Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Singer Rojo el Alpargatero

Encyclopedia of the Cantes Mineros [Flamenco songs from the mining regions of Eastern Spain] – by Juan Vergillos – translated by Brook Zern

Encyclopedia of the Cantes Mineros [Flamenco songs from the mining regions of Eastern Spain] – by Juan Vergillos – translated by Brook Zern

From “VaivenesFlamencos.com – “A Magazine of Flamenco Today”, by Juan Vergillos, winner of the Premio Nacional de Flamencología.

Translator’s note: The so-called “cantes mineros” are an important family of flamenco forms, and they can be especially confusing for us outsiders.

Structurally, they are derived from the ubiquitous fandangos. Perhaps the oldest versions of fandangos in flamenco are the rhythmic forms, notably the fandangos de Huelva, the fandangos de Lucena and the verdiales. Each sung verse consists of six melodic lines – but only five lines of text, because one line of text is repeated. (Usually it’s the first line, which is repeated as the third line.)

While most flamenco songs work in an unusual (for us) mode, usually called the Phrygian, the sung and/or danced fandangos initially seem to work in our familiar major key – the first line going from G7 to C, second line going from C to F, third line going from F to C, fourth line going from C to G7, fifth line going from G7 to C — but there’s a catch. At the end, during the sixth line, the song exits the major-key format and slips back down into the exotic (for us) Phrygian. implicitly passing from A minor to G to F before coming to rest on the tonic E.

[Note that these chords do not dictate any required pitch or register to the song -- the use of the capo in flamenco guitar means that its pitch can be raised arbitrarily in half-tone intervals to match the vocal range of any singer. Also, the guitarist may choose to use a tonic chord of A instead if E -- while the intervals between the chords remain unchanged.]

At the end of the 1800’s, those bouncy fandangos were slowed down and the rhythm was abandoned so they became more serious-sounding – the Spanish say they were “aggrandized”, which sounds right. These forms included the malagueñas, the granainas – and the cantes de Levante, a sprawling and confusing family that includes the tarantas, the cartageneras, the mineras and more.

While the malagueñas work in a tonality rooted in the familiar guitar chord of E major as described above, the granainas are based on the guitar chord of B major (an A major chord barred on the second fret). The cantes de Levante are traditionally based on the guitar chord of F sharp major – an E chord barred on the second fret, but with the two highest strings, B and E, played unbarred, resulting in a disturbing, “darkling” and mysterious sound.

It’s worth noting that while flamenco is an Andalusian art, these Levante forms are from Spain’s East Coast above the southernmost region of Andalusia. But again, they are based on musical conceptions that are firmly “andaluz”.

Enough background – here is Juan Vergillos’ report on a new CD by the singer Jeromo Segura titled La Voz de la Mina: Antologia de los Cantes Mineras de La Union, and a new book, Cantes de las Minas, by Jose Luís Navarro García, with valuable insight into this often confusing musical realm.

Singer Jeromo Segura, from the province of Huelva, was fascinated in 2013 by the cantes de las minas, a fascination that led to his winning the [very prestigious] Lampara Minera at the International Concurso of the Cantes de las Minas in that same year. For his second CD, he has chosen songs exclusively from that category.

Seguro has made an authentic encyclopedia of mining styles, demonstrating his love for these unique forms using his sweet, intimate voice that is rich in feeling and precise. He uses today’s terms for the songs – terms often derived from the rules of the contest he won. Thus the so-called taranto, a name that was never applied to a flamenco style until 1957 when the singer Fosforito used the term on his first record for what had previously been called the minera. The “murciana de Manuel Vallejo” which that Seville singer called “cante de Levante” on a 1923 record but that today, evidently because of the record collector Yerga Lancharro is called the murciana. Seguro includes one of these, with the verse that Vallejo used back then.

