Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Singer Enrique Morente

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pohren continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CD 1:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Siguiriyas falseta  0:37
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

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

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

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

Soleá  3:53
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

La Caña  3:22
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Soleá  3:58
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

CD 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CD 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CD 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CD 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CD 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Argentinita, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

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

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

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

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

Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, con palmas y pitos

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

Here’s the Pasarela url with buying info:


Brook Zern

January 5, 2015   5 Comments

Flamenco Artists Speak – El País Interview with José Menese, Rancapino and Fernando de la Morena by Iker Seisdedos – Translated by Brook Zern

From El País of June 15, 2014 

Three Roads to Purity in Flamenco Song

-  Past, present and future of flamenco, according to Jose Menese, Rancapino and Fernando de la Morena

-  A unique recital will bring the three together in Madrid at the end of June

 Translator’s note:  When I insist that there is a ruling flamenco establishment in Spain, the claim is often questioned by people whom I consider to be part of that informal cabal. 

If there is such a group, its idol is the late Enrique Morente, that brilliant, courageous and iconoclastic Granada singer who first proved he had total command of a vast part of the great flamenco song tradition and then went on to break old rules with new and daring approaches to the art.   

During the recent years I’ve spent mostly in Jerez, I’ve found that bastion of traditional flamenco was not buying Morente’s act.  But it has also been clear that the town’s alternative attitude,  reasonably termed purity or “purism” before those words became epithets, was falling out of favor nearly everywhere else in Spain. 

(A decade ago, I unintentionally antagonized Enrique Morente’s posse during a New York Flamenco Festival by using the word “controversial” in rewriting/translating program notes – it was an urgent last-minute request, as usual, done without any thought of compensation, as always.  The idea that his radical and daring new work, ridiculed and parodied in Jerez, was somehow “controversial” outraged his people, and admittedly it was not in the original text.  Because I had done the work for someone else, I wrote abject apologies to Morente and several others including a leading “critic” and avid booster who clearly felt that Morente was beyond all criticism.  I don’t think my apologies were ever accepted.)

This article puts three traditionalist artists in the spotlight, or on the firing line, as, among other things, they try to explain their resistance to “morentismo” – and the high price they pay for their apostasy. 

José Menese, who appeared in the sixties as a hugely gifted (and non-Gypsy) follower of the great Gypsy singer Antonio Mairena, has been very outspoken in attacking Morente and other artists who are trying to change the essential nature of flamenco song.  He continues to take real heat and suffer heavy career damage without apologizing.

Rancapino, emerging from Cadiz in that same time-frame, is a greatly admired exponent of traditional flamenco song , now recognized as a national treasure – perhaps it helps that he doesn’t usually seek controversy.  He’s a sweet guy, and I was surprised to see him weigh in against the Granada faction.

Fernando de la Morena is an admired figure from Jerez, part of a revered family tradition – an elegant man I’ve been privileged to hear on many public and private occasions.  He bears witness to the suffering brought upon Jerez by wealthy bankers and other un-indicted co-conspirators

Oh, yeah — the interview:

The appointment is in one of those corrales de vecinos or modest courtyarded multiple dwellings in Seville’s Triana district, from which the Gypsies were expelled in the 1950’s.  The participants come from three magical vertices of flamenco’s dramatic ritual:  the Seville countryside, the ports of Cadiz, and Jerez de la Frontera.  José Menese (La Puebla de Cazalla, 1942), Alonso Núñez “Rancapino” (Chiclana, 1945) and his contemporary Fernando de la Morena, born in Jerez’s barrio de Santiago, on June 27th will converge on the Teatro Español during Madrid’s Suma Flamenca Festival to celebrate “50 Years of Cante”, though in fact they have between them more than two centuries of art if we start at their birthdates.  It will be a sensational gala, supported by the Comunidad de Madrid, where each represents his own:  Menese, the torrential song unleashed by Antonio Mairena and that he still follows, affiliated to orthodoxy, immersed in the quarrels between the old and the modern, and also his adherence to the Communist Party.  Rancapino, with his aphonic [Note:  perhaps "tuneless", a word I'd take issue with] way of honoring beauty.  And De la Morena, cantaor de carrera tardía que se bajó del camion de reparto al compás de una bulería perfecta [whose career began late, but was always marked by the rhythm of a his perfect bulerías].

The chat among these legends of flamenco song, well-known elders, begins with the inevitable moments of mourning (for Paco de Lucía, for the writer and critic Felix Grande, for the Jerez singer El Torta and others) and goes on to the woes of aging, noting the effects of their baipá [a Spanish rendition of the English word “bypasses” which is then rendered in parentheses] and other results of a well-lived life, before going on to subjects that are more or less cabales [a word that refers to true understanding in flamenco.]

Q:  How have things changed in flamenco song during the past 50 years?

José Menese:  Very much.  Not just in the song; there have been changed in humanity, in the human, in the essence.

Q:  For the worse?

José Menese:  Not for the better.  Though I’m not saying anything, because when I do, everybody hits me with everything they’ve got.  I’m the most beat-up guy in history.

Q:  I guess you’re saying that because of your last polemic about Enrique Morente, where you said on TV that “No tiene soniquete el muchacho…” [“The guy doesn’t have the right sound, the character one looks for in a singer, and he knew it, he knew how to sing the soleá as God requires.  And then, he turned his back on it [echó mano de esas cosas].”

José Menese:  I know that they were going to give me an homage in Granada, and that’s off because of what I said.  That’s the leche [milk, usually mala leche or “bad milk”, nastiness].  The power of that family… [still very important, largely thanks to the beautiful singing of Enrique's stunning daughter Estrella]…  The other day on Canal Sur TV I met a singer who confessed to me:   “I’m glad you said that – somebody had to say it.”  But I’m the guy who does it and takes the blows.  If you ask me, “For the better?  [A mejor?]  Well, that’s what I wanted, and what Rancapino and Fernando wanted, but that’s not the way it is.

Rancapino:  I hope you’ll all pardon me for saying this:  In Granada, they’ve never sung flamenco well [no se ha cantado nunca bien].

