Category — Cultural Notes
A Flamenco Pie in the Face for Purists as a solid organization mobilizes to promote and extend the new view of flamenco
Pieflamenco.com. That’s the shorter moniker of an evidently new organization and website that seems very interesting and significant. The full name is Plataforma Independiente de Estudios Flamencos Moderno y Contemporáneos, which hardly needs translation. This is a group that concentrates on the art from a modern perspective — perhaps fairly seen as postmodernist, deconstructionist or both, that has effectively changed the dominant view, leaving any surviving traditionalists or, worse yet, “purists,” in the dust.
I happen to remain in that beleaguered band, often believing oral history that is now seen as just self-serving myth-making — but I also think it’s important to understand the current slant on flamenco. Some of my compadres tend to dismiss it as silly, just a bunch of academics using opaque jargon while choosing their facts or research areas to support a pre-existing desire to debunk the old views. And I’ve seen a lot of possibly biased new scholarship based on too little evidence or poor interpretation of facts. (Hey, we don’t need no stinkin’ evidence or facts.)
I’ve also seen scholarship or opinion-mongering that is illuminating, that challenges my old-style thinking and opens fresh areas of insight and interpretation. Sometimes I’m knocked off balance or even offended, and reflexively lash out at the new picture of flamenco. But I respect the best of it, and find useful notions even in the more vulnerable scholarly views. I also realize that these folks have carried the day, and in this context it may be useful to present their work and worldview in English without taking too many cheap shots.
The “About” entry says the organization was “born with the main objective of widening the field of study that we know as flamenco. Starting with the premise that the forms of flamenco song, guitar and dance are an artistic activity that generates a determined field of study, the PIE.FMC hopes to bring greater comprehension through its study and contrast with tools [herramientas] that derive from its aesthetics, the history of the art, visual studies and the new considerations that arrive via the cultural studies in the fields of anthropology and sociology.
“The organization has named an editorial council formed by Georges Didi-Huberman, José Manuel Gamboa, Pedro G. Romero, Patricia Molins and José Luís Ortiz Nuevo. From the organization, they will support those areas of work, organize activities and contribute to the creation of a marco (entity) that will be able to make available the work being done in the widening field of flamenco studies.
“The PIE.FMC is a project supported by UNIA arteypensamiento and produced by BNV Producciones.”
In the current online issue, the highly respected critic and author Miguel Mora – currently the Paris correspondent for Spain’s leading newspaper El País – reviews a new book titled “Laocoonte Salvage” in an article headed: “The New Topography of Flamenco”. It can be seen beneath a rather unnerving photograph at http://www.pieflamenco.com/publicaciones/nueva-topografia-del-flamenco/
Señor Mora says, more or less…
“The book “Laocoonte Salvage” presents 200 images of postmodern jondura [flamenco depth] by photographer Jorge Ribalta.
Barcelona, Madrid, Granada, Jerez, Sevilla, Puebla de Cazalla, Lebrija, Morón, Málaga, La Unión…Flamenco places, where contemporary flamenco art breathes and works. Jorge Ribalta has visited them, but it could be said that he didn’t want to live them: he photographs them and shows them naked, as they were [or: as if they were…]
The 200 images form a new topography of flamenco. Without atmosphere, handclaps, gestures, poses, fire, and with hardly any professional artists, Ribalta portrays the non-rite of the precarious flamenco industry: festivals before they begin, empty bars, closed tablaos, guitar shops seen from outside, the library of the Prado in Madrid; some practice spaces with and without students; streets and plazas where everything happens at some other time; peripheral flamenco clubs and basement spaces; the cemetery of San Fernando where Camarón is buried; as well as bodegas, radios, theaters, churches, the Jerez fish market of the Zambo family and Israel Galvan’s Seville studio where the dancer looks like an athlete or maybe a doll that’s part of the décor.
Ribalta, born in Barcelona in 1963, has exhibited his photographs in the Bienal de Sevilla, and now the Periférica publishing house has brought them together in a pocket-sized book together with a three-way conversation: the photographer and photo historian himself, with two intellectual flamencologists, Pedro G. Romero, artist and comisario, and Gerhard Steingress, professor at the University of Seville.
The conversation is as pedagogical as these photos, without mystique, rhetoric or épica(narrative). There is, above all, sobriety; intelligence, a Central European humor and a lot of sociological and historical analysis: Ribalta explains that his “Laocoonte Salvaje” project is “an intervention in the realm of representations”, and as such a broad reflection on the history of the images, popular and official culture, identity and nationalism, art and spectacle, poetics and politics, public and secret elements.
Pedro G. Romero states the the “maximum aberration” in the field of institutional representation is the addendum to the Autonomy Statute of the Junta de Andalucía, which arrogates to itself “exclusively the competencias (competence and implicit control) related to flamenco” and recalls how flamenco and its popular and populist mistificaciones (blendings and fusions) – the copla (popular song), the vedetismo (fixation on singing stars, called vedettes in French and evidently in Spain)…took on their naturalization papers during the Second Republic, and how it was this fuente (fount, source) that Francoism made its own and nationalized, in the fascist sense of the word.
With the paternalism of mairenismo [the influential views of the great singer Antonio Mairena, which presented a picture of flamenco that emphasized real or imagined contributions of Spain’s Gypsy artists] of the 1960’s tied the the communism [a major intellectual current in the thinking of that Post-Franco era] there appeared a return to verismo or realism, closely linked to the cinema (Los Tarantos), the television series Rito y Geografía del Cante, and the mythical book by Colita and Caballero Bonald, Luces y Sombras del Flamenco, Romero recalls, citing the American documentarian Darcy Lange, who visited Morón in the sixties, as the first who decided to ask about the object being represented, “What is this thing, how does it really tell us, and what are its qualities?”
Steingress, author of Flamenco Postmoderno (2007), tells how Francoism officially excluded flamenco from the “regenerative work of the Sección Femenina [the Francoist/Fascist women’s organization] and from its chorus and dance departments, considering it the expression of a marginal sub-world, and he cites the importance of exile for the innovation of the art. Ribalta holds a conversation full of discoveries, like the reconstruction of the Granada caves, tablaos and patios that had vanished decades previously in order to take advantage of the economic wind that brought in the flamencophile anhelo (desire) of de Falla and Lorca [organizers of the 1922 Concurso de Cante Jondo, intended to reemphasize an old and endangered aspect of flamenco, considered deeper and purer]… And there you find a possible conclusion: flamenco’s character of a subculture protects it at the same time from both undue appropriation and from becoming a victim of apartheid.
