Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Evolution vs. Flamenco Tradition

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.

BZ

January 27, 2017   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Manuel Agujetas – Obituary by Manuel Bohórquez – translated by Brook Zern


Flamenco Song’s Last Cry of Grief

By Manolo Bohorquez

from El Correo de Andalucía, December 25, 2015

A flamenco singer has died. Not just any singer, which would be terrible news. No, one of the greatest masters of Gypsy song (cante gitano). Yes, Gypsy, because that’s what Agujetas always was and always wanted to be. His father, Agujetas el Viejo, was also a singer, a Gypsy from Rota with a sound that came from centuries ago, metallic, dark as a cave, that put you in the last room of the blood. Manuel de los Santos Pastor, or Agujetas, who died this morning in Jerez, was the only one who remained of those Gypsies who took the song from the marrow of his bones, a singer who only had the song, who felt alone since the day he was born and who sang so he would not die of solitude. Unsociable, a strange person among strange people, as were Manuel Torres and Tomás Pavón [perhaps the two greatest male flamenco singers who ever lived]. Manuel Agujetas detested anything that was not the flamenco song or freedom, and who fled from stereotypes or academic schools, from technique, from treatises, from la ojana. He was, in the best sense of the word, a wild animal. Some critics reproached him for being too rough, disordered and anarchic, but he had the gift, that thing that correct and professional singers lack. That they can’t even dream of. You can fake a voice to sing Gypsy flamenco, but Manuel never faked anything. He was the Gypsy voice par excellence, the owner of what Manuel Torres called the duende, the black sounds that captivated the early flamenco expert Demófilo and García Lorcca. A stripped-down cry that could kill you in the fandango of El Carbonerillo, but that when it was applied to [deep song styles like] the siguiriyas or the martinetes, reached a terrible dramatic intensity. No one sounded as Gypsy as Agujetas, with such profundity. No flamenco singer carried his voice to such depths, even though he could be a disaster on a stage, not knowing how to deal with the accompanying guitar and repeating verses and styles to a point of overload. There is no such thing as “Agujeta-ism”, or attempting to copy his inimitable style; but his admirers are found all over the world and have always been faithful to him. A minority, to be sure, but devoted unto death. And they have not claimed official honors for him, as happens with other singers of his generation, They have loved his art and have wanted to experience it, knowing that he was unique and without parallel. Manuel had a charisma that wasn’t for stadiums or big theaters, but for an intimate setting. Someone who has an old LP of Manuel Agujetas feels as if he has a treasure, a relic, something sacred. And someone who heard him on a stage, with that antique aspect, that scar on his face and those sunken eyes, knows that on that day he lived a truly unique moment. Surely this death won’t make headlines or be reported on radio or TV. And what else? Those of us who heard him during an outdoor summer festival in a small town, or a small theater or a flamenco club will never forget it, because in each line, in each of his chilling moments, Manuel nailed to our soul a way of rendering deep song that didn’t die today, with his disappearance, but that died decades ago. It will be a long time before another Gypsy is born, if one is born at all, who has such an ability to wound you with his singing. And when he wounds you fatally, when it kills you, it is a desirable death. The last great pain, the last great grief of song has gone. May he rest in peace.

End of article in El Correo de Andalucía of December 25th, 2015. The original is at http://elcorreoweb.es/cultura/el-ultimo-dolor-del-cante-AI1183398, Olé to Manuel Bohórquez, and a final olé to Manuel Agujetas, the greatest singer I ever knew and the greatest singer I ever heard. Please refer to other entries in this blog for more translations and opinion about Manuel Agujetas.

Brook Zern
brookzern@gmail.com
Flamencoexperience.com

December 25, 2015   1 Comment

“I Can’t Get Paco Out of My Mind” – Interview with writer and biographer Juan José Téllez by Tamara García – translated with comments by Brook Zern

Today’s Diario de Sevilla has an interview by Tamara García with the writer, author and journalist Juan José Téllez who wrote the terrific “Paco de Lucía en Vivo”. It begins with a quote: “I can’t get him out of my head” and the subhead says: “The author from Algeciras writes of the life of his most universal paisano, in “Paco de Lucía, El Hijo de la Portuguesa” (“Paco de Lucía, the Son of the Portuguese Woman”), published by Planeta on the first anniversary of his death. Here’s the story:

“Paco de Lucía is a personality who was interpreted by Francisco Sánchez for 66 years. And this book recounts the dialogue between the person and the personality; it’s an adventure story, a story of overcoming obstacles, because for me Francisco Sánchez is one of those Charles Dickens characters who emerge from a tough neighborhood to achieve their dream. The son of the Portuguese woman accomplished this through the guitar which, in a certain way, formed part of his body; one didn’t know where the wood ended and the melody began, but both elements were of flesh and blood, fiercely human. “ Those words of Juan José Téllez, written on a page or spoken in conversation, fill all the space, both physical and that space, as dark as it is light, that gives us form from within. In “El Hijo de la Portuguesa” we find Francisco Sánchez, but also, in the cinema of the author, we find Téllez in all his aspects.. The reporter, the poet, the novelist…With his camera, which is his gaze from the corner that directs our own focus.

Q; When you knew Paco, was there still an aspect of “the son of the Portuguese woman”?

A: Well, let me take advantage of that question to debunk the notion I’ve seen in recent media reports, the idea that I was an intimate friend of Paco de Lucía. I don’t see myself as his intimate friend, or even a distant friend, because I think Paco had very few intimate friends. He had friends that accompanied him all his life like Carlos Rebato and José Luis Marín, and others who were with him quite early like his compadre Victoriano Mera, but I wasn’t part of that intimate group as some have supposed, I had the privilege of looking at him and his work sporadically for more than 30 years, conducting numerous interviews and drawing near to his circles. With all those connections [matices], I think Francisco Sánchez retained [pervivia], right up to his death, the picardîa [picaresque, roguish aspect] of his early childhood.

The last time I saw him was in Fez [Morroco] , at the flamenco music festival in June of 2003; I could recognize the “hijo de la portuguesa” and also the Paco who messaged me on the eve of his death and told me that in Cuba he had found fascinating things, like a society that had no parabolic antennas and where the children had to play in the streets, and never had to leave. The deep country for a poet is infancy and childhood and Paco, who had the aspect of a poet, for all his life sought a return to that early childhood in the Algeciras neighborhood of Bajadilla.

Q: Early childhood as a paradise lost, Because there’s a passage in your book where after a juerga [flamenco session] they take him to Algeciras and he doesn’t seem to recognize it.

A: That’s because Paco’s mythical Algeciras, like mine, has disappeared. As Romero Peche said in the solapa [jacket] of one of his books, “Born in the vanished city of Algeciras”. The demographic growth has meant the urbanistic destruction of Algeciras, which is situatied in one of the most beautiful natural parajes of Andalucía. Paco was a son of that mythic Algeciras, that of his formative years, wrapped around the port and the Plaza Alta with its light and shade.

Q: In your book, isn’t there a certain tone of mutual reproach in the relationship of Paco and Algeciras?

A: Well, I think Algeciras is a very complicated city because, like all intense [apasionadas] cities, there’s a certain disconnect between the important people whom they’ve engendered, like José Luis Cano, the oldest and best critic of [Spain’s literary “generation of 1927”], or the philosopher Adolfo Sánchez Vázquez, or Paco himself. There are people there who still ask, “But what has Paco de Lucía ever done for Algeciras?” And there’s a certain perception – and Paco was aware of this – that such people must become philanthropists who build hospitals and fund schools. But Paco titled many of his compositions with names of key places in the city and that, in my view, showed his real feelings and preferences [querencia]. Anyway, if it’s true that Paco reproached the city for its lack of interest in the music and for what he had done…I was at a concert there in the bullring in 1980, a spectacular concert attended by less than a thousand people and for which the admission was [only] 100 pesetas [little more than a dollar]. Also, in the pregón [announcement] of the annual fair there was a technical error and it sounded terrible… But that’s all in the past. Algeciras reconciled with Paco a long time ago, naming a roundabout for him in a new neighborhood, the statue [of Paco?] in/of Nacho Falgueras [?], and honored him as a Favorite Son; and at Paco’s insistence, it was in Algeciras where, the University of Cádiz named him Doctor Honoris Causa, [a doctorate that meant a great deal to Paco, who had very little formal education].

Q: From all the ways of approaching a life, you begin the book by noting the very real possibility that Paco might never have been born, because in 1936 his father was arrested. Is that deliberate?

A: Absolutely. Paco could have been a collateral victim of the barbarism and terror that followed the Fascist coup d’etat of 1936. Not just Paco, but his brothers Ramón de Algeciras and Pepe de Lucía as well as Antonio, would never have been born if his mother Luzia, her daughter María in her arms, had not gone to military barracks and headquarters begging for the life of her captured husband and if she hadn’t gotten the help of that friend. But I want to be honest with readers, and don’t forget the story that María Sánchez told me – that Luzia had tried but failed to abort Paco. Fortunately, I don’t hae the same feelings about women’s right to abortion as about the funestas consequences of a dictatorship, whatever its ideology. Ah! There’s also an intent, because it strikes me as so poetic, to point out the fact that the military quarters where Paco’s father was held will soon become the seat of the Paco de Lucía Conservatory of Music, a fact that hasn’t been recognized by anyone.

Q: Paco and Camarón – how much is true, how much is false in everything that’s been said about this situation?

A: Hombre, I’d say that both of them are steeped in legend, because they are beyond orthodox laws, and each have their own legend. Frankly, I think that only Paco and Camarón know about that relationship. Now, in my view, I think they were blood brothers who had taken an oath of brotherhood in music and in life. They played and enjoyed themselves together, creating new sounds, jumping onto tablados in Germany and sneaking out of Viennese pastry shops without paying, They were two golfos [wise guys, rascals, street urchins] and they were two geniuses and they were two young men in a changing world, and they were two men who decided to hold firm in their friendship, against winds and tides, against family disputes [discrepancias].I think a series of cantamañanas that were intended to defame him, calling him a ratero[thief -- for allegedly claiming copyrights on material that was not entirely his] at Camaron’s funeral, and embittering the mourning period. But the most immoral thing that all this stuff provoked is that you and I are talking about Paco and Camarón in terms of money and not magic – because that’s what their relationship really generated: magic, and emotional climates and melodies that became part of our lives and that will continue to be part of the lives of others.

Q: Why, how, and why this book?

A: I met Paco in 1980 but didn’t interview him until ’82 for Diario 16 – it filled one of those 90-minute cassettes but when I went to transcribe it I’d only recorded ten minutes (laughs). But beside that, I felt privileged. I realized that that conversation, and others that followed, were fuel for more than an interview and from that came my book “Paco de Lucia, Portrait of a Family With Guitar” that was presented in Madrid in 1994. I had the good fortune of being presented by [the eminent flamenco authority] Felix Grande, and Paco and [his wife] Casilda Varela on a very special day, Paco’s birthday. From that book my journalistic relationship with Paco gathered steam – he, always very shy and introverted, was taking me into his confidence and granting me many more interviews. In 2003, my book “Paco de Lucía en Vivo’ came out, adding new elements to the situation; and the fact is, I had hoped to close this circle with another book in another twenty years or so, but Paco’s death precipitated everything. I could have just revised that earlier book but I was tempted to try something different, to use a more narrative form, because the life of Paco is the script for a biopic.

