Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Singer Manolo Caracol

Flamenco Singer Manolo Caracol’s Great Recording “Una Historia del Flamenco” – contents and comment

Twenty years ago, I wrote the following post to a flamenco mailing list. i’m adding it here because the recording is a topic of a recent blog entry on the singer Manolo Caracol.

Subj: Re: Anthology(ies) – Caracol/Melchor
To: flamenco@vm.temple.edu

Ken Parker notes his preference for Manolo Caracol’s 2-LP or 1-CD anthology called “Una Historia del Flamenco” where Caracol is accompanied by Melchor de Marchena.

Since Ken appreciates Melchor’s great toque, notably por siguiriyas, it’s worth noting that before “Una Historia del Flamenco” came out on the Clave label, it was issued stateside on two labels, Washington and Top Rank International (Top Rank had a fuzzy red velveteen jacket). But those early versions included two guitar solos by Melchor — a siguiriya, and a solea. And while Melchor is, as Jacinto notes, probably the exact opposite of a soloist (despite several solo LP’s he recorded), his playing on these “Historia” solos seems pretty impressive.

I am always in awe of Manolo Caracol’s genius. A number of singers can be gripping if you’re attuned to flamenco and looking for that quality. But I think that only Manolo Caracol and Agujetas are obviously electrifying in a palpable way, even when they aren’t at the peak moments of their performances. (This is rarefied company. Terremoto and Chocolate can be equally great, and La Niña de los Peines can overshadow them all if you count vocal chops as part of the equation. But for drop-dead power, the scary kind that made Manuel Torre the greatest Gypsy singer ever, I think Caracol’s best recordings would be a good place to start.)

Here’s the listing for the Historia.


2 Discos: Hisp HH 10-23, Hisp HH 10-24 [Precio: 710 pts.] 1958
Clave 18.1077, Clave 18.1078 1968
Hisp 0-034
√Vega VAL 19 Hispavox France
CD: Hisp 781362-2


Washington 713 714 USA
[gs]√Top Rank International RDM 1 USA

Cante: Manolo Caracol
Guitarra: Melchor de Marchena

I. Martinete “En el calabozo”; Martinete “Mis ducas no eran na”; Siguiriyas “El reniego”; Siguiryas de “El Marruro” “Mujer malina”; Siguiriyas (solo de guitarra: M. de M); Siguiriyas de Manuel Torres “De Santiago y Santa Ana”; Siguiriyas;/ Caña “Me pueden mandar”; Solea de Joaquin el de la Paula “Si yo pudiera”; Solea de Enrique el Mellizo “Tiro piedras a la calle”; Solea (solo de guitarra: M. de M.); Solea de Antonio Frijones “Al senor del baratillo”; Malagueña de Enrique El Mellizo “Soy como aquel jilguerillo”; Malagueña de Chacon “Que del nio la cogi”

II. Fandangos “Se la llevo dios”; Fandangos Caracoleras “Viva Madrid”; Fandangos de Huelva.; Taranta y Malagueña “Veneno dejaste”; Tientos “Antes de llegar a tu puerta”; Tientos Caracoleros”Cuando te vayas conmigo”;/ Saeta “Toitas las mares”; Mirabras “Debajito del puente”; Alegrías “La barca de mis amores”; Bulerías “Voz del pueblo”; Bulerías “a gorpe” [a golpe] “No quiero na contigo”; Bulerías Festeras “No quiero caudales”

As good as it gets.

Brook Zern

January 28, 2017   No Comments

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

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 Aurelio Sellés (Aurelio de Cadiz) speaks – 1962 interview by Anselmo Gonzalez Climent – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  Aurelio Sellés was the great master of flamenco song from Cádiz — the seaport town renowned for a brighter and happier style of song than Seville or Jerez.  But Aurelio was also a notoriously crusty and cranky guy.   The flamenco magazine Candil reprinted an old interview with him, conducted in 1962 by the pioneering Argentinian flamencologist Anselmo González Climent (who coined the word flamencology as the title of a seminal book, “Flamencologia”).

