Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Singer Antonio Mairena

Flamenco Singer Manolo Caracol speaks – 1970 Interview by Paco Almazán – translated with comments by Brook Zern

Translator’s introduction: This blog’s many interviews with great flamenco artists of the past are important. They can also be surprisingly relevant, shedding new light on contemporary arguments and issues. They let serious English-speaking aficionados understand the thoughts and feelings of those who shaped the history of the art.

As an example: No singer in my lifetime has been greater than Manolo Caracol. None came from a more illustrious artistic lineage, or more completely embodied the entire known history of the art. None were as prodigious — winning a historic contest at about twelve years old. And I think no recording reveals the emotional power of flamenco song as well as Caracol’s double-LP “Una Historia de Cante Flamenco”, on which he is magnificently accompanied by the guitarist Melchor de Marchena.

This interview by Paco Almazán from Triunfo magazine of August 8, 1970, goes to the very heart of the art. It served as a response to an earlier interview in that publication where Antonio Mairena, the leading singer of that time, had challenged the greatness of the other Gypsy giant, Manolo Caracol. Caracol would die not long after this interview appeared.

The interview can be found in the blog of Andrés Raya Saro called Flamenco en mi Memoria, at this url: http://memoriaflamenca.blogspot.com/2017/01/las-entrevistas-de-paco-almazan-ii.html?spref=fb

(My attempted clarifications appear in brackets.)

Sr. Almazán writes: Manolo Caracol started by weighing in on the casas cantaores – [the few crucial families who were immensely important in the early development of the art.] He claims that in reality, his family is the one and only real deal when it comes to bloodlines or heritage:

Manolo Caracol: The house of the Ortegas [Manolo Caracol is the professional name for Manuel Ortega] is actually the only one we know of. In the rest, there were one or two singers, but not a whole branch of them. I know of no other, because the house of Alcalá [a town that produced notable singers] is not a single family. Los Torres [the family of Manuel Torre, who remains the supreme paradigm of male Gypsy artistry] have produced some artists, and so have the the Pavóns [the family of the La Niña de los Peines, the maximum female Gypsy singer, and her brother Tomás Pavón, one of the four or five most revered male singers]. Pastora, Tomás and Arturo – three siblings, and that’s it. My great grandfather, [the legendary singer] Curro Dulce, who was my father’s grandfather; and on my mother’s side, [the legendary singer] El Planeta who was the inventor of the [important early song] polo, and was the world’s first flamenco singer. Or who created the polo, because I believe that flamenco songs are not made. Furniture is made, clothing is made, but flamenco songs are created. El Planeta was older than El Fillo, and from there on, and the Ortegas emanate from them. El Fillo was an Ortega, and was the first “cantaor” [singer] who was “largo”— who had an extensive repertoire. A great cantaor, a grandiose cantaor – that was El Fillo, and he was from Triana. Before me there were several cantaores. Now, in the Twentieth Century the most famous – well, I think that was me, and for that reason I say that even children know me and me biography. But I’d like to talk about today’s problems.

Interviewer’s note by Paco Almazán: Remember Caracol’s beginnings, after being one of the winners of the 1922 Concurso de Cante Jondo of Granada – he says “when I won the prize” [a stunning achievement for a twelve-year-old boy]. He traveled to Madrid and triumphed on the terrace of the Calderón Theater, reaffirming that Madrid plaza’s importance.

Interviewer: But Manolo, everyone accuses you of just that. Of having taken the cante into theaters, degrading the purity of flamenco! Don’t think that everyone thought it was a good idea!

M.C. It’s not a good idea? Well, what’s good? If right now the inventor of penicillin, Doctor Fleming, hadn’t shared it with the world, the sick would not have been cured. If I don’t take flamenco song to the people who might like it, and understand it, or at least welcome it. You can sing with an orchestra, or with a bagpipe – with anything! Bagpipes, violins, flutes…the man who has real art, real personality, and is a creator in cante gitano… You have my zambras [his rendition of sentimental popular songs with a flamenco aire, which had enormous sales], and my cantes [flamenco songs, which had more limited sales], all with roots of pure flamenco song, not fixed in a cosa pasajera!…But if this business of pure song [cante puro] has become popular now, starting about ten years ago, when the flamencologists decided to speak of flamenco and the purity of flamenco! Es un cuento! It’s a story! [A fairy tale]. This business of the purity of flamenco is a story! Singing flamenco and speaking of whether it’s pure flamenco…and they chew on the idea, and they talk, and talk [a clear reference to Antonio Mairena]. That’s not flamenco singing! That’s a guy giving a sermon. Cante flamenco and cante puro – not even the singer knows what’s what. He’s a cantaor who has been born to sing above him. The rest are just copying. That’s why today there is no creation, when before there was creation.

Paco Almazan’s note: How happy Caracol must have been after these statements! He goes on and on, and when Almazán asks him which artists he liked most or influenced him as a youngster, he gives us this gift:

M.C. There were different aspects. Who moved me the most, whose singing reached me most deeply – that was Manuel Torre. Who was most pleasing to listen to – that was Antonio Chacón. Tomás Pavón was pleasing, and also reached me. And another great artist, La Niña de los Peines [Pastora Pavón, sister of Tomás], the greatest cantaora [female singer] that was ever born. She was a singer who had everything, had altos and bajos [high and low registers]. And any singer who doesn’t have a good low register is worthless. There are many singers from that era who sing de cabeza [using headtones? In a studied way?], sing songs that never existed and that they couldn’t have known, and who call them cantes de Alcalá, or cantes del patatero [songs of the potato seller?] or of Juan Perico. [This again refers to Antonio Mairena, who probably invented certain styles of important song forms and attributed them to other, perhaps fictional, artists.] That’s worthless! It’s as if we dijeramos un aperitivo [served an aperitif?] to cante flamenco. Sing – sing and create – take command the way a great torero does, improvising. That’s real singing!

There are fewer real singers today. Today, as far as I know, among the younger singers I like Camarón [who would become a revolutionary and the most important singer of his generation], and among the veterans I like Pepe Marchena, a creator in his own style [the established master of a pleasing style of singing, with clear tone and a strong vibrato]. Juanito Valderrama [another pleasing singer, in the “cante bonito” or “pretty song” style] is an extraordinary artist [both Marchena and Valderrama, like Chacón before them, were non-Gypsy artists who represented a cultural counterbalance to the great Gypsy artists like Caracol; Caracol himself shows appreciation for both camps, when many others were partisans of one side or the other.] Valderrama doesn’t really reach me, but he’s a great artist and I like listening to him nonetheless. Those girls from Utrera [Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera] are true cantaoras, and a lot of admired artists today are copying them. The places with the best singing are Triana, Jerez and Cádiz. In Alcalá what there are is bizcotelas. That’s what you’ll find in Alcalá, bizcotelas and dust for the alberos of bullrings. Among the guitarists, there’s Sabicas and this boy [este muchacho] Paco de Lucía, who plays very well, although not on the level of the maestro [Sabicas]. And Mario Escudero, who has come here from America. And among the Gypsy players [in addition to the Gypsy artists Sabicas and Escudero] we have Melchor de Marchena, Niño Ricardo, and that other guy, Habichuela [presumably the great accompanist Juan Habichuela]. Manolo de Huelva is retired now, but is a phenomenon, although he’s eighty. [Many people who saw this guitarist at work say no one was better, or as good.] And in dance, after Carmen Amaya, from this period I don’t know anyone among the dancers, neither in this era nor before [delante de] Carmen Amaya. I don’t know anyone.

Paco Almazán writes: The interview is long. Almost at the end, the newspaperman asks if flamenco loses something with the new verses that some younger singers are using.

M.C. Hombre, if the verses come from the sentiment of the song and the person who’s singing, and if they’re good… You can’t sing a martinete [a tragic deep song form] and tell about a little birdie singing in its nest. Now, anything that touches on pena [grief, misery], of love, of the blacksmith’s forge – all that is worthwhile.

Then the final question:

Paco Almazán:. Can you put the word “airplane” [modern, unpoetic, unexpected and possibly inappropriate to some] into a cante?

M.C. It’s all according to what’s being sung, and how. You can put it into a bulerías [a lighter form], “Ay! I went in an airplane, I went to Havana…” and there you have it. They can create precious new verses as good as the old ones, with more profundity and more poetry.

Comment by Andrés Raya: Remember that in its day, this interview, as well as the earlier one with Mairena, generated a lot of response among the flamenco aficionados of Madrid, giving rise to long arguments and heated discussions. Even beyond Madrid. In its Letters toe the Editor section, Triunfo published letters from many provinces. I’ve got copies of many, and may rescue them from the telerañas.

A press comment [about the Cordoba contest] confirms what Caracol says here. It’s from ABC of Madrid, dated August 9, 1922, and already the Caracol child is named “the king of cante jondo”.

Translator’s comment: Interesting indeed that Caracol singles out Camarón — who would become the ultimate rule breaker — as the most important young singer.

At the time of this interview, aficionados were choosing sides. Manolo Caracol had incredible emotive power, but he broke certain rules — as evidenced by his insistence that flamenco could be sung to bagpipes or anything else. (Today, that inclusive view dominates flamenco to the extent that a flamenco record featuring just a singer and an accompanying guitarist, once the norm, is almost unheard of.) He owned the genre called zambras [not to be confused with the zambras performed mostly in the caves of Granada, that are rhythmic Arabic-sounding songs and dances.]

The opposing view was embodied by Antonio Mairena, who obeyed (and invented) rules — to the extent that if he created a new approach to a known style, he might attribute it to some shadowy name from history to give it validity. Mairena rarely projected the emotional power of Caracol — he was almost scholarly in his renditions, giving what critics sometimes called “a magisterial lesson” in flamenco singing, rather than jumping in headfirst and just letting it all hang out. (In private, though, he could be pretty damn convincing.)

I tend to believe that early flamenco song had a gestation period, a “hermetic” stage when generations of Gypsy families forged the beginnings of the deep-song forms (tonás/martinetes, siguiriyas and soleares, which deal with Gypsy concerns from a Gypsy perspective) outside of public view due to the intense persecution of Gypsies in that era.

Caracol, who ought to know a lot better than I do, says that his great-grandfathers [Curro Dulce, El Planeta] were not just the first known flamenco singers but the first flamenco singers, period: they invented the whole genre. (It’s hard to defend the idea of this “hidden period”, especially since the “proof” is that it by its very nature it would be completely undocumented anywhere. (I’m not so sure that these alleged hidden sessions would have been reported in the Seville Gazette when they were essentially illegal and dangerous.)

For that matter, Caracol, like most authorities today, views the idea of “pure flamenco” as absurd or meaningless, while I kind of like the notion. I never liked the gifted singers like Pepe Marchena and Juanito Valderrama who specialized in the cante bonito or “pretty song”, now back in vogue, while Caracol always admired them.

Oh, well. It’s still a privilege to hear from the man best qualified to talk about flamenco history, and that’s why these interviews are so valuable.


January 27, 2017   1 Comment

An Important Collection of Private Flamenco Recordings Brought to Light at Last – How to Hear Them On SoundCloud

In the 1960′s and 70′s a few foreigners, mostly Americans, were so struck by the quality of flamenco in several towns near Seville that they resolved to save those magnificent sounds forever.

They succeeded beyond measure. Today, Spain owes most of its understanding of the music of that time and place to the crucial efforts of people including Chris Carnes, Moreen Carnes, Steve Kahn, Carol Whitney and a few others — some who choose to remain nameless and others to be named later. (I never had a good tape recorder in Spain, but I helped some of those people by buying tape and paying to ship their Uher recorders to Germany for repairs.)

This is very different from commercial or official recordings. This is flamenco “de uso” — as it was used in everyday life, sometimes with the hope that someone would hire the artists for actual money, but usually because the artists loved to make and share this music with their friends and fellow artists. In a world where “pure” is mocked by scholars as meaningless and “authentic” is applied to just about everything anyone wants to sell more of, well, as noted below, this is the real deal.