Q: That’s when the Americans picked up the story and there was already a film…

A: Several, and some TV series as well. I remember that María Sánchez, Paco’s sister, once told me: “I’ve seen a TV series about the Jackson Five, and I’m thinking, “Wouldn’t a series on the Sánchez family be better than this?”

Q: Will the reader who knows a lot about this find some surprises?

A: I think Paco to a large extent tried to hide himself, and in this book, fortunately, I don’t pretend to tell the whole truth because there are mysterious corners that should be left as they are. This book is an approximation of Paco that isn’t beyond good and bad, done by a writer who sees reality from one corner of the story, with a certain promise, with some beliefs and particular tastes. There are probably episodes that won’t be to everyone’s tastes , but I hope that it would have pleased Paco, though I’ll never know because neither he nor I believed in the afterlife. But Paco was always on my mind and the only emotional respite during the year of mourning was to write this book – and the grief is still with me.

Q: The book has a lot of hemeroteca [material from archives] – how did you confront so much paper?

A: There’s life beyond Google, For example, I had in my hands two jewels, two interviews from the mid-seventies and two very young newspaperwomen, each by his side: Marjuja Torres and Rosa Montero. Reading how these two emerging writers saw Paco was a lot of fun; and so was reading the marvelous chronicles by Angel Casas in “Fotogramas”.

Q: What did you admire most about Paco?

A: His sense if humor. When he filled theaters and was applauded to the skies, he’d walk offstage and say to his compadre Victoriano, “Well, we fooled them again.” That kind of guasa [wising around] was a trademark of his – it came from his mother who loved off-color jokes and the songs of [the pop singer and guitar strummer] Manolo Escobar. I liked something he told me once: He got into a taxi and the driver said, “It is an honor to have you in my taxi, because for me you are the best guitarist there is – after Manolo Escobar and his brother.”

Q: Do you think there were too few authorities at his funeral?

A: His death hit like a bucket of icewater, but among those present were the Prime Ministers of guitar playing, of flamenco song, and of music; the Governing Council of sentimentality and sensibility and art – those were the authorities that Paco preferred. In any case, what should be commemorated is the day of his birth, the good news.

Q: I don’t want to end this interview without asking about the Portuguesa – “who came from the Atlantic coast region but had the character of a Mediterranean mama.”

A: Luzia was a survivor and was the happy note in the drama, Paco and his brothers respected the severity of their father Antonio, but it was their mother quien se regocijaban [who gave them joy].

End of interview. The original can be found at:

http://www.diariodesevilla.es/article/ocio/1997778/no/me/quito/paco/la/cabeza.html

Interviewer’s comment: I don’t want to take credit for leading flamenco in general or Paco de Lucía toward the realm of jazz, because a) I never would’ve dreamed it could happen and b) I never really liked the idea, and kind of wondered who was to blame.

But in Juan José Tellez’s superb 2003 book “Paco de Lucia En Vivo”, when he finally leaves the early years of still-familiar flamenco and considers its later evolution, I was embarrassed to find the following passage:

“The first academic researcher ["estudioso"] to analyze the similarities in the cultural derivation of flamenco and jazz, and between the Gypsies of Spain and the blacks in America, was Brook Zern in 1973, who said: ‘It seems obvious that flamenco’s deep song styles owe their existence to the Gypsies, just as the blues were the creation of America’s southern blacks. Both of these alien and dark-skinned peoples constructed a new music of their own, though of course they employed in the task the musical ideas that they found in their adoptive country.’ A parallelism that, in Zern’s judgment, extended even to the commercial adulteration of both of these musical conceptions.”

Well, maybe more delighted than embarrassed, but it did seem strange somehow.

Shortly after Paco’s death last year, I was fortunate to play a role in initiating the effort to have a postage stamp issued honoring his life and his genius. It was the first time I had pulled rank by citing the fact that King Juan Carlos I had knighted me for furthering the understanding of Spanish culture outside of the mother country. The process of issuing a stamp, which normally takes years, was completed within just two months of his death. (Who says it takes forever to get anything done at the Post Office?)

Brook Zern

April 2, 2015   No Comments

Flamenco Authority Juan Vergillos on Flamenco Singer Pepe Marchena, translated with comments by Brook Zern

Translator’s Note: Juan Vergillos is an admirable flamenco authority, and I’ve learned a lot from his writing and critiques. His articles, found at VaivenesFlamencos.com, are a rich resource.

He recently wrote about a massive collection of all the recordings by the famous Pepe Marchena, perhaps the most successful singer in flamenco history. It’s titled “Niño de Marchena: Obra Completa en 78 rpm”, and contains 17 CD’s and a book with text by the noted expert Manuel Martín Martín. [Note: It seems that the only recording Marchena made that wasn’t on 78’s was his impressive 4-LP set “Memorias Antológicas del Flamenco”.]

Although Pepe Marchena recorded many versions of flamenco’s most serious and venerable songs, most of his work centered on lighter styles. His approach to singing gave rise to a category, called cante bonito or “pretty song”.

Juan Vergillos’ piece, titled “Myth and Reality of el Niño de Marchena”, at one point offers a cogent summary of a crucial historical and aesthetic issue. Here’s more or less what he says:

“…El Planeta [a famed early singer of flamenco] once said of El Fillo [another legendary early singer]: “His hoarse voice is crude and no de recibo [?], and in terms of style it is neither fino [fine, elegant] nor is it from la tierra [probably meaning “not representative of how the song is properly rendered in these parts”].

Since the 1940’s or 50’s, flamencology his been built upon the idea that primitive flamenco is crudo [crude, raw], austere, essential [stripped-down, close to the bone], radical and virile. The reality, now accessible thanks to the wax cylinders recorded at the end of the 1800’s, is that flamenco of that era – that is, in its origins – is the flamenco of El Planeta [a refined vocal art]; Planeta, who certainly never sang the siguiriyas [the paradigm of deep and tragic flamenco], and of Silverio Franconetti and Antonio Chacón [also known for their clear, nearly operatic vocal styles.]. It was a flamenco atenorado [of the tenors]. In the bel canto style, fino [fine, with finesse], lyrical, full of vocal resources. And in this sense, Pepe Marchena, with others like Manuel Vallejo and Juanito Valderrama is the legitimate heir of antepasados [the true earlier tradition].

That is not to say that the flamenco of the post-Civil War era [starting in the forties, increasingly focused on rough, funky, hoarse and “primitive” vocal approaches] isn’t a marvelous invention which we can’t do without. Flamenco, as a romantic art, has has created [“encumbered”] a mythical past, an invented past and most of the present-day genealogies are no more real than the fabled, invented Ossian of McPherson.

The idea of another flamenco, crude and rough and raw and oculto [hidden from the view of outsiders] is not now a question of faith, but something that doesn’t conform to the aesthetic reality of the period. The idea reflects contemporary values that, to justify themselves, we situate in an idealized and irreal [unreal] past. Raw flamenco is irreal but that is not to say it is false. It has to do with our essence as human beings, not with our Nineteenth Century past. It has more to do with contemporary history, with the Civil Wars and World Wars of the Twentieth Century, than with our remote past.

In this sense Pepe Marchena [with his beautiful voice and finesse] is, as I’ve said, a legitimate heir of an art that, from its origins, is a mixture of elements – Gypsy, [Latin] Americans, Blacks, Asians, French, Italians and [yes] even Spaniards and Andalusians. Perhaps Marchena didn’t know this in an intellectual way, but he made it part of his living art, in his ability to join local and alien traditions in the chrysalis of his privileged throat.

Translator’s note: Well, there you have it. In the sixties, I was told that the most crucial element in flamenco was the cante jondo or deep song; that its three key forms, the martinetes, siguiriyas and soleares were essentially created by Spain’s Gypsies within the closed environment of their families over multiple generations, and that it was likely sung in the non-pretty voices of Gypsies, mostly men, in a rough way that reflected the anguish of three centuries of persecution within Spain.

This quaint notion has been entirely displaced in the last two or three decades. Now the idea of a closed or “hermetic” period of development has allegedly been disproved by the same evidence that once allegedly proved it – namely, that there is no documentary evidence that it ever happened. (Of course, if there were documentary evidence, the era wouldn’t have been closed or hermetic – remember, Gypsies weren’t big documentarians or enterprising reporters, since they couldn’t write and probably didn’t fit well into the newsroom environment. In fact, they were as distrusted and as suspect then as they are in most of Europe today — fortunately, the situation in Spain is better than in other countries.)

Today, the role of the Gypsy in flamenco is no longer seen as crucial. Admiration for Gypsy artists is often seen as the result of a mystical romantic notion that casts these outcasts as central actors rather than as bit players in the big story of flamenco, which in fact consists of dozens and dozens of forms, most of which owe little or nothing to its Gypsy population.

As for the original or “true” flamenco voices, I found it easier to believe that the typical Gypsy singers of that early era did not have bel canto voices. I have been in far too many Andalusian bars and dives amid rumbling Gypsy men to think that pretty voices were the default aesthetic. I can guarantee that they were the exception – though it’s quite possible that those few singers who had that rare quality were the most apt to sing for public audiences, and to be recorded. (As for the fancy diction that many of the cante bonito singers use – well, it’s easy to understand, but I’d rather struggle with the quasi-Spanish dialect that marks deep-south people, and especially the Gypsies of the region. To me, it’s worth it.)

So who ya gonna believe – me, or the diligent researchers and musical experts who are dictating the new rules? Well, it seems that not all great Gypsy singers fit my personal notion of how they “should” sound, and I’ll reluctantly admit than when I first heard a recording of the great Gypsy singer Tomás Pavón, I thought he was his sister, the great Pastora Pavón, “La Niña de los Peines”. For that matter, Manuel Torre, the greatest Gypsy singer of all time, didn’t sound funky and raspy enough to fit my preconceived notion the way Agujetas does, for example. (For that matter, the fabulous Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues Singer, also failed my “Match My Preconceptions or Else” test – his voice was too clear, not like the ragged but right Bukka White’s or Lonnie Johnson’s.)

Yes, I bring a lot of romantic baggage to flamenco, including a predilection for what García Lorca called the “sonidos negros” or “black sounds”. Sometimes it leads me into some silly-sounding stances. But I recognize my limitations and my biases – unlike the venerable opposition, that is determined to ban the word “Gypsy” from all flamenco discussion, and brooks no opposition to what they pick and choose as their own Holy Writ. (One of the new favorite singers is Juan Valderrama, son of the extraordinary Juanito Valderrama who was only overshadowed in cante bonito by Pepe Marchena himself. Juan’s latest recording is called “sonidos blancos” — as in “say it loud, I’m white and I’m proud…”)

By the way, it ain’t just us Gypsyphiles who have reservations about Pepe Marchena’s art. In the mid-sixties, our neighbor in Seville was a retired movie star and admired singer of Spanish cuplé [charming popular songs] named Antoñita Colomé, non-Gypsy but born in the Gypsy barrio of Triana where a plaque marks her birthplace and praises her fine artistry. I asked her about Marchena, whom she had worked with on many occasions, and she launched into a devastating parody of his style, violently wiggling her throat with her hand to perfectly mimic Marchena’s trademark exaggerated vibrato.