The book by Navarro Garcia is a reedition of the 1989 version, giving biographies of the great creators and historic interpreters of the genre, from the more or less mythical like Pedro el Morato and La Gabriela to those who have made recordings and whose biographies are well established such as Antonio Chacón and El Cojo de Malaga. Thus, the different cante minero styles, tarantas, cartageneras, levanticas, murcianas, etc., are presented with the biographical data of their creators. The history of the cantes mineros, their interpreters and festivals and contests, notable La Union, stops in 1989. There is a chapter dedicated to the start of the mining industry in Jaén, Murcia and Almería. The first edition of this book generated new investigations about the genre, among them one by José Francisco Ortega who wrote the booklet that accompanies the CD by Jeromo Segura.

To that list, I’d like to add one done two years ago by Rafael Chaves Arcos: both books have contributed enormously to our understanding of the songs and singers of these forms. Research his advanced a lot but we should underline the pioneering text of Navarro García’s “Cantes de las Minas”. For many years it was the key reference work in the field.

The crucial “matrix” style of the cantes mineros is the taranta, perhaps from the town of Linares: That’s the view of Rafael Chavez and José Manuel Gamboa among other researchers of these forms. All of the other styles are modalities or variants of the tarantas, and within the tarantas we find great melodic variety, with some of those variants given their own denominations. Moreover, all of them without exception are accompanied on guitar by the style used today for the tarantas [i.e., using the tonic chord shape of the partly-unbarred F sharp. On his CD, Segura offers two tarantas styles – that of La Gabriela, probably the basis of the mineras, and that of Fernando de Triana. The first, perhaps composed in the [late] Nineteenth Century, was first recorded in 1908 by the Seville singer Manuel Escacena, and memorable versions have come from the voices of Seville’s La Niña de los Peines, Jaén’s La Rubia de las Perlas, or La Unión’s Emilia Benito. The taranta of Fernando el de Triana, whose authorship is not in doubt today, was recorded by El Cojo de Málaga and La Niña de los Peines, who was the first to record it.

Many who haven’t heard early recordings will be surprised by La Niña de los Peines’ mastery of the cantes mineros. But she, born Pastora Pavón, was a master in all songs, and many served as reference points for other singers in her era and afterwards. Segura’s versions are sentimental, intimate, sweet and also academic.

Regarding the cartagenera, Rafael Chaves believes that the one called “cartagenera grande” on Segura’s disc is melodically linked to the malagueña while that of Antonio Chacón would be reasonable views as a “taranta cartagenera”. In any case. Both are accompanied today in the tarantas style, as are the rest of the cantes mineros. And both were recorded in his day by Chacón who is, logically, the man responsible for the reference versions of these two cantes.

For the minera, the star style of the Festival de La Unión, Segura offers seven versions, although all share a single melodic base. It is traditionally associated with El Rojo el Alpargatero, though it bears the imprint of Antonio Piñana. Pencho Cros and Encarnación Fernandez. On this record, Segura offers one by Piñana, four by Cros and two by Fernández.

The levantica and the murciana, like the minera, are tarantas with a single, specific melody. Both are linked to the singer El Cojo de Malaga, whose verse Segura sings in his murciana, a song that at one time was labeled by singer Gabriel Moreno as “taranta de Linares”. The levantica follows the model of Encarnación Fernández, using a well-known verse that Ginés Jorquera composed for that singer from La Union who was born in Torrevieja, according to Ortega’s album notes.

The taranto, as we’ve noted, was known in Chacón’s time as the minera, a name that at that time covered different cantes but today is linked to only one style as analyzed above. On the record, Segura follows the model imposed by the Jerez singer Manuel Torre in the 1920’s when, the term taranto was never used.

The so-called “cantes de la madrugá” [early morning songs] are another variation on that same model, and owe their name to the Jaén singer Rafael Romero. Segura provides two examples, both with verses recorded by Romero. Finally, he offers three verses of the mythic fandango minero of Pencho Cros.

