Category — Flamenco Guitarist Luis Maravilla
Flamenco Guitarist Luís Maravilla Speaks – 1990 Interview by Manuel Herrera Rodas – Translated by Brook Zern
Flamenco Guitarist Luís Maravilla Speaks (1990 Interview)
Translator’s note: In Sevilla Flamenca of November, 1990, which was not copyrighted, there’s an interview of the noted guitarist Luís Maravilla by Manuel Herrera Rodas. Maravilla was 76 at the time, and the introduction noted that he was practically forgotten in his native Seville, but had been honored at the city’s recent Bienal Flamenco. Here are excerpts:
“I was born to a family of artists. My father was the singer Niño de las Marianas — so called because he had popularized the cante called the marianas and sang it best. He recorded at least 11 records in 1910, when he was a young man of just 20. The malagueñas of Canario and Fosforito and Antonio Chacón, soleá, tientos, tangos, three or four different marianas, and the garrotin de la Gabriela. Back then, there was a certain rivalry between my father and [the supreme female flamenco singer] La Niña de los Peines. Later, his mariana was sung by Bernardo de los Lobitos, a close family friend.
My father started singing as a youngster, earning money at the water stands in the summertime. Then he decided to sing professionally in the cafes cantantes of that era, not just those of Seville but La Primera in Jerez and Chinitas in Malaga. He went to Madrid in 1910 to make those records, and became linked to that city though still attached to Seville. He worked with all the greats — Don Antonio Chacón, Manuel Vallejo, La Niña de los Peines, Bernardo de los Lobitos and others. He went to Argentina and had a great season there. Back in Madrid, he worked in La Marina, Los Gabrielas, Villa Rosa and other places.
Why did I choose the guitar instead of the cante? Well, in 1922 when I was barely eight, my father had a guitarist here in Seville, Juan Gandulla, called Habichuela. And he went to baptisms and weddings with another guitarist who was also a close friend — Ricardo Serrapi Torres, the father of Niño Ricardo [a/k/a Niño de Ricardo] who would become so famous and influential.
So I got to know his son Manolo, Niño Ricardo, who was almost twenty. And he showed me a few things, and since I liked the music more than the cante…
I started out in Madrid, where my father worked, and then we’d come to Seville where my father worked in the Teatro Maravillas, contracted to play in a comedy called “The española who was more than a queen”, which was a kind of biography of Eugenia de Montijo. The work featured a kind of “Carmen” from Granada, with a fiesta scene, and my father sang while Marcelo Molina played for him…
He had bought me a toy guitar at a fair, but I wasn’t capable of learning anything. Then we got to Madrid and I went to the theatre with him, and Molina asked if I liked the guitar. I said sure, and he offered to teach me — but said we couldn’t tell my father, so it could be a surprise. And one day, he called me up onstage to play, and my father went crazy. He bought me a good guitar, and Marcelo taught me more, and then I started picking things up on my own.
My first public appearance was also my most noted. Not because I was playing, but because it was the occasion when [the supreme Gypsy singer] Manuel Torre gave the Golden Key of the Cante to Manuel Vallejo in the Teatro Pavón — October 5, 1926.
We lived in Madrid in Los Gabrieles, in an apartment, and my father had asked Vallejo to listen to me. He did, and said “Prepare for your debut.” And so it was — on that very occasion.
Remember that this wasn’t a contest, but more of a way to compensate for an earlier slighting of Vallejo. The year before, he’d won the Copa Pavón award, presented to him by Chacón. But in 1926, Chacón didn’t want to be on the jury, because it had been packed with supporters of Pepe Marchena [the leading figure in “cante bonito“, or “pretty song”, often considered saccharine and facile]. There was a split, and so they ended up giving the award to Manuel Centeno.
Aficionados were in favor of Vallejo, but knew he shouldn’t get it two years running — so anyway, someone said that what they should give Vallejo this time was a Key. And it should be given by Manuel Torre because he was, along with Chacóon, one of the two most important singers of the time. And since Chacón had given him the Copa, Manuel gave him the Key, and they proclaimed Vallejo the best singer of the epoch.