Here are excerpts from the interview, with comments from Climent and some interjections or clarifications of mine [in brackets]:

Aurelio Sellés: “Juan Talega [the revered deacon of serious flamenco song and a key source for the singer Antonio Mairena] only knows the monotonous song of his uncle Joaquín [el de la Paula, a legendary master and creator of a key soleá form, the soleá de Alcalá].  He’s shameless, sloppy, boring and corto [short, i.e., limited in repertoire].  He’s a hindu [evidently a deprecatory word for Gypsy] whom I can’t stand.  A bad person, a liar, incompetent. I’m tired of the “geniality” [alleged genius] of Gypsies.  It’s Manuel Torre this, and Manuel Torre that, and on and on. [Manuel Torre is universally admired as the greatest Gypsy master of cante jondo, or flamenco deep song, which is attributed to the Gypsies of Andalucía].  In fact, Torre was only good for siguiriyas [the most difficult form of the so-called "deep songs"], and only when he could do it.  In the rest, he just danced around something that he fundamentally didn’t know.

I’ve seen Juan Talega booed by Gypsies.  [Talega's reponse: "Aurelio and all the cante of Cádiz are worthless.  There's no variety, and no personal styles.  It's all a lie."]

Climent, the interviewer, says:  “Aurelio told me to stay away from the Gypsyphiles headed by Ricardo Molina.  So I did, out of respect and docility.  But it put me in a bind.  Ricardo counterattacked, warning me that if I maintained fidelity to the payo [non-Gypsy] faction, our ethnic-preference differences would deepen, and we wouldn’t be able to make common plans for the future.  And in fact, we never again could deal peacefully with the matters that had united us so amiably before…”

Aurelio:  “Don Antonio Chacón [considered the greatest non-Gypsy singer of all time] was the divo mas largo de todos los tiempos — the most complete, masterful singer of all time.  But he adulterated all the songs, to fit them to the tastes of the señoritos (posturing would-be gentlemen).  Because of his voice [in a high register] he couldn’t really do the siguiriyas and soleá.  He got his best songs from Curro Dulce.”

“In Granada, the flamencos are demanding and violent.  They didn’t just boo La Paquera and Terremoto [two gigantic figures of the flamenco song of Jerez] — Terremoto couldn’t vocalize well — they actually threw them out.

Seville?  I don’t know anyplace where the people are more fickle.  I’m outraged that Mairena and Talega dare to talk of a Seville school of singing.  How can you compare that with the roots of Cádiz.  And the Gypsies — if there were more of them, they’d get rid of the payos and all of Andalucia.  The Gypsies are blind about flamenco.  They don’t know a lot of the styles.

Okay, Antonio Mairena knows the song. But he has no gracia [charm, appeal], and doesn’t reach your heart.  His brother Manolo [who unlike Antonio is half non-Gypsy] is better.  Antonio invited me to be on an anthology he directed [Antología del Cante Gitano y Cante Flamenco].  He took away jaleo and palmas, and put the guitarist where we couldn’t hear each other.  I think he did it out of malice.  It hurt my reputation a lot  .

My mother disliked Enrique el Mellizo [the greatest interpreter of Cádiz flamenco song of all time] — said he was dirty and uneducated.  But when he sang, Gypsies would hurl themselves out of windows.  In a way, I admire him more than Chacón.  The first time Manuel Torre heard Mellizo, they had to stop him from jumping out of the window.  [Interviewer's note: It seems that the true measure of the glory of a singer was measured by the quantity of listeners who, possessed, leaped from balconies -- at least during fiestas on the lower floors.  Aurelio assigned this honor to Chacón, Torre, Mellizo, Tomas el Nitri and once to Antonio Mairena.]…

Aurelio:  I put the true cante por alegrías [the most important flamenco song form from Cadiz] in circulation in 1921.  Before that, the best singer of alegrias was Paquirri el Viejo, a disciple of Enrique el Mellizo…

Socially, Pastora Pavón [La Niña de los Peines, the greatest female flamenco singer of all time] was a beast — she deserved no honor for her comportment…

People go to flamenco concursos [contests] because it’s fashionable.  And what’s worse — they dare to give opinions!  I mean, people who still stink of singers like Pepe Marchena [a wildly popular singer of cante bonito, or “pretty” flamenco song] or Antonio Molina [another cante bonito singer] — giving opinions!…

In Córdoba, they think they have good cantes — what a lie!  The songs are twisted, unimportant, and desangelados [de-angelized, lacking in magic].  I only sang there to show them the real cante.