José Menese:  I say that the idiomas [ways of speaking?  languages] are tremendously important.  Córdoba – what has it given to flamenco?  Nothing, but let’s not exaggerate [pero no lo exageres tampoco].  Malaga?  [Just] the malagueña.  Jaén?  I don’t know. They say it gave us the taranta de Linares.  I don’t know if that’s the case, because the miners were going all over the place.  In my 71 years, I’ve realized that flamenco was really developed  in Seville, Jerez, and Cádiz and its nearby ports.

Rancapino:  And you can stop counting right there.

Menese:  Are we lying, primo [cousin] Fernando?

Fernando de la Morena:  The expression is totalitarian, my friend.  [Note: this seems to indicate agreement.]

Q:  How are these various schools differentiated?

Rancapino:  The song is the song, it’s born with someone or it isn’t.  And that can’t be changed.  The fact that some sing with a prettier voice or a hoarser voice, that’s the least of it.

Fernando de la Morena:  I’ve always sung, but I didn’t start it seriously until I had three kids and was working at the Bimbo bread bakery.  I didn’t record until late, until I was 50; I sing for the public now, but I’ve always sung.

Q:  What have you gained, and lost, with the years?

José Menese: Flamenco has arrived where it has arrived, but there it has remained.  It needs a renovation [not with novelties and fusions but rather] in the people who sing and transmit it, so that it really reaches deep within the listener.

Q:  There’s also the Patrimony of Humanity [a recognition granted to flamenco by UNESCO in 2010] that makes it sound like it belongs among the fossils in a museum.

Fernando de la Morena:  Patrimony of Orphanhood, that’s what flamenco really is.

Rancapino:  Olé tú!  [Hooray for you!  You said it!]

José Menese:  It’s a tremendous paradox that just when it’s named a Patrimony of Whatever of Humanity, that’s when singers stray away from everything that’s expected.  What’s wrong?  Well, like with the bullfight where only five or six matadors duelan.  That’s the way it is with flamenco song.  It has to hurt, and if it doesn’t hurt, well, just go to bed, pal.  [Note: Doler means: to cause pain (dolor) or anguish within the witness – this is considered a crucial virtue in the realms of serious flamenco and toreo.  It is also a crucial distinction between these great Spanish arts and virtually all great non-Spanish arts that usually seek to evoke pleasure even in their pathos.  Go figure.]

Rancapino:  It has to hurt, yes!  Pero con faltas de ortografía!  But with a lack of orthography.  [Note: this refers to another requisite quality -- that of being essentially untrained or instinctive; flamenco should not smell of fancy handwriting or high literacy, but should transmit emotion directly.]

José Menese:  There’s an anecdote that García Lorca tells in [his conference of 1933 – (a note inserted in the article itself)] titled Juego y teoria del duende [Interplay and theoretic of the duende].  Once, in a flamenco fiesta in El Cuervo with Pastora Pavón [La Niña de los Peines – that name inserted into the article], Ignacio Sánchez Mejías [a legendary torero] and the sursuncorda [?] of that moment, she was singing passively, transmitting nothing, when a man [Note: Lorca termed him “one of those genies who materialize out of brandy bottles”] yelled “Viva París!”  And she, always proud, was offended [by the implication of glossy, urbane sophistication rather than raw emotion].  She asked for a pelotazo de machaco [a very stiff drink] and then she got into it.  It rips at the vocal cords.  One has to fight with the song, and then the people went crazy, tearing at their clothing.  Flamenco is just that way, like the bullfight and paintings.  And there you have it.

Q:  And what will the real aficionados do when, like the King, these artists abdicate?

José Menese: [laughter].  I’m not going to retire, as long as I’m okay here, knock wood [points to his throat], I’ll stick it out.  I’m a republicano [opposed to royalty].  I remember this by [the late flamenco expert, poet and author] Fernando Quiñones:  “Porque a rey muerto / rey puesto / bien que lo dice el refrán / y es antiguo ya / solo ha conseguido el absurdo criminal / dejar sin padre a esos hijos / y el mundo sigue igual.”  Things will keep on as they are.

Q:  Although the royals are no longer our fathers?

Fernando Moreno:  Let’s trust in the chaval [the kid, the new King, Felipe VI] whom they have prepared for this.  Yo tengo 69 tacos pero aún así, de política, natimistrati.  [I’m 69, but even so, when it comes to politics, I don’t have a clue [?]

Q:  Not even about the economic crisis – how do you see the crisis?

[Laughter]  Jose Menese:  This crisis has overwhelmed everything.  I’m not a pessimist [but...]  Culture is flat on the floor.  The theater no longer exists, classical music no longer exists.  They’re even taking away the bullfight!  What happened the other day, when all three toreros were gored and the fight couldn’t continue – that’s not normal.

Fernando de la Morena:  Y a las pruebas nos remitiéramos en el pretérito que le perteneciere…Olé, que gitano más fino! [?]

Q:  Do you see hope in Podemos [a new political movement/party, [Yes] We Can]?

José Menese:  I was pleased because the kid [party leader Pablo Iglesias] strikes me as marvelous, but we’ll see.  I began as a militant in the Communist Party in 1968 [when the party was banned under the Franco dictatorship].  I’m still affiliated, though the party doesn’t exist today.  The problem is that we’ve lost our ideals.   A ti te cogen fumándote un canuto, como me pasó a mi el otro día no a mí, sino a una persona que iba conmigo, y se arma la de dios es Cristo.  Nonetheless, they rob millions and millions and absolutely nothing happens.

Fernando de la Morena:  And nothing appears – nothing here, nothing there.

Q:  The case of your hometown of Jerez is one of the worst.

Fernando: What my father taught me is that you have to work.  And now you have to be glad to have a job.  But my kids… and everyone’s kids…

Q:  Do your kids have jobs?

Rancapino:  Fat chance!  [?]

Fernando de la Morena:  It’s the same in flamenco.  We’re like El Brene who sang for tapas at restaurants long ago.  They’d say “Brene, sing a little song.”  “Yeah,” he’d say, “As soon as you give me a little tapa of potatoes.”  And here we are again, we’ve returned to the old days [of begging for food]”.

Rancapino:  There’s no afición for flamenco these days.  Before, a singer would start to sing and forty people would stop and crowd around.  Now, if the greatest singer ever, the Monster Number One who for me was Juan Talega, arose from his grave and started to sing – well, no one would care and he’d just have to go back home.  [Note:  One of Rancapino's uncanny gifts is that he could always evoke the spirit of the great and ancient-sounding Juan Talega, even when he was young.]