Yesterday, in response to a post on this blog about Diego del Gastor, I learned that another intrepid gringo had been adding to the historic effort. I remember the name, and here is information from his son-in-law, David Quinn, with explanations in brackets and more comments at the end. You can see his brief note as a reply to the post:

“My wife’s father, David K. Loughran, who died recently, hauled around a reel-to-reel tape machine to Flamenco parties in and around Morón de la Frontera, Spain in 1964 and 1965.

“The musicians he was recording are known as flamenco masters, “mythical figures” of flamenco. The town is the epicenter of Gypsy flamenco. These players were the real deal – actual Gypsies – the real source of this music.

“They include:
Diego del Gastor, La Fernanda de Utrera [one of the greatest singers in flamenco history], Manolito de la Maria [ditto], [the American] Chris Carnes, Fernandillo de Moron, Antonio Amaya Flores “El Mellizo” [the guitarist and older brother of Diego del Gastor] and others.

“There are 46 hours of recordings, made at house parties and in cafés,
some with just the musicians and recorder present, some at crowded fiestas. The quality varies, but considering the circumstances, I think it is remarkable.

“I know there are musicians reading this; if you know someone who might be interested in hearing these please share this post, and/or the link below.
We’re trying to gather as much information as we can, with the goal of a more accurate track list.

“At the very least, they make excellent fiesta music!

“They can be heard at https://soundcloud.com/quinfolk/sets/the-flamenco-tapes-recorded-by-david-k-loughran-1964-1965

“These notes on content are unedited and transcribed From the hand written notes on the reel boxes:

*Reels 1 through 4:
- Diego, solo, December 1964
- Diego, Fernando, Manolito, Jselero, at a juerga at Venta El Calero
- Diego, Fernando & Manolito at a juerga at Club Mercantil
- Diego, Mellizo & Manolito at Diego’s house, a juerga for Pepe Rios

*Reel 4 Side B through Reel 6 Side A
- First juerga in Morón after cante jondo contest in Cordoba, with Diego, Paco del Gastor [the brilliant nephew of Diego], Manolito, Fernando, and Enrique [son of the legendary Joaquin el de la Paula]
- Juan and Dieguito del Gastor [the two other nephews of Diego, both fine guitarists] in Chris’s room at the hospedaje
- Easter Sunday juerga at El Calero with Diego and Manolito
- Andres Cabrera, Vicenta
- Juerga at El Calero

*Reel 6 Side B through Reel 9 Side A
- Antonio Amaya Flores (El Mellizo) at home
- Saetas in Utrera (Hermandad de los gitanos – Semana Santa 1965)
- Saetas at la Campana, Seville, with Lebrijano [a superb singer], Manolo Mairena [an excellent singer, younger brother of the great Antonio Mairena].
- Short Juerga at Casa Pepe with Dieguito del Gastor [now called Dieguito or Diego de Morón], Joselero [Diego del Gastor's brother-in-law, a fine local singer], Fernando [Fernandillo de Morón, a good singer and festero], Bob Haynes [a fine American guitarist], Church [?], etc.
- La Sallago [an excellent singer who sounded terrific until her very recent death], Terremoto [one of the greatest singers in flamenco's history].
- Terremoto, La Paquera [a great Jerez singer]; bautizo [baptism] in lower barrio with Diego, Paco, Perrate[an excellent singer] & La Fernanda
- Juerga at Tailor’s (El Escribano) house with Paco (solo), Diego (solo) & Niño Rosa
- Diego, Manolito and Fernando at Bob Fletcher’s in Seville.

*Reel 9 Side B through Reel 11 Side A
- Diego at Chimenea’s with Pohren
- Paco at Casa Pepe
- Paco – juerga at Pepe Chino’s house with Diego, Nino Rosa, Juan and his padre
- guitar solo by student

*Reel 11 side B through Reel 14 Side A
-Part of Fletcher’s fiesta with Diego, Manolito, Fernando
-Mellizo, solo at hospedaje
-From Pohren’s tapes of Paco, Diego, Juan Talegas, Manolito, Nina de los Peines
-Esteban de Sanlucar, La Perla, Miguel Valencia at Pohren’s club
-Chris and Fernando, and others
-Bautizo at Andre’s and Fernando’s with Diego, Perrate and La Fernanda
-Solo by Diego

*Reel 14 Side B through Reel 17 Side A
-Fiesta, Casa Villa Clara
-Antonio Cruz
-Iglesias and company

*Reel 17 Side B through Reel 19 Side A

*Reel 19 Side B through Reel 22
-Selections from Don Pohren’s collection
-Selections from Don Pohren juergas – Antonio & Paco [Francisco] Mairena, Eduardo de la Malena
-Richardo Pachon [later the producer of Camaron’s historic recordings, Luis Maravilla [possibly the dancer Luisa Maravilla, Pohren's wife]
-Fiesta with Pohren
-Flamenco: Diego del Gastor, La Fernanda de Utrera, Manolito de la Maria, Chris Carnes, Fernandillo de Moron, Don Pohren, David K. Loughran

End of explanations and notations by the son-in-law of recordist David K. Loughran.

Okay. I am grateful to the late David K. Loughran for his selfless dedication, and to his son-in-law Dennis Quinn for allowing — better yet, insisting — that this material finds a deserving audience.

It is often said that Diego del Gastor was an unrecorded guitarist, and in fact he assiduously avoided efforts by Spain’s most prestigious record label — at the time their only other guitarist was a young man named Paco de Lucía — to entice him to record by building a high-tech studio near his home. (Diego just skipped town until they tore it down.)

On the human scale, Diego may have been the most recorded flamenco guitarist in history. I have many hundreds of hours of his playing, both alone and for the singers named above and dozens of others. (And I still don’t have most of the material in the largest stash, recorded by the late Chris Carnes and now residing at the University of Washington where it probably doesn’t get the tiniest fraction of the attention and audience it deserves.)

Not surprisingly, I already have a lot of the same material that Mr. Loughran recorded — clearly from tapes made by Chris and others. But a lot of the other material listed above was originally recorded by Mr. Loughran, and has enormous historical importance. I hope other addicts will join me in the effort to add more detail and information to the sparse notes seen above.

I haven’t listened to the material yet, and rarely use or trust sites that normal humans feel comfortable signing onto. I assume SoundCloud is a logical place to have archived this music, and that it will remain accessible there indefinitely.


Brook Zern

March 24, 2015   2 Comments

Flamenco Artists Speak – El País Interview with José Menese, Rancapino and Fernando de la Morena by Iker Seisdedos – Translated by Brook Zern

From El País of June 15, 2014 

Three Roads to Purity in Flamenco Song

-  Past, present and future of flamenco, according to Jose Menese, Rancapino and Fernando de la Morena

-  A unique recital will bring the three together in Madrid at the end of June

 Translator’s note:  When I insist that there is a ruling flamenco establishment in Spain, the claim is often questioned by people whom I consider to be part of that informal cabal. 

If there is such a group, its idol is the late Enrique Morente, that brilliant, courageous and iconoclastic Granada singer who first proved he had total command of a vast part of the great flamenco song tradition and then went on to break old rules with new and daring approaches to the art.   

During the recent years I’ve spent mostly in Jerez, I’ve found that bastion of traditional flamenco was not buying Morente’s act.  But it has also been clear that the town’s alternative attitude,  reasonably termed purity or “purism” before those words became epithets, was falling out of favor nearly everywhere else in Spain. 

(A decade ago, I unintentionally antagonized Enrique Morente’s posse during a New York Flamenco Festival by using the word “controversial” in rewriting/translating program notes – it was an urgent last-minute request, as usual, done without any thought of compensation, as always.  The idea that his radical and daring new work, ridiculed and parodied in Jerez, was somehow “controversial” outraged his people, and admittedly it was not in the original text.  Because I had done the work for someone else, I wrote abject apologies to Morente and several others including a leading “critic” and avid booster who clearly felt that Morente was beyond all criticism.  I don’t think my apologies were ever accepted.)

This article puts three traditionalist artists in the spotlight, or on the firing line, as, among other things, they try to explain their resistance to “morentismo” – and the high price they pay for their apostasy. 

José Menese, who appeared in the sixties as a hugely gifted (and non-Gypsy) follower of the great Gypsy singer Antonio Mairena, has been very outspoken in attacking Morente and other artists who are trying to change the essential nature of flamenco song.  He continues to take real heat and suffer heavy career damage without apologizing.

Rancapino, emerging from Cadiz in that same time-frame, is a greatly admired exponent of traditional flamenco song , now recognized as a national treasure – perhaps it helps that he doesn’t usually seek controversy.  He’s a sweet guy, and I was surprised to see him weigh in against the Granada faction.

Fernando de la Morena is an admired figure from Jerez, part of a revered family tradition – an elegant man I’ve been privileged to hear on many public and private occasions.  He bears witness to the suffering brought upon Jerez by wealthy bankers and other un-indicted co-conspirators

Oh, yeah — the interview:

The appointment is in one of those corrales de vecinos or modest courtyarded multiple dwellings in Seville’s Triana district, from which the Gypsies were expelled in the 1950’s.  The participants come from three magical vertices of flamenco’s dramatic ritual:  the Seville countryside, the ports of Cadiz, and Jerez de la Frontera.  José Menese (La Puebla de Cazalla, 1942), Alonso Núñez “Rancapino” (Chiclana, 1945) and his contemporary Fernando de la Morena, born in Jerez’s barrio de Santiago, on June 27th will converge on the Teatro Español during Madrid’s Suma Flamenca Festival to celebrate “50 Years of Cante”, though in fact they have between them more than two centuries of art if we start at their birthdates.  It will be a sensational gala, supported by the Comunidad de Madrid, where each represents his own:  Menese, the torrential song unleashed by Antonio Mairena and that he still follows, affiliated to orthodoxy, immersed in the quarrels between the old and the modern, and also his adherence to the Communist Party.  Rancapino, with his aphonic [Note:  perhaps "tuneless", a word I'd take issue with] way of honoring beauty.  And De la Morena, cantaor de carrera tardía que se bajó del camion de reparto al compás de una bulería perfecta [whose career began late, but was always marked by the rhythm of a his perfect bulerías].

The chat among these legends of flamenco song, well-known elders, begins with the inevitable moments of mourning (for Paco de Lucía, for the writer and critic Felix Grande, for the Jerez singer El Torta and others) and goes on to the woes of aging, noting the effects of their baipá [a Spanish rendition of the English word “bypasses” which is then rendered in parentheses] and other results of a well-lived life, before going on to subjects that are more or less cabales [a word that refers to true understanding in flamenco.]

Q:  How have things changed in flamenco song during the past 50 years?

José Menese:  Very much.  Not just in the song; there have been changed in humanity, in the human, in the essence.

Q:  For the worse?

José Menese:  Not for the better.  Though I’m not saying anything, because when I do, everybody hits me with everything they’ve got.  I’m the most beat-up guy in history.

Q:  I guess you’re saying that because of your last polemic about Enrique Morente, where you said on TV that “No tiene soniquete el muchacho…” [“The guy doesn’t have the right sound, the character one looks for in a singer, and he knew it, he knew how to sing the soleá as God requires.  And then, he turned his back on it [echó mano de esas cosas].”

José Menese:  I know that they were going to give me an homage in Granada, and that’s off because of what I said.  That’s the leche [milk, usually mala leche or “bad milk”, nastiness].  The power of that family… [still very important, largely thanks to the beautiful singing of Enrique's stunning daughter Estrella]…  The other day on Canal Sur TV I met a singer who confessed to me:   “I’m glad you said that – somebody had to say it.”  But I’m the guy who does it and takes the blows.  If you ask me, “For the better?  [A mejor?]  Well, that’s what I wanted, and what Rancapino and Fernando wanted, but that’s not the way it is.