And in a 1962 interview elsewhere in this blog, the cranky and chauvinistic non-Gypsy genius Aurelio Sellés opined, “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 — giving opinions!”

Welcome to the minefield.

Brook Zern

March 6, 2015   2 Comments

A truly historic 6-CD recording plus DVD finally reveals the art of the guitar genius Manolo de Huelva (plus film of dancers La Argentinita and Pilar López)

Manolo de Huelva may have been the greatest flamenco guitarist of all time.

Okay, okay — we all know that title belongs to Paco de Lucía for perfecting the pre-existing virtuoso tradition around 1970 with stunning imagination and unprecedented technique, and then reconceiving the guitar concert with a jazzier ensemble sound for a broader audience. And the runner-up would be Ramón Montoya, the giant who around 1900 turned an inchoate mixture of styles and ideas into a coherent art form worthy of the name. And third place would go to Sabicas, for being the greatest flamenco virtuoso for a half-century before Paco dethroned him.  And if none of those perfectionists were the best exponents of raw power and funky punch — by one measure the central challenge of great flamenco guitar — the title would default to Melchor de Marchena, the preferred accompanist for the greatest singers in flamenco’s recorded history, or to Juan Habichuela who around 1970 took over Melchor’s role as the best backup man.  Or to the endlessly inventive Niño Ricardo, the main influence on Paco de Lucía and most other flamenco players in Spain.

Manolo de Huelva?  Well, he was determined to become the most revered flamenco player in Spain — and that’s what he did.  Between 1920 and 1975, if you mentioned his name in Spain, you would get no response.  Unless you happened to be talking to the artists at the absolute pinnacle of the tradition, the people who knew more than anyone else.  They had heard him, and that was all it took.  They spoke of him with awe, and of his playing as a thing apart and above.

Others just didn’t know, and that was how Manolo de Huelva wanted it.  He was determined to conceal his art from others, particularly other guitarists, and he did this with stunning success.  Only on rare occasions did he give other players a glimpse of his majestic accompaniment and musical creativity.

In 1963, after an astounding night of flamenco in the legendary Zambra (or was it the Villa Rosa?) in Madrid, I was generously invited to go see Manolo accompany some of that venue’s great singers, including Pepe de la Matrona.  As I was getting into one of the taxis, a guy asked to look at my hands.  He noticed my right-hand nails were longer than my left, and said I wasn’t allowed to join the group.  I started to argue, and said — not in jest — that I’d bite the long nails off.  He looked at my left hand fingertips, saw the tell-tale calluses that only come from serious practicing, and told me to scram.  He said that Manolo often inspected strangers’ hands, and might refuse to play at all if he suspected a guitarist was in or outside the roadside Venta Manzanilla where he reigned supreme.  I was just a kid, and couldn’t have retained thirty seconds of his music if he’d wanted me to, but I was still frozen out.

Ever since, I have been dreaming and scheming, hoping to hear Manolo playing at his best — as did my friend Don Pohren, the leading foreign authority on flamenco, who realized that he would never hear anyone better.  (Don also shared my admiration for the guitarist Diego del Gastor, who unlike Manolo refused to make any commercial recordings but generously allowed us devotees to make hundreds of hours of tape recordings of his solos and accompaniment.)

Manolo made a batch of 78′s before 1950, accompanying some noted singers, but it was clear that he was concealing his real art.  In the mid-seventies, I went to the Seville home of Virginia de Zayas, an American woman whose Spanish husband, Marius, had recorded the Ramón Montoya’s historic Paris sessions around 1937.  Manolo lived in her house, and she agreed to write about the man and his art for Guitar Review, the elegant New York publication of which I was the Flamenco Editor.  (You can find those three long articles in this blog by searching for “Zayas”.)  She also told me that she would arrange for me to meet Manolo the next time I was in Spain, and possibly be allowed to transcribe some of his variations or falsetas — in any event, Manolo died before that could happen.  (A double LP was later issued by de Zayas, one with Ramón’s old material and the other with some confusing snippets of Manolo de Huelva’s playing that failed to do justice to his art.)

This blog also contains a Guitar Review interview with Andrés Segovia, who — contrary to prevailing opinion — had enormous respect for what he called “true flamenco”, citing the art’s greatest female singer, La Niña de los Peines, and its greatest male singer (okay, male Gypsy singer), Manuel Torre, and heaping high praise on just one guitarist — yes, Manolo de Huelva.

Years ago, I gave up hope of ever hearing the man at his best, or learning his crucial music beyond the few fragments that were allegedly from his hand.

Earlier today, I got an email from my friend Estela Zatania, author and critic for deflamenco.com, relaying news from the noted French authority Pierre LeFranc that the important Spanish label Pasarela had published a massive 6-CD set-plus-DVD titled “Manolo de Huelva acompaña…”

And the singers he backs are formidable.  The great surprise is a batch of stuff by Aurelio de Cádiz, whose first recordings with Ramón Montoya date back to the twenties or thereabouts.  (I inherited some of those 78′s from my father, who also taught me my first flamenco licks.)   These “new” songs are a priceless addition to Aurelio’s sparsely-documented art — he always promised to make a worthy anthology but never did.  (A translation of a long interview of Aurelio appears in this blog — search for the author’s name Climent.) Other singers include Luís Caballero, an elegant singer who worked as a bellhop in the Hotel Alfonso XIII, which recently reclaimed its stature as the city’s best.  La Pompi, an important early singer and sister of the great Niño Gloria, is heard, as is the still-admired but otherwise unrecorded Rafael Pareja; finally, there’s the very significant Pepe de la Matrona with his immense knowledge — an early inspiration for Enrique Morente who as a very young artist appeared along with Pepe at La Zambra.

As for the DVD, it finally brings to light a film I’d seen long, long ago at the Museum of Modern Art and have been trying to find ever since. It shows Manolo de Huelva — or rather, it shows glimpses of his hands as he remains in shadow — as he accompanies the legendary dancers La Argentinita and Pilar López. (I actually saw it once again, at the Andalusian Center for Flamenco Documentation — then the CAF, now the CADF — around the corner from my apartment in Jerez. I even managed to sneakily record the soundtrack on my iTunes player (I had a separate mike for it). But now here it is, glorious picture and all — a true treasure for dance historians and all lovers of flamenco dance.

Decades ago, after hearing a theorbo or vihuela concert by de Zayas’s son Rodrigo, I approached him to plead and whimper that he had a duty to reveal Manolo’s music — something I had also done to Pepe Romero, the flamenco and classical guitarist whose family was evidently close to Manolo, also to no apparent avail.

Or so I thought.  Today the often fractious flamenco community is forever indebted (I presume) to Rodrigo de Zayas and that eminent family, which must be the source of those recordings that span a period from about 1940 to the mid-seventies.

Before I list the contents, let me add more backup to the claims about this man. And if a rave from Spain’s greatest classical guitarist isn’t enough, how about a rave from her greatest poet?

In his wonderful 1964 book “Lives and Legends of Flamenco” Don Pohren quoted Federico García Lorca’s appraisal of Manolo in “Obras Completas”:

“The guitar, in the cante jondo, must limit itself to keeping the rhythm and following the singer; the guitar is a base for the voice, and must be strictly subjected to the will of the singer.

“But as the personality of the guitarist is often as strong as that of the cantaor, the guitarist must also sing, and thus falsetas are born (the commentaries of the strings), when sincere of extraordinary beauty, but in many cases false, foolish and full of pretentious prettiness when expressed by one of those virtuosos…

“The falseta is now traditional, and some guitarists, like the magnificent Niño de Huelva, let themselves be swept along by the voice of their surging blood, but without for a moment leaving the pure line or, although they are maximum virtuosos, displaying their virtuosity.”

Thanks, Federico. As for Pohren’s personal opinion — and he had heard Manolo in top form — here’s his opening salvo:

“How does one begin to talk of the wondrous Manolo de Huelva? Perhaps by stating that he has quietly, semi-secretly, reigned as flamenco’s supreme guitarist for half a century? Or by stating that in the eyes of many knowledgeable aficionados and artists he has been the outstanding flamenco guitarist of all times? Truthfully, a separate volume, accompanied by tapes or records demonstrating Manolo’s evolution as a guitarist, which could only be played by Manolo himself, would be perhaps the only way to begin giving Manolo his due. This, I fear, cannot be accomplished; Manolo himself has seen to this by his elaborate, unbending covertness, his lifelong refusal to play anything that he considered to be of true value in the presence of any type of machine, often including the human.”

Pohren continues:

“Manolo especially dislikes playing when other guitarists are present. How many professional guitarists have actually heard Manolo cut loose? Very, very few, but those who have consider the occasion as having been sacred. Andrés Segovia has, and has called Manolo the greatest living flamenco guitarist. Segovia became so inspired, in fact, that he devoted a major part of a thesis to Manolo de Huelva. Melchor de Marchena has, and proclaims Manolo the greatest guitarist he has ever heard, This covers some ground, including Ramón Montoya, Javier Molina, today’s virtuosos and Melchor himself. Many singers and aficionados have, and they unanimously agree that in the accompaniment of the cante, and in the transmission of pure flamenco expression, Manolo is far off by himself.

“Just what makes Manolo’s playing so exceptional? To start with, he has the best thumb and left hand in the business. He is flamenco’s most original a prolific creator. He has a vast knowledge of flamenco in general and the cante in particular, which causes his toque to be unceasingly knowledgeable and flamenco. He is blessed with the same genius and duende that separated Manuel Torre from the pack; as was the case with Torre, when Manolo de Huelva becomes inspired he drives aficionados to near-frenzy, striking the deepest human chords with overwhelmingly direct force.

“As is so rarely the case, Manolo’s playing, when he is truly fired up, is truly spontaneous; he plays from the heart, not the head. His toque is full of surprises, of the unexpected. His manipulations of the compás are fabulous, his lightning starts and stops at once profound and delightful. His is a guitarist (this is important) impossible to anticipate – his genius flows so spontaneously that often not even Manolo knows what is coming next…

“By the time he reached his twenties, his toque was mentioned with awe in the flamenco world. He had everything: a naturally flawless compás that was equaled by no one, a driving, extremely flamenco way of playing, great duende, and the sixth sense that permitted him to anticipate the singers, without which an accompanist is lost. Cantaores began calling Manolo first, before Javier or Ramón or any of the others. Soon Manolo was known as the top man…

“Sabicas once invited him to join in a record of guitar duets. Manolo felt highly insulted, firstly because Sabicas should consider himself in the same class, and secondly that he should be propositioned to play such nonsense as guitar duets, On the other hand, upon asking Manolo whom he liked best of the modern guitar virtuosos, he instantly replied that Sabicas has the best compás in the business (next to his own). This is as far as he would commit himself.