End of article by Miguel Mora.
Translator’s note: I had never seen the American documentarian Darcy Lange cited as perhaps the first to question the longstanding assumptions about flamenco, or to look at the very idea of what it signifies. It could make him the intellectual godfather of that powerful idea. I would normally give that title to the Austrian sociologist Gerhard Steingress, whose extraordinary work in the last two decades was a key to upending the traditional backstory (okay, romantic mythology,)
Like it or not, a visit to the website is worthwhile – a lot of information and surprising stuff, and there are plenty of references, not often dismissive, to the icons of unreconstructed traditionalists and even gitanistas who stress Gypsy aspects of flamenco as it becomes increasingly unfashionable, e.g. in the art of Agujetas, Diego del Gastor, Manuel Torre and others.
My friendly neighborhood anthropologist William Washabaugh is cited in the archives, as is the admirable José Manuel Gamboa (his latest work focuses on the correspondence of Sabicas), Juan Vergillos, José Luís Ortiz Nuevo, Genesis García, Cristina Cruces, Carmen Pulpón, Jo Labanyi and many others who have made me, kicking and screaming, almost question my perspective.
I wish this brave venture luck, but not lots of luck, and look forward to translating more stuff.
April 4, 2015 2 Comments
Hits and Misses from Early Flamenco Forums
Note from 2014: Seventeen years ago, in a discussion about cultural customs including Gypsy customs, I wrote this post bearing on human rights and, not unrelated, the distribution of wealth right here:
Subj: Re: Roots and “Real Flamenco”
Date: Mon, May 12, 1997 11:59 AM EDT
A member brought up a hot topic with this post dealing with the idea of progress and its conflict with tradition.
Today this issue usually centers on the Islamic/Western confrontation. Yet that high-profile power struggle is really a mirror for many other aspects of the same issue — like genital mutilation in Africa, or (the member’s example from the NY Times) the status of New Guinea tribeswomen as objects.
Many of us in the “civilized West” assume we have the proper moral view of all this. For example, I recently spoke to an old leftist who was proud of his wife’s work with women’s groups in Israel — both Moslem and Jewish — to strengthen women’s rights that are not strongly rooted in either tradition.
I asked if we had a God-given duty to meddle in other people’s business. He said “What’s right is right. Anywhere. Anytime.”
I think he’s correct, in fact. But it should be recognized that this attitude can generate some unexpected and possibly negative results as well as the desired positive results.
The absolute convictions we tend to share about, say, women’s rights, were simply non-existent right here in New York City — never mind Papua New Guinea — less than thirty years ago. There’s been a vast attitudinal shift on that issue since my wife Kristin and I marched/strolled in the first Women’s Liberation Day Parade in 1970, pushing my infant daughter in a stroller and listening to the outraged taunts of male and female onlookers.
Now, though, we may be too quick to condemn those who’ve taken too long to catch onto this new truth. Or to condemn entire other cultures who “just don’t get it” — who refuse to appreciate our new truths even thirty years after Betty Friedan and others reveal them. (The Times article on the New Guinea tribe that’s having trouble with the concept mentioned that thirty years ago, they thought they were the only people in the whole world, and that their way was therefore the only way in the whole world.)
Yes, I think we are morally obliged to support and defend human rights, even if it entails the tragic loss of unique cultural traditions that may have had great social, economic or survival value in the past, and may still have some value.
I hope that we don’t get too carried away, though. Because sometimes our high-minded anger reflects a subtle conviction that our basic way of life is superior.
In fact, many of the “primitive” people whose egalitarian kinship systems we disdain would be horrified by our strange custom, in which wealth beyond imagining is concentrated in the hands of a few while countless others have no hope of owning the tiniest fraction of such riches. It would be interesting if we Westerners could get indignant about that particular bit of injustice; instead we support and foster it worldwide.
We tell other cultures how to behave toward women, but don’t seem to question our representatives from the World Bank who insist that these women, and men and children, remain permanently impoverished to pay off interest on debts incurred by their rulers in purchasing our weapons to further oppress them.
Yes — by our lights, some Gypsies may have a problem about the role of women in their “archaic” culture. But the Gypsies also have another pressing problem: most people and most governments want to get rid of them and their archaic culture completely, and don’t care very much how this is accomplished. We shouldn’t let some unfashionable and perhaps unfair Gypsy customs serve to justify the actions that are constantly taken against them.
We all have our own ugly and abusive customs to correct. And the more power we have, the more imperative it is to look at our own failings first.
February 5, 2014 No Comments
Flamenco Symposium at New York University, 2001 – EFE report – Translated with comments by Brook Zern
In November of 2001, Spain’s main news agency, EFE, reported on a New York flamenco symposium. Here’s a translation:
New York University Analyzes Flamenco Outside of Spain
New York, November 11 – With the intent of analyzing the flamenco scene outside of Spain, the King Juan Carlos I Center of Spain together with Susana Asensio organized two days of conferences and events under the title ”Thinking of Flamenco From the U.S.”
The symposium began on Friday with the reading of papers [“ponencias“] by Timothy Mitchell, a professor at Texas A&M University and Susana Asensio of New York University. Professor Mitchell suggested a definition of flamenco ritual as “a tragic cult of virility”, a sort of crown of thorns, in which the singer has an “almost priestly” function. According to Mitchell, flamenco outside of Spain functions as what some psychologists call ”the linking and perpetuating object”, which serves to slow or freeze time [‘”el objeto vinculante”, que funciona para congelar or ralentizar el tiempo.’]
Susana Asensio noted that flamenco has been a reference point for the exotic in the U.S. ever since Carmen Amaya visited New York in the 1940’s. Since then, Asensio suggested, many canons and stereotypes have been attributed to flamenco, which mark the development of U.S. flamenco performances that become increasingly elaborate and spectacular.
This has created a new “transnational flamenco world” with its own rules, local artists, traditions and aficionados who travel to Spain to learn flamenco at the source. In cosmopolitan cities like New York, says Asensio, flamenco is quite complex, and even influences the “pure” flamenco [“flamenco castizo“] of Spain.
