The first time I was lucky enough to go to a peña flamenca (most simply, a flamenco club or organization for the support, enjoyment and promotion of flamenco, but their history in Andalusia is incredibly important to the development and preservation of the art . . . that's a whole post for another time), I heard the host that evening talk about the elements of flamenco: el cante, el baile y el toque . . . the singing, the dancing and the guitar playing. This is the basic trinity of flamenco, the three elements that are necessary for its full expression.
While each of these has found remarkable virtuosic expression in their own right, it is the balance of them that makes the magic happen. But, it can be argued that the first among them is the cante. The song sets the tone, the context, establishes the meaning that the three elements will explore and express together. And cante can stand alone in a special way, with a singer being able to share, unaccompanied and unadorned, according to his or her feelings in the moment.
Flamenco starts with el cante.
So, it's important, as you begin to study flamenco, regardless of your personal discipline, to begin to listen to cante in all of its expressions. Wikipedia says, of cante flamenco:
. . . part of musical tradition in the Andalusian region of Spain. Its origins are uncertain but scholars see many influences in the cante flamenco including: The traditional song of the gitanos (Spanish Gypsies), the Perso-Arab Zyriab song form, the Classical Andalusian Orchestras of the Islamic Empire, the Jewish Synagogue Chants, Mozarabic forms such as Zarchyas and Zambra, Arabic zayal (the foundation for the Fandango), Andalusian regional folk forms, as well as West African and South American influences as seen in the cantes de ida y vuelta.
You can see how, from so many points of origin, flamenco can create many styles and approaches. Where to begin? Well, all I can really do is offer some favorites, and try to hint at the variety through them (while also respecting the history and the important figures who have shaped flamenco as we know it). This list is not exhaustive, not chronological, and is just a little beginning, a taste . . .
Camarón de la Isla
La Paquera de JerezLa Niña de la PueblaLa Niña de los Peines
Mujerez (Juana la del Pipa, Dolores Agujeta & Tomasa La Macanita