“Technically, Manolo relies on his blindingly fast and accurate thumb and left hand for most of the astounding effects he achieves. His entire right-hand technique is subordinate to his thumb: that is to say, his right hand is held in such a a posture as to give he thumb complete freedom of movement. When he wishes, his picado is unexcelled and his arpeggios are sound, though he uses them sparingly. Little is known of his tremolo, as he holds this flowery technique in great contempt.

“The Gypsies like to believe that flamenco surges exclusively through their veins. It is impossible to explain that environment is what counts (were it not, someone would long ago have begun selling pints of Gypsy blood to payo [non-Gypsy] aspirants.)…Generally speaking, Manolo is above being included in the eternal rivalry. Knowledgeable Gypsies and non-Gypsies alike hold him supreme.”

End of Pohren’s appraisal. And now, without further ado, here’s what you’ll find in this new revelation. And no, I haven’t heard it yet — but I’ve ordered it. I know it may be just another perversely elaborate tease, where this strange man again conceals his true art.

But I prefer to believe that we will hear the real Manolo de Huelva — finally, and at long, long. last.

Note from a few days later: But wait!! I suspected there might be some glitches or problems with this project, but assumed it would be with Manolo’s customary refusal to reveal his best playing. Instead, the first problems are with the attributions of songs to singers. According to the expert Antonio Barberán, there are only a few songs by the great Aurelio (though some are very important). Some stuff attributed to him is by Manuel Centeno, another noted singer, while he may not do any of the many saetas or sevillanas attributed to him. (It had surprised me that Aurelio would record these songs — the sevillanas seems too trivial, and the religious saetas just don’t seem to be his thing.) So ignore those glitches — I’ll fix the notes when the experts have had their say. Here are those problematic attributions, most correct but many just plain wrong:

Note from a few weeks later: But wait!!! I have received my copy and changed the entries below to reflect my notions of who is singing — followed by the original attributions in brackets and quotation marks. Fire fights have broken out on some insider websites such as Puente Genil con el Flamenco, but the dust is settling.

Here is the latest version — a few more attributions might be revised in the future. And again: minor glitches aside, this is a wonderful contribution to the world’s treasury of flamenco, made possible thanks to Sr. de Zayas and the de Zayas family.

CD 1:

Siguiriyas “Mi ropa tengo en venta”
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  4:29

Bulerias “Cuando me daba” (truncada) 0:47
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  4:29

Bulerías “Cuando me daba” (entera) 3:45
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  3:45

Bulerías “A mi me duele”
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  1:52

Bulerías “A mi me sigue”
La Gitanilla con Manolo de Huelva  2:01

Bulerías “Que cosita mas rara”
La Gitanilla con Manolo de Huelva  2:55

Bulerías
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra; La Gitanilla, palmas  1:29

Siguiriyas falseta  0:37
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Malagueñas “Que te quise y que te quiero”  2:12
Manuel Centeno con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Que te pueda perdonar”  2:42
Manuel Centeno con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “A que tanto me consientes”  4:53
Manuel Centeno con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá  3:53
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

La Caña  3:22
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Soleá  3:58
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

CD 2

Malagueñas “Más bien te agradecería” 7”14 [empieza con afinación de guitarra]
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “A veces me ponía”  2:56
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Allí fueron mis quebrantos”  3:28
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Tarantas “Viva Madrid que es la corte”  6:36
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Alegrías “A mí que me importa”  5:32
Luís Caballero [?] con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Hay pérdidas que son ganancias” 7:40
Luís Caballero [?] con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Morena tienes la cara”  8:13
Luís Caballero [?] con Manolo de Huelva

CD 3

Alegrías “Ya te llaman la buena moza”  4:29
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “Llévame pronto su puerta”  3:56
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “En el patrocinio”  1:56
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “La que me lavó el pañuelo”  1:41
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Con paso firme”  1:41
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “Al cielo que es mi morada” (a duo)
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Silencio, pueblo cristiano”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “Ay, sereno!”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Dios te salve, María”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Bien sabe Dios que lo hiciera”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “No vale tanto martirio”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Ni que a la puerta te asomes”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Pare mío esclareció”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Y a visitarte he venío”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Bulerías “A mí no me hables”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “La torrente”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Solea “A Dios le pido clemencia
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Tangos “De cal y canto y arena”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Solea “Las campanas del olvío”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Tangos “Yo te tengo que querer”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Sevillanas “Seré por verte”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Sevillanas “Es tanto lo que te quiero”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Sevillanas “Mi moreno me engañó”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Tanguillos “Yo tengo una bicicleta”
Aurelio de Cádiz [?] con Manolo de Huelva

CD 4

Bulerías “Al campo me voy a vivir”  3:52
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Que no me mande cartas”  9:18
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Que tenga mi cuerpo”  5:43
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Contemplarme a mi mare, que no llore más”  8:12
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá con Polo “Eres el Diablo”  5:36
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Cuando yo esperaba” 3:17
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Porque faltó el cimiento”  3:22
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Que te salvó la vida”  4:05
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá con Polo “Eres el Diablo”  6:18
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Como hiciste tú conmigo”  1:39
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

CD 5

Solea “En feria de Ronda”  12:06
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Que bonita era”  4:55
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Redoblaron”  2:48
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Ventanas a la calle”  8:21
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Tangos “Estabas cuando te vi”  6:58
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Peteneras “Compañera de mi alma”  9:52
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “A la Virgen de Regla”  6:45
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

CD 6

Soleá “La Babilonia” 1:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá Petenera  1:29
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá Apolá  2:16
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Polo Natural  2:22
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Le dijo el tiempo el querer”  1:54
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “A una montaña”  1:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Una rosa que fue mía”  1:34
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

El Polo de Tobalo  2:30
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Solea “No todavía” 1:20
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Los pájaros son clarines”  1:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Toquen a rebato las campanas del olvío”  1:53
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Con mirarte solamente, comprenderás que te quiero”  2:14
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

La Caña  4:14
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Siguiriyas “Mi ropa tengo en venta 2:42
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Macho de la Serrana 3:20
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Bulerías “Cante corto de Jerez” 2:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Siguiriyas “Mi ropa tengo en venta 2:42
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Macho de la Serrana 3:20
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Bulerías “Cante corto de Jerez” 2:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

DVD

Sevillanas – introducción
Argentinita y Pilar López, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Bulerías
Argentinita, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Sevillanas
Argentinita y Pilar López, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Tangos de Cadiz “Dos Tangos de Cadiz”
Argentinita, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

“Canción” [?] “Hermanito de mi corazón” o “Tango del escribano”
“Cádiz, tacita de plata, es un verdadero encanto”
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra [?]

Alegrías – alternando ralentí sincronizado
Argentinita, baile. Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Siguiriyas
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, con palmas y pitos

La Caña “A mí me pueden mandar”
Argentinita, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Here’s the Pasarela url with buying info:

http://tiendadiscograficapasarela.com/shop/article_CMF5-501/MANOLO-DE-HUELVA-ACOMPAÑA.html?pse=apq

Brook Zern

January 5, 2015   5 Comments

Spain’s national news agency on Paco de Lucia’s relationship to New York City

On February 26, 2014, soon after the grievous loss of Paco de Lucía, Spain’s official news agency EFE published an article that ran in La Información and many other Spanish-language publications.  It focused on Paco’s connection to New York City.  I was contacted as a source of information.  Here’s my translation of the piece:

New York, a key city in the transformation of Paco de Lucía

New York, Feb 26 (EFE) – The city of New York, with its chrysalis of cultures and the enormous effervescence of the sixties and seventies, was a key factor in the musical evolution of Paco de Lucía from traditional flamenco to the fusion that revolutionized the art.

From his early years, de Lucía repeatedly visited the city starting in the first half of the sixties, and found himself in the confluence of great Spanish guitar masters, as well as the richness of sounds from that era that influenced his evolution, which also became the evolution of flamenco itself.

The late guitarist arrived in the city of skyscrapers at the age of 16 or 17, with a group of musicians and dancers brought by José Greco, a New York dancer of Italian descent who became a flamenco artist and one of the protagonists of flamenco life in the city since the 1940’s.

Greco had appeared in that decade with some great figures like Carmen Amaya, Pilar López and La Argentinita, and for many years brought musicians and promising groups to accompany him in his appearances, among them the dancer El Farruco,

In his second trip to New York with Greco, Paco de Lucía remained extremely promising and he was presented to Agustín Castellón “Sabicas”, a Gypsy guitarist from Pamplona who lived in New York and was considered the world’s greatest flamenco guitarist, according to Brook Zern, the music critic, flamenco expert and former flamenco editor of Guitar Review.

“After Paco played for him, Sabicas realized that he had seen the future,” recalls Zern, and Sabicas told him that he could not keep on playing the way he did, imitating masters like Niño Ricardo.  Instead, he had to find his own path.  “Create your own flamenco”, Sabicas insisted, according to the critic.

In addition to Sabicas, other Spanish guitar masters like Carlos Montoya and Mario Escudero had settled in New York in the 1940’s and 50’s as flamenco guitar soloists, a form of interpretation that had not found acceptance but in New York was becoming increasingly successful.

“In the U.S. we were ready for it – not for the singers, but for the guitarists, much more than in Spain,” recalls Zern.

Paco de Lucía discovered that format, but he also took advantage of his trips to New York to absorb all the musical styles that were permeating the city, from jazz and bossa nova to rock and salsa.

New York was “a bubbling melange of cultural ideas”, where Paco “soaked up  the cultural mix” that is the city.  “He realized, to the dismay of the purists, that the future was in fusion,” Zern adds.

In his New York experience, Paco de Lucia “discovered that flamenco’s musical vision was too narrow,” and, for example, lamented that he could not appear accompanied by a flutist or a bassist, in the manner of a jazz ensemble – a vision that would later become reality, Zern says.

Today, a flamenco guitarist can be like the leader of a jazz group.

For example, in 1970 or 1971 – Zern isn’t sure of the precise year – Paco de Lucía appeared in New York’s Spanish Institute, and in the audience was Andy Warhol (accompanied by his courtiers from The Factory), who at the end met with the young flamenco genius – an encounter that evidently left no photographic record since the pictures Zern took did not come out.

The result of this cocktail was that Paco de Lucía “reinvented flamenco in several distinct phases or periods, until he had almost created a new art”, says the critic.  To such a point that Sabicas once told him that when he had given his advice to Paco, he had never dreamed that the young man would take flamenco so far, Zern recalls.

Paco de Lucía expressed this evolution in his famous collaboration of 1980 with two non-flamenco guitarists, the Englishman John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola, from New Jersey.

If the late guitarist fed off of New York musically, the city returned the favor in the form of affection and applause and filled concert venues like the legendary Carnegie Hall, as well as critical raves for his performances.

“The New York public adored him,” and even followed him to restaurants after his shows just to watch him eat, says Zern, for whom the loss of Paco de Lucía was “utterly devastating,” especially since he was “at the pinnacle of his career, despite the fact that he was no longer young.”