The first day concluded with the showing of the documentary “El Turista Soy Yo: The Cante Gitano of Luís Agujeta”, by Trina Bardusco, who followed the singer in his wagon through various parts of Sevilla to explore a kind of flamenco experience which has changed since the time of his father. [Translator's note: His father was Agujetas el Viejo; Luís Agujetas is the considerably younger brother of the better-known Manuel Agujeta; there are numerous siblings, and the film shows other brothers singing as well.]
The second day of the symposium featured papers by Jaime Fatas, a musician and professor at Bentley College in Boston; Rafael Lamas, a professor at New York University; Dorien Ross, psychologist and author of a book about her flamenco experiences in Andalucía; and Jay Kantor, a professor at New York University.
Fatas looked at the transformation of flamenco in the U.S., and its affinity with other styles of Latin music and jazz which facilitated mixing of styles and contributed to the formation of contemporary flamenco. Lamas showed how, in the face of exotic European traditions, de Falla and Lorca integrated flamenco into their own works, participating in the construction of a popular consciousness which gives it significance. Dorien Ross related her personal experience as a young American woman who at the end of the 60’s, knapsack on her back, decided to go to Morón de la Frontera to learn to play flamenco guitar within a community of Gypsies [translator's note: the late Dorien Ross's book about studying guitar and living in Morón was titled "Returning to A"; I occasionally played guitar when she did readings from it at New York bookstores]. Jay Kantor spoke of the singular nature of Morón de la Frontera, a community some 40 miles from Sevilla where foreigners were not only “allowed”, but became an important part of flamenco and social life between 1955 and 1975 [Translator's note: the late Jay Kantor, a friend and dedicated aficionado, was an indefatigable defender and source of information about Morón and its musical heritage.]
The second day ended with a round table “Flamenco in America: Rituals and Myths”, and a recital of classical flamenco song in the Methodist Church of Washington Square, with Luis Agujeta accompanied by Gary Hayes on guitar. As a complement to the conferences, a photographic exposition called ”Landscape of the Flamenco Soul” showing the works of Gilles Larrain, will be shown in the atrium of the Juan Carlos I Center through January 31.
End of EFE report on NYU Conference organized by Susana Asensio.
Translator’s note: I went down there one evening to support my pals, including Ms. Asensio who was investigating the topic of Flamenco and Kitsch. (She had interviewed me extensively about flamenco theory and practice, and I thought I gave her a fascinating factual account of the music of her native land. Only later did I realize that she viewed me the way an intrepid English explorer might view a Hottentot tribesperson, as a living relic of a fast-vanishing primitive mode of thought and behavior.)
I also hoped to heckle Professor Mitchell, though I am fascinated by the aspect of flamenco as seeming to slow or stop time that he discussed.
When his book, “Flamenco Deep Song” came out — it had a very negative view of flamenco, and attacked the then-dominant romantic view of flamenco I shared — someone allegedly asked him why he had chosen the field of flamenco if he had such a low opinion of the art and its stories. His answer was that there was no need to love something to analyze it, and that in fact, when people wrote about something they already loved, they almost by definition could not be objective. Frankly, I thought that was a pretty sensible attitude, so I decided to ignore it. (Maybe that was another deconstructionist; anyway, somebody remembered my trying to razz Mitchell, but in the words of Crazy Joe Bonanno, I do not recall any such incident.)
January 22, 2014 No Comments
I’ve been seeking a recent post which, perhaps accidentally, coined a marvelous word.
As is often the case, the note questioned the judgment, or sanity, of those who hate to see anything short of hagiography — adoring attempted mythologizing — about guitarist Diego del Gastor.
Anyway, instead of using the descriptive standard word “sycophants” I think it used the even more descriptive but non-standard term “psycophants” — or maybe even the dead-on perfect “psychophants”.
(Well, it made my day. And I’m one of ‘em, too.)
January 18, 2014 No Comments
Flamenco Singer José Menese Interprets Classic Poems – Article by Manuel Ríos Ruíz – Translated by Brook Zern
Manuel Rios Ruiz (one of my favorite flamenco experts) wrote of the art for a leading Spanish paper, ABC. Here’s a 2001 article — a sort of new/old twist on flamenco.
Jose Menese and Ginesa Ortega Will Interpret the Classics in the Teatro Real
Madrid – Jose Menese and Ginesa Ortega will sing the poems of Gongora, Lope, Calderon, San Juan de la Cruz, Quevedo and Cervantes on the 8th in the Teatro Real. For Jose Maria Velasquez, the musical and literary adapter [and the key man in creating the great documentary series "Rito y Geografia del Flamenco"], “classical poetry is blended with classical flamenco in a set of correlations whereby I’ve tried to let each element retain their original structure.”
Flamenco artists today are drawing inspiration from the most revered authors, and the legends of the past. As examples of this much-discussed tendency, there are the Lorca versions and the avatars of “Dona Juana la Loca”. Now we will see “De Mis Soledades Vengo (Classics and Flamenco)”.
For this production, the poet José María Velásquez has compiled a selection of poems and songs from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. “To do this properly, I have respected above all the integrity of the selected verses, which I consider sacred and untouchable. I have adapted them to some flamenco values, according to the particular character of each verse, remembering that these are not the same things as the deep natural verses of the martinetes or the soleares,” he explains. He says that the adaptation involved an exercise in forms, compases [rhythms], accents and metric resolutions, seeking points of conjunction between the poetry of that era and flamenco as it is today. The key is to let both elements retain their original structure, so that we add a new dimension of music to the the language of poetry.”
The artistic director Luis Torres Rubio worked with Jose Menese, a maestro of cante flamenco, and with Ginesa Ortega, a singer with a firm grasp of theatrical values in presenting flamenco. With them will be Enrique de Melchor and Jeronimo with their guitars, the profound dancer Carmen Ledesma, and the palmeros-dancers Chicharito and Gregorio Parilla. In addition, Joan Albert Amargos will direct a chamber orchestra in this first flamenco production in the Teatro Real. Great expectation surrounds this event, where verses of Gongora, Ruiz de Alarcón, Lope de vega, San Juan de la Cruz, Fray Luís de Leon, Calderón de la Barca, Santa Teresa, Quevedo, Rojas, Tirso de Molina, Guillén de Castro and others will become martinetes, soleares, livianas, rondenas, malaguenas, peteneras, tangos, nanas, tangos, sevillanas and bulerías.
