Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Song Forms: La Caña

Everything You Didn’t Want to Know About El Planeta, The First Great Singer in Flamenco History – by Manuel Bohórquez – Translated with comments by Brook Zern

Translator’s Note:  Don’t even try to read this.  Admit that you didn’t even know that you didn’t want to know about El Planeta, because you probably never heard of him.  I just thought this should be translated and hung up on the internet for all eternity, or until I forget to pay the bill for my hosting service.

It’s a monument to the divine addiction that flamenco becomes for some aficionados.  A superb writer, author, researcher and flamenco critic, Manuel Bohórquez, subsumed himself into a daunting quest to determine once and for all the identity and the life details of the singer called El Planeta.  El Planeta, along with a singer known as Tío Luís el de la Juliana, was perhaps the earliest noted figure in flamenco song.

And at that dawn of flamenco time, being a singer didn’t mean changing a note of a siguiriyas or a soleares or a caña.  It meant inventing new and distinctive ways to sing those recently crafted forms, or even creating crucial new forms out of whole cloth, or bitter experience.

How hard was that?  Put it this way:  It’s fair to say that no important flamenco forms have been invented in the past century – not even in recent decades when every innovative artist would give his eye teeth to go down in history as the progenitor of such a monumental creation.

This article is a labor of love devoted to history’s first noted – even “high-profile” for his epoch – flamenco singer, and an homage to flamenco itself.  It is remarkable not because people care, but precisely because hardly anyone cares.

I came to flamenco thinking of El Planeta as a ghost in the fog of time, an unreal being, existing only in passed-down stories.  (The impression was only reinforced by hearing his eerie signature siguiriyas as recorded by Pepe Torre, son of the immortal Gypsy genius Manuel Torre – it seems to come from beyond the grave.)

Imagine my consternation when one of my flamenco friends who takes a less romantic view of the art called me one day.  “Hey,” he said, “guess what I just found in a crumbling newspaper in the Madrid archives.”

“I give up,” I said.

“It’s an ad,” he said, “an ad for a throat gargling product.  It’s an endorsement by a singer, who says he uses it twice a day to keep his voice in great shape.”

I didn’t like where this was going.

“And guess who the product endorser is,” he said gleefully.

“I give up,” I said.

“Well, who is the earliest great flamenco singer, so mysterious his real name is unknown, a guy you assume sang in dank cellars for three initiates after finishing his day job as a galley slave or being a condemned prisoner – the guy who wrote that kvetchy verse asking the moon to free his father from prison, which you imagine him singing outside the jail hoping his father might hear him before being executed…”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “We seem to have a bad connection.”

I hung up.

Here’s the full-on dose of reality-check:

In Search of the Lost “Planeta”

Article from the blog of the noted flamenco expert Manuel Bohórquez [the url is below -- and it also includes more than a hundred comments from dozens of other obviously obsessive-compulsive Spanish flamenco nuts].

The legendary singer and guitarist called El Planeta is considered to be the first great maestro of cante andaluz [Andalusian song, in this case flamenco song], but until now we have only known him by his artistic nickname.  The costumbrista writer [focusing on ethnic and folkloric customs] Serafín Estébanez Calderón (1799-1867) made him known in his celebrated account “Un baile en Triana” (published in El Heraldo in 1842), but gave no biographical information.  Antonio Machado y Álvarez “Demófilo”, in his book “Colección de Cantes Flamencos” (1881) said El Planeta came from Cádiz without providing enough useful data to try to learn more from parish records and crumbling municipal records.  Without knowing his first and last names it was practically impossible to determine where he came from, when he was born, whether he had married and had children, and above all, where and when this historic artist had died.  In an article from a Madrid publication, La Iberia, from May, 1856, about a book by a barber from Seville named Joselito Pantoja, it was reported that he was from Malaga  and that he had composed for Señor Pantoja “a caña and a soleá” [two important flamenco forms].  The words? The music?  It’s quite revealing that El Planeta in that time period should already have had this recognition as a creator.  In another article, this one by the Malaga writer and politician José Carlos de Luna, in the newspaper ABC of April 27, 1962, el Planeta was also identified as being from Malaga and it was claimed that he had paid for the Silver Key of Flamenco Song  [“llave de plata del cante”], given to Tomás “El Nitri” in Malaga’s Café Sin Techo [Open Air Café].  Finally, Rafael Benítez Caballero, author of the work titled “El Barquero de Cantillana” – edited in 1894 – referred to him also as “el Tío Antonio “El Planeta”:  “I passed by a store of montañesas where there was a juelga [usually “juerga” – a flamenco gathering that is comparable to a “jam session”], and among others, I heard Tío Antonio El Planeta sing, and it couldn’t have been better or more charged with feeling [que no cabía más de bien y de sentimiento.]

How could we discover his personal data without knowing his [apellidos – his father’s name and mother’s name]?  There was only one way: by analyzing the birth information of [the great flamenco singer] Manolo Caracol, his great-great grandson, despite the fact that wise and well-informed investigators have always doubted that this genius from Seville’s Lumbreras Street was in fact the great-great grandson of the man called “the King of the Polos” [another important flamenco song form].  The task was not easy, but at some point it would be necessary to embark on the impassioned and burdensome venture of localizing the first documented, influential singer of cante jondo [deep song, the most serious and demanding branch of flamenco song].  If we sought information about the maternal great-great grandfather of Manolo Caracol and found that he was named Antonio and that he was from Cádiz, it was clear that we would be arriving at a good place [buen puerto], and this is indeed what happened.  In the birth records of Manuel Ortega Juárez, Manolo Caracol, I found the names of his grandparents, both from Malaga as would be expected: Gregorio Juárez Monge and Francisca Soto Ramírez.  Localizing them was complicated, but after an arduous investigation in the census or registry [padrón] of Malaga the hoped-for miracle came to pass, and there appeared the records a presumed grandfather of El Planeta, the above-mentioned Gregorio Juárez Monge.

[copy of document captioned “Birth certificate of Gregorio Juárez Monge, grandson of El Planeta and grandfather of Manolo Caracol, Malaga, October 6, 1854,]

On discovering his birth certificate in Malaga I confirmed beyond a doubt that his maternal grandfather was named Antonio and that he was from Cádiz.  We already knew that El Planeta was named Antonio Monge.  The next step was to find details about the mother of Gregorio Juárez, who turned out to be named Dolores Monge Bara – that is, a daughter of El Planeta whom I discovered to have married José Juárez García, 32, of Malaga, in the Parish of San Juan de Malaga  Since they lived on 1 San Juan Street in Malaga, the records from 1852 gave me the second apellido of El Planeta, which was Rivero, and the name and the two apellidos of his wife, María Bara Gallardo, also from Cádiz.  Demófilo was right when he stated the the mythic singer was from the 3000-year-old city of Cádiz.  Joselito Pantoja and José Carlos de Luna weren’t far off, because El Planeta soon left the city of Cádiz after marrying and having his last child, Tomás, to move to Malaga around 1836, where he married off some of his descendants and where he died, quite old for that epoch.

Antonio Monge Rivero “El Planeta” was from Cadiz, where he was born about 1789.  He may have been born on Marzal Street – known today as Vea Murguía – in the old Barrio de San Antonio.  The son of Gregorio Monge and Francisca Rivera, also from Cadiz, he married María Bara Gallardo of Cádiz when both were young.  He had at least seven children in Cádiz between 1810 and 1834 – in birth order, Antonia, Tomasa, Francisco, Dolores, María Dolores, María Magdalena and Tomás.  It’s likely that there were more, and that they died.  In fact, in the Census List of Cádiz the names of the first two children do not appear.

It wouldn’t be very absurd to think that El Planeta was the son of Tío Gregorio who was described in a countryside fiesta by the Cádiz writer José Cadalso in his Cartas Marruecas [Moroccan Letters], in the last third of the Eighteenth Century.  Those letters were first published in the Correo de Madrid in February of 1793 and four years later they appeared in a book published by Sancha.  The military man never saw them published because Cadalso, who was born in Cádiz in 1741, died in 1782.  That writer tells us that this Gregorio was a Gypsy butcher from Cádiz who, moreover, was in jail for stabbing someone during the city’s Fair, which might explain the verse of siguiriyas [a key form of cante jondo or deep song], “para que saque a mi pare, que verlo camelo”  [To take out (set free) my father, whom I wish to see.  [Camelar is a verb in caló, the language of Spain’s gypsies; the Spanish verb would be querer.]  Of course, it’s very difficult to prove that Tío Gregorio would be the father of our singer, although that’s quite possibly the case, because at that time there weren’t many butchers with that name, according to the census of Gypsies of the era.  This matter remains pending for a possible biography of  the artist.