(Agencia EFE)

End of article.  One example of the original story is seen at: http://noticias.lainformacion.com/arte-cultura-y-espectaculos/musica/nueva-york-una-ciudad-clave-en-la-transformacion-de-paco-de-lucia_WxsG0XhkGfnuw2dUwVX6S6/

 

December 29, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Singer José Mercé Speaks – Article from Diario de Jerez by Fran Pereira – translated by Brook Zern

This article from today’s Diario de Jerez is by the admirable Fran Pereira, a Jerez flamenco expert whom I consider a friend.  My own observations follow:

José Mercé, cantaor:  “I’ve never known an era as bad as this one; today the artist has to present himself on his own”

He has just released “Forty Years of Flamenco Song”, a collection tracing his trajectory.  His next project is to record an anthology “that I don’t want to come from any big multinational label”

by Fran Pereira

His words reveal a certain disillusionment about something he has been defending for many years.  In his day he was criticized for deviating from orthodoxy in flamenco, but it was this path, around 1998, that enabled him – as he himself acknowledges – to break with everything and become known as one of the most significant artists of our country.  He has just released a selection of his recordings, this time to retrace his extensive trajectory as a singer and also serve as an appetizer for what will be coming soon, a new record and an anthology for which he asks for support from those institutions that in his view “give more importance to other musical forms than to flamenco.”

Q:  “Forty Years of Flamenco Song” – what is the hidden message behind that title?

A:  A lot, because in fact I’ve been at this for a lot more than forty years.  I recorded my first record for when I was thirteen and with [the flamenco expert] Manuel Ríos Ruíz, but none of that material is included.  It was long ago, and it had a little of everything, from the first recording in the seventies to the latest.  There’s a little of everything, though not all that I would have liked.

Q:  Is it the anthology you’ve always talked about?

A:  No, it’s a collection that the record company wanted to release in time for Christmas, so people could give it as a gift.  They made the selection, and there are some classic numbers and other done after 1998, when I recorded “Del Amanacer” and my career took off [dio un vuelco].  Three CD’s that show the evolution.  But the anthology is another thing entirely.

Q:  Explain that…

A:  Yes.  I am recording the anthology on my own, using my own recipe, and I don’t want it to come from a multinational.  Since I’m doing it myself, I can do it little by little without anyone’s help; I pay for the studio and everything else.   It’s painful that for all our efforts to defend the purity and orthodoxy of flamenco, which is our culture, more importance is given to every other kind of music, whether it’s rock or pop, than to our own flamenco.  With every passing day I’m more confused about why flamenco was declared an Intangible Patrimony of Humanity [by UNESCO], because at the moment of truth our art is abandoned and rejected.

Q:  Returning to the new disc, the only new number is a song you do with [the brilliant guitarist and sometime fusion advocate] Pepe Habichuela.  Any reason for that?

A:  No, it’s a villancico or Christmas carol that’s done by the Gypsies of Madrid; the music is like a jota [a non-flamenco musical style].

Q:  If you look back at those more than forty years dedicated to flamenco, are you satisfied?

A:  Yes, I’m very content with what I’ve done.  Moreover, the hard part – and I’ll return to this topic – is to maintain oneself and I think I’ve known how to do that.  In any case, I still have a lot to do, like the anthology I’ve mentioned and new projects we’re working on that will come out next October and in the spring of 2016.

Q:  A look at your appearances shows you are one of the privileged artists, and you never stop working.  In all of your long career, have you ever seen a time as bad for culture as this one?

A:  Truthfully, no.  Some years ago there was a decline, but it was minimal; this period is the worst I’ve seen.  It’s incomprehensible that the tax on tickets to cultural events has gone up to 21% — the result has been to kill culture, and a nation without culture is a nation without an identity.  Today nobody presents (expone) anything – the artist has to do it all himself and that’s complicated, at least for those who are just starting out; those of us who’ve been around still have to fight, but the younger artists face a complex challenge.

Q:  Some years ago you said you wanted to record with the greatest guitarists.  We will see that happen someday?

A:  Yes.  In fact, in the anthology I mentioned I want to record with the best of them.  Of course, Morao [Moraíto] and Paco de Lucía have left us, though I’ll include at least some recordings with Morao.

Q:  And is there a concrete date when this anthology may see the light?

A:  Right now, there isn’t .  I haven’t designated a time, and keep working on it when I can.  The sad thing is that the institutions don’t offer the help that the project needs – no one has done it since [the great singer] Antonio Mairena.  That’s what hurts me most.  Not even in my own turf, always known as the cradle of flamenco song, has anyone proposed anything to me along these lines, though always, wherever I’ve been in the world, I have carried the flag for Jerez.

Q:  Today, as we enter 2015, making a recording is not the same, right?

A:  Of course not.  The recording industry has changed a lot.  Today anybody can make a record but then hay que plasmarlo en el directo [you have to do it live].  That’s where you find the true artists, because in the recording process, with today’s technologies, you can do anything.

Q:  From your vantage point, how do you view flamenco’s situation in your home territory?

A:  Look, since the barrios [presumably the Gypsy barrios] disappeared, unfortunately no one has appeared.  We need people who break [rompa], who can wound [hiera], with those ecos [flamenco power and resonance] that flamenco always had, but that is now sleeping.  I believe that since the decade of the fifties, no one has come along who can do this.

Q:  And what’s the problem?

A:  Maybe it’s the ozone layer (laughs).  But seriously, pues que se empieza antes por el tejado que por la base [people begin with the roof instead of the foundation].  You have to begin from a firm foundation, lay the cement, and then [only then] let everyone do whatever they want.

Q: Do you think it’s gone forever?

A:  I hope not.  I hope that there will be a return to flamenco’s root, its origins, and that we will reclaim our rightful place.

Q:  Well, at least your team keeps making fans happy.

A:  Yes, Real Madrid is the only thing that functions in this country.

Q:  Looking at your scheduled appearances and projects, you can’t complain…

A:  No, fortunately I can’t.  I can’t ask more because I have a lot of work, and I’m ending the year with a lot of jaleo [noisy celebration].

End of story — the original is at: http://www.diariodejerez.es/article/jerez/1929404/no/he/conocido/una/epoca/tan/mala/como/esta/ahora/solo/expone/artista.html

Translator’s note:  José Mercé seems to consider himself the last of the truly great flamenco singers – he says that no others have arisen since the 1950’s. when he came along.

He’s right.  At least, that’s one way of expressing my awed admiration for this man’s flamenco singing. Of course, there are dozens of excellent singers of serious flamenco who are younger than he is.  But for me – and apparently for him – the ocean between mere excellence and sheer, magical flamenco magnificence is virtually unbridgeable, and he is alone on the latter shore.

He will be remembered in the same breath as Manuel Agujetas (alive and possibly well, but inevitably past his absolutely fabulous prime), and the vanished El Chocolate, Terremoto, Fernanda de Utrera, and Manolo Caracol as well as the geniuses of prior generations.

In most  Mercé interviews I read (and often translate here), he has a different agenda.  In those, he comes out with both barrels blazing to attack people who, like me but well-known and influential, crankily lament the rise of vaguely flamenco-ish pop fusion.

That kind of music has made Mercé a megastar by Spanish musical standards, and especially by straight flamenco’s feeble-selling  standards.   It’s what he’s referring to when he mentions Del Amanacer, the album that made him a hot seller by including pop-fusion material.

At a New York press conference a decade ago, he insisted that people pay attention to the second half of a next-night concert where he stopped singing glorious flamenco to Moraito’s great guitar and launched into songs like “Mammy Blue” with a bad back-up group.

(To me, that title alone indicates the fundamental misunderstanding of good rock/pop that so often afflicts Spanish artists who wannabe “rockeros” – yet another word that, like the original Spanish term “música ye-ye” somehow reveals their tin-eared miscomprehension of good rock.)

Now he wonders why a multinational won’t give him the money to record the great anthology he envisions.  Well, maybe it’s because he was an important part of a corporate movement to wean people away from real flamenco and into a not-very-good realm of semi-pop.  It led to a guy called Pitingo – a gifted flamenco singer – doing an album called Blueserías that featured his earnest attempt to tackle Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly”.  And to hundreds of other best-selling sellouts, of course.

Of course, I’m thrilled that flamenco’s greatest singer has committed himself to record an anthology of the art’s greatest songs.  I understand his resolve and his need to leave a definitive record of his brilliant voice and the enormous knowledge that comes from the nearly incomparable musical heritage of his family, his grandfather and great-grandfather.

But since he’s not in it for the money, and since these days anyone can make a good recording, I wistfully wonder why he doesn’t just book sixty hours of studio time starting next week, call in the guitarists who would all be honored to join him, and just lay down seventy or eighty tracks of  his many great styles of the siguiriyas, soleares, bulerias, tonás-martinetes, plus any of the other sixty flamenco forms that fit his temperament.

It won’t sell, of course, so just put it up online, as the perfect complement to the many, many superb Mercé recordings we already have.  The perfect gift to flamenco and to posterity.

Thank you in advance, maestro.

Your devoted admirer,

Brook Zern

 

December 28, 2014   No 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

Hasta Siempre, Maestro – Paco de Lucía Speaks – Interview in Telva by his daughter Casilda Sánchez Varela – Translated by Brook Zern

Paco de Lucía, the best guitarist of all time, left us this morning.  We honor his memory by reprinting his most personal interview, the one which in the summer of 2010 was conducted by his eldest daughter Casilda Sánchez Varela, a staff member of Telva magazine, when they shared an unforgettable day at his home in Mallorca:

[Casilda writes:]  When I go out to have lunch with him, the people at the next table call him ‘maestro’.  I sit at a bar in Atenas, and soon there’s his music.  I turn on the TV news and there he is, receiving the Principe de Asturias prize or making history as the first Spaniard to receive an Honorary Degree from Berklee, the world’s most important music school.  Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the father with the leather sandals, who revived my hamster by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation using a Bic pen, or taking the bones out of my fish so I wouldn’t choke…”

With those lovely words, Casilda Sánchez Varela began her most personal interview in Telva.  She sat down facing her father, Paco de Lucía, the genius of the flamenco guitar.  She said, “I’m taking advantage of this meeting in your Mallorca refuge to take off your genius suit and bring up some memories.”

Almost four years later, we awoke to the news of Paco de Lucía’s death.  Still reeling from the shock, we have turned again to that interview to pay homage to the artist and the father.

Paco de Lucía chats with his daughter Casilda (Telva, #856)

“Have you seen how well they’ve taken root?” he says, indicating the two locust trees that he transplanted last year and between whose trunks the city of Palma de Mallorca hangs like a hammock bathed in light.  A bit further away, there are lemon trees, moorish cobblestones, fifty-foot high palm trees and a red stone balustrade.   It’s not noon yet; in the kitchen a chicken is boiling, and while the photographer finishes turning the terrace into a Sicilian bodega, we’re offered bread and olive oil, his usual breakfast.  “Try it, it’s very good oil, the make it with olives from the Casa de Campos” – his first address in Mallorca – “You want to take home a carafe?”  He has a very dark tan – from Berklee he went to the French Antilles, escaping the toxic clouds – and relaxed, with his anxieties under control.  “The Berklee degree was a special dream – it’s not an easy thing, to be recognized by the gringos…”

Q:  How did you celebrate?

A:  I went to eat at the house of Berklee’s Vice President, a man of seventy with incredible energy and intelligence.  We spent hours and hours drinking vodka and talking about music.  He was afraid that the tools that they give you could end up killing the music, by smothering its identity.  It’s something I’ve always thought about, but I was impressed that he, coming from the other side of music, had those same doubts.