In his illustrious career, Menese has interpreted flamenco in such prestigious venues as the Olimpia in Paris and the United Nations Auditorium in New York. But for this artist from La Puebla de Cazalla, it is of great importance to sing flamenco in the Teatro Real of Madrid, above all while interpreting the great classical Spanish poets. “It is a beautiful challenge, and a great responsibility. But it is also a great honor. I never hesitated to accept this chance to be part of a flamenco event that has such difficulty and such interest,” says the singer.
The die is cast. Flamenco never ceases to find new expressive modes. And on this occasion, through the rigor of orthodoxy, it will try to add to its inheritance the great lyric values of Spain’s classical poetry.
End of translation.
Ginesa Ortega is a fine singer, and probably used to experimental stuff. But José Menese is the most rigidly orthodox/traditionalist/purist singer alive — it’s interesting to see that he had no trouble with this increasingly popular notion of adapting poet’s verses to flamenco, even if it means breaking the rigid melodic/syllabic structure as it must. Old dog learns new trick! – olé, José.
January 10, 2014 No Comments
Madonna Will Open a Flamenco Academy in Los Angeles – Article from Spain’s El Mundo – translated with comments by Brook Zern
From the December 30, 2013 edition of El Mundo, one of Spain’s most respected newspapers
The Least Known Facet of the Pop Star
Madonna Will Open a Flamenco Academy in Los Angeles
• A trusted person is now choosing the future professors of flamenco dance and song
• The artist has expressed admiration for Sara Baras’s dance and Ketama’s music
• She also showed off a frilly red flamenco dress in a video and attended a performance of El Farruco
By José de Santiago
The least known facet of Madonna is her afición (passion) for flamenco. Her admiration of the art is so strong that she wants to open a school in Los Angeles, and a person she trusts [una persona de su confianza] is now selecting those who will become the future teachers [profesores] in the California city.
Her afición dates to the end of the nineties, when she spent several days in Madrid and combined pleasure with work. At that time, accompanied by Miguel Bosé [the hugely popular singer, Latin Grammy winner, and son of Spanish actress Lucia Bosé and the legendary bullfighter Luís Miguel Dominguín]; Pedro Almodóvar [the acclaimed filmmaker]; Rosario Flores [the Latin Grammy winning singer and actress, and daughter of Spain’s most famous singer-actress, Lola Flores]; and a group of friends, she went to a flamenco fiesta at the home of Piedad Aguirre [sister of Esperanza Aguirre [titled the Countess of Bornos; once President of Madrid, now President of Madrid’s Partido Popular, Spain’s ruling rightist party, and the first woman to be appointed Honorary Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.]
The next day, the singer said she was ecstatic about the dancing of [the terrific flamenco dancer] Sara Baras and the magic of the songs of La Barbería del Sur and Ketama [two then-hot flamenco fusion groups doing pop songs with a flamenco feel]. It’s said that the americana then went to a juerga [a free-form flamenco jam session] until after 4 a.m.. and that she struck up a close friendship [entabló una buena amistad] with Antonio Carmona [a member of Ketama along with others from his famed Gypsy family from Granada; son of the great flamenco guitarist Juan Habichuela, perhaps the best living accompanist for flamenco singers; and nephew of the brilliant guitarist Pepe Habichuela, a noted flamenco virtuoso and pioneer in working with jazz artists like bassist Dave Holland to create new musical blends].
Also, in the eighties she gave a wink to flamenco when she chose a red frilly dress for the video of her pop song “La isla bonita”. And last year, during her world tour dubbed MDNA, she was accompanied by a flamenco dancer.
During another Spanish visit, she was determined to see a flamenco dance production starring Antonio Fernandez Montoya “Farruco”, [a great flamenco dancer and namesake of his grandfather, revered as possibly the finest dancer in living memory] at which she ended up dancing in the middle of a road to the astonishment of the group. “Farruco”, who is now 25, confessed that if Madonna had fallen in love with his dancing, he felt the same about her generosity and humility.
End of article. The original is at http://www.elmundo.es/loc/2013/12/30/52bdea7422601d747c8b4583.html
Translator’s notes and comments:
1) I have added the information in brackets.
2) A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and in hard-core flamenco circles, no quarter is asked and none is given. (When I dared to challenge an opinion voiced by the great guitarist Pepe Habichuela who’s mentioned above, he said, “You know what’s wrong with you?” I said no. He said, “Your mouth is too big and your ears are too small.”)
Madonna certainly knows what and who she likes at any given moment, but her fragmentary inklings about flamenco do not bode well for a potentially important cultural institution like a well-funded, high-profile flamenco academy.
Instant history: For a long time, flamenco was in the clutches of an ingrown group of traditionalist tastemakers who revered the existing art and respected its inflexible rules and regulations. In the early seventies, flamenco was shaken by a revolution led by the great guitarist Paco de Lucía and his friend and collaborator, the great singer Camarón de la Isla. At first, the changes were subtle — guitar harmonies taken from Western music, or freer vocal lines; soon, however, their shared vision began to transform the art.
New instruments and entire orchestras supplanted the singer’s traditional lone-guitar accompaniment, while the fifty or so song forms were augmented by mixing, mashing, blending and fusing flamenco with many other musical styles. Meanwhile, the paradigm of the lone guitar soloist — think Carlos Montoya or the great virtuoso Sabicas — was eradicated by Paco’s decision to instead front jazz-style instrumental groups with bass, percussion, horns, flutes and harmonicas. Not to be outmoderned, flamenco dancers, too, began begging and borrowing elements from ballet, jazz, hip-hop and yes, modern.
So purism is passé, and traditionalists are termed the Taliban. Fusion rules, so there are no rules. But flamenco can only be stretched so far before it distorts or fractures. If anything goes, flamenco will inevitably become something else. And when you’re negotiating this minefield, you gotta know your stuff.
Assuming this alleged news story didn’t spring full-blown from the forehead of a flak looking for a daily press mention, I hope and expect that Madonna’s designated deputy understands these realities. Ketama doesn’t do flamenco, though its members certainly could if they want to. La Barberia del Sur didn’t do flamenco either, and probably couldn’t [correction -- my friend Arturo Martínez points out that members of this fusion group, too, have impeccable real-flamenco credentials from the Extremadura region -- the guitarist Juan José Suarez is the son of the fine singer Ramón el Portugues -- and they even linked up with the Carmona/Habichuela family of Ketama fame at certain points].