After that momentous first appearance in Madrid, we returned to Seville. In 1927 I debuted here in a cafe cantante called “El Tronio” on Calle Sierpes, later called the Cafe Madrid. I got to know the best of that time: La Malena, La Macarrona, Frasquillo, La Quica…everyone! Antonito Moreno was the first guitarist; I was just 13 and still learning. The next year, I played for my father with Niño Ricardo.
I learned a lot from him. We lived right near one another, and he taught me things. He was still young, and didn’t like obligations. He was about 23, and a very stuck-up guy. And he said, “Let’s go for a little walk”. We went to the Alameda, the bar Siete Puertas, la Agricola — everywhere.
There was an aficionado who had a Santos Hernandez guitar — that was a big deal — and he had money, and would play with the guitarists. He brought the Santos, with some new Pilastro strings from Germany, and we went nuts. I learned a lot on these occasions by just keeping my eyes open.
In 1928, I won the Copa in the Teatro de la Zarzuela. It was a three-day competition, and President Primo de Rivera opened the event. There was the Copa Chacon for best singer, and the Copa [Ramón] Montoya for best guitarist. And the President said “I vote for my paisano Jose Cepero for best singer, and for that kid guitarist, who’s a real marvel. And from then on, I was called Luisito Maravilla — so named by the head of the nation.
That was important for me, mostly because I began playing for José Cepero — four years steady. I recorded my first discs with him in 1930, when I was 16. And I played for him and other big names in Villa Rosa, then went to Buenos Aires in 1932.”
– Luís, you were clearly a child prodigy. Sometimes this implies a loss of something, however — something as precious as one’s childhood. Did you sense this?
“Yes, indeed — I had no childhood. Since I was a kid, I’ve been with great flamenco artists. The closest other one to this was Niño Ricardo and — look! — he was ten years older. At 14, I was already a man, relating only to older people. I never played ball, or other games. Sure, there were escapades — but no! Frankly speaking, I didn’t have a childhood — I was always thinking of contracts and engagements and always with older people. [The supreme early guitarist] Ramón Montoya, for example. I played with Montoya when I was just a kid — how many times we played together, until his death. On Pilar Lopez’s first program, the guitarists were Ramon Montoya, el Niño Pérez and me.
Yes, I did go to school — but hardly continuously, since we’d spend the season in Madrid where the real money was, so much that my father had houses in both cities. We’d come here for Semana Santa and stay all summer, then go to Madrid in October for the season.
For the trip to Argentina, my father and I went with a big troupe. El Niño de Museo was a singer, and Estrellita Castro [a singer of sentimental "copla"]. But there were sort of regional groups or cuadros — Galician cuadros, Valencian cuadros, Aragonese cuadros — and Andalucian cuadros. Pilar Calvo came with us as first dancer. She was my novia then, and she is my wife now.
She was a very good bailarina in the company of Dora la Cordobesita, a famous dancer who was painted by Julio Romero de Torres. They came to Seville every season to play in the “Kursaal” cafe/theatre. Pilar and I were together always — we married when I was 20, more than 55 years ago. And we performed as a pair around the world. We have one son, a guitarist, Luís Antonio, who has worked with me. He’s a fine player; he’s also a fine pianist, at the Conservatory. A musician through and through.
Anyway, after a successful year touring Argentina we came back. Vallejo contracted me for Madrid, but Pilar got a contract with the Lecuona Orquestra and — well, I went with her and left Vallejo in the lurch. It’s only natural, isn’t it? She was my fiancee, and we went all over Spain with that important orchestra.
Then I went to America again, with Rosariyo de Triana, the daughter of a dancer called “El Sevillanito”, and she married a bullfighter who was also called “Maravilla”. We went to Caracas, Puerto Rico and New York. And we were married on our return to Spain. We formed a trio with Miguel de Molina, and then, since I’d made good friendships in New York, I wrote saying that we had been married and they contracted Pilar and me, and we worked there for a year.
In June of 1936, one month before the “Moviemiento” (outbreak of civil war) we came back to Spain.
My wife’s sister was married to Salvador Valverde, a composer who wrote Ojos Verdes, Maria de la O and other things too often attributed only to Quintero — anyway, we had relatives in Barcelona and went there because the war was worse in Madrid. After the war, we spent three years touring in the company of Gracia de Triana (another singer of copla or popular songs).