José Menese:  It’s like what Don Quixote said to Sancho Panza. With your belly full you don’t create much.  Today they learn flamenco in schools, but singers have to be born.  This business of giving singing classes seems horroroso to me.

Q:  How did you learn about the death of Paco de Lucía?

José Menese:  In La Puebla. And I thought of a photo where I’m singing with him.  Testimony of a time of incredible natural richness.

Rancapino:  Afterwards I went to his funeral.  Because Paco liked me a lot, ever since the years when I went with Camarón to Algeciras and then to Madrid with Paco’s father, who made him study so hard.  And I said to his father [Francisco], “Paco, when will you make a record of my singing?”  And he said, “You?  Tú vas a grabar en un queso!”  [You’d record on a wheel of cheese!” [?]  [Laughter]  Camarón and I went everywhere together.  Hasta lo casé con La Chispa.  [I even married him to La Chispa [his wife].  I went to la Linea because I liked one of La Chispa’s sisters.  The whole family really liked me – except the sister.  Ya que no casé yo, casé a Camarón.  Since I didn’t get married, he did.  [?]

Q:  You didn’t stay a bachelor.  Is it true, Rancapino, that Felipe González [Spain’s first Socialist leader, after Franco's death] is the godfather of one of your children?

Rancapino:  Fortunately or unfortunately, yes.  Look, we were at a fiesta in [with?] El Chato in Cadiz.  And in conversation it came out that I had a lot of kids.  And I said, “I’ve got so many kids that one hasn’t even been baptized.  And he said, “I’ll baptize that one.”  I said, “look, the only thing I can give you in exchange is the kid, because I don’t have anything else.”  [Laughter].

Q:  Is flamenco still more appreciated outside of Spain than here at home?

José Menese:  Yes:  They treat us differently than they do here in Andalucía.

Rancapino:  Just yesterday a young Japanese woman came to Chiclana to be with me.  She had to be pretty brave, because I’m no Robert Redford.  [Laughter].  And she started to sing.  And I said, “How can this be?”  Fernando, how she sang the soleá!

Q:  And is it the same?

Rancapino:  “How could it be the same!  Never!  Once I spent six months in Sapporo singing to a young Japanese woman.  Since I couldn’t remember her name, I called her Maruja.  Then she came to Madrid.  And in six months she learned to cook and to dance.  For me to learn that would’ve taken me six years!

Q:  You must have learned some Japanese…

Rancapino:  Sayonara and arigató.  And chotto matte.  That was to ask them to wait a while longer for me.

Fernando de la Morena:  Musho tomate.

Rancapino:  With potatoes!  [Laughter].

End of interview by Iker Seisdedos.  Corrections are always welcome and will be added.  The original is found at:  http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2014/06/14/actualidad/1402757369_102448.html

Translator’s coda:  Why do I devote so much time and effort to translating artist interviews, when just being a flamenco aficionado is masochistic enough?  It’s because I like the art and the artists so much that I need to understand what they are saying to outsiders and to each other.  And while I understand Spanish reasonably well, that’s not the same thing as understanding the Andalú dialect of five a.m. as spoken in the darkest bar in deepest Jerez, rendered by a bunch of gravel-voiced, aguardiente-seared, life-long black-tobacco smokers who have just sung their guts out (amid the inevitable excuses of “mu refriao” — I can’t sing, I have a terrible cold), and who are constantly interrupting or shouting at each other.  It’s a luxury to have someone else do all the work of putting that conversation into recognizable Spanish, and just having to fabricate an English approximation.

– BZ





June 16, 2014   2 Comments

Camarón’s historic record “La leyenda del tiempo” reissued in 35th Anniversary edition – article by Javier Herrero – translated with comments by Brook Zern

An article by Javier Herrero in today’s edition of the online publication lainformacion.com tells the story of the reissuing of Camarón de la Isla’s historic flamenco-fusion recording “La leyenda del tiempo” on its 35th anniversary.  It’s at this endless url:   http://noticias.lainformacion.com/arte-cultura-y-espectaculos/musica-rock-and-roll/ricardo-pachon-dice-que-nunca-vi-a-camaron-mas-feliz-que-con-la-leyenda-del-tiempo_fWhBE2hcPVP9LOVPydudT1/

Here’s my translation, followed by some snarky comments:

Headline:  Ricardo Pachón says he “never saw Camarón happier than when he recorded ‘La leyenda del tiempo’”

Ricardo Pachón, the producer of  “La leyenda del tiempo”, never saw [the great flamenco singer] Camarón de la Isla as happy as he was during the creation of that emblematic record, which is being reissued 35 years after it broadened the horizon of flamenco worldwide with its look towards rock that anticipated [another crucial innovative recording], Enrique Morente’s “Omega”.

“What we did had never been done before, because 35 years ago I had no idea how to mix a recording and I was totally confused,” Pachón said to [Spain’s national news agency] EFE in which he emphasized the “reconstruction” techniques used for this album, Camarón’s most important along with “Soy gitano” of 1989, including the removal of the excess of “reverb” so characteristic of that era.

The person charged with “cleaning the painting” without changing its face, with “restoring it and doing justice to this keystone of Spanish music”, was Juan de Dios Martín, the producer of famous Spanish rock artists including Amaral and Rubén Pozo, which is especially evident in his work with the drum and bass parts.

He worked under the supervision of Pachón, who was responsible for many of the singer’s recordings including the original version of “La leyenda del tiempo”, and he said of the album’s cover, the removal of “de la Isla” from the singer’s name leaving just “Camarón” in a typographic logo that, he confesses, was inspired by the American group Chicago.

Thanks to his work in cleaning up the original tapes with the voice of Camarón and the guitar of Tomatito, it is now possible to hear details that had been lost in that “ball of sound”, such as the flamenco dance footwork in the alegrías titled “Bahia de Cádiz” or “the way Camarón swallows saliva and clears his throat”.

“La leyenda del tiempo”, published in 1979, became a “disco bisagra” [a "door hinge recording" opening up music to broader horizons], like the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper””, Pachón has said.

“We lived in a divine unawareness [“inconciencia”]; we were having a wonderful time ["disfrutando"] with ideas for new songs, and I never saw Camarón happier and more “entregado” [delivering everything he had].  We didn’t know that this record would be transcendent, and perhaps because of this we made it happen,” he recalls.