Farruco and his whole family are glorious flamenco artists, but this clan vehemently rejects the current fusion trends that in their estimation dilute or pollute this incredible cultural creation (see/seek nearby Farruco entries in this blog.)
Madonna, like virtually all Americans, won’t like real flamenco song, which is the antithesis of pop; it’s a high compliment to say that a certain singer “hiere” (wounds) the prepared listener. She also won’t enjoy listening to actual flamenco guitar, as opposed to that lone flamenco-ish lick she used to spice up “La Isla Bonita”. And, like many Americans, she might like good flamenco dancing, whether traditional or transgressive.
A hypothetical wealthy flamenco artist who suddenly got a crush on certain American rock or jazz artists and decided to open an Academy of Rock in Spain’s flamenco capital of Seville would only succeed by admitting he or she didn’t know Richie Havens from Richard Penniman (Little Richard, to you), and hiring qualified help.
And vice versa, natch. Be sure your “trusted person” knows the difference between the soleá de Joaquin el de la Paula and the malagueña doble de Enrique el Mellizo, and then hand over all the money and decisions to them.
(For a shockingly negligible price by your standards, I’m instantly available to head your brilliant project– my bio is in here somewhere, and yes, it casually drops the name of King Juan Carlos the First of Spain who knighted me for the dissemination of Spanish culture in America — does that outrank your gal-pal, Ms.Aguirre?
And for a few dollars more, I will abjectly recant my prissy purism and my arch-traditionalist, obviously obsolete obstructionist false ideologies and get with the program.
Thank you for your kind consideration, Ms. Ciccone, and I love those coney things you wear in front, the ones you copied from Lady Gaga, and think they would add an interesting and dangerous new dimension to those boring, unpointy flamenco costumes we see all too often these days.
(Free hint: In the singing classes at your new Academy — I hear the architect Renzo Piano needs work — do not apply that electronic sonic retouching machine you use to correct your wavering pitch for recordings and concerts. In flamenco singing, so-called microtonal intervals are an intrinsic element of this non-Western art, indebted to Arab and other distant vocal traditions. That’s just one of the many qualities that make serious flamenco singing so wildly unpopular in this country — suffice it to say that my father, who taught me my first flamenco guitar music, had an early hi-fi record that featured great flamenco singing. It was called “Music to Speed the Parting Guest.”
It always worked.
(Don’t go away, Mad. Just go away. Trust me, in this one single area you aren’t merely like a virgin; you are a virgin,)
Hope to see all my flamenco friends at the open auditions at the L.A. Coliseum on…
December 30, 2013 15 Comments
Last year, at four in the morning in a roadside venta called the Templo Flamenco, near the seaport town of Chiclana, I heard a guy sing. I thought he was one of the finest flamenco singers I’d ever heard. I also realized that he might still be singing great flamenco sixty years from now, when I was a hundred and thirty-two, which was a great relief.
His name is Samuel Serrano. He is the real deal. Important people are working to give him the success he deserves, without pushing too far too fast. (He was accompanied by the great Paco Cepero, who’s involved in the effort.)
I don’t know this kid, but he just friended me on Facebook. I was delighted. His Facebook page included an article from the online publication La Flamenca. (url is below.) The English robotranslation left much to be desired, though mine does, too. But here’s a version:
Flamenco Que Viene [Up-and-Coming Flamenco]: Samuel Serrano
Born in the town of Chipiona in 1994, and now singing with a well-aged voice that can never be forgotten, Samuel Pimentel Serrano is one of our great hopes in the realm of the most traditional flamenco song.
His background says it all – the blood the the Agujetas family of Jerez de la Frontera flows in his veins, in his bitter laments, and his ending cadences – Gypsy singing “puro y duro” (pure and hard/straight up) is one of the key identifiers of this young singer who is not yet 20 and already has a bright path ahead.
His throat seems fatigued from suffering, weathered in the Gypsy forges that no longer exist, and in the fields with the now-vanished workers; it is dark and imbued by his lineage (“raza”); there is no better credential for Samuel Serrano. Close your eyes when he sings, and you recall Juan Talega, El Chocolate, Terremoto and Antonio Mairena [all immortal Gypsy giants of song]. Are we exaggerating? No more than we’re telling the truth.
His goals are no different than those of other good artists who want to make their mark, stride slowly and firmly, learn from the great professionals, and seek the counsel of wise elders such as his artistic godfather, Paco Cepero, who has discovered other great voices within the tradition of the Cádiz area.
His vocal lament has dramatic shades, and his torn voice seems quite at odds with his youth; rather, it is an ageless voice trapped in an adolescent’s body. And beyond that, it dares to enter the domain of the most challenging forms of flamenco. Its supple ease in the [fiendishly difficult] siguiriyas, its purity in the [crucial ] soleá, its flavor in the [storming, driving] bulerías, its wisdom in the [bleak, barren] martinetes, its sheer skill in the [gripping, dramatic] fandangos. It dominates all the flamenco styles, and despite its broken quality it is agile and flexible.
Inevitably, one is struck by its “agujeteo” – its kinship with the voices of others in his family [notably Manuel Agujetas, the paradigm of emotive Gypsy singing]. Then there’s the trademark aspect of Jerez, the great bastion of the Gypsy tradition; and his love of pure song that is done “por derecho” [“by right”, or expressed from within the tradition and its heritage]. With Samuel Serrano, aficionados have one of the veins that nourish the heart of the singing tradition; vocal command in a voice that already emerges scathed and hurt, that contains the black sounds and the immaculate, well-aged purity of the timeless tradition that is embodied within him.
He has already performed in key sites like the seafront Baluarte [bulwark] of Cádiz, accompanied by the guitarist Niño Pura, on Canal Sur TV, Spanish National Radio, in Madrid and teaching Master Classes alongside his godfather Paco Cepero in the Festival de la Yerbabuena that he recalls with pleasure.
Wherever he goes, he makes is mark. His listeners seem to be transported through time, returned to an era quite different from our own, imbued with the essence of good song, of a rich heritage and of the bright hope that his youth lets us feel though the magic that he dispenses. Samuel Serrano: darkness turned to light.
End of translation.