As I’ve indicated, Dolores Monge, one of the daughters of El Planeta, married a man from Malaga named José Juárez García on October 31, 1852.  El Planeta lived then at 1 San Juan Street with his wife and two of their childrend.  His daughter Dolores had one daughter, Antonia Juárez Monge, on August 6, 1853, at 19 Santos Street in Malaga, who was baptized in the Parish of San Juan on August 12 of that same year.  In 1854 he had Gregorio, also at Santos Street, who was married in Malaga to Francisca Soto Ramírez of that same city.  One of their daughters, Dolores Juárez Soto, also of Malaga, first married a man from that city who died from a knife wound  in the city, mediating during a street brawl.  The young widow started a laundry and ironing business in Malaga and there she met Manuel Ortega Fernández “Caracol Viejo” [Caracol the Elder]; with him she gave birth to Manolo Caracol on Lumbreras Street in Seville, on the Alameda [a famed flamenco neighborhood], in July of 1909.  From this we see that Antonio Monge “El Planeta”  was the maternal great grandfather of the Seville singer, as the artist always said, and as he sang to the four winds in this poem of Antonio Murciano of Arcos:

Great-great grandson of El Planeta,

Great grandson de Curro Durse…

Manolo Caracol led me to his great-great grandfather El Planeta, and Planeta, when we followed his descendants in Malaga in an impassioned voyage through time, led us back to the genius from Seville.  It was an investigation that someone had to make someday to clarify something fundamental for the history of flamenco song, although there are those who don’t give any importance to putting flamenco genealogies in order – something that for us is fundamental.

According to the Padrón of Malaga, Antonio El Planeta lived for twenty years in the city of [the great flamenco singer] La Trini, with most of that time spent on the central street of San Juan where the shops were – silversmiths, antique dealers, artisans, printers, etc.  By profession he was a cortador, that is, a butcher or talajero, as they say in Cádiz, surely with his own butcher shop where he employed two of his children, Francisco and Tomás, though the former was also a printer by occupation according to the census of the period.  The artist had to have reached an acceptable economic position, because during some of his years there he had servants, something almost impsosible for a Gypsy family in those times – the mid-Nineteenth Century.  One of those servants was Catalina Liñán of Malaga.

San Juan Street is today one of the most animated in Malaga, ever since it was made a pedestrian way and filled with businesses.  When Planeta lived there with his whole family – wife, children and a few others such as his nephew, the Cadiz singer Lázaro Quitana Monge – it was also an animated street.  In the same house where El Planeta lives was the posada La Corona, where merchants and people of the bohemia of that era lived.  There was also a shop that sold colored glass items for wall-niches, as well as a tavern or two and food stores. It was a centrally-located street, very well situated, near the Alameda and the [principal street] calle Larios, where there were cafés like Don Andrés Ruiz’s Café de la Loba, on the Plaza de la Constitución, one of Malaga’s oldest establishments with the richest flamenco history until it closed on March 31, 1902.

[picture of page:  Padrón [official record] of Malaga of 1852.  El Planeta lived on San Juan Street.  He’s the first listed and appears with two of his children.  It’s interesting [curioso] that he is given the honorific of “don”, something quite extraordinary in that era where a Gypsy was concerned.]

According to my data, the artist must have lived in Malaga in the mid-1830’s, after the birth of his last child, Tomás, in Cadiz on September 8, 1834.  He would have taken advantage of the fact that in those years that city became one of the major exporters of iron [hierro] – the singer was an ironworker [herrero], it seems, as well as a butcher – and the fact that the textile business of the Larios family and of the meat markets offered employment opportunities in Malaga.  That was in addition to the seaport, a source of riches, with significant exports of wine and olive oil.  In 1856 the Bank of Malaga was created, which shows that money was flowing in the city and the entire province, something important in the Cadiz singer’s reaching a solid economic status and deciding not to ever return to Cadiz or to emigrate to other cities of Andalusia.    The fact that he lived for so long at the same domicile, 1 San Juan Street, is significant considering that most families changed residences often to recover the deposit money that was required to rent a home.

[picture:  El Planeta (guitar in hand) with [the singer] El Fillo in the famous Fiesta in Triana as described by Serafín Estébanez Calderón.]

As a consequence, it’s more than likely that our protagonist never lived in Triana [Seville’s Gypsy neighborhood], at least in a fixed residence, but went where his services as a singer were requested, as in the instance of the famous fiesta described by Estébanez Calderón on Castilla de Triana Street, as published for the first time in El Heraldo of December 1, 1842.  Five years later, in 1847, the Malaga writer’s famous book appeared.  El Planeta still lived on the central San Juan Street in Malaga.  A year later, in 1848, the Semanario PIntoresco Español published a lovely story about a dance in San Juan de Aznalfarache [a town near Seville] in which El Planeta was called “The King of the Brave [Bravura] Singers”.  That same year he lived in Malaga, in that same house.  Nonetheless, the fiesta described by Estébanez Calderón took place in 1838, when the Malagan author, who used the pseudonym El Solitario, was the governor of Seville.  It’s possible that El Planeta was living in Triana at that time, though this is not documented.  It’s even hinted that he had a son with a woman from Triana, without any basis.  Surely, since he was a moneyed Gypsy of the time with his own lucrative butcher business, he would have moved around a lot in Andalucía and the rest of the country.  Indeed, his arrival in Madrid was announced with a certain interest when he got there with the flamenco singer María La Borrica, the celebrated sister of El Viejo de la Isla [another legendary early singer].  He must have had a certain renown and prestige as a singer, recognized as the maestro [teacher/master] of artists as important as Francisco Ortega El Fillo and the no less celebrated Lázaro Quintana Monge, whom we find living with him in his house in Malaga in 1850, and who was also a cortador by trade.  In summarized accounts, it can now be stated without fear of contradiction that Antonio Monge Rivero El Planeta was the maternal tatarabuelo [great-great-grandfather] of Manolo Caracol and the bisabuelo [great-grandfather] of Caracol’s mother, Dolores Juárez Soto, although this has been put in doubt many times.

In his first years as an artist, he was known simply as Antonio Monge, or Señor Monge.  The use of El Planeta as his artistic surname, would have come much later, and it seems he got the nickname in Malaga for being an aficionado of the stars, according to the conclusions of some flamencologists, although I have another theory that I’ll reveal at the right time.  In fact, one of the his few verses that have survived until now is among the most primitive and beautiful siguiriyas gitanas [Gypsy siguiriyas] that one can hear today:

A la luna le pío,

la del alto cielo,

Como le pío, le pío,

que me saque a mi pare

de donde está metío.

I ask [or beg] the moon,

She [or it] of the high skies.

How I ask, how I ask

that she takes out [frees] my father

from where he’s been put [jailed?].

This beautiful cante has come to us through Pepe Torre, the brother of [the supreme Gypsy singer] Manuel Torre and the grandfather of the present-day singer José el de la Tomasa, who [Pepe Torre] recorded it in the Antología del Cante Flamenco (Columbia, 1960), through the initiative of the [late, great Gypsy singer] Antonio Mairena, who also recorded it as the sigiruiyas of El Planeta, as did the [late, important Gypsy singer] Rafael Romero “El Gallina”.  Notwithstanding, it’s a siguiriyas that has vanished from the repertoire of today’s singers, becoming a relic of extraordinary beauty and enormous musical rarity.