The album stood out on one hand for its literary aspect, with verses by Kiko Veneno (author of the album’s mythical “Volando voy”) and by [the great poet from Morón de la Frontera] Fernando Villalon as well as Omar Khayyam, and with surrealist texts by Federico García Lorca at a time which almost no one had set that poets words to music, including the title song/poem, suggested, curiously, by a Danish cathedral.

It also stood out musically, featuring the participation of Tomatito [who had taken over the role of Camarón’s main accompanist from the supreme modern flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía when Paco committed to frequent world tours], Jorge Pardo [on bass], the guitarists Rafael and Ramón Amador [pioneers of rock/flamenco guitar fusion], and, most curious of all, the progressive rock musicians from the group Alameda.

“With the arrival of Camarón, who was the prince of the Gypsies, the model to be followed, it was clear that the doors had been thrown open, and from that point on, flamenco artists began to experiment with other instruments without any complexes [a reference to previous self-doubts due to the negative responses of many traditionalists to such profound changes in the essential nature of flamenco music.]

It was not the first of the records in which Pachón tested this marriage, an obsession born with the record “Rock Encounter” of Sabicas and Joe Beck, and which led to his work with the groups Smash, Lole y Manuel, and Pata Negra.

“I recently read that “Omega”, from 2006, more or less created flamenco rock, according to the writer; but historically and in fairness, one must point out that “Rock Gitano” by Pata Negra and Camarón’s “La leyenda del tiempo” came first,” Pachón says.

The re-release appears in several formats, with a “superdeluxe” limited edition including the CD and a 180-gram vinyl version as well as a DVD with the documentary “Tiempo de leyenda”, a 60-page book with previously unseen photos and comments from the press of the era.

“La leyenda del tiempo” had a small initial run at first; the Gypsies “lo aceptaron fatal” [hated it] and the camaroneros [Camarón fans] thought that their idol had gone nuts, but he just laughed at all that,” Pachón recalls about this extremely shy and humble artist who, in spite of this, became “a Gypsy myth” – noting that in his opinion, “this would become one of the elements responsible for his later ruin.”

End of article

A pretty interesting piece about a monumental recording.  Of course, when all is said and done, the URL given above shows that the article appears in the Rock and Roll Music section of this online publication.

When I was living in Seville in the mid-sixties, I knew more about rock and roll than anyone else in town, though that wasn’t saying a whole lot.

(Before I left the U.S., I had the weird fantasy of becoming, well, sort of, well, a music critic, but writing about rock music – yeah, that’s it, a “rock critic”.  But since there was no such thing, I decided not pursue that line of employment.)

Anyway, I was in Seville for the flamenco.  But the day after I arrived, the members of the future above-mentioned pioneering rock group Smash showed up at my door, noted that I was an American with a guitar, and asked me to show them how to rock and roll.

I said I didn’t actually know how to rock and roll, and my guitar was just a flamenco guitar.  They were pretty disappointed, of course, but accepted my offer to rehearse on the big top-floor terrace surrounding my small apartment.

(They were all good singers and instrumentalists, but they sounded awful because each of them was singing his own garbled version of imitation English.  So I wrote out a big phonetic-Spanish version of the actual words – AY JUANA JOLD EUR JAND…, and suddenly they were all in vocal sync and sounded terrific.  The group morphed into Los Murcielagos and then to Smash, and the rest is history.  And I was recently delighted when their lead man, the fabled musical genius Gualberto García, invited me to come see him in Seville.)

The article mentions Sabicas’s record “Flamenco Rock Encounter”, which Pachón wasn’t involved in.  It was a nervy idea, far ahead of its time, but it was a musical failure — not a real collaboration but just a mishmash of Joe Beck’s rock guitar with Sabicas’s great flamenco music.  Sabicas,who had no grasp or interest in rock, told me was embarrassed by it.  The two artists never even met, much less jammed, or so he said.

Pachón takes issue with the notion that Enrique Morente’s “Omega” was the first flamenco rock record.  In some elite flamenco circles, the late Morente is held in greater esteem than Camarón.  It’s not an argument I care about, because I prefer actual flamenco.

(For any Spaniards trying to read this – please note that “actual flamenco” in English means “real flamenco or “authentic flamenco”, whatever that may be; but “actual flamenco” or “flamenco actual” in Spanish means present-day or up-to-the-minute flamenco, which has the opposite connotation – it will probably feature lots of drums and horns and choruses and whatever.)  And yes, both Camarón and Morente made their bones in the discriminating and rigid realm of traditional flamenco before they transcended or violated its boundaries.

One of Pachon’s pet projects, Pata Negra, with the hip guitarslinging Amadors, had a cut called “Blues de la Frontera”, indebted to the soniquete or groove of Morón de la Frontera, which quotes a characteristic bulerías guitar falseta by Diego del Gastor.

That’s nice.  But Pachón also ended up with a fabulous treasure trove of private tape recordings made by the late American guitarist Chris Carnes and his wife, the singer Moreen Carnes – the only American woman to make a real flamenco record (and  accompanied by the magnificent player Melchor de Marchena, yet.)

It would be really, really nice if Señor Pachón saw fit to release a good chunk of the hundreds of hours of that great collection of legendary singers (Juan Talega, Manolito de la María, Antonio Mairena, Fernanda de Utrera…) backed by Morón guitarists including Diego and Paco del Gastor as well as many fine out-of-towners.

If anyone can pull enough strings to make that happen, it would be Ricardo Pachón.  And if an official release is impossible as well as presumably unprofitable, it would be good to accidentally leak a well-mastered bunch of stuff into the flamenco community, or at least the dwindling subset of people who love such antiquated caterwauling from the era before allegedly flamenco records appeared in the Rock and Roll section of newspapers.

Such an release would not please everyone.  But it would be a victory for posterity.

Brook Zern - brookzern@gmail.com

December 10, 2013   2 Comments

Flamenco Singer Estrella Morente Speaks – 2013 Interview in eldiadecordoba.es by Alfredo Asensi – translated with comments by Brook Zern

“Cordoba is a Gift of God”, says the Granadan singer Estrella Morente.

The singer returns to the Gran Teatro with her latest disc, “Autorretrato” (“Self Protrait”}, imbued with the presence and heritage of her father.