“Today, nobody knows how to sing tonas, deblas, martinetes, [three similar forms of unaccompanied deep song sung in a free rhythm], cañas, polos, etc.  The only one with an idea is Manolo Caracol [the fabulous Gypsy singer] despite his famous anthology where he sang bad stuff that was not the true cante.  [The anthology is considered Caracol's masterpiece.]  He has hounded me to show him the key to some styles.  He wanted to record everything I know.  Once he beseiged me, to repeat the tangos de Cádiz as done by my older brother, el “Chele Fateta”  I don’t want to help others rob me; I’m going to write my memoirs, and record an anthology that’s all mine [sadly, Aurelio never recorded a true anthology].  Caracol keeps after me to show him the Cádiz cante, but though I consider him a true phenomenon, I fear him as a person.  With that kind of desperation, he’d take what’s mine and pass it off as his.  I know his caste [i.e., Gypsies, or Caracol's kind of Gypsies].  They’re capable of anything.  The branch that lives in Cádiz have customs to scare anyone.  I heard one, once, singing siguiriyas to someone who had just died….

No aficionado of flamenco can be a bad person.  They’re all good people.  But the flamencos themselves  — they’re crápulas [this is not a compliment, to sat the least]…

The best flamenco guitarist of all time was Rafael de Jerez.  [Could he mean Javier Molina?  Or Rafael de Aguila, a noted disciple of Javier but a lesser artist?]  Others are Manolo de Huelva, who’s still alive but drunk and worn out, and Melchor de Marchena, the greatest one right now.  Perico del Lunar [the revered Jerez guitarist who was behind the monumental 1954 Antologia del Cante Flamenco] is a veteran with too much prestige.  He’s one of the biggest sinverguenzas [shameless frauds] in the business…

When Fosforito [the admired non-Gypsy master who won the important 1956 Cordoba contest] tries to sing the Malagueñas del Mellizo, it’s pathetic.  His bad malagueñas are on a par with Mairena’s bad tanguillos [another Cádiz form].  Fosforito sings with his head.  He’s a good aficionado, but he pontificates a lot and learns little…

Juan el Ollero was a cantaor from Triana who invented the soleá of Córdoba about a century ago.  [This story may be true.  It would mean that the so-called soleá de Córdoba was not the invention of a Cordoban singer, but was imported by a noted non-Gypsy singer from Seville’s Triana district who knew that version.  The two soleares certainly sound similar to one another.]

My older brother lived in Argentina around 1878, and brought back a lot of songs that he expertly crossed with our songs.  He specialized in milongas [an Argentine song borrowed by some flamenco artists, and sometimes even considered a light flamenco song], rematados [ended] por alegrías…”

[Climent begins the second part of this interview by noting Aurelio’s reservations about the material on Antonio Mairena’s very important first LP.  Aurelio says that Mairena’s siguiriyas are barely interesting, particularly the “cambio” of Silverio — the part that changes from the Phrygian mode to the major key – and adds that the soleá of Enrique el Mellizo has merit, but is far from the mark of Enrique.  Regarding the corrido or romance — old Spanish ballads which were conserved only in a few Gypsy families — he allows it to be called authentic.  Aurelio sings “a bajini” (in a whisper) a version that is not as close to the compás of soleá as is Mairena’s.  He recalls hearing in Seville a romance sung to the style of martinete.  He deduces that the traditional form called the romance acquires a distinct flamenco base according to the preferences of each region where it’s sung.

Climent notes that Antonio Mairena often said he didn’t know know how to sing polos, cañas or — with more reason — fandangos.

Aurelio says: “I’ve never in my life heard a complete polo or caña.  And what I do remember of those cantes has nothing at all to do with what is circulating today.  I know and sing some fragments, above all the remate of the soleá apolá [accent on the final “a” of “apolá” — so it would be a soleá that was influenced by the polo, or “apola(da)“, “poloized”.   There’s talk of cañas of Seville, Triana, Cádiz and Los Puertos, and of a singer called Tobalo.  If he was a singer, he wasn’t the only one to give it shape.  There must have been many types or variants of polos.  Today, we hear one that was made fashionable by the dancer Pilar López, who knows how to experiment and invent.  But the blame for the monotony of the form goes to Perico del Lunar [the Jerez guitarist who arranged the influential and venerable and original 1954 Anthology of Cante Flamenco, and who allegedly clued the singers in on the more obscure forms].  Perico, with good or bad faith, has adulterated almost all the old cantes…His anthology is neither authentic nor correct.

