Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco News

The Comeback Kid at 53 — Flamenco Guitarist Rafael Riqueni Retakes Seville by Storm. Article in ABC de Sevilla of November 21, 2015 by Alberto García Reyes.

The November 21st ABC de Sevilla carried this knockout story by Alberto García Reyes. (The amazing personal context and this translator’s comments appear as a coda):

Headline: Rafael Riqueni — Kiss the Hands. The genius from Triana ascends to the throne of the flamenco guitar with a concert in Seville that will loom large in the history of the genre.

Body copy: I’m going to the park to pick roses – blue ones, white ones, ones with no color at all – to put into the hands of Rafael Riqueni. The new god of the guitar. On Saturday in the Teatro de la Maestranza he claimed the throne. He wrote the best chapter of flamenco guitar playing so far in this century. At a moment when the guitar was lost, without direction, Rafael returned to take the empty seat and show the new direction of the art.

What Riqueni has done marks a turning point – a before and after. I do not exaggerate. He has lifted Andalucia’s classic music to its pinnacle with “Parque de María Luisa”, a work that is probably the finest ever composed and dedicated to Seville. What’s more, it marks Riqueni’s finest moment of musical mastery in his career. With his hands flying like the pigeons in the Plaza of America. There we heard that tremolo, seeking petals and lifting up a historic olé. Unanimous. From the Estanque de los Lotos – the lottery stand where Riqueni hid as a child – to the major-key tangos of Monte Gururgú, it was clear that the creations of this Triana artist marked a revolution.

In terms of harmony, this genius “ha armado una diablura” [pulled off a prank? Did something unexpected?]. But nothing is gratuitous. Everything aims to tell a story. It’s a sound track. The bulerías from his youthful days as a “rockero”. The trinos [trills]. The whisper of water in the Fountain of the Frogs. The jota with a muñeira and chotis [formal non-flamenco musical forms] for the Plaza de España. And his santo y seña [password, countersign] when he ended that Madrid-themed piece, saying “But hey, I’m from Seville, right?” Rafael Riqueni is the pride of our region. An unprecedented creator who submerges all his avant-garde sensibility within the tradition.

Three solo pieces. The taranta. The rondeña done for his friend Benamargo. And to top it off, the soleá. I swear on my conscience the I have never, ever seen the soleá played like this. And so, when he ended his derroche [outpouring] with the tangos atarantados, and with the fandangos of his old maestro de fatigas (master/teacher in suffering), Niño Miguel [a great guitarist who was plagued by mental illness until his death], and with his bulerías for Lole and [the late] Manuel, I went to the park to pick those roses, enough to cover him completely in blossoms. Because Riqueni is not a guitarist. He is the guitar itself. Please – if you see him in the street, kiss his hands.

End of article. The original is found at http://sevilla.abc.es/cultura/sevi-rafael-riqueni-besamanos-201511220022_noticia.html

Translator’s note: Whoa. Whew. Even allowing for the usual localist chauvinism, this is a bold claim.

The open and aching question of who, if anyone, could ever truly assume guitar supremacy in the wake of the incomparable Paco de Lucía has been in the wind for decades and has only intensified since his lamented abrupt disappearance. The rightful heirs seemed to be the now-elders: Tomatito, Vicente Amigo and Gerardo Núñez. After that, there was a parade of younger phenomena – kids who made the formerly utterly impossible seem not just plausible but routine, even inevitable.

As for Rafael Riqueni who may have been a contender a few decades ago – well, it was known that he’d had personal difficulties but was coming back strong and might once again become a figura.

Then, last July 12th, this headline appeared in this same paper:

“The Guitarist Rafael Riqueni Goes to Prison to Serve a 14-Month Sentence”

And the same reporter, Alberto García Reyes, wrote that Riqueni was jailed for a “crime of aggression” committed in 2010, a period when the artist was in the crisis stage of his illness, bipolar disorder. The article said that he was compelled to serve the sentence because the charge was not a first offense, adding that he had in fact been treated successfully for the last two years, though he had confronted many difficult situations during his long career. Nonetheless, it was noted, he was currently “in his artistic splendor” and had won an honorary prize at the Seville Biennal for his career as one of the most important guitarists in flamenco history. He had planned to record a new disc, “Parque de María Luisa”, and also play a farruca for the brilliant dancer Farruquito.