Estrella Morente offers a self-portrait a 8 p.m. tonight to inaugurate the Twentieth National Contest of Flamenco Art in Córdoba, accompanied by the guitarists Montoyita and El Monti, with percussionists El Popo and  with Antonio Carbonell, Angel Gabarre and Kiki Morente as her chorus.

Q:  How does Autorretrato fit into the trajectory of your career?

A:  Autorretrato is the most sincere creation I could make; I looked deep inside myself, to express what I’ve felt, lived and learned in music and in my life until now.  It’s a work produced by [my father] Enrique Morente – he was the director, and the person who liberated me.  He taught me to be free and honest, and I think those two elements are very much present in this recording, called Autorretrato which means nothing more than that – to reveal oneself and be sincere about it.  I’ve had the luck and the privilege of being able to count on the most marvelous people you could ever find in the music world, and all of this is thanks to the collaboration  and generosity of all of them, and to their friendship and respect for my family.   It’s a dream to share this with others, so they can make it their own.  The acceptance and the appreciative enjoyment of the public is my greatest reward, because in truth this is how my father saw it – he was so touched and enjoyed every step of this musical adventure, and was proud to be able to share with his daughter his own searching and needs, a quest that led him to more poets, more musicians, more friends, which in the final analysis is the most valuable aspect of a work: that it makes you learn, advance, and develop as a professional and as a human being.

Q; In what artistic moment do you find yourself right now?

A:  I’m always surprised when artists give this type of answer:  ”I’m at a stupendous moment, the best of my life, I have finally found what I sought…”  I think it’s much more interesting and natural to leave it up to others to see how they find you at the moment, while you fight to make yourself stronger, to work humbly but with big professional dreams.  You can’t put a price or a value on the sacrifice and the drive behind this, but just realize that the more you learn, the better, and that you when keep moving forward  others will understand.  But it’s hard to define what it means or what phase you’re in; if it’s hard to explain it to yourself, imagine how hard it is to explain it to others.

Q: What has San Juan de la Cruz (Saint John of the Cross) bring to all this?

A:  San Juan de la Cruz has always been a fount of inspiration for my father.  My relation to his words is something I’ve felt since childhood, when I heard Enrique Morente put some of his most important poems to music.  It is one of the strongest pillars of universal literature.

Q: What is the role of women in flamenco today?

A:  There have always been great women in this art, like La Niña de los Peines and La Perla de Cádiz, who as in other fields have fought and made women be recognized as equally able and important as men.  There is still so much to do, so much work to eradicate the huge problems and discrimination of the female sex, much as we’d hope to the contrary, but those women are our example, our road to follow so we can contribute and help make things better.

Q:  From your perspective, what does Córdoba represent in the history of flamenco?

A;  Córdoba is a gift of God.  Cordoba is one of the most important parts of our culture, through which different civilizations have passed over hundreds of years, and it is part of the essence of flamenco, with its Mezquita mosque, its people, its Jewish quarter, its salmorejo (a version of gazpacho) and all its gastronomy; and its bull ranches where my husband, the superb torero Javier Conde, had the chance to live the art of bullfighting in the house of don Rafael…  And its (triennial) National Flamenco Contest, where the great singer Fosforito triumphed in its first edition in 1956 and which has given us so many other great artists, nothing more nor less than (the great Cádiz singer) my uncle Chano Lobato, (the great Seville dancer) Matilde Coral, (the fine singer and great storyteller) Beni de Cádiz, (the great Jerez belter) La Paquera…  All in all, a beautiful thing, a place where afición (love and affection for the art) is turned into art, and where kids play at bullfighting and at flamenco singing.  Córdoba has given us singers like (the great singer) El Pele, for whom we have special cariño (love and affection), not just for his way of singing, which wounds us (que nos duele) and reaches us so deeply, but because my father always told us that he had great admiration for him as a singer and a friend, and he gave great importance to this sense of friendship.  Cordoba is a place that is adored in the Morente family for having given us so much, and of course we will always be thankful that it has been the mother-earth that gave us the sensibility of soul of (the great guitarist) Vicente Amigo.

End of article by Alfredo Asensi.

Some thoughts:  Estrella Morente is one of the glories of Spanish song.  Her flamenco art is astounding in its maturity of expression, its emotional reach and its breathtaking technical perfection and tonal precision.  And when she moves beyond flamenco, she gives brilliant renditions of other genres, notably Argentine tangos.

Her father, Enrique Morente, who died suddenly in his prime about five years ago, is considered by many authorities and artists to be the most important flamenco singer and visionary in our lifetime – and yes, the competition  includes Camarón.  Enrique was utterly fearless in his art, constantly smashing rules and staking out new territory.  Unlike some other innovators, Enrique had already made his bones by displaying uncanny mastery of the entire flamenco tradition – no one could wonder if he was doing new tricks just because it was easier than singing hard-core flamenco.

I wasn’t very interested in Enrique’s daring explorations – I kinda liked flamenco the way it was.   And because I’ve lived mostly in Jerez, I had plenty of company, since that city is the last stronghold of strictly traditional flamenco and Enrique was essentially a persona non grata,

The key flamenco tastemakers in Madrid literally felt that Enrique could do no wrong.  Folks in Jerez, however, thought the whole thing was a joke,  When I used the adjective “controversial” in the program for his Carnegie Hall concert, it set off a firestorm of outrage – Morente’s posse that was traveling with him, including so-called critics, wouldn’t acknowledge that anyone could possibly doubt the genuine flamenco validity of his work with the “trashmetal” rock group Omega, for example.

Random additional points:

This triennial Córdoba flamenco contest that began in 1956 is probably Spain’s most prestigious and important, at least historically.  The other contenders would be the big Seville bienal, with about half the history, and the venerable annual Festival de Cante de las Minas de La Unión, which, remarkably, is not in Andalucía.  Meanwhile, it can be hinted that Córdoba isn’t prime flamenco territory, since it’s way above Seville and other key breeding grounds. When I mentioned a town in the province of Córdoba (but below that city), the great ancient Seville singer Juan Talega sneered, “Esto pa mí es Alemania” (“For me, that’s in Germany”)

My two previous blog entries, the first about the gifted and well-schooled singer Rocío Márquez and the second about the dancer and festero (hell-raiser) Bobote and his group, drew unfashionable distinctions between Rocío’s contained and constrained non-Gypsy ways and the untrained and untrammeled flamenco of the muy gitano Bobote.