– “Luís, does this catalan phase have something to do with your afición for the classical guitar?
“Yes, in fact. In New York, in the Tansol (Town Hall), I had heard Segovia, and I went crazy over this music. And in Catalunya I discovered that the phenomental guitarist Miguel Llobet, a disciple of Tarrega, lived there. And thanks to the friendship of Rafael de León and my brother-in-law Valverde, he agreed to teach me. And for a long time — he died in 1938 — he showed me music and written solfege that helped me a lot in my career, as in playing the “Concierto de Aranjuez” with Pilar López, because to do that you had to read music.
I started with Pilar López in 1946. Ramón left to play for Pepe Marchena, so it was just Niño Pérez and me. Then he got sick and left, so it was just me. It was a great time for me, and I was with Pilar for 11 years — 11 years! We toured the world — The U.S., Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, the whole world.
It was always a flamenco spectacle. We did “Las Calles de Cadiz”, “El Cafe de Chinitas” which was an authentic cafe cantante, and many more. She called it the Ballet Español, because that’s what her sister, La Argentinita, had called it in New York. And after her sister died, she brought it to Madrid, to revive the Ballet with the same name and even bringing the same bailarines we had in New York: El Greco [José Greco] and Manolo Vargas.
Pilar is the Maestra, the master and the teacher. She has taught all of today’s artists. She changed the style of the dance, renovated it, and created the dance of the present day.
Comparing Pilar to her sister — well, La Argentinita was incomparable, a genius who also sang. She was an authentic creator, and she taught Pilar, but I think that Pilar, here, broadened and aggrandized the dance to a considerable extent. I can tell you that when we did the production called “Los Cabales” here, Pilar started a revolution; the dance she drew forth from the siguiriyas was something that had never been done here before. Without any doubt, Pilar is the maestra.
She admired other dancers like La Malena and La Macarrona, and learned from them. But remember, neither of them used their feet (no eran bailaoras de pies). They danced using their head, their arms, their hips — but not their feet. And Pilar was complete. Beside dancing with her head, legs and waist, she was a genius with her feet. So from then on, one could talk of the dance of the complete woman. Because I don’t know if you can remember Malena, Macarrona and all the dancers of that earlier time, but it was only the male dancers who did the (footwork) redobles then, not the women. The zapateados (heelwork) and redobles were actually done by the men, while seated in their chairs; that’s how they did the escobillas during the women’s dances. And of course, Pilar ended that. She did it herself.
Pastora Imperio was another great dancer from the waist on up, arms and all, but not with the feet. I remember when she did “Cafe de Chinitas” with us; she’d get up from the chair with great timing and smoothness — and no sooner did she do that than people started to applaud. A true artist.
Who would I rank after Pilar? No one. Because while there have been good bailarinas like Mariemma, they weren’t flamenco dancers. No, nobody has matched Pilar.
After Pilar, I kept working. As a duo with my son, in the Festivales de Espana in Granada; or as part of the Ballet of José Greco, with whom I spent two or three years. With a dancer called “La Cordobesa” who gave concerts in the Palacio de Musica — a lot of places. And concerts in the provinces.
Singers? Well, my father and Bernardo Lobitos, with whom I recorded often — the last record (his LP) just before he died; he never even heard it.
But Chacón, Don Antonio Chacón, was the best I ever heard — and I heard him a lot, and even played for him. It was important for me to know and accompany him. Consider this: my father was a fan of Chacón and sang his cantes, so I knew them well. He’d be at Villa Rosa in Madrid with Chacón and others, and I’d show up to learn and practice. And Chacón came down to test his voice. He had a little whistle, a pitch pipe, so he could be sure of his voice. And he said “Come here, Luisito, put the capo on the third fret, give me a little rhythm…” And I — well, just imagine it — I was thrilled that he’d warm up with me. And if he found that his voice wasn’t good, he’d go home. If it was, he’d stay. But one night, I accompanied for a fiesta given by the Duke of Medinaceli. It was early when they called, and they went looking for Ramón Montoya but couldn’t find him. Then they searched for Perico del Lunar, the other favorite, but no luck. Then they looked for Pepe de Badajoz. Then Chacón asked my father if I’d dare to do it, and he replied “I think so, Don Antonio”, because everyone called him Don Antonio [a mark of immense respect]. And they took me — one of my life’s wishes! — and I was a kid, who could barely dream of such a thing, because Chacón was the greatest of all. And it came out fine. It was heaven for me, to have the pride of having accompanied Don Antonio Chacón.