Despite everything that has been uncovered about Antonio Monge Rivero and his family, and being absolutely sure that this man is in fact [the legendary] El Planeta, it’s a bit unnervering, daba cierto miedo [“it gave a certain fear”] to close this investigation without having found anywhere the irrefutable proof that we are dealing with the historical Cádiz artist.  As far as can be known, his name never appears in any periodical along with the nickname.  Following the trail of his son Francisco in the records of Malaga, once the artist himself had died I found the necessary proof,  His son appeared as Francisco Monge Planeta instead of as Francisco Monge Bara, his actual family name.   Since his father had died, the records from 1859 used the father’s nickname instead of his second apellido [family name], perhaps as an homage to his progenitor or because whoever had the task of filling in the page didn’t know his family name but knew the nickname [el apodo familiar].  Or because he simply confused the apodo with the apellido.  After months of work, I was able to state with certainty that the Antonio Monge Rivero who was so intensely scrutinized in records was the celebrated El Planeta, the great Gypsy singer of Cadiz.  Nonetheless, to assure myself even further, in following the records of all his children I found one of his grandchildren [nietos] in Malaga, Tomás, who in the end turned out to be Tomás Monge (a) Planeta as he was often called in the newspapers of 1872 when he worked as a banderillero [one who places barbed sticks into a bull’s back during a bullfight] with the grandchildren of his paisano El Lavi.

[picture:  “Records page in which El Planeta’s son Francisco gives his father’s nickname as his second apellido.  The singer Lázaro Quntana appears as “agregado” [added to the family?].

Nor was it easy for me to find El Planeta’s death certificate.  I followed the Malaga records until his house on San Juan Street was listed as vacant, in 1857.  When he didn’t appear as living with his daughter Dolores, on Santos Street, or with his other daughter, María Magdalena, on Lagunillas Street or Granada Street, it was clear that he had died in 1856.  In fact, Antonio Monge El Planeta died in his same house in Malaga, on San Juan Street, on September 30, 1856, as a result of “cerebral congestion”.  According to the death certificate, the singer was 65 years old and was a “merchante” by trade – that is, a seller/vendor of goods without a fixed store.  Although it’s possible that the word is “marchante”, a synonym for “commerciante” [dealer, businessman].  After reposing in the Parish of San Juan, right beside his house, his body was buried the same day, probably in the Cemetery of San Miguel, where he received a Christian sepulcher, because the certificate of burial found in the Municipal Archives of Malaga, lacks that data.  As he was a person of some importance in Malaga, his burial would have been noted, but the local press of the time made no note of this news that I’ve found.  I suppose that El Planeta, at the age of 70, had been forgotten as a singer, and was dedicated to his business and to enjoying his grandchildren, those of Francisco, Dolores and María Magdalena, because Tomás, who was a “cómico” [comedian] by trade, was still a bachelor in 1863.

[picture:  Original document concerning the burial of el Planeta in the Municipal Archive of Malaga, dated September 30, 1856.  You can’t imagine the emotion I felt when I had this in my hands.]

His children continued as butchers, being cortadores or tablajeros.  This was the business of Manolo Caracol’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother, José Juárez García and Dolores Monge, who lived on Santos Street.  Also Planeta’s daughter Magdelena, who married a man from the town of Jijona in Alicante, Manuel Bretón, soon becoming widowed and alone managing a prosperous butcher shop at 128 Granada Street.  Francisco Monge was also a butcher, and had a number of children, among them Tomás Monge Planeta, a well-known Malagan banderillero, and Francisco Monge El Guarrirro, who married the dancer Rita Ortega Feria, a butcher of jurdó [with money]and lots of gracia [style, flair].  Tomás, the youngest son of El Planeta, remained a bachelor and dedicated himself to comicidad (comedy) as a trade, though he never got very far.

Up to this point, these are the most interesting personal details of Planeta’s agitada [rough, unsettled] and impassioned  life that I’ve been able to find – a man who is so often cited in books and specialized flamenco publications but of whom so little was known.  Now we know who he was and what was involved in his initiation into the flamenco art, in creating and making known his songs and in molding the art of other interpreters who spread his musical legacy when he died, notably El Fillo, Frasco el Colorao, Lázaro Quintana, Paquirri el de Cádiz, Silverio Fanconetti, Tomas El Nitri and many more, making an almost interminable list.

Wherever you may be, Tío Planeta, thanks for everything.  [Tío is a term of respect and affection for an elder – but quite different from the rare honorific “don”, which was applied to El Planeta at least once above; it has only been commonly applied to the immortal and very dignified non-Gypsy singer Antonio Chacón, and more rarely to the great and very dignified Gypsy singer Antonio Mairena.]

I hope you may forgive us for all those forgotten years, that lamentable historic abandonment that I have tried to remedy with humility and much love.  As the saying goes, nunca es tarde si la dicha es buena [better late than never].

[picture:  The Cemetery of San Miguel at the time of Antonio Monge “El Planeta”.  He was buried in niche number 370 of the First Patio, with no more honors than the tears of his own people.]

This investigation has reached its goal thanks to the inestimable help of my wife, María de los Ángeles Ojeda.  Thank you for your many hours of sacrifice at my side, codo con codo [shoulder to shoulder], and putting up with my long and continued absence from home, because I almost had to go and live alone in Malaga to do this research.

Translator’s note:  And thank you, Don Manuel.

Note:  the original is found at:  http://blogs.elcorreoweb.es/lagazapera/2011/02/20/en-busca-de-el-planeta-perdido-2/

January 24, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Guitarist Manolo de Huelva on Flamenco – article in Guitar Review by Virginia de Zayas – Part 1

Note by Brook Zern:  A few weeks ago, I added Part Three of Virginia de Zayas’s very long article to this blog.  It was preceded by my combination introduction, explanation and warning about the article, which I’m inserting again right here:

In the mid-1970’s in Seville, I contacted Virginia de Zayas, in whose large house the legendary and secretive flamenco guitarist Manolo de Huelva was living.  I knew that her husband Marius had arranged for the historic 1936 Paris recording session that documented the solo art of the great Ramón Montoya, and hoped to somehow obtain recordings or written versions of Manolo de Huelva’s playing.

I was the Flamenco Editor of Guitar Review magazine, an elegant and authoritative publication dedicated primarily to the classical guitar — Andrés Segovia was the Chairman of the Advisory Board and was a regular visitor to the offices, and I arranged for his only interview about flamenco to run in the magazine.

Ms. [somehow, "Madame" seems more appropriate] de Zayas was interested in explaining Manolo de Huelva’s views and telling his stories, and offered to write an article for the magazine.  I agreed, and the long article appeared in three parts spread over time.  This is the third and final part, from issue 47 dated Spring 1980.  The others will appear soon in this blog.

At one point in our conversations, I reluctantly corrected Ms. de Zayas on a point of fact, despite her vastly greater knowledge.  She may have known that I was right, but she said something interesting.  ”Mr. Zern, please do not correct me on flamenco matters.  When I talk to you, I am speaking as Manolo de Huelva — that is, I am repeating what he has told me over the years.  That is my value — that I can speak for him.  It really doesn’t matter so much whether what I say is correct or incorrect; what matters is that it is what Manolo de Huelva thinks.”

Well, she had me there.  I actually had to agree — because I desperately wanted to know what he thought, and not what Ms. de Zayas felt at the moment.

And for that same reason, this is an important article and I want to bring it to the attention of the few people — mostly Spanish authorities — who will be interested in these old stories and arcane but often valuable information, assuming someone is motivated to translate this.

Everyone else is excused — but hey, if you’re serious about flamenco, you just might find something illuminating here.

Remember — this article takes us into the heart of flamenco creation, as witnessed by one of the greatest guitarists in the history of the art.  It comes from a now distant past, where seventh chords were considered far-out and radical innovations.  It is source material for any advanced course in flamenco history and aesthetics.  And while many authorities today cast aspersions on the worth of unprovable and malleable recollections, and while the exact words may not be Manolo’s, it is yet another example of the value of oral transmission in understanding flamenco, or any subject that involves human beings.

But I never got to hear Manolo de Huelva, or obtain recordings of his playing at its best. Shortly before he died, Mrs. de Zayas invited me to visit in hopes that he might give me something, but it was too late.  He was determined to keep his music from being learned by other players, and regrettably, he succeeded.  He is heard as the accompanist to some noted singers on numerous old 78’s, often reissued in new formats; but as he said, he never revealed the amazing abilities that made him the favorite player of countless great artists and knowledgeable aficionados of his era.  Ms. de Zayas later released a double LP which contained, in addition to excellent material by Ramón Montoya, some cuts that once again failed to reveal Manolo de Huelva’s true genius.