Q:  Your first-ever voyage was to the U.S.  You were just 12 years old, and were third guitarist in José Greco’s dance company.  What scenes do you remember from that trip?

A:  Because I was alone, I was frightened by the connection I had to make in New York to go on to Chicago, but on the plane I befriended an American couple and spent the whole trip playing guitar for them.  Because they liked it so much, they took me through the exit door and there was my brother Pepe with Mr. Nonenbacher, Greco’s manager, an old drunk with a mafioso’s aspect who never stopped wiping the sweat from his face, even on the street with six feet of snow blowing around.  The best part of the trip was that afternoon in the hotel when I found fifty dollars in a phone book – half of my weekly salary!

Q:  You’ve always told me that over there you cured yourself of your sense of the ridiculous.

A:  America is a country without complexes.  I came from an Andalucía where everyone is involved with everyone else. With neighbors.  When I walked by, the fishermen would say “Look how chubby he is, the son of the Portuguese woman.”  But as soon as I got over there, I saw fat people walking happily down the street with their white shoulders showing and no one was laughing at them, and that liberated me.  It was as if I’d spent a season in the López Ibor [?].”

Q:  But you got tripped up sometimes by their customs, like the time when they all whistled at you after a performance…

A:  That was in Los Angeles, on the second tour.  We had to appear in an open-air theater before seven or eight thousand people, a lot of them actors.  Soon, Greco said he wanted me, the second guitarist, to play a solo.  I went out shaking, and when I finished, everybody stood up and whistled at me.  In Spain, that means “Get outta here, beat it!”  I ran offstage, but Greco pushed me back on and said, “Get back there, man, the whistling means they loved it!”

Q:  What did you miss about home during those first tours?

A:  My mother’s custard – I loved that more than anything in the world.  But most of all, I missed her; I miss her still today.

[Casilda writes:]  At the beginning of the fifties, Algeciras was the nucleus for all of Andalucía’s flamenco artists.  The contraband going through Gibraltar meant there was a lot of money, and there were more flamenco fiestas there than anywhere else in the region.  My grandfather [Paco's father] Antonio, who made his living playing at night, came home in the morning with some of the guitarists and singers and they’d have a fiesta on the patio.

The young Paco, who saw it all from the clean slate that is childhood, filled his memory with those rhythms.  Before he ever touched a guitar, he already knew all those complex rhythms.  And he, who couldn’t remember the name of Uruguay’s ex-president when trying to thank him from the stage, remembers clearly the smell of the lady of the night on that patio, and the voice of a singer he heard while in bed who sent chills up his spine.

Q:  Do you remember the first time you played the guitar.

A:  I must’ve been about seven.  My grandfather was trying to show a falseta (a melodic riff) to my uncle Antonio, who was very whiney.  He was desperate, scratching his head and said, “But my fingers hurt!”  Then I, after having watched it for a while and never having played the guitar, said, “But it’s so easy.”  My father handed me the guitar, and I played it.  From then on, he started teaching me.

Q:  In those days, what was the most a guitarist could hope for?

A:  To be part of a traveling variety show with ballet dancers, jugglers, comedians…  The better alternative was to become an accompanist to a singer who would let me do an occasional guitar solo.

[Casilda writes:]  A few years ago, we were together in a fishing town in Belize and wanted to go to an island called Chinchorro to scuba dive.  A kid took us on a boat and on his T-shirt it said “Paco de Lucía & Sextet” – his former group.  He told my father that Paco was his idol, that he had a cassette and listened to it constantly.  He never knew that his idol was right there in front of him.  What I’m trying to say is that only when you live with him can you understand how long his shadow is, and how he has managed to fulfill the dreams of his childhood.  And even so, he still closes himself up in his studio ten hours a day with his guitar and his ghosts; why?

“Sometimes, there’s a moment onstage when everything comes out effortlessly, naturally, with a kind of control that seems heaven-sent, if there’s a heaven.  Nothing in the world compares to that moment.”

[Casilda writes:]  The afternoon continues in silence.  The click of his lighter and the hum of my recorder mark the rhythm of the scene.  Listening to him speak, I look for new directions to explore…

Q:  Do you believe in geniuses [“genios”]?

A:  Only the kind of genies [“genios”] that come out of magic lamps (he laughs).  I believe more in genialidad, brilliance, and a lot of people have that.  You can have that when you tell an anecdote:  by the rhythm, by the tone because you can have an ingenio – a kind of ingenuity or wit — that is extraordinary.

Q:  Where are the limits?

A:  In harmony, which is like the composer’s toolbox.  I would have been much greater as a musician if I’d had those tools; although on the other hand, I wonder if having them might have taken away the originality.  Like it or not, I’ve had to invent my own patrons; that has taken a lot of effort but the result is that I sound like myself and no one else.

Q:  Today there are other guitarists with your same technical ability, and even more understanding of harmony; nonetheless, they can’t fill a theater.  What is it that they lack?

A:  The guitar has always been an instrument for minorities; to reach a large audience you have to offer something more than just playing well, because if you don’t do that, only the hard-core aficionados will put up with a whole guitar concert.  Part of my success is precisely because every time I go onstgage I think, What will I do so they don’t get bored?  My speed and my technique are emotional. Born from insecurity, from the feat that people will fall asleep or get up and leave.  That gives me a kind of energy that has made me who I am.

Q:  Vamos – even here, the paying public calls the shots…

A:  No, and you have to be careful with that.  I’ve spent so many hours before the public that I know perfectly well what buttons to push to get what reactions, to make people stand and cheer or even cry.  But I have to be faithful to myself, to what I find truly pleasing; although sometimes. I do shoot off some fireworks.

Q:  Who’s the musician you most enjoyed sharing a stage with?

A:  Chick Corea and Camarón – Paco hesitates a few seconds and corrects himself – no, the other way around:  With Camarón and Chick Corea.

Q:  What’s with your obsession about flamenco singing?

A:  It’s because the voice is the purest form of expression.  An instrument never stops being a translator, an intermediary through which you put everything you want to express.

Q:  Is Camarón’s place still vacant?

A:  Today people sing very well, but everything sounds like him.  The Gypsy mimics everything – customs, laws, ways of life – and they have imitated Camarón to such an extent that I can mistake them for him.  For that reason they don’t move me, because they don’t surprise me.  The first time I heard Camarón, he sounded different from everyone I’d ever heard before.  For me, I’ve always tried to play by imitating the voice; I was a sort of Mesías.

[Casilda writes:]  There are many things people don’t know about Paco de Lucía: that he never misses a Real Madrid soccer game; that when he was young he would console himself by reading Ortega y Gasset and realizing that someone who was officially recognized as intelligent had his same doubts; that sometimes he’ll improvise some salsa dance steps in the kitchen; that he’s been using the same kimono for more than 20 years; that he has a reflective intelligence that gets him what he wants without his noticing; that he likes full-bodied women – when he tells me I’m very pretty, I go on a diet; that during his summers in the Caribbean he has made some very charming films with his friends, La Banda del Tío Pringue; and that what he loves to do most of all is to laugh despite the image of a taciturn hermit that he gives off.

[Paco says:]  “It’s true that every time I read one of my interviews I seem bitter.  It makes me mad!  But I do complain a lot: about the guitar, about what I suffer.  It must be something inevitable in me because, you see, even now I’m complaining about the fact that I complain a lot.

Q:  Does that make things easier, alleviate things?

A:  Yes, I need to vomit out that anguish and anxiety; it’s a form of therapy.  The guitar demands that I live with awareness of limits, and one can’t evolve by being happy, or looking for diversions – at least, I can’t.  Because of that, and I hope people will forgive me, because of that hypersensitive state I can be in.

Q:  How much vanity is there in creation?

A:  Well, art exists before there’s a public for it; the cave paintings of Altamira, for ezample.   Its origin is the need to express something, not vanity.  For that reason, a person who truly loves making music has already triumphed, even with just a camastro and a sandwich to eat.

Q:  Speaking of creators, who is the one who interests you most lately?

A:  Fernando Trueba.  He was having dinner here recently and he seemed intelligent, humble, articulate, an impressive person.

Q:  And who would you most like to have spent time with?

A:  García Lorca, who interests me as a personage; with de Falla, whose music can take away my sadness anytime; with García Márquez, who strikes me as a genius; and with Oscar Wilde, who really appeals to me, especially with that aphorism of his:  “There is nothing greater than art, and nothing more mediocre than artists.”

Q:  No politician at the table?

A:  I don’t like them or, more accurately, I don’t like their profession.  The true vocation of service no longer exists – now it’s just a vocation of power; the engranaje [inner workings, cogwheels] of capitalism has overshadowed its ideals.

[Casilda writes:]  Someone said that in the Franco era Paco was beaten after saying on television, in a word game about hands and the guitar, that the left hand creates and the right hand executes.

Q:  Can solitude become the perfect state?

A:  For me, it always was.  Although  I need to have my people nearby, my ideal state is to be alone; it’s what I’ve been accustomed to since childhood.  I believe that when what you do is so interesting and pleases you so much, the rest becomes secondary.

Q:  Even love?

A:  Man is gregarious by nature, he needs others, and that’s a fact.  But I believe more in brotherly love [amor filial] than romantic love, which is less pure.  When all is said and done, the other person is always less important to you than you are.

Q:  Day by day, what things move you most?

A:  More than human relations, art.  A phrase in a book or an interpretation that says something in a subtle way.  That’s what brings me closest to tears, which for me are the maximum expression of emotion.

Q:  And giving yourself to a buen pargo beneath the sea?

A:  I don’t buceo now.  I’m afraid of being alone at sea.

[Casilda writes:]  Through the window I again see the locust trees and recall the story of the one that was transplanted, and the reason.   Some years ago he asked me, “You know how too tell whether you’re already old?  It’s when you don’t want to plant a tree because you won’t be around to see it grow.”  He didn’t say it with angst, or with fear, but with resignation.  “Death isn’t seen the same from my age as from yours.  Now I just assume it is there.  [“Yo ya lo tengo asumida.”]

Q:  Do you think there is something beyond that?

A:  I’ve always thought not, that everything ends here.  But something happened to me as a kid that makes me wonder.  One night, when I was about five or six, I dreamed that my godfather, who was a smuggler, had been killed on the road by the Guardia Civil.  I told it to my mother, and a week later he died exactly as in my dream.  I don’t know.  It’s one of those things that you can’t explain.

Q:  Whether or not there’s an afterlife, don’t you feel a bit immortal knowing that people will still be talking about you 200 years from now?

A:  Que va!  Are you kidding?  By then, they will all have discovered that I was just bluffing.

End of interview by Paco’s daughter Casilda in Telva.  The original is at:

http://www.telva.com/2014/02/26/estilo_de_vida/1393407559.html

 

April 26, 2014   No Comments

Paco de Lucía Speaks – 1994 El País Interview by Sol Alameda – translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  Ordinary artists give ordinary interviews.  In the case of Paco de Lucía, an interview could become a deep dive into the soul and psyche of towering and revolutionary figure.  Read this astonishing document and, even with the losses inherent in translation, you will know more about Paco de Lucía than all but a few of his countrymen.  (There are many other Paco interviews in this blog, each one a revelation.)