Aurelio speaks of the cantiñas [a key Cádiz form, linked to the alegrías] of Fosforito and Mairena:  “This is my turf.  The entendidos [knowledgeable folks] discuss whether or not the cantiñas are independent of the alegrías.  Some say that’s not really the question: They say the cantiñas are not a special cante, but a light way of singing, of “cantiñeando” [singing out], or whatnot.  I assure you that the cantiñas are in fact a special type of alegrías, with a tonal change that isn’t too distinct [poco solido] and that gives the singer a lot of leeway and freedom.

It’s a form that is even lighter [todavia mas aligerada] than the alegrías.  The cantiñas of Fosforito are  loaded with ornamentation [adornos].  Those of Mairena are a mixture of cantes, with the unique trait of ending por romeras, which are also alegrías.  Mairena’s are more from Seville than from Cádiz.  He makes them monotonous, and they seen as repetitive as the sevillanas de baile.

The soleá de Alcalá is a slow, cold, short cante, without the bravura lines [tercios valientes] they give it in my region.  It has art, and balance.  It’s even agreeable.  But it lacks pauses, variety, high lines.  It’s very low-key [muy apagada].  The soleá de Utrera is more defined, it has more content and it even has some similarities with some variants of the soleá de Cádiz.

Climent notes that the Gypsyphile/Mairenista Ricardo Molina gained increasing respect for the non-Gypsy cante of Aurelio.  Climent wondered what had happened to cause the change.  Then one day, Molina said to him “Doesn’t Aurelio seem not quite castellano [payo or gache — i.e., not really non-Gypsy] to you — doesn’t he seem a little Gypsy?  Do you think he could really be a cuarterón [quatroon, in this case a quarter-Gypsy]?.

Aurelio:  “I don’t tolerate crossing the cante [styles].  You should start and end with the same style — of this person or that person.  You have to sing the malagueñas de Mellizo as a single entity, complete.  The same with those of Chacón or la Trini.  I can’t stand singers who start with a verse from Enrique, go to one by Fosforo el Viejo, and rematan [wind up] with La Trini’s.  It’s not right.  I sometimes need four or five coplas in order to get myself properly into the line of, say, Enrique.  Nowadays, nobody takes the trouble.  Let’s not fool ourselves — there’s a lot of ignorance out there.”

Climent:  Another key tenet for Aurelio is the almost sacred obedience to compás — flamenco’s often complex rhythmic system.  Aurelio says “The compás is the fundamental element of the cante.  I can exceed my limits, go crazy at the high point of a remate — but without ever leaving the axis of compás.  Caracol, when he gets carried away [se desordena], also loses [desordena] the compás.  It’s his worst defect, for all the high esteem I have for him.  [This is a common criticism of Caracol, acknowledged even by some admirers].  A singer who doesn’t stick to compás shouldn’t even qualify for a contest.  And certainly the cradle of compás is in Cádiz, above all in the soleá and the bulería.

I can’t sing with just any guitarist.  The tocaor who marks his own compás is a bad player.  He needs to support himself in a mathematical calculation.  And that’s not what it’s about.  The compás is something more subtle and fine than that.  You have to have it by right [de casta].   The best maestros are Manolo de Badajoz, Melchor de Marchena, Sabicas and Paco Aguilera.  Niño Ricardo [a revered and hugely influential guitarist] is incomplete, disordered, abusively personal.  He gets away from the cante and the compás.  With me, at least, we just can’t get it together.  [Again, there is some justification for this claim. Ricardo sometimes went out of compás, considered a sin in other guitarists, possibly because he was attempting very difficult material without correspondingly awesome technique, or maybe because sometimes his imagination just ran away with him.]

Fosforito has good and bad traits.  He interests me, and I voted for him in the 1956 Cordoba contest.  But his soleares are disordered, his siguiriyas indecisive, his alegrías debatable, his cantiñas absurd.  Still, his voice is appropriate to cante grande, and he’ll become one of the greats if he can capitalize on his strengths.

La Fernanda, La Bernarda, La Pepa, all those from Utrera, are Gypsies like you can find in any corner of Andalucía.  [La Fernanda de Utrera is acknowledged as the greatest female singer of soleá of all time, and the greatest cantaora of recent decades.  Her sister Bernarda is a fine singer].  They’ve done well in contests due to lack of competition.  Under the circumstances, they can be good.  The one who impresses me most is Fernanda.  She knows how to fight against her weak vocal faculties.  Among the young people, she was the one who was best in the whole Cordoba contest.”