Chacón and Torre? Two opposite poles, but complementary. Chacón was a composer, a creator, a musical genius. Manuel Torre was a profound singer who, if the mood was right, was extraordinary. A singer who’d make you rip your shirt off. But when the mood was wrong…
Chacón was a different kind of singer. It seemed that he’d learned a lot from Silverio (Franconetti), who had contracted him to work in his cafe here in Seville — though Chacón changed the cante to suit his particular vocal condition. And above all, he was a singer of great personality; educated, correct, cultured… While Manuel was a primitive, illiterate singer. The time he impressed me most was here in Seville during Semana Santa, on Vinicola street, when the float of Jesús del Gran Poder was coming and my father, Manuel Centeno, and I — and Manuel Torre — were on a balcony. And when it passed, the crowd yelled for him to sing a saeta, but he just didn’t want to sing. The others sang, but he didn’t.
But then, when it came back at six in the morning, then he started to sing and it was this saeta:
Miralo, por donde viene
con los ojos esparpitaos,
las roillas banas en sangre
de tormentos que l’han dao.
(Look at Him, how He comes;
with His eyes fluttering open;
His knees bathed in blood
from the torments they have given Him.)
And everyone just went crazy. And my hair stood on end. That man with his body outside the balcony, and that singing — it was so imposing! I’ve never again felt an emotion like that.
I’ve worked here in the Alameda de Hercules — in the Bar Siete Puertas, the Casa Murillo, the Salon Barrera which was a variety show venue, in El Duque. Then, after the war, I worked in “El Charco de la pava” with Melchor de Marchena.
I accompanied Gordito de Triana, Pepe Aznalcollar, Antonio el Sevillano, Rerre de los Palacios, Antonio Mairena of course — many times, and even in a movie. The person accompanying Antonio in the 1952 film “Duende y Misterio del Flamenco” is me. I’ve accompanied everyone in fiestas, because then you really had to.
I guess the singer I worked best with was my father, because of course he would let me shine and I knew his cante so well.
It’s hard to accompany well. You can’t do long falsetas [melodic variations], because the singer will get cold and that’s not good. These days, there’s an unfortunate tendency to play falsetas and show off for five or six minutes between cantes; by then, the singer has lost his inspiration and is cold again. It’s a delicate thing. Some singers have lots of voice while others have delicate throats… and you have to adapt to each one, and take care of the singer. On Bernardo de los Lobitos’s last record, I try to care for him as if he were a little child. I don’t play strong, or anything — just let him shine, because the mission of an accompanist is not to show off, but to support the singer. If you want to shine, that’s what solos and concerts are for.
I never accompanied La Niña de los Peines or her brother Tomás Pavón, because when I was here it was to work with a singer who had chosen me. I appeared in the same events as Pastora, though. I remember a fiesta in the Hotel Alfonso XIII, given by King Alfonso XIII and Queen Maria Victoria. I accompanied my father, and Javier Molina accompanied Pastora. I also worked when she did in Madrid, in the Price Thaeatre, the Monumental Cinema, the Teatro Pavon…
Pastora was unmatched, the best. Among women, there was no other, or at least that’s what I think.
Has flamenco evolved much? Look, I think flamenco goes in phases or fads (“rachas“). There’s an epoch when the tangos predominate, or the fandangos, and everyone is dedicated to singing fandangos with more or fewer variations. Or profound songs… or they begin to lose out, and songs [with a light, South American feel] like the vidalitas and colombianas appear. Rachas, yes, rachas.
Pepe Marchena? Ha. He knew how to sing and knew all the cantes. Of course, he adapted them to the condition of his voice. He was also an innovator, he had an extensive repertoire (“era largo cantando“), and because he was aware of what the public liked, well, he tried to give it to them. He sought that effect with the public, and especially in his later years he was too concerned with effects (“era excesivamente efectista“), and I personally didn’t like it. Before that, though, he knew what he was doing and I liked his singing, because I like everything that’s good.