At the end is the accompanying “sidebar” that attempted to situate Paco in the art he revolutionized.  Here’s the story:

Civilized Duende

[Recent Introduction]:  He can’t read music, but that’s okay.  He’s the world’s best flamenco guitarist.  An unquestioned myth.  A legitimate inheritor of two cultures, the paya [non-Gypsy] and the Gypsy, he knows how to extract the best essences of each without betraying either.  His latest recording, Live in America, from his shows in the US, is an new homage to the eternal duende of an ancestral art of which the genius of Paco de Lucía has taken out of the ghetto.

In his living room, in the new Madrid development of Mirasierra, there’s a big chair facing a TV set with a cover on the back.  That’s where Paco de Lucía sits when he returns exhausted from a three-month tour.  In that position he spends hours and hours staring at the television. It’s when, finally, he asks himself, “Why am I watching this garbage?” that he’s back in shape.  Then the laziness disappears and is replaced by a man who can work tirelessly.  In this duality, going from one extreme to the other, from savage to civilized, embracing his responsibility to his music or fleeing from it, lives Paco de Lucía (Francisco Sánchez. Algeciras, Cádiz, 1947), the world’s best flamenco guitarist.

Q:  “You admit to being the most neurotic person in the world.  That simplifies things – at least you know it.”

A:  Well, the consumption of art is dangerous.  A successful musician is obliged to make a record each year, and one just doesn’t have that capacity.  Especially if he’s also the composer of the works.  It’s different for a singer who wants to make a new record; they send him forty composers with many more songs to choose from, and then an arranger to make the arrangements.  But for the creator, each record is a birth, and the demand doesn’t allow enough time to feel and to live enough to renew himself and make a new work.  Yes, I’m neurotic, like everyone who spends many hours alone.  Composing is neurotic, and appearing live onstage, extroverted and communicative, is a cure for that.  But those who only live by composing, well, it’s scary to talk to them.  They look at you with the face of a crazy man.

Q:  You, in your exalted position, must be pretty sure about what you’re doing – or maybe not?

A:  That knowledge opens things up, but sometimes it’s preferable not to have any such awareness, and just to count on emotion, to be a savage.  A savage is much braver and more intrepid than an intellectual, more daring, and so there is the possibility of finding madness.

Q:  And when you work, is it more savage or more intellectual?

A:  I’ve lived my whole life abusing, you could say, my savage aspect, using it.  Using sensibility and intuition, but there comes a moment when you miss the thought process, the ratiocination.  Academic knowledge, for example: having gone to school to learn harmony and music theory.  There you get a batch of resources that, using only intuition, can make things pretty heavy and boring.  Because it makes you always be sensible, hyper-rational, to be able to do something, to compose.  And if you have formal knowledge, well, it’s easier.

Q:  Have you always regretted greater preparation, or is that just recently?

A:  It’s always been that way, but even more so with the passage of time; because with age you have less energy, less stimulus, less desire to close yourself up somewhere for eight hours to discover a melody.  In those moments you miss being able to manipulate the music, without having to work hard to find things that have already been discovered.

Q:  Are you still unable to read music?

A:  When I’ve had to learn the music of de Falla or Albéniz, or Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, I thought of working with another musician, but I wasn’t comfortable with that.  I soon saw that I had a printed method about reading music  and thought that maybe I could decipher written music.  And I did it, though it took forever to drag up a phrase or a chord.

Q:  Haven’t you ever decided to learn to read music once and for all?

A:  I’ve started many times, but my life is very irregular.  When I’m freed up for months, with all the time in the world, I want to get organized, to master this discipline.  But I’m soon off on tour again, and the craziness resumes.  My good intentions are shipwrecked.  Then I muster good intentions again, and that’s how my life goes.

Q:  Maybe at bottom you want to continue with your own particular way of getting what you want.

A:  Yes.  But it’s also indolence, laziness.  More than vague, I am incredulous, I don’t much believe in things and I’m afraid of being pretentions, of knowing a great deal.  I tell myself, “And what more is there?!?”  I’ve always lived this way, and so far it hasn’t done me any harm.

Q:  You were disciplined as a child, studying guitar for hours without regret.

A:  Yes, when I was starting out, from the age of 8 to maybe 12 or 15.  I was born into a family with economic problems.  My father was badly treated, having to find money for food each day, and as a little kid I had the idea that I must learn quickly to help out at home.

Q:  Is that the only real effort you’ve made?

A:  Yes, but I wasn’t sorry about it.  My father asked me, “How much time have you studied?” and when I said 10 or 12 hours I could see his happiness, and that was my reward.  And in fact, by the age of 12 I was earning money.

Q:  Was that when you went to the U.S., bringing your frying pans?

A:  I bought them over there, but travelled with them.  For me, going to the U.S. was as exciting as going to the moon.  I made $100 a week, and if I’d had to buy meals in restaurants I wouldn’t have had any money left.  And so my brother and I went from hotel to hotel with our post and frying pans.  And all the hotels threw us out because the smell inundated the whole building and the walls were covered with stewed tomato stains.  But all the members of the troupe cooked in our rooms.  I was very happy then.  Instead of going to school, I was traveling and making money at the age of 12.  At that age nobody suffers; one suffers when one starts growing old.

Q:  Did you read books at that time?

A:  Yes. From the time I was 17 I read a lot.  Now I don’t read at all, I’m so full of things that when I return home I just sit down and try to get my thoughts in order.  It seems to me that reading is like trying to live someone else’s life, and what I want to do is mull over my own concerns.

Q:  When you started reading, what kind of books were they?

A:  Books on philosophy, until I realized I was becoming very serious.  I come from a place where there’s a real sense of humor, and I soon saw that I’d been flying; when they told me something absurd, which today I’d find quite charming, I’d say, “But that’s not logical.”  I tried to reason everything out, and I began to become boring.  So I left the philosophy behind; this business of seeking truth is a vain pretention. The clearer you try to make things, the more complex they become.

Q:  Have you arrived at a definition of flamenco?

A:  That…Beside being a very rich music, with emotion, it is a philosophy, a way of life, a scale of values, something different.

Q:  Are you in agreement with those rules?

A:  There are things in flamenco that serve a purpose; respect for the elders, for example, strikes me as very positive; today’s society casts old people into elephant graveyards.  In our culture, in that culture, the old person is the patriarch until the end.  There are other norms that one lives by quite naturally, without realizing it.

Q:  Do you live according to those laws more than the laws of the [non-Gypsies]?

A:  With a mixture of both.

Q:  Does that create conflicts?

A:  At certain times and in certain situations I haven’t known which road to follow – that of the coherent logic of an evolving society, or that of a traditional society, marked by incoherence but very attractive and poetic.  What I’ve done is to extract the positive aspects from each culture and try to apply them.

Q:  Did a moment arrive when the flamenco culture seemed to be suffocating, and you wanted to get away from it?

A:  Yes, I left; definitely, I left.  I lived the flamenco life and world intensely, and then I decided to place myself in the world of the payos because it seemed to have interesting things.  That’s when I want to play with other musicians, American and English; I needed fresh air, I’d been living in a vicious circle; the same topics, the same values, the same gracias [attractive, charming aspects].  And the new flamenco people emerged, and they were like their fathers and their grandfathers, everyone equal.  I began to feel suffocated, and I left to seek another type of music.

Q:  It was an evolution, you never broke with that other world.

A:  I never claimed it was a revolution, but an evolution.  That’s what gave me the identity I have, and that identity is what gives you force or power as an artist.

Q:  When you went to the U.S. and began to play with John McLaughlin and Larry Coryell, how did you feel?

A:  Like a primitive.  For the flamenco people I was an evolved being; for the Americans I was a savage.  This was disconcerting, unnerving.  I knew that I didn’t know how to improvise, and they did.  I told them, “I’m going crazy.  How do you do that?”  And they laughed like mad, as if to say, don’t sweat it, don’t worry.  And they didn’t tell me anything.  I guess they saw something in me that I couldn’t see, and they thought it was beautiful to see me suffering onstage.  But for me the effort to avoid ridicule was just terrible.  I went out trembling, fearful, with terrible pain in my shoulders.  It was pure improvisation, in the jazz style, and I had never played that way.  I was at the point of throwing in the towel and going back home.  But something told me to get something positive out of this.  And that’s what happened.  I found a different way of playing.  I discovered the attractiveness of improvisation – something every musician should do, including classical musicians.

Q:  And now, is it easier to improvise?

A:  Now, at least my head doesn’t hurt.  If you suddenly happen to have one of those magical days onstage and you pull out an improvisation that even you can’t believe, and at the same time you have absolute certainty that you won’t lose the harmony and that you are in possession of the truth, that day will stay with you forever.  Now you’re always waiting for it to come again.  And it does, but only now and then.  Although when you’ve discovered it,  you’ll never stop seeking it.

Q:  At that moment, indolence didn’t drag you down.

A:  No.  I had an English manager and we got the idea of making a trio with three different guitarists: one classical, one jazz, and me.  But the classical player didn’t want to do it, because he couldn’t improvise, and so we sought out Larry Coryell.  And we went out onstage.  When I see it clearly, I threw myself into it without thinking twice.  It was tough to decide, but there was no one to stop me.  It’s my way of life: launch into nothing or the abyss, and let’s see if it flies.  And until today, I’m still airborne.  You have to take risks in life, but if you’re afraid of looking ridiculous it will stop you.  You only learn by making mistakes.

Q:  Your immersion in jazz – was that a risk?

A:  Jazz people are tolerant.  The ones who are sealed off and intolerant are the classical people.  If you aren’t classical and if you weren’t born into that environment, they automatically reject you.  I doesn’t matter how you play – they don’t stop to listen; they reject you right off the bat.

Q:  Is flamenco still disdained, disrespected?

A:  All my life.  Even as a kid I’ve had an inferiority complex fed by the classical people.  And that’s not just a feeling, something invented.  They made me feel it.  I thought I had come up with a way to play the Concierto de Aranjuez: from a flamenco perspective, and playing it the way I felt it.  Almost all the classical guitarists liked it.  But one day I saw in ABC an interview with the classical player Narciso Yepes who made me feel like a child molester.  He said horrible things:  How could I play in this shameful way?  He didn’t give reasons why he didn’t like it.  And what happened when I was little – I felt that same bad feeling.

Q:  You are indisputably a major artist; no one denies that; it must make you feel secure.

A:  Don’t believe that.  I know what I am.  Everything they give me beyond that is extra; what they may take away, I’ll lose.  I try to be a good professional, I’m on the raod, I try to arrive at a place where I like something I’m doing.

Q:  To be a sort of Pope, as you are for so many people – how does that sit with you?

A:  Sometimes I’ve done things I regret, and yet there are people who follow that path.  Knowing that there are people who look to lme gives me a responsibility.  But on the other hand, if I’ve had success in life it has been for that – for having  respected my tradition and my culture as I pass through here, that pleases me.

Q:  Are you sometimes afraid that good flamenco will disappear?

A:  No.  You could cut out the Gypsies’ tongues, but they would keep singing even then.