That was my introduction to Part Three.  For this Part One, let me simply reemphasize that we are entering Mrs. De Zayas’s world, which to a large extent reflects Manolo de Huelva’s views – views formed in the early part of the Twentieth Century.  So when Mrs. De Zayas uses the term “modern school of flamenco”, for example, she is talking about flamenco that was becoming outmoded sixty years ago – well before the radical changes wrought by the great guitarist Paco de Lucia and the great singer Camarón de la Isla changed the art forever, and nearly eradicated the once-immutable sound of flamenco as it had been for several generations.

I happen to believe that flamenco didn’t emerge suddenly as a completely new kind of music – instead, I think some of the key primordial song styles were forged over time, possibly more than a century, within the confines of certain Gypsy families.  If they were not precisely described in books or newspaper reports, that doesn’t mean they did not exist; it is possible that they were not bandied about in public in an era when royal decrees made it legal to kill Gypsies.

But while these songs – notably the few so-called cante jondo or deep song forms – may have a lengthy history, there is no reason to believe Mrs. De Zayas’s romantic notion that anything resembling flamenco existed back when the Romans did indeed bring dancers from Cádiz to the empire’s capital around the time of Christ.

Clearly, some of the views here are those of Mrs. de Zayas – Manolo de Huelva probably didn’t talk about ancient musical modes, or Arabic zejels, or things that may have happened in Roman times.  But it’s not too hard to separate the her views and theories from his ideas and recollections.

The idea that the polo is the oldest flamenco song – as Manolo was told by the oldest flamenco people he knew – was accepted seventy years ago, but is no longer fashionable.  The polo is now viewed as a sort of one-off – not as the progenitor of the solea.  Likewise, the caña (the “mother of the soleá”, as the polo was called “the father of the soleá”), is now considered “autoctonous”, a word that implies little relation to other styles.

Her remarks about the flamenco scale seem very informative.  She focuses on what I consider the most important distinction between flamenco music and our familiar Western music – that it is properly viewed as drawing its power from a scale that descends toward the tonic, instead of one that rises.  This reversal of a scale’s direction and the different aesthetic that results from an incessant “downwardness” is the key to understanding the pull, the gravitas, the attraction that characterizes the entire art.  Our major scale inherently goes up – C D E F G A B C.  Their scale doesn’t use the white notes of the piano from C to shining C — instead, it uses the white notes from E to E.  But it is best conceived as going down — E, D, C, B, A, G, F, E.  The importance of the descending nature of the scale is underlined by the so-called Andalusian Cadence — when E is the tonic note or root note or chord, the descent is A minor, G major (or G7), F major and E major.  (It’s interesting to note that the tonic E chord has a G sharp note within it — though the G sharp is not part of the scale itself, except as an accidental.)

(What about their happy music, like the alegrias (the word itself means happiness)?  Easy, it’s not in the modal scale or natural (Phrygian) mode that defines flamenco, but rather in our own major key.)

Also note, at the end, Manolo de Huelva’s insistence that the most flamenco guitar falsetas are the “más monótonas“.  It seems that the word here doesn’t mean monotonous in the usual English sense, though it’s related; it means that they are mono-tonal; they have a limited range, they aren’t “fancy”, and they don’t use complex chordal conceptions.  This aesthetic may be the one that attracts some people to the music of Diego del Gastor, who also relied on thumb-driven playing.  Many of them seem “all alike”, but the subtle distinctions are a key to their brilliance.

The article is followed by a three-page transcription of the polo sevillano by Virginia de Zayas — a guitar introduction and then the vocal line over the guitar accompaniment chords; I hope to put it onto this website soon.  (For anyone with a guitar, the characteristic “chorus” for the sing is identifiable as a chordal rise and fall: E F G F E).

My interjected comments are in brackets — the parentheses are Mrs. De Zayas’s.

Here is Part One:

Although flamenco is the traditional music of Andalusia, southern Spain, a deep fascination for flamenco – guitar, songs, and dance – has increased the popularity of its rhythms and harmonies throughout the world.  Flamenco was a success as far back as two thousand years ago, when dancers were brought from Cádiz to ancient Rome.

I shall write of the origin of the oldest flamenco songs, the derivation of the flamenco scale, flamenco’s traditional rhythms and their possible sources; in other words, the origin of the modern school of flamenco guitar music.

Polos, Caña, soleares, bulerias, siguiriyas, martinetes, and Cádiz dancing songs [i.e., the alegrías family] are all considered to be pure flamenco.  I use the word flamenco to designate the music and the people who perform it.

The word flamenco means Flemish.  Flanders, now northern Belgium, was the birthplace, in1500, of the future Emperor Charles V, who was also king of Spain.  When the young king arrived in Spain he was accompanied by many Flemings, including Flemish singers from his chapel.  Carlos Almendros has settled the much discussed question of why flamenco singers are called flamenco by finding early 16t century Spanish music in which the words flamenco and first flamenco – placed at the beginning of the staff – means cantor or singer. (Flamenco magazine, July 1975, p. 39.)

While in France, during the Spanish Civil War, I met a number of the best flamenco performers.  I was full of admiration for them, for their artistic perfection and precision.  The one I found most interesting, because his answers to my questions were so clear (perhaps because  he himself has asked questions all his life) was the flamenco guitarist Manuel Gomez, “Manolo de Huelva.”

Donn E. Pohren, author of “The Art of Flamenco”, writes in his book “Lives and Legends of Flamenco” (1964, p. 278):  “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?… Andrés Segovia became so inspired, in fact, that he devoted the major part of a thesis to Manolo de Huelva…When he [Manolo] becomes inspired his playing drives aficionados to near-frenzy, striking the deepest human chords with overwhelmingly direct force.”  Speaking of Manolo’s “blindingly fast and accurate thumb,” Pohren continues, “his manipulations of the compás (rhythms) are fabulous… Manolo’s left hand has been marveled at by Segovia… He [Manolo] is flamenco’s most original and prolific creator.”

Manolo de Huelva was born in 1892 in the ancient mining town of Rio Tinto, near the Atlantic port of Huelva, Andalusia.  Besides a brief apprenticeship with him in 1937-38 and during my intermittent trips to Spain between 1953 and 1958, I have been studying with him continuously since early 1966.  Little by little, I have found Manolo to be a walking encyclopedia who knows not only all the authentic flamenco songs but also, the traditional guitar music.

As with folk traditions everywhere, in Andalusia information is passed on by word of mouth.  Books and articles have been written about flamenco singers or the lyrics of flamenco songs, rather than about flamenco music itself.  My husband and I taped and bought records by the best singers of the 1953-1966 period,  I have transcribed many of these tapes as well as several pre-war records, and have then sung these versions to Manolo’s accompaniment.  But it was only by coming back again and again to details that I discovered the older versions, the ancient tradition.

Traditional rules become clear by studying the details which influence the artist’s performance; details such as whether the guitarist had strong fingernails, or whether the sound made by his nails was clear enough so that he would not have to resort to less flamenco substitutes.  Furthermore, by transcribing guitar accompaniments and then singing the lyrics, I could see how the singer matches the song to the guitar accompaniment.  This was made especially clear to me, because I was working with such a precise player as Manolo.

The Polos

I asked Manolo which are the oldest flamenco songs.  He told me, “The polos are the oldest songs.  All the old men said this when I was young.  I heard it first from the oldest singer I have known, Antonio Silva “El Portugués,” a Spaniard from the province of Seville, though Silva is a Portuguese name.  I met him in Huelva, where I had just finished learning to be a tailor.  My father brought him to the house, and Antonio came with his guitar.  That was when I first heard the polos.

“When I arrived in Seville in 1910, and became a professional guitarist, there were three Sevillian singers from the Triana district, and they sang the polos.  There names were Pepe Villalba, Fernando el Herrero (the blacksmith), and Rafael Pareja – none of them Gypsies.  The people who listened to them would ask for the polos.  Others who sang the polos were Antonio Chacón and Diego Antúnez, a Gypsy singer from Sanlúcar de Barrameda.  By playing for these older men, I learned how to accompany these cantes (songs) with their exacting rhythm.  But after about 1920, the new generation of singers no longer sang the polos: they turned to different cantes.

Origin of the Oldest Songs

What about the origins of the polo?  Although there are no written records about flamenco music before 1830, oral tradition tells us that the three oldest singers whose names are still remembered lived at the end of the 18th century.  We can learn much about the origin of the oldest songs by examining the literary and musical structure of the polos as they exist today and comparing them to the structure of a popular song which existed in Andalusia in the 8th century (and probably even earlier).