Rancapino:  I hope you’ll all pardon me for saying this:  In Granada, they’ve never sung flamenco well [no se ha cantado nunca bien].

José Menese:  I say that the idiomas [ways of speaking?  languages] are tremendously important.  Córdoba – what has it given to flamenco?  Nothing, but let’s not exaggerate [pero no lo exageres tampoco].  Malaga?  [Just] the malagueña.  Jaén?  I don’t know. They say it gave us the taranta de Linares.  I don’t know if that’s the case, because the miners were going all over the place.  In my 71 years, I’ve realized that flamenco was really developed  in Seville, Jerez, and Cádiz and its nearby ports.

Rancapino:  And you can stop counting right there.

Menese:  Are we lying, primo [cousin] Fernando?

Fernando de la Morena:  The expression is totalitarian, my friend.  [Note: this seems to indicate agreement.]

Q:  How are these various schools differentiated?

Rancapino:  The song is the song, it’s born with someone or it isn’t.  And that can’t be changed.  The fact that some sing with a prettier voice or a hoarser voice, that’s the least of it.

Fernando de la Morena:  I’ve always sung, but I didn’t start it seriously until I had three kids and was working at the Bimbo bread bakery.  I didn’t record until late, until I was 50; I sing for the public now, but I’ve always sung.

Q:  What have you gained, and lost, with the years?

José Menese: Flamenco has arrived where it has arrived, but there it has remained.  It needs a renovation [not with novelties and fusions but rather] in the people who sing and transmit it, so that it really reaches deep within the listener.

Q:  There’s also the Patrimony of Humanity [a recognition granted to flamenco by UNESCO in 2010] that makes it sound like it belongs among the fossils in a museum.

Fernando de la Morena:  Patrimony of Orphanhood, that’s what flamenco really is.

Rancapino:  Olé tú!  [Hooray for you!  You said it!]

José Menese:  It’s a tremendous paradox that just when it’s named a Patrimony of Whatever of Humanity, that’s when singers stray away from everything that’s expected.  What’s wrong?  Well, like with the bullfight where only five or six matadors duelan.  That’s the way it is with flamenco song.  It has to hurt, and if it doesn’t hurt, well, just go to bed, pal.  [Note: Doler means: to cause pain (dolor) or anguish within the witness – this is considered a crucial virtue in the realms of serious flamenco and toreo.  It is also a crucial distinction between these great Spanish arts and virtually all great non-Spanish arts that usually seek to evoke pleasure even in their pathos.  Go figure.]

Rancapino:  It has to hurt, yes!  Pero con faltas de ortografía!  But with a lack of orthography.  [Note: this refers to another requisite quality -- that of being essentially untrained or instinctive; flamenco should not smell of fancy handwriting or high literacy, but should transmit emotion directly.]

José Menese:  There’s an anecdote that García Lorca tells in [his conference of 1933 – (a note inserted in the article itself)] titled Juego y teoria del duende [Interplay and theoretic of the duende].  Once, in a flamenco fiesta in El Cuervo with Pastora Pavón [La Niña de los Peines – that name inserted into the article], Ignacio Sánchez Mejías [a legendary torero] and the sursuncorda [?] of that moment, she was singing passively, transmitting nothing, when a man [Note: Lorca termed him “one of those genies who materialize out of brandy bottles”] yelled “Viva París!”  And she, always proud, was offended [by the implication of glossy, urbane sophistication rather than raw emotion].  She asked for a pelotazo de machaco [a very stiff drink] and then she got into it.  It rips at the vocal cords.  One has to fight with the song, and then the people went crazy, tearing at their clothing.  Flamenco is just that way, like the bullfight and paintings.  And there you have it.

Q:  And what will the real aficionados do when, like the King, these artists abdicate?

José Menese: [laughter].  I’m not going to retire, as long as I’m okay here, knock wood [points to his throat], I’ll stick it out.  I’m a republicano [opposed to royalty].  I remember this by [the late flamenco expert, poet and author] Fernando Quiñones:  “Porque a rey muerto / rey puesto / bien que lo dice el refrán / y es antiguo ya / solo ha conseguido el absurdo criminal / dejar sin padre a esos hijos / y el mundo sigue igual.”  Things will keep on as they are.

Q:  Although the royals are no longer our fathers?

Fernando Moreno:  Let’s trust in the chaval [the kid, the new King, Felipe VI] whom they have prepared for this.  Yo tengo 69 tacos pero aún así, de política, natimistrati.  [I’m 69, but even so, when it comes to politics, I don’t have a clue [?]

Q:  Not even about the economic crisis – how do you see the crisis?

[Laughter]  Jose Menese:  This crisis has overwhelmed everything.  I’m not a pessimist [but...]  Culture is flat on the floor.  The theater no longer exists, classical music no longer exists.  They’re even taking away the bullfight!  What happened the other day, when all three toreros were gored and the fight couldn’t continue – that’s not normal.

Fernando de la Morena:  Y a las pruebas nos remitiéramos en el pretérito que le perteneciere…Olé, que gitano más fino! [?]

Q:  Do you see hope in Podemos [a new political movement/party, [Yes] We Can]?

José Menese:  I was pleased because the kid [party leader Pablo Iglesias] strikes me as marvelous, but we’ll see.  I began as a militant in the Communist Party in 1968 [when the party was banned under the Franco dictatorship].  I’m still affiliated, though the party doesn’t exist today.  The problem is that we’ve lost our ideals.   A ti te cogen fumándote un canuto, como me pasó a mi el otro día no a mí, sino a una persona que iba conmigo, y se arma la de dios es Cristo.  Nonetheless, they rob millions and millions and absolutely nothing happens.

Fernando de la Morena:  And nothing appears – nothing here, nothing there.

Q:  The case of your hometown of Jerez is one of the worst.

Fernando: What my father taught me is that you have to work.  And now you have to be glad to have a job.  But my kids… and everyone’s kids…

Q:  Do your kids have jobs?

Rancapino:  Fat chance!  [?]

Fernando de la Morena:  It’s the same in flamenco.  We’re like El Brene who sang for tapas at restaurants long ago.  They’d say “Brene, sing a little song.”  “Yeah,” he’d say, “As soon as you give me a little tapa of potatoes.”  And here we are again, we’ve returned to the old days [of begging for food]”.

Rancapino:  There’s no afición for flamenco these days.  Before, a singer would start to sing and forty people would stop and crowd around.  Now, if the greatest singer ever, the Monster Number One who for me was Juan Talega, arose from his grave and started to sing – well, no one would care and he’d just have to go back home.  [Note:  One of Rancapino's uncanny gifts is that he could always evoke the spirit of the great and ancient-sounding Juan Talega, even when he was young.]

José Menese:  It’s like what Don Quixote said to Sancho Panza. With your belly full you don’t create much.  Today they learn flamenco in schools, but singers have to be born.  This business of giving singing classes seems horroroso to me.

Q:  How did you learn about the death of Paco de Lucía?

José Menese:  In La Puebla. And I thought of a photo where I’m singing with him.  Testimony of a time of incredible natural richness.

Rancapino:  Afterwards I went to his funeral.  Because Paco liked me a lot, ever since the years when I went with Camarón to Algeciras and then to Madrid with Paco’s father, who made him study so hard.  And I said to his father [Francisco], “Paco, when will you make a record of my singing?”  And he said, “You?  Tú vas a grabar en un queso!”  [You’d record on a wheel of cheese!” [?]  [Laughter]  Camarón and I went everywhere together.  Hasta lo casé con La Chispa.  [I even married him to La Chispa [his wife].  I went to la Linea because I liked one of La Chispa’s sisters.  The whole family really liked me – except the sister.  Ya que no casé yo, casé a Camarón.  Since I didn’t get married, he did.  [?]

Q:  You didn’t stay a bachelor.  Is it true, Rancapino, that Felipe González [Spain’s first Socialist leader, after Franco's death] is the godfather of one of your children?

Rancapino:  Fortunately or unfortunately, yes.  Look, we were at a fiesta in [with?] El Chato in Cadiz.  And in conversation it came out that I had a lot of kids.  And I said, “I’ve got so many kids that one hasn’t even been baptized.  And he said, “I’ll baptize that one.”  I said, “look, the only thing I can give you in exchange is the kid, because I don’t have anything else.”  [Laughter].

Q:  Is flamenco still more appreciated outside of Spain than here at home?

José Menese:  Yes:  They treat us differently than they do here in Andalucía.

Rancapino:  Just yesterday a young Japanese woman came to Chiclana to be with me.  She had to be pretty brave, because I’m no Robert Redford.  [Laughter].  And she started to sing.  And I said, “How can this be?”  Fernando, how she sang the soleá!

Q:  And is it the same?

Rancapino:  “How could it be the same!  Never!  Once I spent six months in Sapporo singing to a young Japanese woman.  Since I couldn’t remember her name, I called her Maruja.  Then she came to Madrid.  And in six months she learned to cook and to dance.  For me to learn that would’ve taken me six years!

Q:  You must have learned some Japanese…

Rancapino:  Sayonara and arigató.  And chotto matte.  That was to ask them to wait a while longer for me.

Fernando de la Morena:  Musho tomate.

Rancapino:  With potatoes!  [Laughter].

End of interview by Iker Seisdedos.  Corrections are always welcome and will be added.  The original is found at:  http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2014/06/14/actualidad/1402757369_102448.html

Translator’s coda:  Why do I devote so much time and effort to translating artist interviews, when just being a flamenco aficionado is masochistic enough?  It’s because I like the art and the artists so much that I need to understand what they are saying to outsiders and to each other.  And while I understand Spanish reasonably well, that’s not the same thing as understanding the Andalú dialect of five a.m. as spoken in the darkest bar in deepest Jerez, rendered by a bunch of gravel-voiced, aguardiente-seared, life-long black-tobacco smokers who have just sung their guts out (amid the inevitable excuses of “mu refriao” — I can’t sing, I have a terrible cold), and who are constantly interrupting or shouting at each other.  It’s a luxury to have someone else do all the work of putting that conversation into recognizable Spanish, and just having to fabricate an English approximation.

– BZ





June 16, 2014   2 Comments

Flamenco producer Ricardo Pachón speaks – Interview from El Confidencial – translated with brief comments by Brook Zern

A Spanish publication called El Confidencial recently carried an interview by Victor Lenore with the important producer of flamenco recordings and events, Ricardo Pachón.  Here’s my translation:

Headline (quoting Pachón):  “Spain’s institutions are 100% racist where flamenco is concerned”

He’s known as the producer of “La leyenda del tiempo” (1979), the most modern recording done by Camarón.  He’s also worked with figures like Lole y Manuel, Kiko Veneno and Pata Negra among many others.  Ricardo Pachón (Sevilla, 1937) is now presenting his documentary film “Triana pura y dura” [Triana, pure and hard; less literally, Triana, the real deal], the winner of the 2013 In-Edit Film Festival, where it explains the expulsion of the Gypsies from that emblematic barrio of Seville.

The unifying thread of the film is a 1983 concert that took place in the Lope de Vega Theater, and that served as a swan song for that kind of real-life flamenco as it happened in the streets (among the guitarists we see a young Raimundo Amador).  In the following interview, Pachón denounces the institutional racism with respect to the Gypsies (from the Channel Four television chain to the Junta de Andalucía that controls the entire region), and he points out the real threat of extinction that menaces flamenco today.

Q:  Would you say that flamenco is disappearing?

A:  Well, yes.  The issue is increasingly difficult.  Now you don’t know what to say when foreigners come to Seville, on the recommendation of friends, seeking flamenco that isn’t in the setting of theaters or tablaos [flamenco night clubs that usually serve dinner].   They want to see the old style of flamenco as an intimate gathering or celebration, and that’s harder to find every day.  The old ways of life have changed, and now there are no coherent Gypsy barrios like the former cava de Triana or compact Gypsy groups in pueblos like Utrera or Lebrija.  It’s very difficult to find that kind of intimate, real fiesta.

