Palo, Julio Iglesias.

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