As far back as the ninth century, the Arabs in Spain wrote books of songs which, as they acknowledged, had a popular Andalusian origin.  These songs were called zajal in Arabic (zejel in Spanish), a word meaning “to raise the voice” (as in song).  (Baron Rodolph d’Erlanger, La Musique Arabe, 6 vols., Paris, 1936-1959.)  The Arabs wrote their songs in Arabic, while the Andalusians sang theirs in Romance (ancient Spanish), occasionally using Arab words.

The zejel is generally begun with two lines of verse which state the theme or subject of the whole poem.  These two introductory lines are called markaz in Aarabic – and the literal translation of this word into Spanish is poloMarkaz and polo mean center or pivot, as “pole” does in English.

The markaz or polo (also called estribillo in Spanish) was followed by four-line stanzas which comment on the subject as stated in the two-line polo.  These stanzas are called machos (males) by the flamencos; perhaps as one of a pair, at a stage when each polo had one macho.  The markaz or polo was sung by the principal singer with the other singers, and. at times, even members of the audience joined in.  The markaz (polo) was repeated in chorus after every macho stanza.  In the Arabian zejel, the rhyme of the markaz was repeated in the last line of all the stanzas.

Polo is now a flamenco word used to describe the ancient zejel.  Although we do not know when it was first used, the word or its equivalent may be assumed to have existed before the Arabs came to Spain.  The zejel runs throughout early Spanish literature; its “polo” (center, pivot or theme) was usually composed of two lines.  A beautiful example of the two-line Spanish refrain (or estribillo) as it was used in the 16th century has been published by Rodrigo de Zayas [son of Mrs. de Zayas] in Guitar Review 38 (1973), En la Fuente del Rosel (At the Rosebush Fountain).

According to Rodrigo de Zayas, the zejel is still sung in Arabic-speaking countries, and may be heard any day on the Damascus radio. This is not surprising, because since the eighth century Arab singers frequently traveled from Cordoba in Andalusia to Damascus in Syria, to Baghdad in Iraq.  Because the zejel was a poem written to be sung, European musicians soon popularized it as quickly through Europe.

The mixed Spanish and Arab population in Andalusia is reflected in the following excerpt of an Andalusian zejel which combines Romance and Arabic words.  The Romance, or Spanish words, are italicized:

Ya, Mutarnani Salbato,

Tu’n hazin tu’n penato

tara al-yaumaa wastato

Lam taduq fih geir luqema

(Oh, my crazy Salvado, you are sad, you suffer, you will see the day wasted without tasting more than a little.)

One Arabic writer of the 11th century has described this mixture of poplar Arabic and Romance as being: “the aroma of the zejel, its salt, its sugar, and its musk”  The zejel became a literary form in Arabic, and the great 11the century Cordoban philosopher Aben Hazem wrote: “Among the excellent qualities of the Spaniards… was their invention of the zejel. (Ramón Menéndez Pidal)

Although the zejel (and the polo) are originally of Spanish influence, many have been preserved in books by the Arabs since the 9th century.  The influence of native Andalusian music has been underestimated: the native population clung to its own traditions, in spite of the arrival of the Arabs.

There are two polos still known:  the Sevillian polo and the polo of Tobalo.  The songs appeared before the 19th century, although the date is not known,  Following is an example of the way the Sevillian polo is sung when it is performed:

Ere el demonio, romera, que

Que me viene a tentá


No soy el demonio ni el diablo, que

Que soy tu mujé naturá


(You are the demon, traveler, who comes to tempt me.  I am not the demon or the devil, I am your true wife).  This dialogue is the culminating stanza of the Romance del Conde del Sol, the “Ballad of the Count of Sol.”  As in the old English ballads, the word “ballad,” here, has the meaning given in Grove’s Dictionary:  “a piece of narrative verse written in stanzas and occasionally followed by an envoi or moral.”

The above romance or ballad was printed in 1847 by S. Estébanez Calderón.  It tells of the Count going off to fight in the war with Portugal, leaving his very young wife with her father.  After fifteen years, she follows him and finds him on the day he is to marry another woman.  She puts on her velvet gown and goes forth to ask him for alms.  Needless to say, the ballad ends happily for her.

Estébanez Calderón wrote his article about a night in Triana, Seville, spent listening to flamenco music.  He printed the entire ballad and changed the above stanza to read as follows:

Sois aparición, romera,

Que venisme a conturbar?

No soy aparición, Conde,

Que soy tu esposa leal.

(Are you a spirit, traveler, who has come to disturb me?  I am not a spirit, Count, I am your loyal spouse.)

The words “spirit”, “disturb” and “spouse” (aparición, conturbar,  esposa), are probably substitutions, following the 19th century custom of making popular texts more literary.

The polo of Tobalo has several different letras (verses).  The following polo was written by Rafael Pareja, who sang it for my husband and me.  Pareja was a good folk poet, as well as being a singer.

En er queré no hay sabé, que

Compañera mía, lo tengo experimentao


De lo que siempre he juío, que

Compañera mía, un Devé me ha castigao,


(In love there is no wisdom, Wife, I know it from my experience, as I have always thought, Wife, God has punished me).  The fact that the words “que” (that) and “compañera mía” (wife, companion) are obligatory, indicates the traditional origin of this polo.  Devé, or, more correctly, Devel, is the Gypsy word for God, and is close to the ancient Sanskrit word.  The above spelling is taken from a book about Gypsies, written by a college-educated Gypsy, Juan de Diós Ramírez Heredia.  Gypsies who sing flamenco originally came from part of Pakistan, and have a language of their own, akin to Sanskrit, called caló.

The only macho left to us is one belonging to the polo of Tobalo.  As has been said above, the macho must use the main idea expressed in its polo.  For example, a polo whose theme is “God has punished me,” would have the following words for its corresponding macho:

Harza y viva Ronda!

Reina de los cielo,

Un Devé A…un Devé

Me ha castigao…

(Hail and hurrah for Ronda!  Queen of the Heavens, God, A… God has punished me.)  The praise of the Queen of the Heavens (the Virgin Mary) reminds us that the zejel was used for songs written to her during the 12th century, in Castillian, and even in Scottish.  The long vowels are sung to the notes of the modal cadence.  The occasional Gypsy words are, again, a reminder that Arabic and ancient Spanish words were mixed in the same verse,

Today, most people think there is only one polo, because modern singers have not had the opportunity to hear both polos sung correctly.  There is even a record on which parts of the two polos have been combined.  Was this a Gypsy joke originally?

Manolo tells me that the old singers had never heard the polo choruses sung by anyone except the principal singer, singing alone. Yet there must have been a time, long ago, when other singers joined in, because this is the way the choruses were sung in another ancient song related to the polos and still remembered today: the Cante de la Caña.

The Cante de la Caña

El Cante de la Caña (the Song of the Cane) is so called because a cane was used to mark the rhythm of the song.  The people who sang this song usually did not have guitars.  To beat the rhythm they would use a short length of dried bamboo, especially prepared.  The soft center part would be cleaned out and the hollow cane split about two-thirds of its length.  I have seen the tribal Filipinos in the mountains of Luzón use a similar instrument.  Many years ago they made a gift of one to me, and I noticed that the split is not a mere slit:  it must be a little wider so it will give a good sound swhen it is struck against the palm of the hand.

I once saw two performers in a flamenco night club who had heard of the bamboo but evidently did not know how to use it.  They had a piece of green bamboo (still uncured), which was much larger than a hand instrument.  They had it placed vertically, fixed on a stand, and they twirled it with a piece of string or wire – making a humming sound!

Old men told Manolo de Huelva that the correct way to use the cane or bamboo is to strike it against the palm of the hand to keep the rhythm.  These old men also said that they knew the chorus of the Caña had formerly been sung by everyone present – but they themselves had never heard it performed that way.  However, we have verification of the oral tradition which tells of the chorus of the Caña being sung by the whold group in the article by the journalist S. Estébanez Calderón, who heard it performed that way.  He says that the chorus of the Caña was sung by all the singers, to a guitar accompaniment.  He does not mention the bamboo – probably because there was a guitar present, and no canes were used.