My favorite singer of all, as I’ve said, was Chacón. Then — Manuel Vallejo! He created many cantes, like the granaina, and above all, the modulation that he did in the cantes which stamped them with his personality. And the compás [rhythmic sense] he had — he was phenomenal in bulerías, in compás, measured, with gracia… a phenomenon! In the theatre, nobody could match him. During a private fiesta, he wasn’t consistent, because a less expansive singer (“alguien mas corto“) could have something special, or another kind of voice — but in the theatre, nobody touched him.
José Cepero had a good voice, too, but his qualities were limited. His voice was deep, and he vocalized very well and knew many cantes. And if he mostly did fandangos, it was because there was a fad for those songs. When I recorded with him, the recording house only wanted fandangos. We recorded one soleá and one granaina, and all the rest were fandangos, because that’s what the houses demanded.
El Niño Gloria was a phenomenon, with a round, powerful voice. I loved his cante. I remember in Madrid’s Monumental Theatre when my father was on a jury-panel of experts, and El Gloria sang accompanied by a Madrid player named Manuel Bonet. He sang well and won the contest. I was with my father, who called out to him “Sing siguiriyas“. And El Gloria said “Sure, but send your son down to play for me.” And I did.
Juanito Mojama was another outstanding singer. I liked him very much. I played for him in Villa Rosa often. He sang like Chacón, but in his own style. He was a very serious and complete singer. Being Gypsy, he adapted Chacón’s song to his own particular qualities, but he was also phenomenal in tientos, siguiriyas, soleá…
Antonio Mairena? The greatest of this epoch! Because he renovated the style again, “volvio otra vez ‘la tortilla‘” (?), and he brought back songs that were being forgotten after the era of the fandangos, the colombianas and the vidalitas. He did cantes that no one else sang. I accompanied him often, in fiestas and in the theatre, because he spent a season with us in the Ballet de Pilar López, in Madrid’s Teatro Gran Vía.
Manolo Caracol? I accompanied him a lot, too, even here in Seville’s Teatro Lope de Vega in Pilar López’s last years when Caracol was with her. His son Enriquito also joined us. And with Caracol and Luisa Ortega we toured all of Andalucía.
Caracol was very good! His “hueco” (hollow)vvoice and way of singing — it made me feel the cante more intensely than Mairena could. Caracol wounded with his voice (“Caracol me dolía“)!
The cante today? I don’t know. I don’t know. Look at Camarón who — well, he’s here (“bueno, esta ahi“). There are other singers with names, but… well, remember you’re talking with a 76-year-old man who has lived in other eras, and the present one doesn’t say much to him. I know there’s Camarón, Enrique Morente, El Lebrijano… but I hope someone new arrives and remedies the situation, and raises up the art again. Because the cante can’t die. You have to renovate and enrich it…
You have to care for the cante, nurture it. Look, I know that Pepe Marchena was criticized because he went beyond the established limits of flamenco, but I think that now they’re committing the same errors. I don’t want to speak ill of anyone, but the danger is there.
A cantaora? Carmen Linares. I think she’s the most complete cantaora today.
The guitar has evolved greatly, and today it’s played as never before — the precision, the pulse, the execution these kids have. Technique is at its peak. And the style has changed, too. Now, they play a lot of things with rhythm. But that’s really an international current; it comes from rock and the worldwide preference for rhythm more than melody. Now you won’t hear a Mozart, or a Chopin — just stuff with a beat. And in flamenco, the groups lean toward bulerías and tangos. Things with compás. And they add bongos, or cajas [cajons]…
I agree that the music is lost when the melody is lost. Of course, rhythm in music is fantastic, marvelous — but it’s not everything. Doesn’t the melody count for something? Another important thing is sound quality, which affects the melody. And now, with all this exaggerated amplification that sounds so horrible, well, that has an impact on the melody.
The most melodic guitarist I’ve heard was Ramón Montoya. Pure velvet! His music was so harmonious, with such sound quality… others found it difficult to do. There are other good guitarists, but they sound brusque. Montoya was the most harmonious of all.
Other guitarists? Ricardo, because he was a creator. He invented lots of music, because he was a musician more than a guitarist. Others still play his music today.
You have to understand that this is a chain. No one invented the guitar and the music; we’re all links in a chain which unites us and relates us.
