FolkWorld Issue 40 11/2009; Article by Pio Fernández

Plaza Mayor, Madrid

Folk & The City: Madrid (1)

The ‘Early’ Folk Musicians
Folk & The City: Madrid, Spain (Part 2)

The first Folk & The City article on Madrid pointed out bars and pubs where you can listen to traditional and folk music live in concert today. This second article will recognize and put in context key musicians which pioneered the concept of folk music as we know it today way back in the thorny 1960s and '70s, rooted in ancient traditions of Spanish folklore.

Folk in Spain in 2009 - A Quick Overview

Cover from the Raimundo AMADOR CD, “Noche de Flamenco y Blues”  (1998)
Soundfiles Raimundo Amador Movie Raimundo Amador

As explained in past Folk World articles, Flamenco has been the most successful type of Spanish traditional music, and its capacity to get melodies and rhythms blended in the sounds of several mainstream Spanish bands (rock, blues, pop, jazz,…) along the last decades, is significant : Medina Azahara, Triana, Pata Negra, Ketama, Raimundo Amador, Kiko Veneno, Jorge Pardo, Lagartija Nick, Chambao, Ojos de Brujo, Los Delinqüentes,… . But this is not really what should be considered Spanish folk, or probably not always ‘new flamenco’… although you could easily listen to this sort of music when you tune in a radio station in Madrid or in most other places in Spain.

Folk music in Spain lives in its own bucolic & ‘outmoded’ planet, in someway modestly aside from the rest of the music market (including flamenco), and fairly… not for a majority of Spanish people. Nonetheless, let’s say that every ten or twenty years, some of the big managers of the pop music business in Madrid or Barcelona seem to re-incorporate forgotten flavors in their marketing campaigns. That gives a chance to some of our top folk musicians to somehow experience the life of the rock and pop stars. That was the case in the 90s for folk music artists such as: Celtas Cortos, Luar Na Lubre, Carlos Núñez, Kepa Junquera, Hevia, Cristina Pato, Ixo Rai,…

That kind of Spanish folk musicians have usually fused their deep knowledge of old traditional sounds from different places, with influences from pop or R&R music, or even Irish, British, North American, Caribbean or Scandinavian folk : The folk-rock band CELTAS CORTOS

  • Luar Na Lubre, Carlos Núñez, Cristina Pato from Galicia
  • José Angel Hevia from Asturias
  • Kepa Junquera from the Basque country
  • Ixo Rai from Aragón (just at the south of the central part of the Pyrenees mountain chain, separating Spain from France)
  • Celtas Cortos from Valladolid (Castilla-León). They play a kind of folk-rock mostly based on Irish music.

    So as you can see, the Spanish traditional & folk musicians that have recently enjoyed widespread popularity at national level, seem to be mostly from the South, with some kind of flamenco essences, or from the North, bringing their cheerful or gentle ‘Celtic’ sounds, whatever that means: bagpipes, accordions, fiddles,…

    Soundfiles Celtas Cortos Movie Celtas Cortos
    On the other hand, folk musicians from the Central regions of Spain (Madrid, Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, La Rioja,…) have seldom participated in the hit parades, except for the early years of the folk music revival, in the 1960s and 70s. Nevertheless, their broad contribution to the Spanish trad & folk music scene has been prominent. This article and a following one will tell us about it.

    Folk in Madrid - The ‘Early’ Musicians

    Photo by Alan LOMAX : Psaltery and flute player, Yebra de Basa, Huesca, Aragon, Spain  (1952)

    Folk music as we know it today, became noteworthy in Spain in the late 1960’s & the 70’s. Before then, traditional music was mostly part of the local folklore of most rural areas, many times simply as it had been carried generation after generation for the last centuries. Industrialization was still arriving late to most Spanish villages and towns in the second half of the twentieth century. However, it was becoming evident that the accelerating immigration of people from the countryside towards the big cities and other countries (France, Germany, UK, Belgium,..), could precede to the final extinction of many ancient traditions. That pushed several young Spanish musicians to play an active role in the study and continuation of the popular traditions, as musicologists and folklorists from previous generations had been doing in different parts of Spain (Manuel Garcia-Matos in Extremadura, Agapito Marazuela in Castile, Jesús Bal y Gay in Galicia, Eduardo Martinez–Torner in Asturias, …).

