early and traditional music
Mozarabic Bible of San Isidoro de León, 10th century.

Cantaderas were groups of women engaged and payed during the middle ages to play, sing and dance at social events. A cantadera (songstress) is a professional woman who plays music and entertains an audience. The first cantadera appearing in literature is in a Galician document written in 1228. A description of one such performer can be found in the 14th century Libro del buen amor:

 … After the songstress sings the first song, her feet always move and the pandero suffers when she strikes it… she never stops her feet… when dancing, her fingers always move.

Also in the Libro del buen amor, the author, el Arcipreste de Hita, acknowledges the important task of the cantadera as a transmitter of repertoire:

… if you don’t know a song, learn it from the songstress… el cantar que no sabes oylo a la cantadera.

The Golden Haggadah. Early and traditional music
And Miriam.. took a timbrel in her hand (Exodus 15:20)
The Golden Haggadah (?) Barcelona, c.1320 Manuscript on parchment. The British library, London.

Thanks to this oral stream a rich repertoire sung by women has survived until the present day. Today, groups of women, like the Cantaderas in medieval Iberia, accompany their singing with several percussion instruments: tambourines, castanets, square drums.

Nowadays the concept of Cantadera can be found in many popular songs of the north of the Iberian Peninsula (above all Asturias and Cantabria). These are melodies sung by women who also play the tambourins.

These female groups used to welcome people into towns, even attract customers’ attention in the markets. They participated in non-liturgical worship: practices anchored in heathen rituals, related to the fertility and the survival of the community. The church later absorbed these rituals. Because of the strong connection that frame drums had with religious rituals during ancient times, it is not surprising to that they were played in a paraliturgical context. Today they are used in mayas and marzas, offerings, processions and pilgrimages to chapels to honor the saints.



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