The whole subject is “peliagudo” [tricky, thorny]  because today everything is called flamenco.  We’re seeing huge paradoxes like the Statute of Andalusian Autonomy that claims exclusive rights to all aspects of flamenco for the province.  The key article 68 then defines as flamenco the work songs of the Alpujarra region, the verdiales of Malaga and the sevillanas.  Those aren’t musical forms that many of us consider to be flamenco.

Q:  In 2011 you denounced the fact that not a single Gypsy was invited to an International Flamenco Congress [in Seville].  Is this kind of problem being resolved?

A.  No.  That Congress had 81 official assessors, some of them foreigners, but no Gypsies.  Now that game has been repeated in the Second Congress, held in Cordoba.  It’s full of anthropologists, politicians and commercial agents, but again they have completely disrespected and insulted the Gypsies who created this culture.  They should have invited the Peña family from Lebrija that includes singers like El Lebrijano and scholars like Pedro Peña.  They also slighted the people of Jerez.  It seems that traditional flamenco is going to disappear, and we’re going toward flamenco as theatrical spectacle.

I’m speaking of the difference between “frontal” communication (between the artist and a spectator who has paid for a seat) and “circular” communication (as in those “horizontal” private fiestas that I had the privilege of attending, thanks to my age.)   I’m talking about the intimate “reunions” or fiestas with the guitarist Diego del Gastor in Morón, or the singers Perrate in Lebrija and Fernanda de Utrera.  I’ve been at baptisms, weddings and gatherings where there aren’t spectators or artists, but simply a bunch of participants.  They could last hours or even days, and there was no economic motivation at all.  That’s when the duende might arrive, the catharsis that’s a key reason for the event.  Those fiestas had little to do with organized productions.

Today the artists arrive at the theater in a Mercedes. Just hoping to get it over with and leave.  I remember festivals like the Potajes of Utrera or the Gazpachos of Morón where people were waiting for the official public event to end so they could go over to the club Peña El Gallo or to find the restaurant where you might find singers like Antonio Mairena or Fernanda de Utrera singing “a gusto” [at their best, comfortable in their element, among good aficionados] until dawn.  That kind of flamenco is on the point of vanishing, if it hasn’t disappeared already.

Q:  What do you think of the current institutionalization of flamenco?

A:  The way things are going these days, it would be better if they got rid of those institutions.  I don’t regret saying that they have a perspective [“enfoque”] that is one hundred percent racist.  There’s an intellectual climate in flamenco where anthropologists are growing like mushrooms.  They get masters degrees in flamenco and go forth knowing a lot of history, but they don’t know how to do the palmas (rhythmic handclapping technique) for the bulerías, they don’t know the metric system, they can’t even tell the difference between [crucial major forms like] a siguiriya and a soleá.  Flamenco has a complicated metric system [the complex rhythmic structure called compás] that combines binary and ternary rhythms [e.g.. 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-1-2-1-2].  It’s not a music for the masses, because it’s difficult to listen to.  It has remained an art for minorities precisely for that reason.   These difficult aspects of flamenco are being sidestepped to make room for the “flamenquitos” [who create an easy-listening “lite” music they call flamenco] trying to fit the formulas for radio hits.  It’s more complicated and difficult to find good flamenco every year.

Q.  Watching your documentary from 1983, it seems that the authorities in Seville have always been hostile to the Gypsies.

A.  Of course, but not just in Seville.  Since the era of the Catholic Kings [Ferdinand and Isabella] in the late Fifteenth Century, it has always been the case, at least until the Law of Vagrants and Malefactors of 1933 [?], that was in effect until two days ago [?].  I think there are forty or fifty Spanish laws against the Gypsies.  In Triana there’s a Gypsy prison from 1949, created by Ferdinand the Sixth.  All the men and all boys over seven years old were taken to Cádiz as galley slaves.  The women were kept separate from them, in walled cities, so they could not reproduce.  Carlos the Third was the first king to give them rights as Spanish citizens.  But hey, there’s still a latent racism that continues to exist, and that we must consider to be mutual, because the Gypsies “tampoco les hacemos gracia nosotros” [didn’t make us laugh either?].  The thing is, without institutions, the Gypsies were incapable of doing such damage to others.

Q:  How did the arrival of democracy make things better for the Gypsies?

A:  At the least, they can vote in elections.  Unfortunately there is no political party or strong association that brings them together politically, but formally, things are better.  There is more Gypsy participation in social welfare programs, for example, pensions, from which they were formerly excluded.  It’s also necessary to point out that they turned away from all that:  To avoid military service, they registered all their sons with girls’ names.  But you also found Gypsies with eight or ten kids that never received any state funds.  Now there is an Institute of Gypsy Culture within the Ministry of Culture.  Civic associations have grown, and they are treated with more dignity.

Q:  The documentary is very critical of the official handling of the barrio called Tres Mil Viviendas.  What problems has that caused?

A:  The exodus from Triana to that barrio began toward the end of the sixties.  After the expulsion, four families remained in El Tardón, that’s very nearby, while the rest went to the Poligono de San Pablo or to La Corchuela.  They were forced out of Triana to be stuck in houses “de uralita” [made with asbestos], without sanitary facilities, that were only improved little by little until running water was provided.   The Tres Mil Viviendas is a disastrous urban experiment where they threw together the [well established and long-settled] Gypsies of Triana with [less rooted, sometimes wandering] canastero Gypsies with whom they had nothing in common, as well as other marginal Gypsies.  The economic solution was drug dealing, and that led to a series of family disasters that would have been previously unthinkable.

In Triana there was a kind of Senate of Elders, all coming from the blacksmith clans [a prestigious occupation of established Gypsy families] who mediated in cases of conflict.  The Triana Gypsies all had trades: they were butchers, or matarifes [worked in slaughterhouses]  or they worked at the docks.  The ironworkers/blacksmiths were the essence of the barrio, but with the coming of foundries the trade disappeared, just as the horse-trading clans lost out when field work was mechanized.  Those who fared best in the exodus were the artists: bullfighters, singers, dancers…  For the rest it was either dealing in drugs or being a street peddler.  Flamenco fiestas weren’t like they used to be because there were no longer houses built around central courtyards [“corrales de vecinos”] , but mud streets and rickety houses where only a few people could gather.

Q:  You recently said the the Gypsies are living their “particular 15M” [referring to the nationwide protests against Spain's austerity programs on May 15th of a few years ago].  What does it consist of?

A:  There’s a generalized “cabreo” [anger] against the Andalusian Autonomy Statute because it tries to monopolize flamenco.  I also see growing resistance to the idea of flamenco congresses and also against TV shows like “Palabra de Gitano”, broadcast on the Channel Four network.  In fact, there is active protest against that program because it presents such a bad image of the Gypsy people.  I believe there will also be a move to have the Statute declared unconstitutional.

Q:  What are the interesting things going on now in flamenco?

A:  Well, look.  Last night I felt very happy to see the new production by [the great Gypsy dancer] Farruquito called “Improvised”.  He teamed up with four stupendous singers and two good guitarists, giving the sensation of being at an old-style gathering of aficionados.  They gathered in a semicircle and Farruquito went in and out of the central hot spot.  The songs and the guitar playing were respected for their key role, and the dancing was just some solo work, or interjected segments.  The production had enormous maturity.  It brought back that essence that we’ve been talking about…but Farruquito realizes that the inspiration for it was our dociumentary,“Triana pura y dura”, which he saw a year ago when we were filming it.  His grandfather [the immortal dancer El Farruco] appears at the end of the film.

I think “Improvised” will be a major triumph, the proof that flamenco dancing doesn’t consist of leaping about, nor in machine-gun heelwork solos.  Twenty years ago [actually 25 years ago or more] there was a flamenco show that triumphed on Broadway.  It was called “Flamenco Vivo” if I remember correctly [it was actually called “Flamenco Puro”, and it was fabulous indeed].  It was produced and staged by two Argentinians who had made a lot of money with a show featuring the tango, and they wanted to do the same with flamenco.  So the producers went to Andalucía and signed up the very best:  Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera, Farruco, Manuela Carrasco, El Chocolate…  The folks from Seville said it would be a disaster, that the artists would fight among themselves, but in the end it was a real triumph.

It finally ended only because Christmas was coming and the artists had earned so many dollars that they decided to go back and spend it all in Seville or Jerez or their home towns with their families.  They could have kept performing in New York for five years, but they settled for just one.  It was in a theater with 1700 seats and the moments that got the most enthusiastic applause were Chocolate’s siguiriyas and Fernanda de Utrera’s soleares.  These are cantes duros [demanding, hard-core songs], but flamenco has so much “entidad” that it was unnecessary to do what Joaquin Cortés did, which was to dance with a skirt, or dance shirtless.  You don’t have to “rizar el rizo” [make things overcomplicated]; it’s enough to just learn to play guitar, dance and sing well.

End of article.

Some notes:

I’ve translated this interview because it makes a lot of points I’ve tried to make in these blog pages, but it’s from a respected and authoritative source.  Hey, borrowed credibility is better than none at all.

First, it’s interesting for a change to see Ricardo Pachón apply the term racism to people who exclude Spain’s Gypsies from official flamenco activities and who downplay the importance of the role of Gypsies in the creation and interpretation of flamenco.

Today in Spain’s flamenco circles, it is much more common to see the charge of racism leveled against those who lament the exclusion of Gypsies from official activities and who stress the importance of the Gypsy role in the art itself.  (I’m among those who are freely being called racist for allegedly giving undue credit or importance to the Gypsy aspect of flamenco.  Denying the importance of any special group  is now considered progressively color-blind, and the very mention of the word Gypsy — “the G-word”, it’s called — is often banned in public presentations about flamenco.)

As for the changes in the way flamenco itself is situated in Spain — well, those of us who fail to embrace the tendencies toward breaking all of flamenco’s traditional rules while calling the results flamenco are often called the Taliban for our undue intolerance of modernity.

Pachón’s stance can seem rather paradoxical here.  Nearby in this blog you’ll find my translation of another interview with Pachón, wherein he stakes a solid claim to be the key man in radically changing flamenco from the way it used to be (specifically, the intimate nonprofit traditional flamenco gatherings that he pines for in this article) into something else entirely (i.e., a hot commercial product such as the glossy, highly-produced musical blending and fusion that is exemplified by Pachón’s trailblazing production of Camarón’s brilliant 1979 album “La leyenda del tiempo”.)

Pachón is right about the stunning artistic success of the U.S. Flamenco Puro show but not its financial impact.  I saw it many many times in New York, noted the generally high attendance, and assumed it was a commercial hit.  I was later reliably told that unlike same producers’ show about Argentine tangos, Flamenco Puro was not really profitable – the crowded house was “papered” by offering low-cost discount tickets to groups and school classes.

Incidentally, I was at the 2011 Flamenco Congress in Seville, and I completely failed to notice what Pachón so rightly criticizes — the failure to invite any Gypsies to the proceedings.  (Come to think of it, I wasn’t invited either — I sort of snuck in with a bunch of invited sociologists and critics, and tried to look invisible with excellent results.)

I lived in Seville from 1965 to 1967 — I’m pretty sure that most of Triana’s Gypsies had already been relocated to the Poligono San Pablo and/or Tres Mil Viviendas.  And I wish it had been easy in that distant era to find intimate flamenco sessions anywhere in Seville/Triana, but it wasn’t.  It was much easier in smaller towns like Lebrija and Utrera and Morón.