    It is also important to keep in mind that in those days and until 1976, Spain was ruled by the nationalist dictatorship from general Francisco Franco, who began the civil war in 1936, which ended in 1939. Franco’s army started & won the Spanish civil war as an anti-republican and anti-communist rebellion, also supported by weapons and troops from Hitler and Mussolini. During Franco’s regime, the different Spanish musical folklore and traditions became an instrument used by some government organizations, to strengthen knowledge and pride on the Spanish national identity. Even more, certain displays of ‘peripheral’ regional traditions (Galician, Basque, Catalonian,…) were tolerated as means to manifest the diversity of the country’s culture, and as long as their performers also proved loyalty to the ideal of a unified and catholic Spain. After the 50s and 60s, this care for the national folklore was probably also naively considered a way to counterbalance the boosting and ‘dangerously anarchic’ influence on the Spanish youth of foreign idols, such as: Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, etc…

    Georges BRASSENS  &  Paco IBAÑEZ , Spanish Exile in Paris
    Soundfiles Pablo Ibanez Movie Pablo Ibanez
    In the late 60’s, the dictator and his political system were getting close to their final years. Censorship was still around, although certain young Spanish musicians had started to scout new paths. In those days, artists of the English speaking folk world such as: Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, The Weavers, Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Dubliners, Leonard Cohen,… were an inspiration for many musicians that elected to create a Spanish folk music somehow based on our local traditions and literature, but with a modern appeal, and sometimes with subtle messages against the ageing dictatorship and its best (and only) allied in the anti-communist crusade: the government of the USA. The influence from French and even more: South-American, Brazilian, Portuguese singers shall also not be forgotten : Brassens, Ferre, Brel, Paco Ibañez, Moustaki, Victor Jara, Atahualpa Yupanqui, Violeta Parra, Mercedes Sosa, Inti Illimani, Jorge Cafrune, Quilapayún, Los Kalchakis, Joao Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinícius de Moraes, ‘Zeca’ Afonso,... A critical position against ‘capitalist imperialism’ and out of date military dictatorships, was an incentive for some folk singers in those years of French May 68, Cold and Vietnam wars, democratic revolution in Portugal, convulse Latin-America, and close to decaying ‘franquismo’. Times were changing but,… still not so fast in Spain.

    Madrid has been Spain’s center of political power for centuries, and as such, it has always attracted people from all parts of the country : students, factory workers, managers, politicians, scientists, engineers, artists,…. There were several folk musicians that became popular in Madrid in those 1960s and 70s, although in many cases they were originally from other provinces of the regions around Spain’s capital. They are listed next in two categories :

  • artists whose music is mostly around traditions & roots, and
  • folk singers whose music is only partially related to traditions and folk.

    Traditional & Roots Musicians

    Singers Inspired by Trad & Folk Music


    There was a significant number of folk singers that developed their career in the 60s and 70s in Madrid, although in Spain they are normally considered under the category of “cantautores” ( author-singers, song writers ), and not so much as folk musicians. This means that even though in many cases their music is clearly inspired by traditional Spanish songs, their compositions are mainly in a more personal and creative style, with influences that can range from Georges Brassens and Bob Dylan, to South-American or African folk musicians, flamenco, classical, Sepharadic or medieval music, rock, blues, jazz,…

    One of the common traits of these singers is that during the 60s, and mostly the 70s, their songs were heartily implicated in Spain’s political situation, containing messages demanding freedom and the end of Franco’s dictatorship, or with references to texts from writers, poets, singers,… which were considered subversive by the government and the police at that time. Many protest songs were forbidden by the censorship committees. Their lyrics were deemed as containing dangerous messages for the catholic moral or the ideological foundations of Franco’s regime. The authors and singers of such songs were even arrested and punished sometimes. In these regards, it deserves a special mention the group of Spanish folk singers named ‘Canción del Pueblo’ ( Song of the People ), that in 1967-68 raised their voices in Madrid.

    The following list summarizes the main ‘cantautores’ that started their career in those decades in Madrid.

  • José Antonio (‘Chicho’) SÁNCHEZ-FERLOSIO
    Movie Chicho Sanchez-Ferlosio
  • Elisa SERNA
  • Adolfo CELDRÁN
    Movie Hilario Camacho
  • Hilario CAMACHO
  • Pablo GUERRERO
    Movie Pablo Guerrero
  • Luis PASTOR
    Movie Luis Eduardo Aute
  • Luis Eduardo AUTE
  • Victor MANUEL y Ana BELÉN
    Movie Patxi Andion
  • Rosa LEÓN
  • Patxi ANDIÓN
  • Javier KRAHE, Joaquín SABINA y Alberto PÉREZ

    Pablo GUERRERO


    Cover from the Joaquín DÍAZ  CD “Dendrolatrías”  (2005) He was born in Zamora in 1947, and in the mid 1960s he started deeply studying, playing and teaching the Castilian and Spanish-Jewish (Sepharadic) folklore in Valladolid (both cities are in the Castilla y León community). He published his first album in 1967, ‘Recital’ (edited by Movieplay) and the last one in 2005, ‘Dendrolatrías’ (Factoría Autor). In total he has published around 30 albums, 50 books and around 200 articles and essays, plus TV programs, conferences in universities in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, Holland and the USA. Joaquín Diaz has been very influential for the rest of Castilian folk musicians including those in Madrid. He stopped giving concerts in 1976 to concentrate his efforts on the research of the popular culture and traditions, and finally to establish a foundation and museum for the Castilian tradition in the village of Urueña (Valladolid province). Joaquin is the uncle of the zanfona (hurdy gurdy) player Germán DÍAZ.