In the present fascinating instance, Estrella Morente’s mother is a Gypsy, while her father was not.  And when it comes to formal training versus assimilating the art from birth in the home, well, she was kept awake by many of the greatest artists in living memory.  Her family was from Granada, the city most closely associated with Gypsies and flamenco.

(In self-defense, I’d note that Spanish writers and critics can assume that their readers likely know which artists are gitano and which aren’t – but as an outsider writing for outsiders, I can’t reasonably make the same assumption, nor can I agree that this ethnic distinction is no longer relevant or appropriate.

My non-avoidance of the topic irritates many non-Gypsy commentators, who assure me that modern Spain is now post-racial and there is no issue whatsoever — and correctly add that Spain is probably the country that has done the best job of minimizing the anti-Gypsy hatred that is growing dangerously out of control in so much of Europe.  Meanwhile, my ineffectual attempts to defend the centrality of the Gypsy tradition in flamenco irritates many Gypsies, who say they can stick up for themselves quite well, thanks.)

(When I arrived in Spain in 1961 seeking “authentic” and “pure” flamenco, I immediately headed to Granada, where I spent my days and nights in the Sacromonte cave of María la Canastera talking to people and studying with several fine guitarists.  Only later did I learn that I’d been in the wrong place – that way over on the left side of Andalucía was the real heartland and soulland of flamenco – Seville and Jerez and Cádiz, and several smaller nearby towns.)

Note Estrella Morente’s praise for El Pele’s flamenco singing “que nos duele“, that wounds us.  One reason for the unpopularity of the three deepest flamenco forms, notably the soleares, siguiriyas and martinetes or tonás, is that they wound, they hurt, they cause a kind of pain in listeners who understand their essential nature, which, like it or not, is intertwined with death.  (It’s fair to say that these songs are not Ms. Morente’s specialty, which helps explain why so many people love her art.)

And note, too, her fearless embrace of the bullfight, now banned in Catalonia but not in Spain, not to mention her bullfighter husband Javier Conde.  Many of her ardent admirers and fans find the bullfight disgusting or criminal.  Like it or not, I consider the bullfight crucial to understanding Spain, Andalucía and, of course, flamenco.

Brook Zern

November 11, 2013   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Enrique Morente speaks – 1994 Interview with Juan Toro – Translated by Brook Zern

Flamenco Singer Enrique Morente speaks –  1994 Interview with Juan Toro – translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  Sevilla Flamenco number 90 (May-June, 1994) carried an interview with the very important flamenco song genius Enrique Morente by Juan Toro.

Enrique Morente would continue to smash traditional boundaries until his untimely death in 2010,becoming increasingly revered among the most influential tastemakers in the art. Unreserved admiration for or adoration of Morente is still the price of admission into the upper strata of the establishment.  In certain other circles, however, notably the traditionalists who dominate in the diehard bastion of Jerez, Morente is not universally admired.  Here he attacks “Islamists”, his term for those purist-types who resist change; today the insult has become “Talibans”.  Here’s a translation:

[Juan Toro writes]:  Enrique Morente Cotelo, born in Granada in 1942, is the most daring singer of our time and one of the most influential upon the new generations of singers, who have the mission/responsibility of covering a transitional stage that is unparalleled in the history of the Cante.  Gifted with exceptional musicality of voice, Morente moves between the rich echoes of Aurelio Selles, Pepe el de la Matrona and Bernardo de los Lobitos and his current or vanguard music, without diluting his essential flamenco sensibility.

The cante of Enrique Morente conjures up disobedience and freedom and, at the same time, tradition.  Three concepts that in their careful measure, and almost unwittingly, carry the cante toward the future.  His voice gives birth to infinite possibilities of evolution, as shown by his stage performances as well as his recordings — works that are consistently original and that show extraordinary creative capacity.

“Andalucía Hoy”, “El Loco Romántico” inspired by Cervantes’ Don Quijote, or “Misa Flamenca” (Flamenco Mass) are nothing more than a display of his musical intuition, his renovative spirit and his creativity.  His fidelity to the inherited art, without ignoring the call of the contemporary, defines his art, which is marked by increasing complexity and his particular interpretation and concept of flamenco music.

Q:  “Tell us something of your beginnings — where did your art come from?”

A:  I’ve wondered about that myself.  I suppose people are no longer asking what this guy with the face of a dissolute Swiss is doing here in the cante and why we can’t throw him out with the garbage…

Joking aside, I think I started like many other singers.  We all sang as kids.  Then you get to know artists, people of the cante whose art you really like.  You get connected, and little by little your art comes forth.  One fine day they call you to sing, you go to contests, you make that first record, and — well, there you are, with a broken arm, and it seems more like Sarajevo than a professional career.

Q:  “Your arrival in Madrid at age 18 — was that due to personal circumstances, or were you planning to further your career?”

A:  I came for personal reasons, to seek a living, but with the hope and dream of becoming an artist.  From childhood, when you realize you are nothing, that you have nothing, you always want to be a torero, or soccer player, or singer.  For me, I dreamed of the cante.

Q:  “Your evolution as a singer — was it carefully thought out, or did it happen spontaneously?”

A:  Every day I admire the Swiss more, because they get up in the morning, they eat their yogurt, have some manzanilla,  cook their eggs for five and a half minutes.  What I mean is, I like reflection, but it’s very difficult to project and to plan a professional career as disorderly as mine has been.

Q:  “You learned the most from Pepe el de la Matrona, Aurelio Selles and Bernardo el de los Lobitos [all born in the late 1800's].  Was your encounter with these three maestros fortuitous, or did you seek them out?”

A:  I made it happen.  I’m the eternal disciple, because I’ve always been grateful to those who gave me something.  I have a recording, the second I made, in which I practically sound like Juan Varea’s son.  I was in the Madrid tablao “La Zambra” for many years, with Juan and with Pericón de Cadiz, Rafael Romero “El Gallina”, Pepe El Culata and so many others.  I really think I’m the student of all of them.  And I must add that I’ve not only learned from my elders, but when I hear some young artist do something that reaches me, I’ve taken that and sung it.

Q:  “The singers of your generation generally felt a special regard for either Antonio Mairena [a great singer who defined the orthodox rules -- an "Apollonian" figure]; or for Manolo Caracol [a great singer who often sacrificed orthodoxy to reach greater expressive heights, or depths -- a "Dionysian" figure].  How did you stand on that division?”