Climent writes: La Perla de Cadiz [a great cantaora, and an inspiration for Camarón de la Isla] was the only contestant who excited Aurelio.  He convinced two judges, but failed to convince me or Molina.  Aurelio said “Perla as better than any other cantaora in the contest — at least in the cante chico.  As she is from Cádiz, she is a Gypsy with quality.  She’s a professional, born and bred [hecha y derecha].  It was ridiculous not to give her the first prize in the cante chico [lighter flamenco styles].”

Climent: “To Aurelio’s disgust, we only gave La Perla the second and third prizes.   I believe Aurelio was influenced by factors other than the cante itself.  But we all agreed that it was too bad la Perla’s husband didn’t compete, since he showed us privately that he was a magnificent singer and a fine dancer, too.  He was a “gitano fino“, prudent, modest, in his place [sic: “en su lugar“].

Aurelio: “Manolo [Manuel] Torre is the singer I admired most.  For me there have been two principal epochs of cante:  The first, of Paquirri el Guante, Enrique el Mellizo and Tomas el Nitri.  The second, exclusively of Manolo.  As a professional, he was a genius [genial], unique.  As a person, he was simple, “tirado“.  A humble Jerez fisherman, de cortas luces [uneducated, not bright], lacking character.  He was a low Gypsy [gitano barato].  But a friend of mine…”

[Translator's note:  With friends like Aurelio, who needs enemies?]

Aurelio:  The singer called Medina el Viejo was the maestro [teacher] of Niña de los Peines.  He was the best interpreter of peteneras — exactly the one that would make Pastora famous.  He also showed the way with his bulerías, tangos, tanguillos and alegrías.  Pastora specialized in tangos, taking cante chico to the heights.  But in the rest of the styles, her singing was weepy, overly quejado (lamenting), exaggeratedly abultado [inflated], as if to compensate for her lack of domination in songs as costly [demanding] as the [great and crucial] siguiriyas and soleares.”

Climent writes:  “Juan Talega’s countertheory denies any influence of Medina on Pastora.  Talega says “Pastora never suckled from that teta.  Anyone who says different is an ignoramus.  Medina had his style on some cantes, but never had the gracia and essence of Pastora.  He was a lightweight, a divo, a Pepe Marchena [pretty singer] of his era.  He was lucky, and got famous, but he’s worthless next to Pastora.  She got her cante chico, from tangos to bulerías, from Manuel Torre, her only maestro, before developing her own personality.  Manolo Caracol doesn’t agree on this, but he’s wrong.  He’s just jealous and envious of the Pavón family.  Tying Pastora to Medina is a way of taking credit away from her.  Caracol’s a bald-faced liar.  She was a disciple of Arturo Pavón, her older brother.  She is an unequalled singer of festive cante, although she does lament [queja] too much in the cante grande.  She’ll go down in history for her inimitable tangos.”

[Translator's note:  Folks, please forgive the length of this and related posts (which actually omit most of the original material).  For all we can learn by talking among ourselves, the real deal is found in the music and the words of the verses, and in the oral testimony of the artists, whose disagreements and vituperation, like their music, make us all look like amateurs.]

Climent writes:  Aurelio says he admires the singing of Manolo Caracol, and pardons his sins of theatricality, applauding his traditionalist spirit.  “I can’t deny the enchantment of his virile, rajo [rough, raspy] voice.  But I don’t like his anthology.  I don’t know why he elongates the soleá corta [“short soleá“] of Joaquin [de la Paula].  Or why he misses the purity and valentía [boldness, courage] of Enrique el Mellizo’s cante.  And his way of losing the compás when he’s emotional or distracted.

There’s no single mold for the martinetes [early, unaccompanied deep flamenco songs].  Those of Triana are classical, valiente [brave, gutsy], varied.  Those of Cagancho el viejo have no competition.  Those of Seville are more measured, more conservative, with more adornos than pellizcos [chillingly emotional touches].  Those of Los Puertos are the best of all.  They demand flexibility, courage and great depth.  Those of Cádiz are quebrados [uneven, rough] and gracioso, if that’s the word for such a serious cante.  The martinete of Tio Juan Cantoral is the most legendary.  But I prefer those of Los Puertos.