Well, it’s one thing to get out of prison, but quite another to suddenly take over the vacant throne of the forever-unapproachable Paco de Lucía. But it’s nice to see Rafael Riqueni’s life story go from heartbreaking to heartwarming. And who knows? Maybe this event was as momentous as the reporter insists.

Brook Zern

P.S. Additional reviews, all extremely enthusiastic, appear at:



And a revealing pre-concert interview appears at:


November 22, 2015   6 Comments

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

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

Soundscape – The flamenco recordings playing at the exhibit “100 Years of Flamenco in New York – 1913-2013″ at New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center

On March 12, the exhibit “100 Years of Flamenco in New York — 1913-2013″ opened at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center where it will run through August 3rd.

I’ve written about it in another blog entry, noting the extraordinary work of Carlota Santana of Flamenco Vivo in organizing it and the remarkable efforts of the dancer and scholar La Meira and the author and expert Ninotchka Bennahum in selecting and  arranging the materials.  They also wrote the impressive catalog that details the history of the dance in the city during the past century.

I added a section about the guitar in New York, and also selected the 21 recordings that are played as the so-called “soundscape” — it has a better ring than “background music” — playing during the event.  The objective was to shed light, or sound, on the materials that are displayed.  In the room, one can read a brief description of each cut.

(Some of the rare material in the show was generously contributed by Carlos Montoya, the son and namesake of the most famous concert guitarist in the world for many decades.  I also contributed some items, including LP’s and 78′s, programs — among them, two disintegrating tissue-thin sheets describing the programs and extensively detailing the cuadros or groups of artists working at the 1965 New York World’s Fair — and the 1951 José Ramírez flamenco guitar signed on its face with a black market Parker pen by the dancer Vicente Escudero — see the entry detailing its acquisition and “defacement” elsewhere in this blog.)

Just for the heck of it, I decided to write a lengthier description of the cuts and place it here, for anyone who wanted to know more — or who wondered how I could justify each cut, at least in my own mind.  (The process was painful, because the number of cuts, like the number of photographs and items in the exhibit, was very limited.)

Here is that full version:

1.  Carmen Amaya dances and sings a bulerías titled “Ritmos de Carmen Amaya” accompanied by Sabicas; from the recording Queen of the Gypsies – The Rhythms of Carmen Amaya

Notes:  This hell-for-leather bulerías reveals the seemingly telepathic connection between the flamenco’s greatest dancer-guitarist pairing of all time.  Carmen Amaya threw away the rule books and the frilly dresses, put on the pants and danced with an intensity that may never be matched.  Fast footwork, always an expression of raw masculinity in dance, became ferociously female as Carmen simply surpassed everyone else in the business.  She danced with a snap and instantaneous precision that would not be seen again until the advent of Michael Jackson.  Her energy and intensity were still undimmed near the end of her life, as revealed in the fine film Los Tarantos, with her nanosecond transition from seated to dancing in full fury.

When Carmen Amaya met Sabicas, she found her musical match and soulmate – the fastest, cleanest and most precise flamenco guitarist in the world.  Whenever they appeared in Buenos Aires, traffic was diverted from the midtown theater area.  When they stormed New York – well, the rest is dance history.  They epitomized an art that is the emblem and essence of southwestern Spain.  And both were born in the opposite corner of the nation, she near Barcelona and he in Pamplona.

2. Manuel Agujetas sings a siguiriyas, “Desde que te fuiste” (“Since you left me”), accompanied by guitarist David Serva, from the 1977 record Palabra Viva (the Living Word).