A:  At that time, I went with Mairena.  Before that I had liked Caracol, but in the same way that I’d liked Pepe el Pinto or Juanito Valderrama.  When I really got into afición, I was inclined toward Mairena.  At that time, it was his cante and his form that ruled, and we were all influenced by him to some extent.

Q:  “Speaking of Antonio Mairena, tell us your version of the story about the Soleá de Charamusco.”

A:  That anecdote has created a lot of discussion, though mostly among journalists.  In fact the story had a certain gracia [charm]. I’ve often said that the cante belongs to flamenco, and that flamenco belongs to everyone.  If you hear a cante por solea or por malagueñas by someone you like, well, if you’re an aficionado you’ll naturally take it and sing it.  That’s what they did before my time, what Mairena did, and what everyone does.  Nobody learns a song to not sing it.  I recorded some things of Antonio Mairena’s before he recorded them himself, and Mairena recorded things by others before they recorded them.  The strange and paradoxical thing is that no one has yet thanked me for recording the soleá de Charamusco – and if I hadn’t recorded it, maybe Mairena never would have done it either.  The truth is that I won’t give further explanations since both Antonio and I have explained ourselves fully.  He knew of my friendship and admiration for him, and also this song was hardly a new one when I heard it.

Q:  “Normally, all singers have a sort of school or territory — so we say one is of the Mairena school, or another sounds like Jerez style.  But you are a general singer, without this distinction of having a school or territory.  How did this happen?”

A:  In fact, I learned to sing in Mexico.  I was living there for a year and a half, and sometimes distance can be more inspiring than closeness — it makes you love the things you no longer have close at hand.  It seems strange, but there are stranger cases than mine.  Sabicas, for example, taught all the guitarists of his time — It was like correspondence school. From New York, through friends and artists, his recordings were sent to Madrid or Seville or Cadiz so the rest of the guitarists could learn from them.

Examples like this break the mold regarding how an artist should be formed, how one should learn, what is inherited or not, and where it all comes from. In New York there were no Gypsy forges or locales or schools of singing.  In any case, returning to the question, I’m an Andalusian by birth and my sense of cante has always been that of the Bell Tower of the Vela de Granada.  That was my inspiration for the “metal” of the voice, and the sound.  The cante is an instrument that comes from within, and my inspiration comes, of course, from my mother singing to me as all mothers sing to their children.

Q:  “In the 70′s, you were a regular at the festivales like those of Morón or Mairena or other towns.  Lately you aren’t involved in these affairs — why is that?”

A:  Truth is, I have been able to escape from the festivales to make my own path, my own story, and not have to be subject to popular demands (demandas vulgares), ordinary norms imposed by the festival atmosphere itself, always with the same “soniquete” as ever.  Now I’m on a path I’ve chosen — not to be better or more exceptional or more interesting, but because each one of us has their own way of being and their different traits.  Fortunately, in this sense I’ve been able to make my own Christmas tree.

Q:  “Today there are differences in the way youngsters learn the cante.  You started by seeking out the founts of tradition, going to Cádiz to learn from Aurelio, for example.  Today, learning comes from records and recitals.  Do you think this makes a notable difference?”

A:  Of course you can tell the difference, but it isn’t the kids’ fault. Things are as they are, and we can’t change reality.  Recording has given a lot to flamenco, but it has ended face-to-face apprenticeship and purity.  In any case, I think that flamenco is not going to die out.  Clearly, there are young people who are good artists, who are realizing that tangos must be sung, soleares and siguiriyas must be sung.  In sum, that flamenco is worth pursuing; and this makes us optimistic.

Q:   “The renovation and regeneration of flamenco is very good, and moreover is absolutely necessary, but — isn’t there a risk of becoming lost in a forest of confusion, so we don’t know where we’re going?”

A:  We’ll always have that fear.  I’ve heard it since I started.  Even Demófilo,  a hundred years ago, wrote of it in his book Cantes Flamencos — but after that we got Caracol, Marchena, Pastora (Niña de los Peines), Tomas Pavón.  With these adventurous new approaches, as with cante verses, the good ones will last forever, and the bad ones will quickly be forgotten and lost.

Q:  “Do you think that flamenco should be approached with a mind free of prejudices, without orthodox concepts or formal rules in mind?”

A:  I think it’s vital to look forward — to learn, and to remember where you come from.  You must make your own life, and create your own personality as an artist.  Why should one do what others have done?  At the core, I am a classicist and a conserver of tradition, though I have always appeared to be quite the opposite.  I think we must conserve as much as we can, but the ”Islamism” (fundamentalism/purism) of the integrity crowd isn’t applicable to  any art — not even to flamenco, however Arabic it might be.

Q:  “There are some currents often poorly termed ‘vanguardist’, embodied by youngsters who have come to flamenco just three days ago, so to speak, and who disdain the entire tradition and any inclination to respect its roots. They think that by imitating Camarón, or by doing two numbers of Morente, they are mature artists.  How do you see this?”

A:  It’s true that there is a crisis of artists with the afición, but to these young people I think one should be thoughtful, and not drive them away before they ever get into the solea or the siguiriyas or the other great forms that are the most important part of flamenco.  In any case, the people you refer to have their virtues, and their artistic restlessness — otherwise we wouldn’t be in such an extraordinary time.  It’s only logical that with the sudden invasion of diverse music from everywhere, young people become a bit contaminated — and it’s only normal that they make mistakes and blunders, as we did.  In the end, those who are good artists will end up making good work.

Q:  “Despite your role as a singer who’s taken many risks and has not always been understood, a large portion of the serious aficionados are on your side  – as shown by your homage at the Peña La Platería [in Morente's home town of Granada] and the Lucas López prize.”

A:  That homage at the Platería was the result of a false alarm about my health — I got an unfavorable medical prognosis, but the results turned out to be for someone else and not for me.  One fine day they saw me having a whiskey in Granada and the homage lost it’s reason for being, but it was too late to stop the proceedings.

Q:  “I sense that this had never struck you as a good idea…”

A:  Well, with me things always get disorganized and I don’t like that.  I like anonymity and discretion, and I’m not used to the limelight.  The homage was just something for the associates of the Platería, and if it served as a pretext for a cultural event and some good art, fine — but never again.