The structure of the ancient Caña is a little more complex than that of the polos.  The Caña begins with a melodic phrase sung to the exclamation Ay! – which sets the mode (scale) in which the song is to be sung.  Following the Triana tradition, this is followed by a chorus sung on the vowel “A”, and then the polo, or main theme, is begun.  This structure seems to date back to the time whent the audience ceased to join in the singing of the polo itself, and began, instead, to sing a cadence using only a single vowel sound sung to chords.

A modern variation has developed in which the exclamation Ay! Is sung in the chorus, instead of the vowel “A.”  This custom was begun by Curro Dulce, a Gypsy singer from Cádiz, from whom Ignacio Espleleta, himself a Gypsy from Cádiz, learned it.  La Argentinita learned it from him and popularized it.  It is not correct.

The Caña has no macho.  The famous flamenco singer Antonio Chacón (1869-1929), known especially for his singing of malagueñas (songs from Málaga), used to sing the Cante de la Caña, adding to it at the end, the macho belonging to the polo of Tobalo.  But this was just his own idea, as he admitted to Manolo, who accompanied him in performance.  He did follow the ancient tradition of repeating the subject of the song in the macho.

As far as we know, the polos and the Cantes de la Caña were not danced, because both either discuss a subject or tell a story.  The famous dancer La Argentinita was the first to dance the Caña, followed by here sister, Pilar López.  The Caña has now become a “mummified” relic for night clubs and the stage.  Recently I saw the famous dancer, Antonio [Soler] dance the Caña, turning it into a dramatic and humorous display intended to make people laugh.  For his act, the singer sang only part of the song, to identify it to the public.

The Caña should now be ripe for a serious revival.

Flamenco and the Arabs

In a discussion of the flamenco scale, how this scale is harmonized, and the oldest flamenco rhythms, it will be necessary to refer to Arabian music (since the Arabs occupied Andalusia for eight centuries), as well as to regional songs and dances.

Both flamenco and Arabian music are not folk, but art music.  Andalusians generally sing regional songs, such a fandangos, sevillanas, verdiales (from the mountains above Málaga), and granadinas (from Granada), not flamenco.  In ancient times what is now known as Andalusia was the most civilized region of Spain and must have had its art music.  (See the writings of the Greek geographer Strabo, 2nd century A.D.)  Something of this art music was bound to remain in flamenco music; its scale and rhythmical accentuation did survive in flamenco.

Accentuation of regional songs is the exact opposite of flamenco, although the same scale is used in both.  Flamenco is accentuated on the third beat of a group of notes, while the regional songs are accentuated on the first beat of a group of notes.  Our own music and most Arabian music are both accentuated in a manner similar to that of Andalusian regional music, suggesting that the rhythm of Andalusian regional songs may have been derived from Arabian music, or from music from other regions is Spain.  This is why most Andalusians, when they clap (palmas) for bulerías, start on the wrong beat.

Since flamenco became a public spectacle about one hundred years ago, malagueñas , tarantas, etc., began to enter its repertory, but these additions do not obey the rules of pure flamenco.

It has been suggested that flamenco music was brought to Andalusia with the Arab invasion of 711.  Certain similarities such as rhythmic cadences may have been derived by both Andalusians and Arabs from as far a way as India.  However, rhythmical guitar effects, which (combined with characteristic harmony) constitute the basis of flamenco playing, are more likely to have been developed by guitar players, that is, by Andalusians.  The guitar is basically strummed in chords which give the meter and harmony..  The Arabian lute, on the other hand, is played in single notes with a plectrum (pick), with an occasional octave, fifth or fourth.  It is significant that Spaniards did not adopt the pear-shaped lute [oud] which the Arabs always preferred.  Spaniards continued to cling to their flat-backed guitar, with its own technique.

When we speak of the influence of Arabian music we must remember that before the spread of Islam the Arabs lived in cities like Mecca and Medina as well as in the desert.  Later they conqueres many lands and were brought under the influence of the (late Greek) Byzantine music of Syria, as well as the music of Persia, brought through Iraq, and containing even influences from India.  Such influences could have reached Andalusia through the trade routes, before the Arabs spread out of Arabia.  Thus, we must turn to a period earlier than the Arab invasion of Spain and speak of the principal ancient Greek scale, which is the basis of flamenco.

The most fascinating thing about flamenco is the strange scale (mode) with its cadences.  The combination of this scale with our major chords on the guitar produces an unusual clash, because on the beginning chord of a song and to end a cadence, the scale may have a natural note in the voice, while the guitar has a sharp.  This is combined with equally strange rhythms and accentuation, with percussive effects on the guitar.

The Flamenco Scale and the Greek Dorian Scale

Here is a comparison:  Our own scale is a rising one: C D E F G A B C, with the leading note being B, and the important note being G (the fifth above the tonic).    To make the comparison easier, let us transpose this C scale to the key of  E major:  E F# G# A B C# D# E.  Here the leading note is D# rising to the E at the end of the scale.  The important note is B, the dominant, the fifth above the tonic.

The flamenco scale is the opposite: it is a descending one, beginning with the upper E.  The notes are, in descending order, E D C B A G F E.  The leading note is F, which leads down to the E at the bottom.  The important note of this modal scale is A.  The note is a fifth below the top E, contrasting with our own dominant, B, a fifth above the tonic.

This flamenco scale is the same as the ancient Greek Dorian scale, the principal Greek one.  In fact, our scale and the flamenco Dorian scale are as a mirror, in which the functions of the notes are reversed.  Our scale leads upwards, and theirs leads downwards.  The dominant note of the Dorian scale, the A, was called mese (the middle note) by the Greeks.  In the Dorian, as well as the flamenco scale, there is a B flat which is sometimes introduced, producing a heart-rending effect which makes our musicians think the music has modulated.  This is not so, as the guitar proves by continuing with its same harmony.  This B flat was recognized by the ancient Greeks and was introduced into a song in a group of four notes called a “tetrachord symnanon”,.  It is interesting to note that Manolo de Huelva tunes his second string, the B, slightly lower than do classical guitarists.  (This observation was made by Rodrigo de Zayas.)

The practical result for flamenco listeners is that we must learn to think of the music as leaning or falling downwards, instead of reaching upwards.  What seems like a minor scale (the Dorian), with a minor third when counted upwards from the lowest note of the octave, is really a major scale with a major scale when counted downwards from the highest note of the octave.  We may view this scale as minor and sad; but the Greeks, in their treatises, said that theirs was a happy music – just as we may say that our major scale is a cheerful scale.  We must change our thoughts about flamenco music: it runs the gamut from sad to serious to joyous, musically speaking.

The ancient Greek descending scale changed direction during the later Byzantine Greek period with the result that Byzantine scales are rising, beginning on the lower G of a two octave extension.  As the Arabs adopted this rising scale when they came in contact with Byzantine civilization (Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger, op. cit), they cannot have influenced the Andalusian scales and melodies, which take the opposite direction, even though Arabic philosophers bases their musical treatises on the ancient Greek ones.  Early European ecclesiastical scales are also rising, as given by Boethius.

There are many discussions about the practical application of this ancient Greek scale, but in flamenco music we find the same scale, with its downward pull, combined with our major chords with their (to us) upward pull on the guitar.  Flamenco melodies are mostly in conjunct motion.  Singers will fill in the spaces.  The Greek melodies left to us have larger intervals, but these may well have been filled in with ornaments, just as Italian 16th and 17th century melodies were.  This filling in was left to the singers.

The Oldest Flamenco Rhythm

Strange and exciting rhythms are found in flamenco, rhythms which stir up foreigners as well as many Spaniards.  The oldest flamenco rhythm is that of the group which includes polo, Caña, soleares, Cádiz dancing songs [i.e., the alegrías and several related major-key songs], and bulerías.  What makes this rhythm strange to us it that it is “martelé”, French for “hammered.”  Every beat and often half-beats are accentuated, especially in the cadences where the eighth-note accents are multiplied.  Arabian and other oriental music is martelé, as was European music until harmony and bass notes developed.  Then the harmonic accent was placed on the first of any rhythmic group of notes, so the harmonic and rhythmic accents coincided.  The first note of any group came to have  a stronger accent, which is how we usually play music today.