Chacon revived the caracoles [a song sharing the rhythm and major key of the alegrías], from the Goyesca period.  But even with his greatness, I don’t like the song.  The music seems defective, and nobody can stand the words.  ”Curro Cuchares and el Tato together in the Café de la Union” — why, they weren’t even contemporaries.

Juan Talega wants to show that he can sing a lot of siguiriyas.   Some are passable.  But in general, what he’s done is make variations on one siguiriya style — Loco Mateo’s.

There’s a pretty song that’s not given much weight, and is rarely sung well.  It’s a Gypsified style, with the sound of a slow bulería: the alborea [a ceremonial Gypsy wedding song, traditionally reserved for intimate gatherings].  In my youth, it was part of my repertoire.  It’s not easy.  It deserves to return to circulation.

Bulerías is not Juan Talega’s forte.  What he does is a rythmic trick, so he can keep singing soleares though it appears to be bulerias.  I don’t like those absurd and senseless combinations called the solea por bulerias or bulerias por solea.  The two songs [bulerías and soleares] are similar, but the purity of each one should be conserved.

My soleares are a mixture of Los Puertos, Jerez and Cadiz.  I don’t forget those of Frijones — nor does Caracol in his anthology.

I agree (me hago solidario) with (flamencologist) Jose Carlos de Luna when he says that the cante begins in Morón.

[Translator’s note:  This may be an odd geographic theory, or may be an attempt to attribute several great Gypsy song forms like the siguiriyas and soleares to Silverio Franconetti of the town of Morón de la Frontera.  Silverio, a non-Gypsy with an Italian father and a great singer and creator, was the key figure in first commercializing flamenco by creating “cafés cantantes” where a paying public could witness flamenco.]

Aurelio:  I’ll grant that this or that came from Seville, but Seville, in general, is very presumptuous and can’t compare with the solera [this refers to the sun-driven distillation or aging of sherry] of Cádiz.

The jabera is nothing more than a light malagueña.  It’s a malagueña for dancing.

Despite the unjust neglect [olvido] that surrounds her, Carmen Amaya is the most serious [exemplar] of baile flamenco.  With all her extraneous trappings, she never strays from flamenco.  There’s no other bailaora who’s similar to her.  The only other one who’s worthwhile is Pilar López, although at times, as Ricardo Molina correctly says, she is too “intellectual”.

Antonio Chacón was the first singer who tried to sing in Castillian (clear Spanish, rather than the loose and sometimes incomprehensible Andalucian dialect).  He did it to increase his popularity.  He thought that this way his singing would be more “formal”.  The bad thing was that his imitators carried this idea to ridiculous extremes.  Not even Pepe Marchena escaped this influence.

I have sung for the public just three times in my life.  First, with [the great dancer] Pastora Imperio at the beginning of my career.  Then at a public homage for me in Cádiz.  And finally this year in a festival dedicated to Parrilla de Jerez.”   [This would be the father of Manuel Parrilla.]

Climent writes: “Juan Talega thinks that the soleá dance is older than the song itself.  He doesn’t know the origin of the danced soleá — but he insists that the soleá as a song was invented by his uncle, Joaquín el de la Paula.  He goes on to say that the song was born in a little area encompassing Utrera, Alcalá de los Panaderos [Alcalá de Guadaíra], Seville and Triana.

Climent writes:  Ricardo Molina [the flamencologist and acolyte of the great Gypsy singer and gitanista Antonio Mairena], increasingly caught up in his gitanophilia, insists on ascribing Gypsy traits to Aurelio.  He’s sure Aurelio can’t be absolutely payo.  He tries dialectical approaches.  He professes surprise at the idea that Aurelio and his 21 siblings could really have the same father.   And it’s strange, but as if that same suspicion somehow reached his ears, Aurelio tells me that after four years absence in the war of Santo Domingo, his father returned to Cádiz and the first thing he did was go directly to his wife to assure himself of her fidelity.  “From that moment on,” Aurelio says, “that’s when my parents started to have kids one after another.”

Meanwhile, Ricardo Molina is really interested in helping Aurelio record his “flamenco testament”, in Cádiz, away from the intolerable friction with Talega and Mairena, who had made him record for their anthology unrehearsed and who chose the songs for him to sing — many eliminated in the final commercial release.  Ricardo Molina admires and really likes Aurelio — a complete change from his first response at an earlier concurso.  He calls him the most capable and genuine singer of his generation. [i.e., prior to Antonio Mairena's generation].