End of article.

In doing research for the exhibit “100 Years of Flamenco in New York” that was presented at the Lincoln Center branch of the New York Public Library, I noticed that a very famous dancer who appeared in the Big Apple well before 1900 was named Carmencita Dauset — more accurately, Grau Dauset. She was actually filmed in the Thomas Edison’s studios, and seems to have been the first dancer ever filmed. The name Grau rang a bell — because the legendary pioneer singer and creative giant of the cantes de las minas, called “El Rojo el Alpargatero”, was born Antonio Grau Mora. Sure enough, he was her brother — and he sang flamenco during her successful run in New York.

Yes. Incredibly, at least to me, a great flamenco singer was appearing in the U.S. in that era. It would be two generations and many decades before another great flamenco singer would again grace our shores. It would’ve been nice if Edison had recorded El Rojo — his agents were recording flamenco singers in Spain back then — but no such luck. There are no recordings of Antonio Grau “El Rojo el Alpargatero”.

Final note: The form called the taranto is often defined as simply a melodic variant of the free-rhythm tarantas — where the free rhythm has triple time or 3/4 feel when it acquires any feel of a steady beat.

But for flamenco dancers and singers who work with them, taranto means something else: It is a version of the song that is instead done in a strong duple rhythm, our familiar 4/4 or perhaps 2/4 time. The even rhythm makes it danceable. It was a big hit for the then-young singer Fosforito around 1956 or so. A bunch of us aficionados are busily trying to pin down the artist and the definitive date for the first rendition of that rhythmic taranto, with its very different feel, but no luck so far.

Brook Zern

March 6, 2015   No Comments

The Amazing American Odyssey of the Sensational Spanish Dancer Carmencita and the Legendary Flamenco Singer Rojo el Alpargatero – by Brook Zern, indebted to Professor Kiko Mora and others

The Amazing American Odyssey of the Sensational Spanish Dancer Carmencita and the Legendary Flamenco Singer Rojo el Alpargatero  – by Brook Zern, indebted to Professor Kiko Mora and others

A few months ago, my Google RSS feed for the word “flamenco” turned up a tantalizing reference to the possibility that the legendary flamenco singer Antonio Grau, professionally known as Rojo el Alpargatero, had performed in New York City in 1892.

I thought this was absurd.  Very few people in Spain like serious flamenco singing, and in this country the percentage becomes utterly negligible.  The idea that Rojo el Alpargatero was singing in New York at that time – well, it made no sense.

After all, this man was the mysterious key figure in the creation of an entire branch of flamenco song – the so-called “cante de Levante” or “cante minero”, the styles from the mining districts of the eastern region of Almeria.  The tarantas, the murcianas, the cartageneras and more– all were transmuted from simple folkloric songs into the exquisite and complex melodic masterpieces they are today, and Rojo el Alpargatero is given much of the creative credit.  Fine — but flamenco singers weren’t hanging around Times Square in the Gay Nineties.

Ah, but there was more to the story.  Because a few months ago, some flamenco dance people in New York had made a tantalizing discovery of their own.  They had learned that a pioneering Spanish dancer called Carmencita had spent years performing in the U.S. during that same epoch, reaching triumphant heights – and that, amazingly, you can view her art today.

That’s right.  The first dancer ever filmed was a Spanish dancer, whose repertoire included flamenco styles like the peteneras. fandangos and sevillanas.  She was filmed in the studios of Thomas Edison, who had recently invented the motion picture camera.  And this was no fluke – Carmencita was enormously famous in America, and her image lent prestige to the new medium of moving pictures.

Carmencita’s real name was Carmen Dauset Moreno.

Funny thing – the bio of Rojo el Alpargatero in Angel Alvarez Caballero’s authoritative book “El Cante Flamenco” says that in Almeria he met his future wife, “with whom he did not delay in establishing a sentimental relationship so intimate that, according to one text, ‘vanquished by human fragility they knew one another carnally, with the result that she soon found herself embarazada’”.  (No, not embarrassed, though that’s also a possibility; the Spanish word means pregnant.)