When the guitar plays for this polo-soleares rhythm it continues straight ahead as if for dancing.  Indeed, it was traditionally danced.  The guitar does not wait for the singer; he must fit the melody and accents to the words of the accompaniment.  The measure, also called the rhythmic period or rhythmic cycle [or compás], is a long one compared tour usual shorter measure: it has twelve quarter-note beats.  Orchestral players count our measure of 12/8 in groups of three beats, accentuating slightly on the first of each group of three.  Arabian music also accentuates the first one of almost any group of notes (see examples in R. d”Erlanger, op. cit.).

The polo-soleares rhythm  is composed of twelve quarter-note beats, accentuated thus:  one two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve.  This rhythm is just the contrary of ours (accentuated on the first [of each three].  Again, it is like a mirror with everything reversed.  The verbal accent should generally be placed on these strong beats.  However, the accent on beat nine shifts back to beat eight, probably under the influence of the guitar accentuation, but also to be nearer to the last syllable on beat six (the syllables of a word must not be too far apart).  If the poem [verse] has too many accents or if it sounds awkwardly fitted to the melody under the usual rules, the verbal accent is placed on a weak beat or on the half beats so as not to disturb the rhythm.

[Note:  Guitarists and dancers who learn to count the accentuated beats in a given compás or 12-beat unit almost always stress the third, sixth, eighth, tenth and twelfth beats.  Mrs. de Zayas seems to be thinking in terms of the singer’s concept of the rhythm, and then theorizes that the stress on eight rather than nine results from the guitarist’s influence.  But nowhere does her concept leave room for the stress on beat ten; so from a guitar or dance standpoint at least, it doesn’t make sense.]

The ending of a tercio, or line of verse, on two longer notes (for example after several eighth-notes two quarter-notes will be sung if ther beats are quarter-notes as they are in flamenco) must be an old Spanish tradition.  In 16th century Spanish villancicos [Christmas songs] the verse ends frequently on two half-notes.  This ending is even found in Italy in that period.  The two longer notes, preceded by notes of smaller value, mark a kind of rhythmic cadence.

I may be asked how it is that I know that the measure begins on beat one, whether the first two notes before the accent are not an anacrusis, and why I do not place conventional bar lines before the third beat as in our music.  My answer 1) because this is what the flamencos say, 2) because I know from singing these songs since 1937, 3) because of the syncopations, 4) finally, because this is the way the long measures, rhythmic periods or cycles, are written for oriental music.  I place the bar lines for our convenience (as I might for Palestrina’s music) and they do not imply an accent.  There are dotted bars for this rhythm.  I place an ordinary bar to mark the end of each rhythmic period of twelve beats.  This is the way the flamencos think their music and the way in which the dance steps are arranged.

To perform flamenco music one must learn to feel and think in periods of twelve beats, with their proper accentuation, and not in short measures of two or three beats, as is generally the case in our music.  In bulerías there are passages of six beats, especially desplantes (passages of syncopation).  The guitarist Pedro Elías told me that he has heard measures of three beats inserted,  but I have never seen Manolo do this, and he is a stickler for rules.

When the guitarist plays falsetas, the ligated [hammered on or pulled off by the left hand alone] give light and shade of three strengths.  This gives an effect of syncopation which traditional flamenco elaborated on purpose.  Wen the scale-like passages are all pulsated [played by plucking the strings with the right hand, or picado] these values disappear completely.  All gracia (grace or wit) is lost, and everything takes on a mechanical sound, full of speed to show that the modern flamenco guitarist can play as well as the best classical guitarist.  He especially shows that he can play exercises with the utmost velocity.  He loses sight of the fact that exercise are for the studio, not for the stage. The rejection of true flamenco explains why so many players like well-exercised race horses reach top billing.  They astonish us at the iron willpower shown.  There will always be an audience ready to be astonished, but the few perceptive listeners may have little opportunity to hear true flamenco if it is never played (listen to the excellent Sabicas).

Many passages are evenly stressed, the highest or lowest note standing out.  The tenth beat is particularly accentuated because this is where the base not falls.  It is followed by an arpeggio to the third, second, or first string, in falsetas (variations).

[Note:  Indeed, most compases resolve to the tonic note not on the final or twelfth beat, but on beat ten, with beats eleven and twelve holding that thought by arpeggiating that tonic chord.  Note that for Mrs. de Zayas (and therefore also for Manolo de Huelva), this arpeggiating should not be done following a strummed or rasgueado cycle – instead the tonic chord should be strummed.  Few guitarists insist on that convention today.]

In accompaniments, the guitar particularly accentuates beat three, which is the pivot note on which voice and guitar should coincide.  [Note: In our Western music, the voice and guitar would normally coincide throughout.  It is a baffling peculiarity of flamenco that while the guitarist maintains a steady beat and strong chords, the vocal line frequently seems to become unglued from the strict guitar rhythm – except at certain points, notably including beat three as Mrs. de Zayas states.]  Beats seven, eight, nine and ten are evenly stressed in the rasgueado and balance the accent on beat three, thus providing equilibrium to the rhythm.  Manolo never accentuates beat six, but I noticed that the late Diego del Gastor did.  However, Manolo accentuates beat six as well as the rasgueado when he plays alegrías.  [Note: It may be unusual for a guitarist today  to differentiate between the alegrías and the soleares/caña/polo family since they are often viewed as sharing the same rhythmic pattern.]  Heavy accentuation ir required when playing for dancers.  After listening to Manolo play soleares for me over the last ten years, I would almost venture to say that he puts the four rasgueado stresses in the stellar spot, relating them to beat three.

Beat twelve, while receiving the word accent in this rhythm, is distinguished from beat eleven.  On beat eleven the direction of the stroke is down, toward the upper strings while on beat twelve it is up, towards the lower strings.

A difference may be heard in sound, not in intensity.  Beat twelve is also a principal one of the bulerías, the beat at which the first strong word accdent of the beginning a a bulerías falls; the singer begins the bulerias on beat twelve.

I have heard young boys at their games such as hide-and-seek or hop-scotch in the streets count as follows: one two three four five six seven eight nine ten.  If the count were to be extended to twelve, ten would not be accentuated .  This rhythm has been ingrained in the Sevillian people for centuries.

As can be noted in his records, Tomás Pabón would begin his soleares on the third beat, although of course he knew better than to do this.  Perhaps he was influenced by the siguiriyas gitanas in which the song usually begins on this beat.  Perhaps he thought that this manner of singing soleares was “more Gypsy.”  (Pabón often spelled Pavón.)

Rests are an important part of rhythmic music and should not be forgotten, as they frequently are.  Much use is made of rests in the cycles of Arabian and Hindu music  As in flamenco, half-beats and even quarter-beats are often accentuated.  What is the rasgueado but four equally stressed beasts struck with four fingers down on a quarter-note beat followed by a quarter-note up beat played with a single finger up?  Such rests and stresses are an integral part of the rhythm and sometimes a rhythmic ornament.  In song, the accents are multiplied at the cadences, falling on eighth-notes and ending with two quarter-note stresses.  This seems to be the pattern which soleares follow.  Manolo pointed this out to me, so he is conscious of it..

It is the accent on every beat (martelé) which makes the music sound flamenco.  In the quarter-note passages of soleares, every beat is strongly stressed and must be sung with accuracy and firmness, showing a command of the rhythm.  I am now notating the alegrías of [the great Jerez guitarist] Javier Molina, as played by Manolo de Huelva.  They are in G major, with some falsetas in G minor.  Manolo stresses all the notes between the beats, and some passages are like trumpet calls.  Manolo, who has not specialized in dance music, learned this alegrias of Javier when he was  young, captivated by its beauty.  He played it in the film danced by La Argentinita, screened a number of times at New York’s  Metropolitan Museum and at the Museum of Modern Art in the fifties.  The film was initiated, artistically directed and produced by my husband, Marius de Zayas.  I cut the film because the person whom we engaged to do the cutting could not understand the music.  I had to go to Joinville, near Paris, to the cutting room to go over the film in great detail with the girl who cut negatives, impressing upon her the importance of observing my marks.  It was essential to have the steps of the foot coincided with the musical beat.  The alegrías is the most difficult dance, for man or woman.  I cut this dance once at ordinary speed and then repeated it  with portions in slow motion.  I was able to do this because of the discipline of the periods of twelve beats and the fact that slow motion was four times slower than normal speed.  The film was made in the spring of 1938 and a little later Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire made a film in which they danced dream-like passages in slow motion, but for which the music was specially composed.  We had intended to enter our film in the Cannes festival of 1939, but events [probably WWII] overtook us.