Manolo de Huelva? Another great guitarist and creator. You can say that he created the bulerías played today, the bulerías al golpe. Because before Manolo, the bulerías were played por soleá, with the rhythm of a light soleá. But he drew forth the bulerías al golpe. And perhaps he created other things we don’t know about; he was so reserved, he didn’t want anyone to learn his works and he took many things to the grave.
Estéban de Sanlucar? Oof! Another great player, very valiente. A great player, and also a creator, eh? I spent lots of time with him, and we appeared together often, always playing guitar solos. You know, this solo guitar thing isn’t anything new! Sabicas, Estéban and I — we were doing solos in the thirties. Estéban and I also were in Gracia de Triana’s company. I did it two years alone, and then two years with Estéban.
Sabicas? He executed everything well. Very clean and secure. His domination of the instrument was fabulous.
But you ask if I think his last recording, where he accompanies Morente, was a great demonstration of that art — and I don’t think so. To be honest, I don’t think Sabicas should have made that record, with all due respect, eh? To me, the pitch of the guitar seems low. And this makes me think that he couldn’t deal with the normal pitch and string tension, so he lowered the strings. And he does nothing, he limits himself to whatever is strictly necessary — but I think it’s because he couldn’t do more, not because he was giving a lesson in restrained accompaniment.
Manolo de Badajoz? An upbeat player, alegre, with a joyful approach, but not a player to compare with the others. I also recall a little-known player, Teodoro Castro, who wasn’t all that good but who knew more than anyone I’ve ever seen. His playing was dirty, but he sure knew flamenco guitar — an enormous repertoire, and I learned many things from him. I think he was from Cadiz.
Who is there today? Not many.
Yes, as you say, Manolo Sanlúcar and Paco de Lucía are at the head. From them, all flamenco music comes. The proof is that every young guitarist today dedicates himself to imitating them.
Paco? His execution is great, he has marvelous power, and a lot of talent as he has demonstrated with the creations he’s done. And although there are other approaches, Paco from his first records started changing the toque. The fact that the guitar is more concerned with rhythm these days is due to Paco, as is the addition of percussion. He’s the father of the present-day guitar.
Manolo Sanlúcar? He’s more classical, more concentrated. I think he has a more tranquil and relaxed aire.
Serranito? Also a good musician, a good player, with speed.
And the younger ones — well, everything they do is based on Paco and, what’s more, a lot of them are seeking new ways to mix their music with other instruments. It’s a quest for novelty that perhaps is nothing more than a necessity for survival.
But I don’t think the guitar is in danger. It has reached immense heights, though perhaps it would be good to get back to the established canons a bit. These same players who work marvels with their fingers might consider doing something a bit more “settled” (asentaito), less frenetic…
And if I could only name one player — it would be Ramón Montoya, without any doubt!
My recording career started in 1930 with Cepero, and goes right to the present. I worked for all the houses — Odeon, Regal, La Voz de su Amo, Hispavox, Parlophon… more than 40 records. And yes, one did get the Cross Academy prize in Paris. I think it was my best, too; first, because it was made at the peak of my career, and second because it was the first LP I made, using new methods and getting marvelous sound. I did eight toques that sounded very good, and they’ve been played around the world.
My recorded method, now out of print, was a big success. The idea of recording lessons hadn’t occurred to anyone, and I thought of it. Hispavox printed it in heaps, and sold it for more then ten years. It had English, German and French translations with printed music of everything I played, in cifra [tablature] so it would be easy. And now many students come and play my things without having known me, simply through the methods — mostly abroad, in Japan and in the U.S….
Another record I consider important is the “Antologia de la Guitarra Flamenca”, also sold around the world with great success. Each guitarist playes two pieces: Serranito, Manolo Cano, Sabicas, and four of us from Seville — Melchor de Marchena, Ni\ño Ricardo, Pepe Martinez and me.
Why does a person play the guitar? For feeling, for sentiment. You only play because you feel it, otherwise you can’t give the guitar what it demands. It’s very difficult, and you have to be dedicated and have the vocation to keep playing and even make a living from it.
What is flamenco? It’s the best in the world. And it’s a shame that people don’t understand this, but in fact flamenco is just for a minority.”
End of interview.
October 24, 2011 No Comments