Q:  You are not a Gypsy.

A:  No, but I grew up with them, I know them well.  These people have deep roots in their culture.  I think flamenco is Andalusian, but the Gypsy, when he arrived in our country 500 years ago, integrated himself into flamenco and gave it his personality, his way of expressing the music; he evolved it, he perfected it.  The Gypsy always looks for an excuse for having a fiesta, a party, a jam session: it could be a wedding, a baptism, a birthday – any reason is good enough to spend three days singing.

Q:  In that culture, what do you like besides the music?

A:  Well, I like a lot of the Gypsy things.  Their capacity for happiness, there way of looking at life, every day, without  pretender to enrich themselves.

Q:  And their inability [incapacidad] to evolve?

A:  They are afraid of evolution… [rest of sentence omitted, a typographical glitch].  But there are young Gypsies who are more open.  They’ve been afraid of losing their past.  But a race must protect its culture, its customs; it must e careful not to become contaminated.

Q:  It’s curious that it is you, a non-Gypsy, who has evolved flamenco.

A:  Maybe I have less sense of tradition.  I’ve lived with them, but at the same time, I have the head of a non-Gypsy, without that force of tradition, of immobility.  It was easier for me; I have more of a sense of freedom.  Although I’ve lived with them, and wasn’t really aware that I was not a Gypsy until I’d reached a certain age.

Q:  To know you weren’t Gypsy – did that make you do things in another way?

A;  I began to look at the culture of other people, of other musicians.  I was basically a flamenco, I’ll always be a flamenco and I always want to be one; but I discovered that there was other music.  My father told me that anything that wasn’t flamenco was stupid [tonterías], it wasn’t music.  He had marginalized himself to such an extent that hew was ashamed to listen to a jazz player or a classical musician.  They said you were a flake, if they didn’t just think you were crazy.  But I discovered that there was also music beyond flamenco.  I was 20 years old at the time.

Q:  You functioned as a creole, someone who belongs to two cultures and who finally brings forth something new.

A:  I was born in flamenco territory; my father is a guitarist, my brother, my house was full of flamenco, of fiestas.  Maybe what happened is that I was born in a time of change.  The Gypsies were no longer closed off, living apart – and that was also true of the Andalusians, and of Spaniards in general.

Q:  You lived for a long time among Gypsies, but you didn’t marry a woman of that raza [literally: race; also ethnicity].

A:  The Gypsy women are very pretty. I’ve always respected their culture, in which marrying a payo isn’t looked on very well.  You don’t normally ligar [hook up] with a Gypsy woman, you marry her.  To hook up to get into bed [ligar para acostarse] is ugly.  I never tried anything with a Gypsy woman.

Q:  Is love an inspiration for your music?

A:  Yes, especially when I was an adolescent.  It was an incredible stimulus.  I fell in love with my wife [Casilda Varela] and never fell in love again.  You see a woman across a room and you like her, and all that, but…

Q:  Do you make a decision, or does it just happen?

A:  A bit of both.  Unconsciously, you make a decision; you have a family and some kids.  How are you going to play at love then?  The most you can hope for is echar una canita al aire.

Q:  Your wife is an aristocrat [daughter of a Fascist general, who may have been an aristocrat even before Franco’s victory.]  How was the adjustment process between two people from such different worlds?

A:  There are always different value scales, but she is intelligent.  She isn’t what they taught her to be, and I’m not what my education made me.  We try to be coherent.  [They separated not long after this interview, and Paco started a new family.]

Q:  Have you gotten over the depression caused by the death of Camarón?

A:  The pain will remain with me.  He was the most important singer in the history of flamenco.  I take consolation in knowing that he left some recordings that are a cátedra [a seat of higher learning].  From the moment I discovered him [desde que lo descubrí], I realized that he was ahead of the best.  To be precise, I knew it the second day I saw him.  We were at a fiesta, all night long and the next morning and until four or five in the afternoon.  That day I knew that Camarón was the best artist ever born into flamenco.  It was an inspiration for me.  I was making a living giving concerts, but I always had to come back and make another recording with him.  Now I’m bereft, without that record that we made together every year and a half or every two years, and that gave me such pleasure.  We finished our last recording [Potro de Rabia y Miel] two months before he died.  He was physically in bad shape, but we didn’t know what was wrong.  The next week, when he couldn’t go on, he went to Barcelona and discovered the disease [lung cancer].   I could see he looked bad, but he lived so fully, I thought it was a consecuencia de lo mal que se estaba tratando [a result of the bad way he was treating himself – an apparent reference to Camarón’s drug abuse].

Q:  Did you discuss this with him?

A:  For years it was an everyday subject of conversation.  He always me daba la razón [said I was right]  and said “I’m not going to do it any more.”  I insisted, although I knew it didn’t do any good.  He respected me a lot and always lo hacía detrás mío [did it behind my back,] so I wouldn’t see; it made him a bit ashamed.

Q:  Why do you think he chose to live like that?

A:  Exactly, it was a lesson.  And I justified everything he did because he was such a great artist; someone who’s not an artist can’t understand this.  At times you get apathetic, you don’t want to do anything, and soon you have to stimulate yourself to get a special sensibility.  I think that was his motive, and that in some way it dignified the matter.  I want to say that I justify what Camarón did because he did it for a noble reason – it wasn’t pure vice.  He did it to close himself up within himself, to hear music and to sing.  He has been a victim of his own sensibilidad [sensibility/sensitivity], or of his profession.  He was humilde [humble/simple], he never spoke ill of anyone, he had afición [passion for his art], he lived for his art alone.  And for me, that justifies a lot of things.

Q:  And you, what are you afraid of?

A:  Of old age, of being 80 and needing someone to wipe my ass; of something happening to my kids; of my wife dying.  And also, I’m afraid of people’s lack of sensibility.

Q:  What do you mean by that?

A:  People only thing of their own comfort.  I think a man should be just, fair, honest, and I believe in equal opportunity, so people can live better all the time.  But on the other hand, as I see it, having nothing is a stimulus to action; if you don’t have money, you fight harder.  I remember that when I was playing to help my father, I had more fuerza – more force, more power – than I do now.  What gives sense to a life is to have to go out every day to hunt for food.  That justifies a human being, and makes each day different.  Civilized life makes a man become weak and live discontented and depressed.

Q:  Are you telling us your own experience?

A:  Exactly.  It’s not necessary to be poor to do something valid in art.  I think man must progress, but perhaps civilization no es todo lo buena que creemos [isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be].

Q:  From your Gypsy part, do you have some superstitions?

A:  I have no superstitions, except one – a flamenco form that makes me afraid even to speak its name: the peteneras.  I’ve had bad experiences with it.  For example, I was in Chile, in a doctor’s house listing to a flamenco record and my brother Pepe [the noted singer] said, “Turn it off, turn it off!”  And as it began, the earth began to shake:  It was an earthquake.  And another instance: the dancer who had come with me had never danced the peteneras, and didn’t ever want to.  But one day they insisted on it, and although he fought the idea, the pressure was so strong that he had to dance it.  And just then the phone rang: his father had died.  There are many cases like these, many people have had things like this happen.  I told you the name only because you have to write this; otherwise, I never say the word, because just the word makes me afraid.  But that’s the case with all the flamencos.  All of them respect this,  I believe it all began about sixty years ago, when a dancer called Maripaz died while dancing that dance.

End of interview

Here’s the accompanying sidebar:

The Contemporary Tradition
by Nacho Sáenz de Tejada

The flamenco guitar is an art of emotion.  From its origin in the world of black sounds and fundamentals, with the base strings as the basis of playing, to the extraordinary moment it is living today with such prodigious technique and unbridled imagination, it has traveled a long road, paved with shivers and chills.

From past players whose style still seems near and familiar – Sabicas, Niño Ricardo, Diego el del Gastor, Perico el del Lunar, Melchor de Marchena, the Habichuelas – to the excellent artists of today – Gerardo Núñez, Rafaael Riqueni, Vicente Amigo, Raimundo Amador, Tomatito, Agustín Carbonell… — the evolution of flamenco guitar runs through one name:  Paco de Lucía.

The man from Algeciras has not only popularized the flamenco guitar, situating it “Between Two Seas” [Entre Dos Aguas — the title of Paco del Lucía’s breakthrough hit instrumental], linking it to new realms.

His musical intuition has been so rich that we can call it a revolution.  He destroyed the closed schematics of different forms without losing sight of its jondura or depth, situating the guitar at a crossroads with a thousand possibilities and revolutionized its harmonic possibilities.  With his innate ability and his great sense of rhythm and timing, he transformed the elemental technique into a fine and precise array of picados, arpeggios, rasgueados and tremolos, revolutionizing the way it was played.

With his restless spirit, he brought in classical music (de Falla, Joaquin Rodrigo…_) and in fusing it with jazz (Johm McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Al DiMeola…) he revolutionizes the borders that had confined flamenco.  With his inspiration, he didn’t really revolutionize anything:  He maintained the ancestral duende that links the purest tradition with a contemporary aliento.

End of sidebar.

Translator’s note:  This is the first Paco interview I’ve done since he died on March 25th.  It feels very different.  But somehow it seems that his words and his specific observations and attitudes are more important than ever.  The poignancy is palpable.

When I was writing an obituary for Paco de Lucía the day after his death, I fell back on the Spanish phrase “propio sello”.  It refers to the fact that a great artist will always have his or her “own stamp”, a way of imprinting their work with their own unique personal sensibility.

It then occurred to me that Paco de Lucía should have exactly that – literally.  I contacted my Jerez-based friend, the flamenco critic and author Estela Zatania, we drafted a proposal, and lo and behold, it was promptly approved.  On April 23rd, 2014, Spain will issue a postage stamp honoring flamenco’s greatest musician.  (Who says it takes forever to get anything done at the post office.) 

Further ruminations:  I play flamenco guitar a lot, and have for more than fifty years.  I’ve hardly ever played in public, since most people get bored pretty quick.  I’d like to think it’s the music’s fault, but maybe I contribute to the overall effect.  I don’t exactly play for fun, since it is so difficult and frustrating; but somehow it is rewarding beyond measure. I know lots of music by the great past guitarists mentioned in the sidebar, and I’ve studied with most of them.  I also play a lot of Paco de Lucía’s early music, from his first half-dozen albums. 

(Yes, it’s even harder to play than those other artists’ stuff, but it’s the pinnacle of flamenco guitar as a solo instrument, before Paco subsumed the guitar into a group situation by surrounding himself with other musicians as in his beloved jazz tradition.  At that point, I could no longer really understand, much less try to mimic, his genius.) 

For me, It’s always an honor to run Paco’s early ideas and compositional genius through my vastly lesser mind and fingers – I hope even a feeble imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery.

I always hope to find something that he and I had in common.  For obvious reasons, there ain’t much.  But it was interesting to see that Paco, a rational man virtually free of superstitions, has one.  And like him, I never play the accursed flamenco style called the peteneras, at least not since 1960 when I learned that it was too dangerous to mess with.  I don’t even listen to it. 

Hey, you can’t be too careful.

Brook Zern  brookzern@gmail.com

April 11, 2014   4 Comments