Remember the name, Samuel Serrano. Despite all his advantages, and something that looked like real charisma to me, he faces one enormous obstacle: Very few people like this great and rarefied style of flamenco song, in which terms like duele “it hurts”, hiere “it wounds” and no se aguanta “it’s unbearable”, are considered high praise. The original article is at:
December 28, 2013 No Comments
Flamenco Singer Manuel Agujetas – Information from YouTube commentary posted by “elmojama4″ – Translated by Brook Zern
Flamenco Singer Manuel Agujetas – Information – Translated by Brook Zern
Translator’s Note and Introduction
Moraíto on Agujetas: “For me, his singing is always surprising, there is always something new. This is singing in its savage state, the pure song.”
Translator’s note: For many years, I have been fascinated by Manuel Agujetas, recently described in the New York Times as a great flamenco singer. Elsewhere in this blog, you’ll find my 1976 Village Voice article about him as well as other translated interviews and that New York Times article.
Even when he emerged as a new figure in song in the early 1970’s, he was a throwback to an earlier age. I tried to find him in Spain back then, but it wasn’t until he showed up working at a small restaurant in New York in ’76 that I met him. He was married to a remarkable international New York woman and a fine flamenco dancer, Henriette Lubart, known as Tibu or Tibulina and as “La Tormenta”, and I helped organize and publicize some of their appearances. (I also tried to reassure Tibu’s protective and understandably apprehensive Jewish parents that this menacing-looking and illiterate Gypsy was, like it or not, one of the world’s great artists.)
In recent years, living in Jerez, I have again managed to witness his art face to face.
Flamenco is an art of many dimensions. A new wave of beautiful singers with beautiful voices is upon us now, and we have Estrella Morente and Argentina and Arcangel and Juan Valderrama among others. Miguel Poveda is the new master of the art as a whole, commanding every great branch of song from the immense trunk of flamenco. Carmen Linares is the other great figure overseeing the proceedings. And José Mercé, who among singers in their prime may be the greatest master of the crucial deep song forms and and terrific in many other styles, is the best-selling flamenco singer of all, thanks in large measure to the rock and pop songs that take up about half the space on his CD’s.
And then there is Agujetas – not just a difficult but an impossible man, thoughtless, inconsiderate, outrageous, doing what he wants to do and often leaving serious damage in his wake. The resentment is so strong that a leading critic I admire has urged people to boycott his appearances, despite the fact that he is a magnificent singer. (Agujetas has always behaved impeccably with me, and remembers times we shared better than I do – go figure.)
For me and some others, he is a living connection to the aspect of flamenco we see as essential in grasping the tragic essence of the art, a link to a vanished world of disease, hunger, poverty and ignorance.
(Or maybe not vanished after all, at least in terms of economic misery: Last month, the Bloomberg Misery Index placed Spain among the world’s ten unhappiest nations – not exactly surprising, given the fact that hundreds of thousands of Spaniards were demonstrating against the leaders who have led it into its desperate economic situation. Somehow, though, I doubt if a 1950’s national poll would have revealed such feelings of misery despite far worse poverty. Perhaps ignorance was bliss, or perhaps, as it seemed to me, the people somehow managed to find happiness – or at least believe they were happy –when terrible deprivation was shared equally among a virtually universal underclass.)
This is a translation with a soundtrack. The article was posted on YouTube by “elmojama4”, one of the leading contributors to YouTube’s immense flamenco section with 733 videos (and 1,858 subscribers). It was published on March 6, 2012. One interviewer was Pepe Marín, a frequent “emcee” at the countless free recitals and events at the many wonderful peñas or flamenco associations of Jerez. Here’s the URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjSCLRNOC7o
It’s posted in small segments, with viewer comments interpolated.
Please note that it is incomplete – actually fragmentary: It includes a segment headed 1 of 8 and another headed 2 of 8. I hope to find the remaining six, if they exist.
(Also note that today’s preferred flamenco authorities frown on the concept of “pure” flamenco, and the idea that certain Gypsy artists can offer art in a “savage” state that few other artists ever approach. That’s why I began this with a quote from the late, great Jerez guitarist Moraito – because in my book he, too, was an authority, and because he understood flamenco evenbetter than those other people.) The translation:
AGUJETA DE JEREZ – GENIO Y DUENDE DEL CANTE GITANO
In the sociology of the world of flamenco deep song, the Gypsy family has great importance as the conserver and transmitter of the styles, creating the most propitious ambiente so that the song, guitar and dance in their maximum purity are not lost. We have as examples the house of the Torre family, of the Mairenas, the Paulas, the Perrates.
From Jerez de la Frontera comes the house of the Agujetas, whose most important professional exponent we have with us here, for those who do not already know in depth the dark metal of his voice. He is also here for the growing number of aficionados who are left speechless by the black sounds that reside in an unknown dimension, and that this Gypsy has the duende to invoke with his song.
The Forge of the Agujetas
The saga of the Agujetas comes from Puerto de Santa Maria and is descended from the Rubichis, the Fedeitos, the Moneos and the Chaquetas. Focusing on the provable, we find that Manuel Agujeta comes from an exceptional line of singers residing on Acebuche Street in Jerez. His uncle, Tomás de los Santos Navarro, a compadre of Manuel Torre [widely considered the greatest Gypsy singer of the last century, or of all time], was sought out by aficionados and wealthy men of the locality who hoped to immerse themselves in the depths of his song; his grandmother María Gallardo was evidently an extraordinary singer of siguiriyas [flamencos central deep song form], his grandfather was Juntito Pastor, also touched by the lance of the deep song; his father Manuel de los Santos Gallardo “Agujetas el Viejo”, an impressive non-professional singer, a living encyclopedia of the archaic song styles of El Marrurro, Manuel Molina, Manuel Torre, Frijones, Juan Jambre, Tío José de Paula, Carapiera, Ramírez and the crippled Farrabú. Like many other singers from this deepest vortex, this Gypsy blacksmith did not receive the recognition he deserved for the jewels that poured from his throat and his way of rendering the song. Many aficionados and professionals made the pilgrimage to his forge in Rota to take pleasure in his song, including such emblematic figures as Antonio Mairena and Manolo Caracol [the two most important figures in mid-twentieth century deep song]. Unfortunately in this world of flamenco the acclaimed artist is not the one who creates and makes true art, but the one who sells best and fills theaters, at the cost of distancing himself from the greatest depths of the art. A nephew of the essential figure “Mingo [Domingo] Rubichi” and of Diego de los Santos, from whom aficionados bought things just to hear him sing, and a grandnephew of José Gallardo Suarez “El Chalao Viejo”; a brother of the singers Juan “El Gordo Agujeta”, Paco Agujeta, Diego Agujeta and Luís Agujeta; father of Antonio Agujeta and Dolores Agujeta who continue the tradition; grandfather of Antonio Agujeta “Niño Agujeta” who at just 11 years old created a sensation in the homage dedicated to his relative El Negro del Puerto, singing the songs of his grandfather and then continuing as a flamenco guitar accompanist. Cousin of the singers El Gitano de Bronce and the surprising Diego Rubichi, who left an extraordinary legacy of deep song.