Brook Zern – brookzern@gmail.com

December 13, 2013   3 Comments

The Complicated Relationship Between Jerez and Antonio Mairena – Article by Estela Zatania from Sevilla Flamenca, 2009 – Translated by Brook Zern

The Complicated Relationship Between Jerez and Antonio Mairena

By Estela Zatania

Translator’s note:  The following article appeared in Spanish in Sevilla Flamenca magazine in 2009.  It was written by the author and critic Estela Zatania, who gave me permission to translate it into our native English.

Estela has lived in Spain for the last four decades, and in Jerez since 2005.  I’ve also spent a lot of time in Jerez, and have been fascinated by the conflicted or dismissive nature of this flamenco stronghold’s attitude toward the great singer Antonio Mairena.  This article illuminates that topic.  I have interjected data, usually within brackets, to explain or clarify certain points for non-specialist readers.  Estela wrote:

If the image and the lifework of the flamenco singer Antonio Mairena have lost some of their earlier luster in the decades since his death, nowhere is this disenchantment more evident that in the flamenco stronghold of Jerez de la Frontera.  In fact, when the subject is Mairena and Jerez, I feel like I’m writing an apology, when in fact the towering figure of that singer is far above any need for justification from anyone.

In the history of flamenco, there have always been opposing figures – the great singers Manuel Torre and Antonio Chacón…the two masters of cante bonito or “pretty song”, Pepe Marchena and Juanito Valderrama…the two singers who introduced fresh sounds and approaches, Camarón and Pansequito…  In this sense, the contrasting pair who most cleanly divide flamenco devotees would be the singers Antonio Mairena and Manolo Caracol, both born in 1909, and whose centenary year we are celebrating now.  In my experience, it’s rare for any serious flamenco fan to acknowledge that both of these men are indispensable figures.  It’s an unfortunate schism, one that only grows with the passage of time; in earlier years, relations between the camps were more harmonious, and less reflective of local chauvinism, than is the case today.

On the one hand, we have Antonio Mairena:  The essence of dignity in flamenco song; the rejection of romantic tremendismo – in this case, wild-eyed Gypsy passion based on a fictitious image; the unconditional veneration of flamenco elders who saw him as the guiding star, the True North of flamenco; majestic cante that reaches great depth without stridency or histrionics.

In the other corner, Manolo Caracol, singing with a mysterious echo that evokes a timeless heritage, enormous communicative power and a natural capacity to put across his inspired, deep and very personal song.

The history of flamenco song in the Twentieth Century cannot be understood without considering both of these figures.  But there seems to be an invisible barrier after passing the town of Lebrija heading south, before arriving at Jerez.  Once you cross this frontier, you are in Caracol territory, despite the fact that the man himself was actually born in Seville.

In 1972, Antonio Mairena presented his recording titled Antonio Mairena y el Cante de Jerez.  That title was chosen in lieu of two other possibilities:  Brindis a Jerez (Dedicated to Jerez) and Homenaje a Jerez (Homage to Jerez), which, although not ultimately chosen, indicate the real intention of the work.

Nonetheless, in that city of flamenco compás or rhythmic patterns, of that flamenco state of grace called “angel” or angé, of the tabancos and rural gañanias and crumbling patios de vecinos where poor families lived and sang and danced while crammed together, Mairena always seemed to damned with faint praise, always on the receiving end of backhanded compliments from the flamenco lovers of Jerez.

There were lots of lukewarm comments about Mairena being a “great student and researcher” who had created a “magnificent labor” or document – always with the expressed or implied P.S.: “No pellizca”.  (Mairena’s art doesn’t give you chills – it doesn’t touch your heart or shake your soul.)  And that, among flamencos, is the gravest fault any singer can have.

For more on that issue, we can turn to the venerable Jerez singer Manuel Moneo Lara.  In a city that is obsessively “Caracolera”, Manuel is the champion and defender of the song of Antonio Mairena.  It’s not an easy role.  A few days ago, in the outside terrace of the Gallo Azul restaurant in midtown Jerez, Manuel Moneo had a lot to say in this regard.

“The fact is Antonio Mairena loved Jerez.  He came to the weddings here and all the Gypsies were crazy about him, everyone wanted to be at his side.  He was often together with Manuel Morao (leading figure of Jerez guitar and patriarch of the Morao family), and Morao told me in glowing terms of his admiration for Mairena.  He said to me, “Look, Manuel, listen to a siguiriyas with the guitar of Melchor de Marchena accompanying Antonio Mairena and it’s a symphony.  The blending of music and song could not be better.  I’ll tell you the truth: Here in Jerez I have problems because of Mairena.  I like the singers here, but when I wake up in the morning and listen to a toná by Antonio Mairena, I start to cry.  My kids say, “What’s the matter, Papa?”  I listened to Mairena, that’s what’s the matter.

I love Antonio – while at the same time liking Caracol very much.  Caracol has a few things, but I have to say that for me Caracol is at his best when he sings coplas (the sentimental, melodramatic Spanish popular songs that earned a fortune for Caracol, vastly outselling his flamenco recordings.)  Antonio fought for the song of the Gypsies, he lived and died for the cante, he lived the weddings and celebrations.  The way Antonio delivered himself on the record “Mis Recuerdos” couldn’t be matched by any other singer.  He was a complete singer, measured, vocalizing well, transmitting the pain of flamenco, carrying the cante.  Where else are we going to learn this?

Juan de la Plata, director of the Cátedra de Flamencología of Jerez, tells me that it was in Jerez where in 1954 he conducted the first interview of Antonio’s artistic career, for a newspaper in the northern town of Gijon where he was a correspondent.  After Mairena won the Golden Key of Flamenco Song in the Cordoba Contest, he received the first national homage of his life, organized by the Catedra de Flamencologia and celebrated in Jerez’s prestigious Villamarta Theater.

Among the participants were leading figures of flamenco song such as Juan Talega and La Perla, and the poets Ricardo Molina, Antonio Murciano, Manuel Ríos Ruíz and Amós Rodriguez Rey.  At that occasion, Mairena was presented with a gold plaque with the words “Rey del Cante” [King of Flamenco Singing”].

In 1959, he was named Honorary Director of the Cátedra de Flamencología, and soon afterward he participated in that institution’s festival dedicated to Manuel Torre and marking the placing of a commemorative plaque on the house where that revered singer, so admired by Antonio Mairena, was born.  In 1964, Mairena was given the National Prize for Research (Premio Nacional de Investigación) for the book Mundo y Formas del Cante Flamenco written in collaboration with the Cordoban poet and flamencologist Ricardo Molina.

On many other occasions, according to Juan de la Plata, Antonio Mairena would come to Jerez to sing as the leading figure in the various festivals organized by the Cátedra, as well as in almost all of the early editions of the town’s famed Fiesta de la Buleria.

But the institutional recognition of Mairena in Jerez was more generous than that of the city’s flamenco community in general, a fact that Manuel Moneo often points out:

”Mairena loved Jerez so much, and the people speak so badly about him.  The respect and aficion that I have for Antonio comes from my grandfather Pacote, of the Lara family.  My grandfather always told me ‘Terremoto sings well, Agujetas sings well, but the way Antonio sings the siguiriyas, the solea, the martinete and the toná – there’s just no comparison.  And that’s where my love of the art comes from, because I love Manuel Torre, Manuel is my idol, and Juanito Mojama – but from that era to now, well I like Antonio more than anyone else.”

Once upon a time there was the song of Jerez, a great corpus and a tradition with singers of all sstripes and varying abilities, all with a form of singing that practically defines flamenco song.  Antonio Mairena came on the scen and gave body and coherence to those songs.  He made them great (los engrandeció) without taking away their essence.  “The person who knows most about flamenco only knows ten percent of the story,” Mairena has famously stated.  Antonio Mairena was a usufructuario [a legal concept that refers to having full use of something, without owning it.] of flamenco; he never claimed to possess it, but to make good use of its forms, treading with care and leaving them intact, without compromising their integrity, striving to create within the existing parameters.

He conserved flamenco forms and songs that the Jerezanos themselves had practically abandoned.  Luís and Ramón Soler, in their book The Songs of Antonio Mairena say, “a wide range of singers from the Jerez area had tossed into oblivion the songs of Diego el Marrurro, Loco Mateo, Manuel Molina and Paco la Luz.”  Mairena rescued them, with great care and knowledge, and served them up on a silver platter for following generations.

In a telephone interview on September 21, 2009, the veteran singer José Salazar who has vast knowledge of Antonio Mairena’s work, underlined that same point:

“Mairena recorded songs of Jerez that, if not for him, would be unknown to anyone.  He was the best scholar/researcher in the history of flamenco song.  He took many things from Jerez when nobody cared about them, and he never said ‘this is mine.’   He was our idol in those years, he enhanced Manuel Torre’s fame, putting him in the realm of the greatest of all time.  He did more for flamenco than anyone.  All of Spain looks to Antonio Mairena when it comes to singing the soleá and the siguiriya.”

Manuel Torre and Joaquín de la Paula were the most important reference points for Antonio Mairena.  In his book “Las confesiones de Antonio Mairena” (p. 70-73), he rejects the idea that Manuel Torre had a very limited repertoire and was erratic or inconsistent. He said that he had always heard Torre sing in a masterful way, and that Torre’s knowledge was encyclopedic. Mairena writes:

“When I have reconstructed and recorded some of those songs, at a time when they were almost unknown even in Jerez itself, I based my interpretation on the way Manuel Torre sang them, as in the siguiriya of Joaquín la Cherna, who was Manuel’s uncle.  Manuel sang those and other songs, like those of Diego el Marrurro, although he imprinted them with his own unmistakable stamp.

“The sounds of Manuel Torre, beyond what Federico García Lorca called the ‘rajos negros’ (black roughness, harshness, hoarseness), could seem downright electric. I believe it is highly unlikely another Manuel Torre will surface in Andalusian Gypsy singing.” (Candil magazine, no. 23, Semblanza de Manuel Torre)

Here’s Manuel Moneo again:

“I have always followed the line of Manuel Torre, who I’m completely crazy about, because I love Torre and Antonio Mairena, both of them, though of course I didn’t know Torre.  When I listen to him, I tremble, because for me everything that Torre does is good; when I hear his taranto, with that voice like a trumpet…  And Mairena has followed that path.  The fact is, there are some very bad followers of flamenco in Jerez, who must not like the cante in my view, because you have to listen to Mairena, learn from Mairena, and hear him sing a whole gamut of soleares that no one else knows…I just don’t understand those people.”

Returning to Luís and Ramon Soler, authorities in this matter:  “…Antonio Mairena drinks from the fountains of Jerez to give us, reworked according to his own way of singing, some styles that were known to very few.  Despite the fact that a significant portion of Jerez’s aficionados withhold praise from Antonio, you need only to isten to the singers of Jerez to see the influence the maestro of Mairena de Alcor has among them.”

Manuel Moneo, too, has spoken of this curious contradiction, singers who owe a lot to Mairena but deny him the stature that he deserves:

“I see the people and often think, this foolish Joe Blow says he doesn’t like Antonio – and then he goes and sings Antonio’s songs.  It’s just plain wrong.  I sing and try to keep to my own family’s way of singing, but sometimes the idea of Antonio comes to me, and that’s what comes out.  I spent a lot of time with him, but he never heard me sing professionally because I was too young.   I heard him in his hometown of Mairena del Alcor, and when he heard me he said I sang very well, but the times we shared – more than anything the times in the Bar Volapie, and private fiestas, and Antonio at a fiesta when we’d be drinking and bonding all night long — well, you can’t imagine how well he sang the bulerias, like the angels, I tell you.  Antonio started to sing bulerias and no one could hold a candle to him – and how he danced!  And remembering Juanito Mojama, because he learned directly from him.”

It’s clear that Manuel Moneo feels hurt by this lack of understanding on his home turf, but his eyes shine when he talks of Mairena.  It’s beautiful to see the integrity of this inspired singer, faithful to his convictions, bucking public opinion.

