Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Singer and Guitarist Anilla la de Ronda

The Life and Times of a Great Flamenco Woman: The Singer and Guitarist Anilla la de Ronda (1855-1933) – Article translated by Brook Zern

The Life and Times of a Great Flamenco Woman: The Singer and Guitarist Anilla la de Ronda (1855-1933) – Article translated by Brook Zern

The two-volume Diccionario Enciclopedico Ilustrado del Flamenco (Cinterco, 1988) carries this entry that I’ve translated here [with bracketed interjections]:

ANILLA LA DE RONDA.  Artistic name of Ana Amaya Molina.  Ronda (Málaga province), 1855-1933.  Singer and guitarist, who usually accompanied herself on guitar.  In her native region, she performed in the cafés cantantes [the usual venues of the era] including Fornos,  La Primera de Ronda and El Pollo, where it its said she knew don Antonio Chacón [the most famous singer of the era], and the Ronda-born singer Paca Aguilera, working alongside them in 1890 in the [extremely important flamenco showcase] Café de Chinitas of Málaga.

Other anecdotes about her life that indicate her artistic importance are the following:  Pastora Imperio [one of the most admired Spanish dancers in history] in her first appearance in the Teatro Español of Ronda, insistently demanded to meet her, and presented her with a bata de cola [dance costume with a train]; Queen Victoria, during an intimate fiesta performance for the Royal Family in which Anilla la de Ronda sang, presented her with a mantón de manila [a fine shawl]; and Federico García Lorca cited her, among other figures of flamenco song, in his conference talk “The historic and artistic importance of the primitive Andalusian song called cante jondo [deep song]”, which he read in Granada in 1922 [no doubt as part of the historic Concurso de Cante Jondo organized by Manuel de Falla].

In 1930, at the age of 75, she was the most admired figure to appear in Andalusia Week, during the Barcelona Exposition, which took place in the Pueblo Español in that city, capturing the attention and admiration of the press and the public, and singing and dancing accompanied by Ramón Montoya [the most illustrious guitarist of the era, and the key progenitor of the flamenco guitar.]

Among the many reports we have, one by José Benavides in Estampa from 1930 – based on a belief that she was 88 [she would have been 75, it seems] – tells of her adventures as a smuggler in her youth [it was a common trade in the Sierra de Ronda, often referred to in sung serranas], her success in Seville’s cafés cantantes including El Burrero, and the Siete Revueltas in Málaga, as well as her love affairs with the [very famous] bullfighter Lagartijo and with General Contreras.  The reporter, who called her “The Queen of the Gypsies”, adds, “The house where Anita Amaya lives in Ronda is a place of pilgrimage.  The judge, the mayor, the druggist and the keeper of the registry, women of high and low stature, all file through her house, an archive of popular [people’s] wisdom.  Daily, from Barcelona, she telegraphs the secretary of the local government of Ronda, saying that the elderly gitana is eating well, sleeping little, and drinking a lot.  She also telegraphs the local Gypsies, who, with growing impatience, ask her to come back.  But she doesn’t want to leave.”

Nuñez de Prado, in his book “Cantaores Andaluces”, dedicates a chapter to her, praising her singing of the soleares and her life as “a slave of love”, from which we transcribe the following paragraph.

“She feels the art as the heart of feeling, viewing beauty as the something the brain exists to fully appreciate, she feels the  magnificence [“grandiosidades”] of this art, so that the soul can feel this with maximum intensity, but her heart, her brain and her soul, absolutely human in all the beautiful meaning of the word, only see in her art a vehicle to send from her guts (“entrañas”) out to the infinite all the expression of her exquisite tenderness, of her yearning for affection, of her dreams of love, of her sweetness, her desire to maintain the first and perhaps the only finality of her life, an ambition that all of her actions and and drives all the decisions of her being…These are the qualities that make her even more simpatico than do her abilities as a singer, and it is to this that are owed the artistic triumphs she has attained and the applause she has earned. “

Another important glimpse of her artistic personality is found in the poem that José Carlos de Luna dedicated to her in his book, “The Christ of the Gypsies”.

End of entry.  What a life.

The cited quote is over the top and tricky to translate, but you get the gist.

Especially fascinating is the way it foreshadows the feelings that we devotees of her grandnephew Diego del Gastor had about him and his art.  In equally over-the-top language, I’ve noted the strange sense that his music was going far beyond, out into some infinite realm.

As for the notion that her home was a place of pilgrimage – well, it rings a bell  for those of us who traveled from so many countries to be in the presence of Diego del Gastor.

Footnote:  Among the reigning academics, notably the postmodernists and/or deconstructionists, this kind of romantic nonsense is, understandably, nonsensical.  Fair enough.

They add that it sheds no light whatsoever on flamenco and may seriously mislead other innocent victims.  I’m not so sure about that.

And a P.S.  Many of those same academics insist — I am not making this up — that flamenco did not exist, at least in any recognizable form, until around 1850 when it abruptly erupted into frequent mentions in the press of the era.  This would mean that Anilla’s parents could have known nothing whatever about the art until just before her birth.

I prefer to think there was already flamenco, and that key songs [notably the three cante jondo or deep song styles] had been forged within Gypsy families during a “hermetic period” when they did not trust outsiders who had been persecuting them enthusiastically until shortly before that time.  After the mid-1800s, Spain was awash in cafes cantantes where Gypsy and non-Gypsy artists [e.g., Anilla and Antonio Chacón] mixed and mingled, together presenting a broader range of forms.

The deconstructionists think this notion of a “hermetic period” is a riot, especially when we triumphantly present our “proof” that it existed — namely, that there is absolutely no proof that it existed.

Okay.  Admittedly, our proof isn’t very rigorous.  On the other hand, you can bet your booty Anilla’s parents had heard flamenco before she was born.

Brook Zern – brookzern@gmail.com

April 3, 2013   2 Comments