Manuel de los Santos Pastor “Manuel Agujeta” [or, as your translator prefers to pluralize him, Manuel Agujetas] was born in Acebuche Street in Jerez in 1935. [Other stories give different later dates, often 1941] Agujeta el Viejo and his wife Ana Pastor Monje moved to Rota in 1936 after the birth of their fourth child María, where he opened a small forge, bringing to it the best of Jerez ironworking and flamenco song. Manuel, besides apprenticing as a blacksmith, went into the realm of his deep legacy as learned from his father, and with time became his legitimate artistic heir. Manuel returned to the San Miguel neighborhood of Jerez at 15, and at 17 entered a course in aviation, after receiving a recommendation from Álvaro Domecq [the sherry magnate, probably the richest and most important man in Jerez or all of Andalucía], perhaps through the man who would become his key promoter, the poet, writer and director of the Institute [Cátedra] of Flamencology of Jerez, Juan de la Plata.
Manuel, aside from blacksmithing, was a sheep-shearer serving the ranches of the area, where he heard old non-professional singers who knew the deep roots of the song.
He supplemented that with local appearances after winning the [very prestigious] Concurso de Cante Flamenco of Mairena del Alcor in 1966, together with Camarón and Fosforito. Beyond the usual private gatherings of cabales [savvy aficionados], he started some sporadic appearances on stages and thereby sang in 1968 in Jerez and Cadiz in the show called “Festival Flamenco” organized by Juan de la Plata and the Cátedra as part of the “Festivales de España” together with his father, El Tío Borrico and El Chozas…simulating onstage the singing in taverns, he also appeared at that time in the “Jueves Flamencos” and the “Fiesta de la Bulería of his hometown, both under the direction of [the great Jerez guitarist and entrepreneur] Manuel Morao.
PART TWO OF EIGHT
Here It All Began
In 1970, Manuel Agujeta put aside the hammer and the shearing scissors after the performances of his other two valedores, El Tío Parrilla who gave him a letter of introduction to [the noted flamenco expert, poet and writer] Manuel Ríos Ruiz, and his compadre Antonio “El Platero” [the silversmith, currently completing an important book about Agujetas] who put up enough money to send him to Madrid. Once there, Ríos Ruiz quickly arranged for him to record for the [prestigious] CBS label, the producer of his stupendous first album.
That was the beginning of his promotion as an artist, appearing at the Ateneo de Madrid at a gathering of people who had heard of him and were inclined to be severe judges rather than simply listening to him. But Agujeta convinced them, demonstrating that for him, the world of serious flamenco song had no secrets.
After that initial success he appeared in the Villa & Corte, the [prestigious tablao] Café de Chinitas, the Club Urbis and the Colegios Mayores such as San Juan Evangelista where Alejandro Reyes, a member of the Music Club, told us: “From that period I have to recall the recitals of the singer Manuel Agujetas, which went on until all hours of the morning.” He also sang at the peñas [flamenco clubs] and municipal festivals, and also at fiestas [private gatherings] organized by circles of friends.
He signed a notarized contract with Juan de la Plata as his manager, just as good bullfighters would do. He returned to Madrid in 1972 to record his second LP and appeared in the Teatro Español as part of the II Festival of Flamencology organized by his manager to get funding for the Museum of Flamenco, with huge success.
At that time, says [the flamenco expert and great documentary filmmaker] José María Velásquez, “Manuel Agujeta and I went to a bullfight and met [the great Jerez singer then living in Madrid] Manuel Soto “Sordera” and [the great Granada-born singer] Enrique Morente. I live near the Las Ventas bullring, so when the corrida was over I suggested that we continue the gathering at my house. They accepted. The encounter was going very well when Agujeta, in a spontaneous outburst, began to sing. It seems strange, but after that, neither Sordera nor Morente even thought of opening their mouths. They remained in uncomfortable silence.”
Manuel, learning from friends about the increasing importance of concursos de cante (song contests), entered the Ceuta contest in 1974. He insulted Antonio Mairena, who was assigned to deliver the prizes, when the jury did not give him the prize for singing the siguiriyas. [That’s my translator’s guess: In Spanish it says Agujetas “montado el pollo contra Antonio Mairena, encargado por la organización de la entrega de los galardones, cuando se le ningunea por parte del jurado el premio por siguiriyas.”
In the Seville newspaper ABC, the flamenco critic Juan Luís Manfredi wrote: The first contest, intended to identify important new artists, had [three prizes]. They were given to Calixto Sánchez, Curro Malena and Antonio Suarez. I won’t go into the fine points, but the fact is that the first night was a yawn and the audience only came awake on a few occasions: Pepe Sanlúcar was sensational, Alfredo Arrebolo generated enthusiasm; Agujetas delivered a siguiriya that was one for the anthologies; and Calixto delivered. So two of the winners didn’t awaken the public, although they must have impressed the jury, whose qualifications were not clear.”
In the mid-seventies, Agujeta married the American dancer Tibu “La Tormenta”, forming an artistic partnership that lasted more than a decade, appearing at festivals, theaters and universities. Although nothing went wrong with his association with his manager, Manuel decided to fly solo, after Juan de la Plata made the contacts to get him a passport despite problems due to his birth not being registered anywhere.
In 1975, the couple settled in New York and appeared in Carnegie Hall [it was the small Carnegie Recital Hall], at the New School and at Columbia University. They were contracted to appear for a season, from Wednesdays through Sundays, at the New York restaurant La Sangría. In 1976 they represented Spain in the Smithsonian Institute’s Folklife Festival, where their were filmed in an NBC-TV documentary. They went to the western U.S., appearing in theaters and universities including the Colorado Dance Festival, the Nairopa Institute for Buddhism and the San Francisco Bay area.