Aurelio speaks of the non-Gypsy giant Silverio Franconetti: “He was an incomparable siguiriyero, giving that form hierarchy and variety.  His variants and cambios are still done.  Ricardo Molina blathers about his being a disciple or imitator of El Fillo, but he was just as masterful.  I can’t stand Ricardo’s pro-Gypsy enthusiasm.  I admire lots of Gypsy singers.  Manuel Torre was a king, apart.   But all my life, the real singers have been payos [non-Gypsies].  Cante flamenco is a backbone with three names:  Silverio Franconetti, Antonio Chacón and Aurelio Sellés Nondedeu.”

Climent:  “Aurelio’s guasa [difficult attitude, wise-ass or mocking behavior] deserves an article of its own…  He’s a true friend, incorruptible, faithful to the point of partiality..”

Climent writes that the 1962 Cordoba contest was dominated by artists provided by Pulpón, the manager/promoter who had firm control of many flamenco artists.  This upset the Cordobans, and infuriated Aurelio de Cadiz, because Pulpón favored artists from near his Seville power base — including Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera and Juan Talega.  But, Climent says, things worked out pretty well “when La Fernanda, herself alone, justified the entire event.”

Aurelio: “I’m fascinated by the obsessive belief that there exist good soleares de Cordoba.  They have gracia, thanks to their simplicity.  They start without a warm-up temple, and go to the high parts (alturas) like an elevator.  I’m also intrigued by the alegrias de Cordoba.  Very castillian, cansinas [boring, tiring], of little compás, and with poor textual repertoire.  I think they came from a variant of Paquirri’s that were popular here.  I showed this to Ricardo Molina, and he agreed.”

“[Singer] Juanito Varea, from Castellón de la Plana [far north of Andalucia], was the disciple of a Gypsy guitarist called Castellón [probably not a reference to Agustin Castellón, called Sabicas].  He’s got his act together (es muy consolidada) now.  He has a classical flavor, and lots of courage.  There’s a certain leaning toward theatrical cante, above all when he does his famous fandango.  I’d advise him to lose that, and stick to the cante grande [great song, big song — a term that includes the three cante jondo or deep song forms and may go beyond that to include some other serious flamenco songs, e.g., the tarantas or granainas] where he belongs.”

Climent writes: “I noticed that Aurelio stayed near me, and seemed to sing to me.  I asked him about this, and he said “Sure, I do that in every reunion.  I sing for just one person, and forget the rest.  It’s more heartfelt, and comes out a gusto [just right].  The true singer draws inspiration from a friend, and grows.  Even in public, you have to imagine another person — just one person.”

Climent:  “We talked of the silences in the cante.  Aurelio’s are forged with “radicalidad jasperiana (¡dicho a cuenta de sus inefables jitanjaforas!“) [?].  They are more frequent and more believable than those of — we won’t name names.  They are more credible, in general, than those of the Gypsies, which are more aesthetic than metaphysical.  In Aurelio, they conform to a vital imperative.  He is clearly conscious of when this silent break is necessary.  It’s as a culmination of that which is impossible to express.  He says “Even in the alegrías or bulerías, sometimes the mood produces a kind of paralysis.  It must be the emotion.  Who knows?  But I know it when it happens.”

Climent says Aurelio wanted to visit Lucena [near Cordoba].  He didn’t say why.  But there, he sought out the baptismal font where his wife was baptised.  When he found it, he cried like a baby.

Climent:  “Ricardo Molina and Aurelio were devastated when Pepe Pinto kept impeding the efforts to have La Niña de los Peines (his wife) record her discographic testimony.  Ricardo wondered if Pinto was professionally jealous of Pastora.  He even suspected that Pastora “se ha aflojado” (perhaps meaning losing her mental faculties, which may have been the case, though around that time she did one final and fabulous star turn at a festival).  Aurelio, on the other hand, thinks she’s in excellent shape, and thinks Pinto is committing a grave error.”

End of translation.  A lot is being written about flamenco today.  I hope people will give due attention to the actual words of the flamencos themselves, including giants of the art like the irritating and irascible Aurelio Selles.

– Brook Zern   brookzern@gmail.com

October 30, 2011   1 Comment