The Southern Style
Most Spaniards would agree that the music of Southern Spain embodies the true native sound. After all, Southern Spain is where the gypsy tradition holds strong and consequently, where Flamenco flourishes. Flamenco, a style of dancing characterized by the Andalusian Gypsies, can be seen as both a campy tourist activity and a deep-rooted art form. It is a separate genre that remained quite detached from mainstream Spanish pop. While some singers native to southern Spain (like Karina from Jaén in Andalusia) don't betray much regional influence in their pop style, others, such as Encarnita Polo, thrive on mixing Southern flavors into commercial pop.
At the age of 12, Encarnita's parents encouraged their young daughter to go to Barcelona to pursue a career in show business. She found work singing between movies in the local cinemas, and was soon hobnobbing with some of the most well known international celebrities. It was Charles Aznavour who suggested Encarnita sing contemporary material instead of the traditional Andalusian songs in her early repertoire. The advice was well taken, and a recording contract was on the table. As Encarnita embarked on the beginning of her recording career in 1963, she continued to work in live musical productions in Barcelona and star in the odd TV show. Eventually she reached the big screen, starring in various Westerns and the James Bond knock-off 07 Con El 2 Delante (1966). She was particularly successful with her recording of the theme song to Bonnie And Clyde in 1968. A major transformation occured in the year 1969, when she released a modernized version of a "copla"- a Southern Spanish folk song- called "Pepe Bandera." The song was a smash, and gave birth to the phenomenon known as Flamenco-pop. In early 1970, Encarnita released a stunning follow-up single to "Pepe Bandera" called "Paco Paco Paco"- a 30 year-old copla that Encarnita filled with a bit of funk and Middle Eastern flavors. Within months, Encarnita had inspired other girl singers to follow in the path of Flamenco-pop. There was Elsa Baeza ("No Te Mires En El Rio"), then Dolores Vargas (with the fiery summer 1970 smash "A-chi-li-pu") and finally Rosa Morena ("Echale Guinda Al Pavo" and "El Perepepepe" in the latter half of 1970). One Spanish magazine dubbed Encarnita, Dolores Vargas, and Rosa Morena the "pop- faraonas,"- the female pharaohs of pop. You can't go wrong with most of Encarnitas releases on the RCA label from 1969-1972. She recorded less frequently after the mid '70s, but took the time to re-record her Flamenco-pop hits on her 1992 CD Encarna.
The Catalán Connection
The region of Catalonia in the northeastern part of Spain maintains a culture quite different from the rest of the country. With a culture deeply rooted in both Spanish and European traditions, the Catalán capital of Barcelona is surely the most cosmopolitan of all Spanish cities. The Catalans possess their own separate history and a different language from the Castilians of Madrid and central Spain. Rather than strictly using Spanish- the foreign word for the Castilian tongue- singers like Salome, Gloria, and Maria Del Mar Bonet sung at times in Catalán. During the sixties, singing in Catalán carried a certain amount of political subtext. Since General Franco's tanks rolled into Barcelona in 1939, the Catalán language had been banned from the public realm.