Regarding the Lucas López trophy, I was very pleased — especially because I really like Almería.  When a lot of places didn’t believe in me, Almería called me nearly every year and it was in the Festival de la Alcazaba with the same honors as any other important singer.  I’ve been grateful to Almería’s aficion and the Peña El Taranto ever since.

Q:  “You’ve never been big on concurso contests, though you’ve taken part in a few.  What do you think of them, and would you compete against other recognized artists for Seville’s Giraldillo del Cante prize?

A:  I’m not the artist for those kinds of competitions, because I’m very insecure in my singing and never know what will happen.  I also think it’s absurd to compete if you know that in a given moment a beginner can easily beat you  (te puede ganar el tirón facilmente).  Contests can be good when you’re starting out because they offer a platform, but I don’t think it’s right to keep pursuing such things.

Q:  “And tablaos?”

A:  The tablaos played a very important role in flamenco.  Today they are nearly all gone, and the few that remain are oriented toward the tourist trade.  We tend to think of tourists as people with glasses, chains, checkered jackets and whatnot; well, they may be tourists but they’re not imbeciles, they are people like us with defects and virtues of their own.

Q:  “What differences do you see between the days at “La Zambra” and the tablaos of today?”

A:  Today there are some good artists in tablaos, but still the problem I mentioned.  Back then, tablaos had sense — they were authentic teaching institutions for flamenco.  Then the festivals had their lovely moment – there were very significant festivals.  But I think the early tablaos were more important than the festivals.

Q:  “When one reaches a position of importance in an art, does that change the person?”

A:  That depends on the person.  Sure, it can change you.  I, frankly, feel just as I did twenty years ago in the personal and human sense.  I’ve never let myself be influenced by deference.  Sometimes after a big success I’ve gone away sad because what seemed like a fine performance to the public was for me a failure; for me, success is always relative.

Q:  “Have you been brought to tears by the bitterness of a bad performance?”

A:  Rarely.  I’m strong enough, though at times I’ve suffered a lot. Sometimes when I knew I could do something, I’ve felt impotent upon failing to reach that height because of tension, pressures or the demands of the ambiente.  Other times, in tough circumstances, I’ve come out ahead psychologically and won the battle.

Q:  “Have you encountered some false friends?”

A:  There are many kinds of friends.  Some really love you, others like you too but at the same time hate you without realizing it, and there are others for whom the friendship and affection is reciprocal but whom you neglect because you don’t realize their sincerity.  Finally, there are those who if you have them as friends you don’t need enemies.  Those are the worst.  I’d just add that I watch myself carefully, I can forgive, and can rebuild things with people who seemed lost.

Q:  “Why do you sing?”

A:  That sounds like a simple question, but it isn’t.  The truth is that sometimes when I wake up in the morning I’d like to just be an onion farmer, since that must be saner than any other occupation.  But flamenco is this little worm that gets inside of you, whether you are a professional or an aficionado, from Jerez or Stockholm — it’s the same thing.  Flamenco is not just another hobby, it’s not just any music.  When you love flamenco, you feel it as something inside yourself.

Q:  “Is there some work that has given you special satisfaction?”

A:  Hard to answer, because all work involves a struggle — whether it’s a recording or a staged production.  Above all, it’s hard in the studio to create the right atmosphere for a really satisfying result.  You always hope that next time will be better, closer to what you envisioned.

Q:  “What next for your recordings?”

A:  I’d like to have something finished by the end of the year (1994).  In fact, I have two committments.  One from the Diputación de Granada, but the priority is a disc I want to make in homage to León Alcón.  Soon, too, we’ll present a new recording company I’m creating in Granada called “Discos Probetico”.  We envision a series of recordings, the debut record being the Fantasia de Cante Jondo and Allegro de Soleá which we premiered as a production in Sevilla ten years ago, and which I’m just getting the chance to record.  I’m also getting the rights to the García Lorca record that I have made for Fuente Vaqueros and that we’ll take to the marketplace.  Then there will be a record by [the outstanding guitarist] Rafael Riqueni and another by “Juanillo el Gitano”.  Those are the four initial releases we plan for Discos Probetico.

Q:  “Flamenco has evolved a lot, but of the three aspects of the art the cante has seems most unchanged.  Why?”

A:  Because the cante is the most delicate.  To change two notes in a cante por siguiriya is very difficult.  There are singers who entered the history books for having known how to  move those two notes, such as Paco La Luz in his siguiriya.  In that song there is no more than one chord that differentiates it from other (siguiriyas) cantes of Los Puertos.  It’s the chord that has the Do or “C” shape on the guitar, wherever the cejilla (guitar capo) happens to be placed.  This alone has served to differentiate it from all the other cantes of siguiriya — think of it, just changing two notes.  The evolution of the cante is always more gradual and cautious (mas paulatina y cautelosa), because at the moment you lose the song you lose flamenco.  I like the song, the dance and the guitar equally — but the cante is the soul of flamenco.

Q:  “I’m going to name some artists of the past and present, and ask you for a comment.  First, Sabicas…”

A:  The director of the long-distance guitar university.

Q:  “Pepe Habichuela.”

A:  A very personal artist, one of the guitarists with the most personality.

Q:  “Manolo Sanlúcar.”

A:  Let me take this chance to say that Manolo Sanlúcar is one of the people to whom I am most deeply indebted.  He has the flavor of the Marisma marshes, and the flavor of Andalusia that was never as evident in any other guitar.

Q:  “Paco de Lucía.”

A:  The Pope of this epoch.

Q:  “Antonio Mairena.”

A:  A great maestro.  A genius (un genial cantaor) who decisively influenced today’s generation.

Q:  “Camarón.”

A:  The genius (el genio) de la Isla de San Fernando and of every other isla (island).

Q:  “Manuela Carrasco.”

A:  As Ortiz Nuevo says, “the goddess” (La Diosa).

Q:  “Mario Maya.”

A:  Like no one else ever born.  One could never dance in a more Gypsy way, being a great “bailarin” (formal/classical dancer) as well.

Q:  “Menese.”

A:  Great singer.

Q:  “Lebrijano.”

A:  A great singer who has brought a lot to the cante.

End of interview with Enrique Morente, from Sevilla Flamenca number 90.

Brook Zern

October 24, 2011   No Comments