End of available written commentary accompanying elmojama4’s YouTube films of Agujetas. It seems remarkable that elmojama4 had such solid information about their stateside activities. I arranged the Columbia gig while I was using my alma mater to help extract the Rito y Geografía films from Spanish TV. I also helped Ana Lomax — who, along with her father the great folklorist Alan Lomax was associated with Columbia — set up the Smithsonian gig and never heard about any NBC-TV documentary; I hope someone can help find it. I also helped with the “little Carnegie” event — when Agujetas saw the posters, he said I’d spelled his name wrong. I pointed out that I was literate and he was not, but he pointed out that it was his name and he was the decider; he then pointed to the “g” and said it should be a “b” (the sounds can get a bit conflated way down south). I changed it. Maybe he wasn’t bigger than me, but somehow he looked a tiny bit tougher.
I hope to add further material soon.
December 23, 2013 No Comments
About fifteen years ago, give or take five years, I was wandering around my old flamenco stomping ground of Morón de la Frontera (flamenco stomping ground, get it?) when I passed the offices of Radio Morón, which in the sixties and seventies always broadcast that town’s annual Gazpacho Festival and other high-profile events.
At the time, I was still under the influence of a Blues Brothers movie, and believed I was on a Mission From God to preserve and protect great music. (The world’s two greatest musical traditions, of course, are 1) the blues and 2) flamenco song, though not necessarily in that order.) (I was also convinced that I’d finally helped rescue the fabulous Rito y Geografia de Flamenco TV series; assuredly, I’d been generously allowed to pay a lot for the very first film and tape copies.)
Anyway, I went inside. A nice-looking woman asked if she could help me. “Yer darned right you can help me,” I said, albeit in a mangled Spanish equivalent. “You can release all the tapes I know you have here of great flamenco events by the best artists who ever lived – singers like Fernanda de Utrera and Antonio Mairena and Juan Talega and guitarists like Melchor de Marchena and Diego del Gastor, and then you can…”
Predictably, she yelled for Security, but equally predictably, the station didn’t have any Security. But a guy came running downstairs, prepared to wrestle me to the ground. He finally managed to calm me down, and introduced himself as the station manager. He asked how I knew about their trove of tapes; I told him I didn’t know, but bluffing usually worked.
Astonishingly, he didn’t press charges – in fact, he said he really liked flamenco and asked me to come upstairs. “Funny you should mention the idea of releasing the tapes”, he said, “We’re in the process of doing just that. In fact, I’ve given the tapes – hundreds of them – to a local electronics expert who says he can do a great job of digitizing them, cheap. We’re going to start with about twelve hours of amazing stuff. But hey, here’s one example. This one was originally made in the early fifties on a wire recorder, before magnetic tape had gotten to Spain. The singer is Pepe Marchena, the most popular flamenco singer ever. And maybe you’ll recognize the guitarist.”
“Holy smokes,” I said, though the phrase “Santos Fumos” didn’t seem to ring a bell with him. “That’s Diego del Gastor! That’s gotta be the earliest recording that exists of him! And it’s also an unknown recording of Pepe Marchena. This is great news, and speaking on behalf of all flamenco lovers everywhere, and using the royal we, we humbly thank you for making this great treasure available to humankind for eternity.”
Even as we said it, it occurred to us that in fact that was not going to happen, even assuming that everyone involved had noble intentions. But he played a bunch of other material from other great artists, and it was tempting to believe that something might work out.
He then hauled out a bunch of scrapbooks and asked if I could name the people in the photographs, and sure enough, they were the usual suspects, the artists and local aficionados I still remembered. (García Lorca, in his definitive essay on Duende, called such people “the kind of genies who pop out of brandy bottles.”)
He said he was too young to be part of that Morón scene, but he remembered walking along country roads with his friends when a speeding Land Rover careened around a corner and they all dived into ditches to save their own lives.
“Hey,” I said. “I was in that Land Rover! Me and eight other gringos, usually. Don Pohren was either driving us to a fiesta or to a great restaurant that didn’t even have a sign, it was just somebody’s house. You think you were terrified? Pohren’s blood level was negligible. Still, he the best drunk driver I ever knew. Aside from being the first and best foreign expert, of course.”
Well, a few years later I went back into that studio. It seemed that some problems had arisen. I feigned surprise, though I would have been flabbergasted if all of that priceless material had not vaporized. (In fact, I now realize that my simply inquiring about a rare tape or film can cause it to spontaneously combust.)
Why am I telling you this, whoever you may be? Because I’d like to know whether any of those tapes have survived and were digitized, and how I can hear them.
I’ve lost the manager’s business card, but I think he was named Camacho, maybe Antonio Camacho? And while he seemed to be a nice guy, I’m hoping that some of my real or virtual friends or acquaintances who live in or hang out in Morón will drop into the radio station and start pushing their elegant ceramic awards onto the marble floor until someone promises to do the right thing, or explain exactly what went wrong.
Also, I’d like to urge everyone to bust into all local radio stations they pass in Spain and demand the immediate release of all their good flamenco recordings, copyright issues be damned.
(Hey, you want legality, I’ll give you legality. This week, hundreds of recordings of the Beatles at the Beebe (the BBC) from 1963 were quietly finally made available. Why now? Because it seems that copyrights expire after fifty years, in this case on December 31 – unless the material is officially released, in which case the copyright can be extended. So either cough up those disintegrating flamenco tapes now or lose all rights forever, okay?)
Brook “Property is Theft” Zern
December 17, 2013 1 Comment
Pablo Picasso: Morón de la Frontera’s Most Famous Non-native Grandson
If you had been hanging around the Andalusian town of Morón de la Frontera in 1800, you might have run into a recent arrival named José Ruíz Fuentes, a musician and tintorero (cleaner and dyer) and his wife María Josefa Almoguera González; and their four children.
And if you’d been hanging around Paris a century later, you might have run into a promising young artist who probably had an old photograph of one of those children, Diego Ruíz Almoguera, perhaps in a frame that said “Grandpa”.
That artist would’ve been Pablo Ruíz Picasso.
I found this info in an online blog devoted to Morón: http://morondelafrhistoriaflamencodeportes.blogspot.com/search/label/Picasso%20y%20Morón
I reluctantly concede that a non-native grandson like Pablo Picasso trumps even the town’s most glorious non-native son, the flamenco guitarist Diego Flores Amaya who was born in the town of Arriate in the province of Málaga, moved to the the pueblo of El Gastor in that same province, and then as a young man moved to Morón while retaining his professional name, Diego del Gastor.
November 3, 2013 No Comments