“Lots of people say, ‘Manuel, how well you sing, but sometimes you sound like Mairena.   And I say, “Hey, is this supposed to be a bad thing, that I sound like Mairena, if he is the greatest of the greats? – because aside from the other man I’ve mentioned [Manuel Torre], no one has sung like he has.

“Moreover, Antonio is ninety percent of the songs of my region.  Just as he does the siguiriya of Marrurro, he also does that of Loco Mateo and of Frijones – the one that says “I’m going to El Moro so I won’t ever see you again, because the grief you cause me keeps growing all the time.”  There was a venta, a roadside place here that the folks called “El Moro” that belonged to Manuela del Volapie’s father, but I don’t know if the verse refers to that, or to serving time in the army over in Morocco.  Maybe that’s it because it was really tough serving there, but when he says “Al moro me voy”, you think of Frijones.  In the song on “Mis Recuerdos”, you also recall Frijones in the solea apolá, when he sings the one created by Charamusco.  They were at a fiesta and Antonio said, “what good voices the people in the Jerez countryside have,” and everyone got drunk, and then he sang the one that says “Charamusco, Charamusco, it was in the early hours of the morning, I tore up my shirt listening to him sing.”

“The thing is, Antonio truly loved the art, and never stopped learning about it. He’d listen to a guy sing, and if he was in Madrid, ‘Where do they sing well?  In the town of Rota, Agujetas [probably referring to el Viejo Agujetas, the highly respected father of Manuel Agujetas]?  Well, let’s go and find him.’  He made everything he touched somehow greater – that’s what I see in him; maybe it would just be a short song, but he gave it importance, singing in the Gypsy way that lets you feel the pain.”

Another anecdote comes from the outstanding Jerez singer José Mercé.  The youngest of the generation of singers who derived their art in the traditional way, directly from their life experience in a pre-modern Spain, he often recalls the fear that he and Camarón felt when they were kids, singing in a roadside inn after Mairena had sung, impressed by his art.

Manuel Agujetas is another follower of Antonio Mairena and has recorded his songs.  In the Soler’s book Los Cantes de Antonio Mairena, we see these characteristically frank words from Agujetas:

“Mairena, Juan Talega, Manuel Torre y la Niña de los Peines were the true greats; the rest were just affected, posturing gentlemen artists singing for affected, posturing gentlemen.”

In that same book, we learn that Manuel Agujetas appears in one of the programs in the documentary series Rito y Geografia del Cante interpreting three styles and verses of the siguiriyas of Juan Junquera and El Marrurro in the same order that Mairena recorded them in 1974.

Here’s Moneo again:

“Agujetas el Viejo told me that few could ever sing the way Antonio sang.  The fact is, jerezanos are very much in Caracol’s camp, when there’s really no comparison; each one follows his own path, right?  I like Caracol, but what seems strange to me and what I ask is, why don’t people here like Antonio Mairena?  What people like in Jerez is the Rubichis [including the Agujetas family], and the Moneos [notably including Manuel Moneo’s brother Juan Moneo “El Torta” who doesn’t seem nearly as indebted to Mairena], and my people from the Lara family, and Mairena has always been a titan, a giant artist, for us. The people love the singing of Terremoto de Jerez, which seems very good to me, and I grant that he’s a genius, but hey, for me Antonio was distinct from all others because there are singers who sing bits of this and that, but Antonio’s art ran the gamut, with solea, siguiriyas, martinete, tona, taranto, everything, and a lot of it was Jerez cante.  Mairena rendered he cante of Paco la Luz [a Jerez legend and direct ancestor of José Mercé] like few have ever done – it drove me absolutely wild.”

Antonio Mairena knew the singer La Moreno, a woman born in Jerez but linked more closely to the ambience of the flamenco places in the Alameda de Hercules district of Seville in the heyday of that place, when Mairena was singing alongside Pastora Pavon “La Niña de los Peines” [the supreme female singer in flamenco history], and Pepe Pinto [her husband, a noted singer] and Niño Gloria [a great singer].   Moneo says:

“Antonio and his brother Manuel Mairena were with la Moreno in the Charco de la Pava, a venta in Seville, and he met El Gloria and La Pompi – you bet he knew Manuel Torre!  In fact, one day they told Torre to go to Mairena del Alcor, because the only real singer left was El Niño de Rafael, as Antonio was known in his youth.  Antonio sang with Torre in a theater, and after listening to Torre he said, “I’m not going to sing after that man”, and in fact nobody sang after that.

“Mairena was a very tall tree, he could do everything.  The solea of Cádiz, as no one had ever done, and the solea of Alcalá, he did it better than anyone else ever born; better than Manolito de la Maria, better than Juan Talega – for me!  And for any lover of flamenco who really knows the song.  The solea of Triana he did differently from everyone else.  Antonio came to Jerez for fiestas, drank a lot, and on a good night got together with the father of the guitarist Manuel Morao – those two together, it was to die for.  He came to Jerez to listen to Terremoto, and to la Bolola, a woman with a few little songs, sort of her special thing, so to speak.  And there in the house of la Bolola Antonio sang his siguiriyas”

Antonio Reina, the researcher, writer and president of the Antonio Mairena Foundation, also refers to that visit to Tía Bolola, a woman still remembered and revered in Jerez, with an anecdote known by every aficionado and that underscores the profound admiration that Mairena had for Jerez and its cantes.  He writes:

“I remember the last time Mairena went to listen to la Bolola, an old Gypsy woman from Jerez, who interpreted the songs with a certain flair.  When he returned he gave me the tape he had recorded and said, ‘Here is the yeast of the songs of Jerez.’  Just think of that description, the way it reveals the essence of the Jerez songs.”

Antonio Reina also gives us the gift of the following phrase that synthesizes the whole process we have been considering here:

“How many days and nights Mairena spent in Jerez, working to learn and to safeguard, the way you would treasure a family heirloom, the songs of Manuel Molina, Juan Junquera, Juanelo, Paco la Luz, José de Paula…!”

But we’ll leave to Manuel Moneo the last word in this virtual round table:

“Then they wonder if Mairena’s singing is ‘puro’.  What does ‘puro’ mean?  Havana cigars can be ‘puro’, but…  Think of it – when Antonio was singing with [the great Jerez dancers] Juana la del Pipa and La Chicharrona – that famous picture with Antonio dancing and singing [surrounded also by other great singers and guitarists], look who he sought out and got together with.  I have listened to Juanito Mojama, and for me, Antonio sang more Gypsy than Mojama, and better than anyone.  Manuel Torre was Manuel Torre.  Antonio wasn’t like anyone else.  And it hurts me, because they criticize me here in Jerez.  Antonio Mairena created a school of singing.  He had some defects, like everyone else, but those who are around today, they haven’t lived the art.  How can they badmouth Antonio Mairena?”

It’s true that some of the writings and theories of Antonio Mairena have not stood up with the passage of time, but his song remains as the most eloquent expression of a cultural heritage for which we aficionados are profoundly and eternally grateful.

List of resources consulted for this article:

Blas Vega, José y Ríos Ruiz, Manuel. Diccionario enciclopédico ilustrado del flamenco. Madrid, 1988/1990.

Castellano, A. Homenaje a los Clásicos. (Internet) Por-bloguerías 2008/5/20

Cenizo Jiménez, José. Duende y poesía en el cante de Antonio Mairena. Sevilla, 2000.

Lefranc, Pierre.  El cante jondo. Sevilla, 2000

Mairena, Antonio y García Ulecia, Alberto. Las confesiones de Antonio Mairena. Sevilla, 1976.

Molina, Ricardo y Mairena, Antonio. Mundo y formas del cante flamenco. (3ª ed.)  Sevilla, 1979.

Reina, Antonio. La obra flamenca de Antonio Mairena: ¿cante de pasado o de futuro?


Ríos Ruiz, Manuel. De cantes y cantaores de Jerez.  Madrid, 1989.

Soler Guevara, Luis y Soler Diaz, Ramón. Los cantes de Antonio Mairena. Sevilla, 2004.

Soler Guevara, Luis y Soler Díaz, Ramón. Antonio Mairena en el Mundo de la Siguiriya y la Soleá. Málaga, 1992.

Grabación: Antonio Mairena y el cante de Jerez. Ariola, 1972

Revista Candil. Escritos de Antonio Mairena. Núm. 23, sept-oct, 1982

– Estela Zatania

July 25, 2012   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Manuel Oliver speaks – Interview by M. Herrera Rodas – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note: Here is another translation of an interview with a flamenco artist.  In this case, the artist was an important representative of the Triana school of singing — but not the Gypsy side of it.  Instead, he represents the non-Gypsy aspect of flamenco song.  His name is Manuel Oliver, and he was interviewed in a 1986 issue of Sevilla Flamenca by M. Herrera Rodas.

Triana, of course, is just across the Guadalquivir river from Seville.  It’s noted primarily for the Gypsy singers who were there in the early years of flamenco (the Gypsies in particular were largely forced out, relocated to the Poligonos by the 1960′s).  But Triana was also the home base for an interesting nucleus of non-Gypsy singers.  Here’s the story:

[The interviewer writes]:  “If Triana is just a memory, it’s because of a lack of sensibility on the part of many in the government; their thoughtlessness caused an exodus, as we know, and one that cannot be remedied.  But there was one saving grace.  The Hotel de Triana — not an actual  hotel, but a “casa de vecinos” or house for neighbors, built in the first quarter of the Twentieth Century and slated for demolition, was rescued by Mayor Uruñuela.  He in turn was influenced by José Luís Ortiz Nuevo, the key figure behind the Bienal Flamenco de Sevilla, who fought to preserve the place.  Now the Hotel de Triana is a key part of the Bienal — Ortiz Nuevo was married there to Ana María, and Seville has retained a part of itself.

And in the Hotel de Triana, on the second floor, there’s a man who is a living example of the Triana that resisted demolition, and kept singing, and holds a thousand anecdotes.  He is Manuel Oliver Dorado, and he has lived here for 16 years, sharing with his wife Dolores Sánchez a little two-room apartment that holds many memories, and many sorrows.  A grave illness left him very wasted away (mermado), but he has recovered perfectly.  But there was no real recovery from the loss of the couple’s son Antonio five years ago.  They had five children, and now only Felix survives.  But the absence of Antonio still brings tears to the tired eyes of these venerable elders.

A simple homage, rendered on the part of the friends of the Mesón “Las Cigarreras” at exactly the place where (the singer) Antonio el Arenero had his “rincón” or special spot, let us share the memories of Manuel Oliver about Triana from the beginning of our century.  But because his afición for the cante and his love for Triana were so strong, his knowledge of Triana (Seville is right across the river) go back to the last decades of the previous century, because Manuel can also reveal the memories of his late father, of Malino, of all the old folks who were in Triana and who taught Manuel the cante and the life of the pueblo.

Despite his eighty years, Manuel is in fine shape, short and straight, solid and elegantly dressed.  But his lively eyes leave a sense of permanent sadness, of pain not overcome.  There seems to be a grasping of the cante as a means to express his anguish and his sorrows.

We’ve arrived at his hous and are seated at a table for a long chat.  It’s mid-afternoon, and the sun is behind some dark clouds, leaving a chill in the air.

– “I was born on Castilla Street, in a “corral de vecinos“, on October 14, 1906.  I was baptized in Santa Ana, the church where all of Triana’s great artists were baptized — not just singers, but dancers, and the best bullfighters.

One of my best friends was Antonio Ballesteros, may he rest in peace, who sang soleares and siguiriyas that could make you lose your mind.  Then there was the brother Joaquinito, younger, who also sang.  I heard the father of Arenero…but above all, I listened to my father, who sang very well, and with him and his friends — such as Pepe el de la Matrona, Paco Reyes, el Cartujano and Moralito — I learned my first cantes.  I knew when I’d find them singing, and the ‘bronca‘ — the juerga — lasted until the early morning.  It ended when they’d spent the all the money they had won at cards. This was when I was eight or ten.