And the vixen in question?  Her name was Maria del Mar Dauset Moreno.

The plot thickens – and yes, it turns out that Rojo el Alpargatero was indeed the brother-in-law of Carmencita.

And that confluence of events led to Rojo singing in the vaudeville spectacle that starred Carmencita.  The New York Herald of June 10, 1892 carried an ad for the show, part of a series commemorating the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America:

CARMENCITA IN CHICKERING HALL – GREAT SPANISH CONCERTS.  The return of the famous Carmencita, accompanied by the renowned Spanish artists Sr. A. Antón, the famous tenor; Señora Bianchi di Fiorio; Señor García; and the great novelty of the day: the genuine Andalusian songs, presented for the first time in New York by the famous Andalusian cantaor Antonio Grau, in “Las Ventas de Cárdenas” – THE SPECTACLE WILL BE COMPLETELY SPANISH.”

And so it happened that New Yorkers saw the enigmatic and never-recorded flamenco song giant Rojo el Alpargatero, presumably invited by his sister-in-law to present real flamenco song – a genre that had only surfaced publicly in Spain a few decades earlier (and that some confused scholars think was nonexistent before then).

The ad uses the Spanish word cantaor – an Andalucianized term that may have been fairly new, and refers specifically to a singer of flamenco.  (At the time, in Spain, I suspect that the more awkward but formal version “cantador” was still more common.)

The ad also uses the word “genuine” to describe flamenco.  It’s interesting to note that this attribute, still used along with the near-synonymous “authentic”, was already considered indispensable even 120 years ago in promoting the very first flamenco show in the Big Apple.  Plus ça change, as they say in Spain.

There is much more to the astonishing saga of Carmencita, of course, as revealed by Professor Kiko Mora’s superb and meticulously documented 2011 “Carmencita on the road: Baile español y vaudeville en los Estados Unidos de America (1889-1895).

Professor Mora obtained his Ph.D in Philosophy and Letters at Ohio State University and is Professor of Semiotics of Publicidad [Advertising] and Semiotics of Mass Communication at Spain’s University of Alicante.

In his conclusion, Professor Mora points out that Carmencita, who was primarily an exponent of the escuela bolera, was probably the most famous Spaniard in America, since Cervantes was not widely known at the time.  And he raises provocative questions – what does film owe to Carmencita?  What is the significance of her appearance in this first-ever dance film?  What does Spanish dance owe to her contact with American music and dance like ragtime and the cakewalk?  What does Spanish dance owe to her and others that followed in her footsteps – and, does American dance itself owe something to Carmencita?

All in all, a truly remarkable story.

(And yet another debt flamenco owes to Thomas Edison, who also insisted that his other invention, the phonograph, was used to record flamenco singers in Spain at exactly the same time – there are many recordings from the 1890’s, possibly predating all other ethnic music recordings and all priceless documents in themselves.  Edison felt that the recording of traditional world music was an especially important use of his device, because unlike classical music, such art could not be adequately notated on paper.)

Note:  It seems that Professor Mora has spoken of his findings at some universities in England, so there may also be an English-language version of his paper; I apologize for any dubious or disastrous translation…

Finally:  For those interested in the history of flamenco and Spanish dance, New York’s Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts will see a five-month exhibit called “100 Years of Flamenco in New York”, planned by Carlota Santana of Duke University who heads the Carlota Santana Flamenco Vivo ensemble that has introduced countless Americans to the art.  The exhibit will feature, among many other elements, the historic Edison film of Carmencita.  I’m involved with the effort, along with the scholar and dancer La Meira and the author and critic Ninotchka Benahum among others.  A report on the project will appear in this blog soon.

Brook Zern


November 18, 2012   2 Comments