    NUESTRO PEQUEÑO MUNDO (NPM) (“Our Small World”)

    Soundfiles Nuestro Pequeno Mundo Movie Nuestro Pequeno Mundo
    They started as an eight-member folk band in 1968, with the support from Joaquín Díaz, and mainly playing folk songs in English such as: Oh, Sinner Man, Down in the Coal Mine, The Drunken Sailor, Whisky in the Jar... NPM progressively incorporated more songs from the Spanish and Portuguese speaking tradition, not just from the Iberian peninsula, also from Argentina, Brazil,… In their latest records, they mostly played Spanish traditional tunes, from central Spain (Castile, Extremadura,…) but also from Galicia, the Basque country, or even with Flamenco influences. After 15 years of folk music, they published their final and 9th album in 1983, recorded in the concert where they said good bye to their fans. Carlos Guitart (artistic director), Juan Ignacio Cuadrado, Pilar Alonso ‘Pat’, Nacho Sáez de Tejada, Juan Alberto Arteche,... were just some of the up to 18 different musicians which played in NPM. Later in time, Juan Alberto Arteche has played a crucial role in the folk music of Madrid, as a producer, and from his record label Música Sin Fin (Endless Music).

    Ismael PEÑA

    Ismael PEÑA  singing and playing his 18th century ‘zanfona’ (hurdy gurdy) Born and raised in a village in Segovia (province of Castilla-León, at the north of Madrid), he moved to Paris in 1960, where he played as a young professional guitarist. At that time, South American folk and flamenco music were highly fashionable styles, but Ismael understood that he could also succeed incorporating songs from the traditional Spanish repertoire. He studied and played the guitar songs from the Spanish composers of the 15th and 16th centuries, until he published a record ‘Canciones del Pueblo, Canciones del Rey’ which was awarded with the Grand Prix du Disque. After traveling throughout Europe, he developed an increasing interest in the study and recollection of popular traditions and folklore, and when he came back to Spain in the late 60s, he intensely continued such activities. In the early 70s, he hosted a program in the Spanish national TV where he explained to the children different aspects of the Spanish folklore. Nowadays, he keeps one of the largest collections in Spain on traditional instruments, and not just musical, but also farming tools, clothes, pottery,…

    NUEVO MESTER DE JUGLARÍA (a.k.a. ‘El Mester’)

    Movie Nuevo Mester de Juglaria
    They started in Segovia (Castilla y León) in 1969 and they still continue playing in 2009, after publishing 18 records. Their first one was in 1970, ‘Romances y Canciones Populares’ (Philips). In those days, their kind of folk music revival was very popular in Spain, and ‘El Mester’ used to play very often on weekends in places around the university city in Madrid. But they also dedicated significant time to the ethno-musicological research in Segovia and other places in Castilla-León. Along their career, ‘El Mester’ has released a new record every one or two years (their latest one in 2009: ‘Titirimundi’), and most of their songs and lyrics are mostly based or inspired in the popular traditions from Castilla-León, and the Segovia province in particular. One of their remarkable records was released in 1976, ‘Los Comuneros’, making reference to the revolt that took place in Castile in 1520, and it is considered an important historical event for the nationalistic feeling in this part of central Spain. They also had strong influence in their career from Agapito Marazuela (1891-1983), which was one of the most relevant folklorists and ‘dulzaina’ players in Segovia and the whole Castilla region. (The dulzaina is a double reed traditional oboe, similar to a bombarde).

    Eliseo PARRA

    Eliseo Parra,
    Soundfiles Eliseo Parra Movie Eliseo Parra
    Born in Sardón del Duero (Valladolid) in 1949, Eliseo started his career in the 60’s as a drummer in rock bands, although in the mid 70s he reoriented his interest towards jazz and folk music in the city of Barcelona. In the late 70s and early 80s, Eliseo participated in a record from the singer from Mallorca Maria del Mar Bonet, became a member of the folk band from Valencia All Tall, and played with several salsa bands from Barcelona. In 1983, he moved to Madrid where he started to study the traditional music from Castile, and became a leading member of the folk band Mosaico. In 1990, he initiated his professional career as a solo folk singer, combining Castilian traditional songs with influences from jazz, rock, Caribbean and other kinds of ‘world music’. He got in contact with the wind instruments musician Javier Paxariño, who introduced him to Juan Alberto Arteche (ex-NPM) and producer in his company Musica Sin Fin. It is in 1999 when they released a very pivotal record in Eliseo’s career : Tribus Hispanas . His following records are : ‘Viva Quien Sabe Querer’ (BOA Music, 2002), ‘De Ayer Mañana’ (Harmonia Mundi, 2005) and ‘Diez’ (Producciones Mirmidón, 2009). He has also cooperated with another eminent folklorist from Madrid : José Manuel Fraile - Gil.