I never went to school.  Well, my father got a private teacher who’d teach kids at their homes.  I didn’t go to colegio (primary school) because my father didn’t want us to.  He had goats and a milk stand on Mateos Gago street.  At mid-day, he’d go there.  There was a big colegio there, with a first and second floor.  And one day it collapsed, killing more than two hundred kids.

Incredible!  More than 90 years ago.  And after that, my father said “My kids aren’t going to colegio“.

I was one of seven kids, and my father Manuel was from Castilleja, right beside Triana, but my mother was Trianera, though her father came from Cantillana.  My maternal grandfather was a picador, and worked with famous toreros like Espartero, the Bombitas, Pasadas, El Guerra and others.  My father worked in La Cartuja (presumably the ceramic works at the monastery site that would become Expo ’92) from childhood.  He met my mother there when she was fourteen, and they left to get married when my father became 27.”

The Interviewer writes:  “In its socio-cultural aspect as well, Triana has continued to lose the privileged status it had in the first decade of this century.  Today in Triana, which was the cradle of ceramic-working (alfarería=pottery) there are no longer establishments that make unglazed  (sin vidriar) pieces.  There are, though, a few workshops that survived the crisis that hit the sector after the Seville Exposition of 1929 (and what an opportunity, as 1992 approaches, to support one of the most beautiful crafts in Andalusia’s rich culture), and survived the hardships of the postwar era and the years of emigration and the material decay of Triana.  These workshops that still exist, and other that appear, are starting to dust off ancient models, designs, colors and forms that flourished in the Eighteenth Century and that have their roots in the Arab ceramic workshops that were found in much of Andalusia during the occupation.

We speak of these things with Manuel Oliver, and he notes that it was an Englishman, Don Carlos Pickman, who built the Cartujan monastery of Santa María de las Cuevas, on the banks of the Guadalquivir just north of Triana, in 1841, to make English-style China in Seville.  We ask if La Cartuja has changed much.

–”Ojú! Todo! I went to La Cartuja, to the new factory, with Rafael Belmonte, brother of (the great bullfighter) Juan Belmonte, who was born here on Castilla street.  And it’s almost totally different.  Do you know what it was like to see those women who came to work at La Cartuja, with their mantones (shawls) de Manila and their little handbaskets…Those lovely women, with that grace that they had in Triana… It was the same thing as at the big Tobacco Factory (where the fictional Carmen worked)…  What a time!

Five or six hundred women, working at La Cartuja — it was really somethingto see them go in!

But there was alfarería and cerámica all over Triana.  There was Corbato, now Santa Ana.  And Montalban, who died.  And the workshop of Ramos, Rejano who painted best of all, and Manolito Pestana…

I wasn’t an alfarero, though.  But I had a brick factory on Tejares Street, where I grew up and have lived most of my life.  I’ve worked many jobs, everything I could.  With the goats of my father.  I’d go from here to the Vega de Triana and El Barrero, to the fields of Castilleja to let them graze.

But when I was twelve, my mother got me a job in a carpentry shop, working the saws.  And I stayed there till the war (1936), when they called me up for the cavalry.  And I was so fed up with being shut up in a room and working eight to ten hours every day filing saws and cutting wood without seeing the light or the sky or the fields, that I went off to a tile-works that my  father had.  I’d go for the clay, and do all kinds of work.

Near Cartuja was the venta (roadside inn) called El Vela, and (the legendary Gypsy singers) Manuel Torre and La Niña de los Peines would often go there to sing.  Because Pastora (Pavón — La Niña de los Peines), when she came back from tours, came here to Triana.  My father and mother told me that she came here when she was a little girl, wearing lots of peines (combs) in her hair, which is how she got her name.  She came to the house of Baldomera.  There’d be lots of people from Extremadura and some small towns there, and an uncle of Pastora’s lived at 130 Castilla street, in the Corral de la Higuerita.  She’d come here with her mother.  And at night, she’d go there and sing four tanguitos (a diminutive word for the flamenco tangos) and four (other) things, to earn two pesetas!   Pastora sang the tangos de Triana.  She was the only one left who did the tangos de Triana, because today everybody says ”tangos-tientos” –that’s  a lie!  The tientos never existed — it’s just that the tango has a difficult rhythm (un ritmo difícil); and the singers didn’t know how to enter (start) into it.  The rhythm of Cádiz has never been lost!  The tangos of Cádiz are distinct in their rhythm from those of Triana.  Triana has a rhythm that nobody knows how to get into; Naranjo (Naranjito de Triana?) does an aire de Triana in this…

My early contacts with cante?  I remember hearing cante in public the first time,  when my father took me to the chapel of the Marineros, where the Esperanza is now.  There was a salon de cante there, and someone called El Chato de Madrid was singing a malagueña that drove people wild.  I started singing when I listened to my father.  And the first time I sang in public was when my cousing Antonio “El Penitente” got married in the Corral of Valladares Street.  Everybody sang there.  I sang the fandangos that were so popular in Triana then:

Aunque el rio llegue a Palmay
s’ahoguen los palmeros,
en no ahogandote tu
que s’ahogue el mundo entero.

I also remember that in the baptism of a cousin (prima mia), I heard Currito el de la Geroma sing a soleá that stripped your senses, but he didn’t sing the soleá de Triana — be careful, now! — to sing por Triana, (in the true Triana style), well, there’s a crack in the bridge and you have to cross over it…  Currito sang the Gypsy soleá instead (“el cante gitano por soleá, mas bien!”)

Currito was a singer, but then he got tuberculosis and to earn a living he took up the guitar.  He went to Charco la Pava, on the road to San Juan (de Aznalfarche?) and sought his livelihood.  And my uncle and father let me sing after him, and I did the soleares in my own way, those of Triana, naturally.  And Currito hugged me, and there was a big outburst and hubbub (alboroto).

When I was young I sang with lots of artists.  El Sordillo, Emilio Abadia. I’ll tell you something.  El Sordillo sang very well, but the cante wasn’t his — it was Emilio’s.  Because El Sordillo was from Velez-Malaga, and since he sang very well, he picked up the cantes de Triana here — but he learned them from Emilio Abadia.  And Emilio was a phenomenal singer.  He did the verse that El Zapatero does now:

Coge, Maria, a este niña
y llevatelo a la muralla,
dale un sorbito de teta
veras como te se calle.

Although El Sordillo, because he didn’t have Emilio’s power, did it lower and lo mesia (?) more.  Emilio was the nephew of Fernando el de Triana (a noted Triana singer who wrote one of the first books about flamenco).  Fernando died in Camas (near Triana) because when he retired he started a little tavern there, where I heard him sing a few times.  He sang so well.  I also often heard Pepe el de la Matrona — another genius, though he wasn’t from Triana but from Seville.  His mother came to live in the Corral de los Judiíos, the house here Rafael (Rafael el Negro) and Matilde (Matilde Coral) now have their dance academy.  Pepe Matrona’s mother was contracted by the Ayuntamiento (Municipal hall) to sell food in the Patrocinio…and so she came to live in Triana and Pepe, who was a good aficionado, made himself a singer here, with Fernando, and Vigil, and Ramón el Ollero.

My father said that Ramón el Ollero was the best in Spain for singing the soleá.  His work was making excavations (hoyos=holes; “ollero“=holemaker) in Alfarería Street.  He had phenomenal force as a singer, a very potent voice.  And he’d do the cante ligandolo — singing the lines in one sweep (ligado=tied), de un tirón (all at once).  My father said he would do this entire soleá without drawing a breath:

Capilla del Carmen.
Aunque vayas tu y te metas
en la Capilla del Caren,
tu de mis unas no te escapas.
M’has hecho un agravio mu grande,
aunque tu vayas y te metas
en la Capilla del Carmen.

But just as he’d do that long cante for you, he’d also do a short one (un cantecito corto):

Que me s’importara a mi
qu’haya tan buenos doctores
si me tengo que morir.

(What does it matter to me/ that there are such good doctors/ if I have to die.)

It was from this fountain, and from Enrique Vigil, that Pepe el de la Matrona would drink when he came to Triana.

Ramón also sang siguiriyas to drive you mad (pa rabiar), and for this reason my father said that Ramón had a grandeur (grandeza) in the cante.  And there was El Pancho, and Moralito.  Moralito had a short little cante, that I often sing.  Like this:

(Do you remember back when/ you’d come running to see me/ and now you don’t even know me.)

In this cante, like all those of Triana, the good part (lo bueno) is in the low parts (los bajos).  And those low parts are what El Pancho had.  He would say:

No te compro mas camisas,
yo no visto mas altares
pa que otro diga misa

(I’m not buying you any more shirts;/ I won’t cover any more altars/ so that others can say mass on them.)

Well, although the good part is in the low tones, the truth is that everyone does the cantes in their own way.  El Sordillo did the cantes one way, and Joaquín Castillares, who was the best in Triana for singing El Pancho’s songs, did them another way.  And Emilio Abadia, well I sometimes do the same verses (letras) as Emilio and yet I adapt them to my music, and el Pili did it another way.  And Miguelillo el de la Cerveza…

No, I never knew the Caganchos (a famous Gypsy family of flamencos and bullfighters, of Triana).  Well, I know the father of the bullfighter, who was also named Manuel Cagancho, and was the son of the famous singer Cagancho.  He was the best at singing the Gypsy cantes of Triana.  That’s what my father told me, and so did Vigil, Moralito, Fernando and El Malino.

Malino told me:  “Look, Manuel, everyone is just wrong when it comes to the martinetes.”  El Malino was an old man, and I was just fourteen, but I hung around with all the old folks.  And I went to the house of Quilino, on Calle Pureza, and Malino drank two negros and I had coffee — I’ll soon be eighty-one and I have never taken a drink — well, Malino said that Cagancho’s martinetes were very short, and very pure.  Nowadays, some martinetes are done very long and without flourishes (mu largos y sin florituras).  El Malino said:

Ay, ay, cuando llegó la justicia
y mi casa arregistro
Mi compañero llorando
y yo metío en el colchón.

Then there was Garfias, who sang serranas better than anyone.  He was a night watchman, and he’d sing softly (cantiñeaba), and people would listen at their balconies, because he sang so well.  He did this verse:

De mi serrana
que vale mas la peineta
de mi serrana
que la recua de mulas
de Cantillana.

You have to keep going lower at the end, going lower — and not shouting. And there was the father of Arenero, also called Antonio, who sang mu gracioso por malagueñas, por soleá, por siguiriyas…An extraordinary man.

We went to fiesta and he sang for six days.  And didn’t want anyone else getting into it.  He started out as a sand-carrier for Manolito Malaarma, in el Barranco, with a team of burros. And Domingo el Afarero — the strangest man in the world.  He had an extraordinary voice.  He’s two years older than me, and sings very purely and very well, but he’s very odd (raro) and so it’s hard to hear him sing.

[The interviewer writes:  “Manuel tells more stories of singers, and we gather that Gypsies and payos (non-Gypsies) lived in close contact in a unique and exemplary way (en una convivencia única y exemplar)“]

Oliver:  “There were two “cavas” (areas) in Triana, that of the “civiles“ (non-Gypsies) and that of the Gypsies.  The Cava de los Civiles ran from San Jacinto (bridge) to here, up to Coheteria Street and San Vicente de Padua. That of the gitanos ended at the Camaronero Bridge, at the Calle Betis, where there was a factory.”

Int:  “How was the convivencia (relationship) in Triana among payos and gitanos?”

“Superior!  Here we were all equals.  Now my father told me that two verses he knew in the soleá referred to the fact that on one occasion there were also problems.  Like these letras:

En la capilla del Carmen
mataron a Taravita
!Como lloraba su madre!

“In the Chapel of Carmen
they killed Tavarita;
How his mother wept!”