Accidental Notes and Transpositions

In monodic phrases, both in guitar and voice, besides the aforementioned B flat, other accidental notes sometimes occur.  The G, c, and D are often sharp when the phrase is about to rise, becoming natural when it descends.  This is also found in the music of the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe and in the singer’s oral tradition.  The flamencos call thes semi-tones “tonos menores” (minor tones, as opposed to whole or major tones).  These chromatically altered notes may be an influence from our music.  I have noted down an older form of siguiriyas without these sharps and a version with the sharps inserted by Manuel Torre, another great Gypsy singer.  Tomás Pabón was also partial to these sharps.  However, we must not overlook the possibility the the sharps are remnants of the chromatic mode used by the Greeks.

The flamenco guitar is played, with few exceptions, either in E or A.  All the falsetas of Paquirri, the great source of traditional guitar music, were transposed into either key.  The siguiriyas gitanas and the chuflas (bulerías) as well as the cantiñas (alegrías) , and other songs for dancing, are played traditionally in A.  The A major chord sounds its bass note that is the fifthe string, in the rasgureado.  The E chord does not sound its bass note, or sixth string, in the rasgueado, because the thumb is held against that string.  Therefore the guitar sounds quite different in these two tonalities.

The chuflas (bulerías) are rarely played in E because the fingerboard of the guitar does not give much field for the harmonico-rhythmical effects peculiar to that toque (type of rhythm).  Voice and guitar in some bulerías are in our major or minor keys.

The cantiñas (alegrías) are usually in our A major key, accompanied by our dominant and tonic chords.  The change of chords occurs on the seventh beat of a measure of twelve beats (this will be discussed more fully later).  Javier Molina accompanied them in G.  These cantiñas are said to have been brought to Cádiz by Spanish soldiers from the north who came to fight Napoleon’s invasion.  He did not take Cádiz, which is on a narrow peninsula.  These soldiers would have brought the jota of Navarra or Aragón.  The people of Cádiz put these chords to their own polo rhythm and at first these songs were called “jota of Cádiz.”  I have one very old melody which is reminiscent of the jota, but most of the older ones are lost.  People now sing the cantiñas of Enrique el Mellizo.

The Ancient Guitar and Chord Inversions

This brings us to the tuning of the flamenco guitar and its effect on chord inversion.  Rodrigo de Zayas has described guitar tuning in a historical perspective to be published in a future issue of Guitar Review.  I shall confine myself to a supposition of the popular guitar some centuries ago.  To begin with, in the modern guitar the lowest of the six strings gives a bass note to the cadences in E, which ar played with the thumb.  The polo and soleares are played in that key.  The low E string does not always sound because the right thumb is held against the sixth string [i.e., it rests on the sixth string] in rasgueado accompaniment.  It is loosely held and thus thumb and string part company slightly at times.  All six strings sound only in final cadences.  Therefore, the chords are usually inverted, unless an occasional one should be based on E on the fourth string.  The inversion of chords and frequent lack of a bass note is strange until one becomes accustomed to it, but it gives a characteristic flamenco effect and especially suits “mirror music.”  (Also, chords are often incomplete and these are especially appreciated.)

On an ancient guitar with the lower string A, if it were played in A, the above would be true, but if it were played in E the effect would be even stranger.  Inverted chords, lacking a bass note, were probably characteristic of the popular guitar since ancient times.  One thinks of Rodrigo de Zayas’ description (in Guitar Review 40) of some of Gaspar Sanz’ chords.  Ambiguity alternating and contrasting with clear cadences is the basis of the flamenco guitar.

On Manolo de Huelva’s Playing

If the ancient flamenco guitar had the first as well as the sixth course of strings missing and remained with only the four inner strings, it might possibly account for the way Manolo de Huelva plays almost exclusively on the four center strings of his modern guitar.  The first and sixth strings are rarely used except in the cadences of falsetas and sometimes on the finals of falsetas and, of course, when he uses the bass or treble strings in a falseta intentionally and not mechanically.  He is more inclined to the bass strings, and frequently composes very flamenco repetitious phrases.  Even his falsetas often end on the third or second string rather than the first.  Manolo thinks that playing on the four middle strings is “more flamenco.”  Because he constantly uses the traditional flamenco technique of playing with the thumb, this concentration of playing on these four strings requires a precise and practiced thumb.  In the rasgueados and accompaniments, he stops the high E string from sounding by holding his right fourth finger against it and on the soundboard.  This steadies his hand and permits greater rhythmic exactness.  His four fingers are held straight, with his nails against the tapa (guitar surface), where he has almost made the beginnings of a hole in his practice guitar because his fingers are so much longer than the wooden or plastic guard made for shorter fingers.

Sevillians for whom I have played one of Manolo’s tapes of bulerías notice his general avoidance of the first high string unless he especially wishes it.  They know little of flamenco, but they missed the constant modern sounding of the first string, the high E.

As a youngster, Manolo began by learing traditional flameanco as well as some eighteen classical pieces.  He had speed and, as he is a composer too, played in the style of the modern school.  But he gradually turned more and more to developing the traditional school, with thumb and ligados (ligated notes), leaving aside the contributions from the classical guitar, the arpeggios, scales, and tremolos.  He has a lightning thumb, very long, with a strong nail, and bent backwards.  He said he would not take a million pesetas for his thumb.  He must have practiced a lot to develop such a thumb.  He is particularly outstanding in the siguiriyas, with curious dissonant chords.  In bulerías he has complete control of the very difficult rhythm, upon which he improvises rhythmically and melodically with tremendous variety and inspiration.  Due to his dislike of making records—and because his falsetas are purposely very difficult, beyond the ability of most flamenco guitarists – he has not had much influence on the modern school.

Although it is possible that this technique of the thumb resting on the lowest string was not used in the older flamenco guitar, when we remember that the flamenco guitar is more than anything percussive and rhythmic, it follows that the thumb-resting technique has as its primary purpose the development of steadiness in the rhythm.  One can still see today poor guitarists, accompanying themselves in fandangos and sevillanas (songs of Seville), who use a free sweeping strumming.  This is easier than subjecting the thumb.  Manolo de Huelva says that the rhythm is very much steadier with the thumb resting on the lowest string, and steady rhythm is the most important thing for a flamenco guitarist.   In any event, the thumb technique was used by Paquirri at the end of the 18th century.  Manolo always keeps the rhythm going.  Even if he wants to repeat when practicing a new falseta, he does not simply break off, but ends the vuelta so as to make the periods or cycles continuous.  Then he begins again (these vueltas, or measures, are twelve beats in the soleares).

Manolo thinks ahead as he plays or, perhaps, his hands act with muscular continuity, accustomed as they are to the sequences of positions on the finger board.  His left hand forms the next choir almost before he has left the last one.  He plays with fully formed chords even when only a couple of its notes are pulsated.  When I write down music, he often tells me: “this is the chord,” and I must explain that in our musical notation we only write the notes actually sounded.  Of course, this does not apply very much in his lightning punteado (plucked string) passages [i.e., picado passages].  From his early playing of classical guitar he has retained command of the chords of the upper reaches of the fingerboard, and he is quick to transpose or find the same chord in alternative positions.  He also accentuates strongly, using these accentuated notes upon which to pivot the sequence.  He will tell me: “These accentuated notes, whether in the song or the guitar part, are what gives sense to the phrase… Accents make the music come alive.”  This is true in singing as well, and gradually he has made me accentuate songs more and more strongly.

Manolo also has a showman’s technique of making the end of a phrase very much softer before beginning a brilliant falseta and then attacking it strongly.  Thus for such reasons I imagine that one could break down his playing into sections, divided rather than in a continuous flow as some Wagnerian opera.  Continuous flow is given to flamenco until the end is reached.  One might call it essentially a rhythmical rather than a harmonic music, in this sense.

Cuando má monótonos son las falsetas, más flamencos son,” says Manolo (the most monotonous falsetas are the most flamenco).  “Many times they are almost the same notes but with different values.  These are the enchantments of the flamenco guitar.  This is why musicians have gathered together with flamenco guitarists to find themes for their music.”

To be continued.

End of Part One.  Part Three is already on this blog, and Part Two will be added in the near future.

February 7, 2013   No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Brook Zern   brookzern@gmail.com

October 30, 2011   1 Comment