    Luis DELGADO

    Luis DELGADO
    Movie Luis Delgado
    Born in downtown Madrid (Chamberí) in 1956, he started playing the lute as a member of Gaspar Sanz orchestra in 1970, and then he continued playing in several bands such as Imán (Andalusian rock), Atrium Musicae (Musica Antiqua), Babia (fusion Western-Eastern world), Finis Africae (world music), Calamus (Spanish medieval music), La Musgaña (Castilian trad music), Musica Antigua (with Eduardo Paniagua), Ibn Bayá (Spanish-Moroccan band),… He has toured throughout Europe, North America, and North Africa. He has produced records for Spanish folk musicians such as : Joaquín Díaz, Amancio Prada, María del Mar Bonet, Nuestro Pequeño Mundo, Emilio Cao, Luis Paniagua, Javier Bergia,... Luis Delgado has also played in records from Pablo Guerrero, Oskorri, Kepa Junquera,… He has also composed music for: documentaries about the Arab culture, classical and modern theater plays, movies, ballet,… In total he has published 20 CDs as a solo musician, and has collaborated in 22 CDs from other bands. The kind of folk music that he has developed shows significant influences from the Spanish as well as the Arab traditions. Along his career, Luis Delgado has built up a large collection of musical instruments (mostly string) that is kept in a museum, in the village of Urueña (same place as the abovementioned Joaquín Díaz foundation).

    RAICES (“Roots”)

    Soundfiles raices
    They started as a band in 1972, founded by Maria Luisa Garcia - Sánchez and her brother Javier, researching and playing songs from the Spanish traditional music, and participating in some albums from the abovementioned Joaquín Díaz. In 1978, another musician, Antonio Lorenzo, joined the band. Javier Garcia died in a traffic accident in 1979, but María Luisa and Antonio continued the musical activity. In 1982 & 83, RAICES published two records on Sepharadic (Jewish-Spanish) traditional songs. In 1986, Carlos Montero became also part of the band, which meant a significant improvement on the musical arrangements. They continued publishing CDs on the trad music of Castilla y León, as well as certain recordings for the Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln, Germany (1986-1987) and the Spanish national radio (RNE). Since 1990, two new musicians have joined RAICES: Asunción & Antonio Gonzalez. RAICES has played in the Spanish embassies and Cervantes institutes in: France, Tunisia, Germany, Holland, Luxembourg and Portugal. They have published 11 albums. All the members have done extensive work on Spanish folklore, publishing in total more than 30 research papers and articles, books about traditional songs and tales for children.

    Julia LEÓN

    Julia LEÓN
    Soundfiles Julia Leon
    She started as a folk singer in the mid 60s, being one of the founders of the gathering ‘Canción del Pueblo’ (see next section). She has written music for the poems of authors from the early 20th century : Federico Garcia-Lorca, Miguel Hérnandez, Pablo Neruda, Antonio Machado, Nicolás Guillen, León Felipe,… and also from the Spanish ‘Siglo de Oro’ (Golden Century of literature, 16th & 17th centuries): Lope de Vega, Garcilaso, Góngora, Quevedo,… Julia León has also researched on the fields of Spanish traditional and children music, as well as Sepharadic, having close contact with the Spanish Jewish communities in Madrid and Valencia, and the Israeli universities of Ramat-Gan and Jerusalem. She has recorded TV music programs in Spain, USA, Germany, UK, Cuba,… Julia is the sister of the folk singer Rosa León.
    The next article on Madrid will talk about the following generation of folk musicians, those that appeared in Madrid in the 1980s, '90s and… My gratitude to the Spanish music magazine INTERFOLK (, and in particular Fernando MARTÍNEZ–GARCIA, for the ex-pert support for this article.

    Photo Credits: (1) Plaza Mayor, Madrid; (2) Raimundo Amador; (3) Celtas Cortos; (4) Psaltery and flute player, Yebra de Basa; (5) Paco Ibanez; (6) Joaquin Diaz Gonzalez; (7) Chicho Sanchez-Ferlosio; (8) Nuestro Pequeno Mundo; (9) Ismael Pena; (10) Nuevo Mester de Juglaria; (11) Pablo Guerrero; (12) Eliseo Parra; (13) Luis Delgado; (14) Raices; (15) Julia Leon.

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