That’s the little story of a very “apañao” (resourceful) young man, who gave orders to everybody and who was killed by a Gypsy who came over the bridge, drunk.  The Chapel of Carmen wasn’t where it is now, but where the big bank is today.  Well, that event made the public rise up.  And that’s seen in this other verse from soleá:

En el barrio de Triana
unos se tiran al rio
y otros llaman la guardia.

(In the barrio of Triana,
some threw themselves in the river,
and others called for the police.)

But we ourselves got along very well.  Like brothers.  The best gitanos in all of Spain are those of Triana.  And the hardest working.  They work mostly in their forges, though they are also butchers (almost all the butchers in the plaza are gitanos), or they were mule-skinners (o pelaban borricos) like Rufino, the father of La Concepción…”

[The interviewer writes]:  We find ourselves lost in a labyrinth of names and dates that Manuel Oliver gives us.  He is a bank of details for a history of his barrio, a Triana that remains to be studied in many of its aspects.  We have to get back to the realm of cante.

Int:  What were the cantes of Triana?

Oliver:  These:  The soleá; the siguiriya of Sr. Manuel Cagancho, which is a short siguiriya; the martinetes and the toná.  The toná almost ties itself to one another (is sung in a run-on way?)  (La toná casi se liga una con la otra).  And the tangos.  And on the stones of Triana a mountain of artists have walked, like Loco Mateo, Manuel Torre, La Rubia, El Canario — they’ve all passed through here.”

Int:  “What’s the right term (for the non-Gypsy soleá of Triana): the soleá alfarera or the soleá del Zurraque?”

Oliver:  “It’s the soleá de Triana.  Because the soleá was sung by alfareros, and also by carpenters and masons — so it should be called the soleá de Triana.”

Int:  “But it’s not the same soleá de Triana as the one the Gypsies do, is it?”

Oliver:  “Of course, the Gypsies do a soleá with more compás (rhythm), but they don’t have the sweet voice (voz dulce) to be able to do the soleá de Triana that we do on this side, because their ecos (sound qualities) are different (distintos).  Look, not even Antonio Mairena could do the songs of this crazy thing that is our soleá!”

Int:  “Hombre!  [Do you know what you're saying??]  Antonio Mairena!”

Oliver:  “No, not even Antonio.  It was because of the eco, the voice, because the soleá de Triana that we do demands a sweeter voice.  Because the voice of the gitano is not like that of the payo.”

Int:  “Let’s leave the abstract for the concrete — you yourself.  What is your cante?”

Oliver:  “I sing a little cante (cantecito) por solea de Ramón (el Ollero) that I heard my father sing.  I also do a cante of La Gómez de Triana, called La Niña de la Gómez, who sang so you lost your senses.  I do six or seven variations of cante por soleá.  Of course, I do them in my own manner, with my music.  The same as Emilio Abadia, for example, who put his thing into his music, well, I’ve put mine.  It’s my music, and my way of vocalizing it.  I adopt it to what I’ve heard.”

Int:  “What is the cante, Manuel?”

Oliver:  Ojú — a poison (un veneno).  And those whom it enters “se vuelve majara“, (are driven mad, go crazy — majara is the caló word for crazy) like me.”

Int:  “Why do you sing?”

Oliver:  “To express feelings.  To express happiness, or sorrow.  Because one can sing from grief.  That’s why the letra says:

!Que culpita tengo yo
que los ojos no me lloren
si me llora el corazon!

“You cannot fault me
if my eyes don’t cry,
if my heart does.”

Int:  “Manuel, is there a special form of being from Triana.  Is there a different philosophy of life?  A feeling of freedom, the fruit of its age and the wisdom of the people, as reflected in the verse of Antonio el Arenero…

Los serenos de Triana
van diciendo por la calle
que duerma el que tenga sueno
que yo no despierto a nadie”.

(The night watchmen of Triana
say in the street,
let anyone who’s tired go to sleep;
I won’t awaken anyone.)

Oliver:  “Yes, it was like that — that’s what the night watchman Garfia sang, the one I mentioned before.  He sang in the streets and everyone listened…”

Int:  “What’s the best place to perform or listen to cante?”

Oliver:  “The best place is a little room with eight or ten friends who know the cante and know how to listen.  That’s where I’m at my best and happiest.”

Int:  “Where do you think the cante is headed?”

Oliver:  “I see it as becoming adulterated and so it seems to be going badly.”

Int: “Who’s adulterating it?”

Oliver:  “Well, almost everyone (Pues, casi tos).  Eighty percent of the artists today, instead of learning to sing, just “pegar voces” (shout).  For that reason, I don’t want to hear anyone sing these days.  Who would I listen to?”

Int:  “To Camarón, for example!”

Oliver:  “A phenomenon, but he still doesn’t know how to sing beside the people I’ve heard.  Because I’ve had the “misfortune” to hear La Moreno, La Cochinita, Piripi, Vallejo, Nino Gloria, his sisters, La Pompi.  All those people who could sing bulerías to drive you wild (pa rabiar).  And La Moreno was better than all of them put together!  In the bulerías por soleá, she was unique.  El Almendro learned from her, the primo hermano (first cousin?) of (the great Gypsy torero) Rafael el Gallo and a banderillero; and when he got drunk, he’d call La Moreno to the fiestas, and then El Caracol (Manolo Caracol) learned from Almendro.  Once, I remember that we went to La Europa, to the (famous flamenco cafe) Siete Puertas, with El Monge, Antoñito Ballesteros, Fernando Bellido…and La Moreno, who lived here, said “Now my children are here.”  There was Tomás (Pavón); Rebollo, Gloria, La Cochinita — Antonio Ballesteros managed the money to invite all those people.”

Int:  “Manuel Torre?”

Oliver:  “A genius.  He sang only when he wanted to.  He was a monster in siguiriyas.”

Int:  “El Gloria?”

Oliver:  “Mucho fuelle (fuelle=bellows) — lots of lung power.  He sang very well por bulerías, and bulerías por soleá.  And he left his mark on the fandango, and por saetas.”

Int:  “Carbonerillo?”

Oliver:  “El Carbonero sang por soleá, very tranquil, very well.  Soleá gitana.”

Int:  “We’ve already spoken of La Moreno.”

Oliver:  “Por fiesta (bulerías), a genius.  And her bulerías por soleá was better than anyone’s.”

Int:  “Vallejo?”

Oliver:  “The best in bulerías, and in granainas

Int:  “Pepe Marchena?”

Oliver:  “Very sweet — exquisite.  And as an artist, the best.  The most decent of all, in the tablaos.”

Int:  “Jose Rebollo?”

Oliver:  “He specialized in the fandangos de Huelva, and I liked him more than anyone in that style. Rangel (Antonio Rengel) did some very valientes (bravura) fandangos.  But Rebollo had an eco that worked perfectly.”

Int:  “Pastora?”

Oliver:  “Another genius.  I already said that she was the only one who could do the tangos de Triana.  Because she grew up here, and like all the girls of that time, like my mother as well, they danced and sang por tangos.  And Pastora was a genius in this.  And in everything she did.  She also did the cantes de columpío that are now called bamberas (swing songs, from the countryside).”

Int:  “Tomás Pavón?”

Oliver:  “Tomás did all the cantes de Triana, very well.  A phenomenon.  The siguiriyas and the soleares gitanas.  He often listened to Ramon el Ollero, and everyone from here.  And his martinetes…  Here people also sang the carceleras, that Colchero sang for me in the days of the first Republic, the martinete por carceleras.  Because the carcelera is a cante like the martinete, but shorter (más corto)…

Me sacaron de la carcel
a caritas destemplas
me llevan de conducción
a bayoneta cala.”

Int:  “Tell us about the dance…”

Oliver.  I had the luck to know Ramírez.  He danced in the Novedades that was in La Campana, by Vallasis.  I went there to see Ramírez, La Malena, La Sorda, La Macarrona…  Ramírez was the dancer who had the finest postura (posture, stance) of all.  From the waist up, his stance was enormous.  His feet (patas) were just right.  Then Niño Bilbao came in, who could smash the boards with his footwork but had no art at all.  To dance properly, you have to do what Rafael el Negro does.  What a stance (Que planta de bailaor!).  And what art in his dancing!  For me, Rafael el Negro is the best dancer that Triana has seen in all its history.

Oh, and I also saw Carmen Amaya.  I’d go see her during a two-month stay when she danced in the Novedades on Trajano street, when she came with her father and her brother.”

Int:  “And the guitar?”

Oliver:  “For guitar, I remember Niño Ricardo who was really a special case (que era un fuera de serie), a phenomenon.  I also knew Borrull, and had the good fortune of having him play for me one night in Triana.  Miguel Borrull was Catalan, but a Gypsy, and he played in such a way…”

Int:  “Manolo de Huelva?”

Oliver:  “Him, too, of course.  The last thing that Manuel recorded, he recorded with me here in Los Remedios, in the house of a woman who was a millionaire [this would be Virginia de Zayas, whose husband Marius recorded Ramón Montoya's solos in Paris in the late 1930's.  Articles by Mrs. de Zayas appear elsewhere in this blog].  And Manuel came to play there every day.  He told me that all the singers had already passed through there.  And he called me, and I sang por soleá.  I remember that I was singing and he stopped me to say “That’s the soleá of La Serneta; where did you learn it?”.  And I said, “Well, right here in Triana”.  I had sung this letra:

Sale el sol cuando es de día
para me sale de noche.
Hasta el sol esta en contra mia.

(The sun comes out in the daytime;
for me, it comes out at night.
Even the sun is against me.)

Anyway, I sang por siguiriyas, por soleá, por martinetes, and then I told him:  “Now I’m going to sing something from your pueblo”.  He told me that to sing (the fandangos de Huelva) properly it had to be properly squared off (cuadrao).  I said I’d do what I could.  And I did the fandangos of Rangel that I loved, and when I finished he said to my cousin, the priest, “Father, this guy even sings the fandangos of my pueblo squared away perfectly.”

Int:  “Ramon Montoya?”

Oliver:  “Another genius.  I heard him several times here in Seville.”

Int:  “Others?”

Oliver:  “Yes, there was another guitarist called Antonio el Correor who had 22 guitars.  He lived on San Eloy, and he was visited by Ricardo, Borrull, Sabicas — and he was the best player!” And on La Alameda there was Eduardo el de la Malena who has the school of Niño Ricardo.  And a player of my age, Manuel Carmona, of Los Palacios, who accompanied me when I made that program for television.  And he’s a very good player. What I like is smoothness (el suavito) in playing, because the cante of Triana is very ligao (linked together) and there can’t be a lot of fanciness (florituras) on the guitar.  Nowadays, all the guitarists want to do is run their hands… and that’s not it!”

[The interviewer writes:]  It is nighttime.  We’ve spent many hours talking, while the recorder has consumed many reels of tape, and we — Paco Celaya and I — have made good use of the coffee that Dolores made for us.  Seated at this table, we have followed Manuel through all of Triana, and many years of experience and living, of people and songs.  We had asked little, but we knew much more about Triana because Manuel Oliver is an experience that never ceases to relate stories.  He is a fount that satiates our thirst to know.

One of the soleá verses he sings seems to fit:

No te mates por saber
que el tiempo te lo dira
que no hay cosa mas bonita
que el saber sin preguntar.

(Don’t kill yourself trying to know –
time will tell you;
there is nothing lovelier
than knowing without asking.)

Thank you, Manuel, for the things we now know about Triana and for the time – the time of your eighty years, and the time of your father’s years before that, and that of all the old people of Triana, reunited in your experience.  Here around this little table you have shown us so much, and your coffee is delicious — your drink of choice for a lifetime.”

End of interview by M. Oliver by M. Herrera Rodas, in Sevilla Flamenca number 46 of December, 1986.

Brook Zern

October 25, 2011   No Comments