Notes:  Manuel Agujetas, who in 1976 set up shop for months in a dinky New York restaurant with his wife, the very talented New Yorker dancer wife Tibulina Lubart, briefly reappeared in New York last May.  The New York Times accurately described him as “a great singer” and more specifically “a great Gitano singer”.  He is the living embodiment of the immensely difficult and absolutely terrifying component of flamenco called cante jondo or deep song, which a Columbia student named Federico García Lorca called the realm of the sonidos negros, the black sounds.  This is tragedy told in the first person, directed to no one, expressed simply because it must be expressed.  It is traditionally linked to just a handful of gitano or Gypsy artists – Manuel Torre, the paradigm; Manolo Caracol, who at age twelve was the real winner of the Granada Deep Song contest of 1922 organized by composer Manuel de Falla; Fernanda de Utrera, the empress of the soleá; Terremoto de Jerez; El Chocolate; and today, the great José Merce.  Agujetas is not simply a link to a vanished past; he seems intimately and inextricably connected to separate reality.  Agujetas is accompanied here by the astonishing American flamenco guitarist David Serva, the only American player to truly enter the core of flamenco and make a career in Spain.

This is the siguiriyas, which along with the soleá and the martinete is one of just three deep song forms – three forms out of the more than sixty in the panorama of flamenco.  But somewhere there is a scale, and it shows that those three weigh as much as all the others put together.

3. Steve Kahn plays a bulerías on his record, Steve Kahn – Flamenco Guitar.

Notes:  Steve Kahn, another gifted American flamenco guitarist, is one of many foreigners to fall under the spell of Diego del Gastor, who made a career while never going far from his home town of Morón de la Frontera, some fifty kilometers from Seville.  Diego refused lucrative offers and intense efforts by Spain’s leading record companies because he had no desire to be famous.  To hear him play, you had to go to where he was, and that’s how Steve, and David Serva (accompanist to Agujetas in the above siguiriyas), and many others including this writer all ended up living in Morón for months and years.  In Diego’s seemingly simple yet ultimately inimitable approach to the instrument, many flamenco artists and aficionados heard worlds within worlds.

It is said that Diego del Gastor was “never recorded” – yes, unless one counts the hundreds of hours of tapes we foreigners made of him playing solo and accompanying now-legendary singers including Fernanda de Utrera, Juan Talegas and Manolito de la María, in which case he may be the most recorded of all guitarists.  Note that the underlying aesthetic is completely different from the marvelous high-speed, high-power bulerías of Carmen Amaya and Sabicas on the first selection.  In fact, speed is not necessarily seen as a virtue in this kind of flamenco – the intent is to simply let the music unfold, not to have it zip by faster than it can be absorbed.

Steve Kahn is also noted photographer, and during his many years in New York he created an exhibit of photographs taken by many foreign pilgrims, himself included, in the flamenco environs of Morón during the sixties and seventies.  The exhibit, “Flamenco Project” has been acclaimed in many Spanish cities; it  is accompanied by a book that also includes essays by veterans (this writer among many) who felt fortunate to fall into that strange vortex or singularity.

4.  Enrique Morente sings a granainasEngarzá en oro y marfil”, sung by Enrique Morente, accompanied by Sabicas, on the LP/CD “Morente – Sabicas – New York y Granada”.

Notes: You don’t have to breathe Gypsy fire to sing great flamenco.  Enrique Morente was from Granada, and he drew his inspiration from the other side of the flamenco coin.  He concentrated on the rich, complex and often lovely songs, drawing his first inspiration from Don Antonio Chacón, who earned that honorific “Don” for being the greatest vocal master, the greatest creator of new styles and the finest gentleman in the business.  Chacón built on the foundation of the fandangos, a major branch of flamenco in which beauty is not a handicap but an asset.  His malagueñas were ravishing, but perhaps his greatest creation was this granainas that Morente sings here.  He is accompanied by the adopted New Yorker Sabicas, in his final appearance with a singer.

What do you do when you’ve proved you are the best in your chosen realm of flamenco?  Morente answered that question by becoming a new kind of singer, using his total command of the tradition to make daring new conceptual leaps and forging new music, new melodies and new ways to vocalize.  He teamed up with Spanish rockeros and with daring recording engineers to make historic albums including Omega, Lorca, and El Pequeño Reloj.  When he died far too young a few years ago, he was the most revered flamenco singer in Spain – and not long before that, he filled Carnegie Hall with new New York acolytes.

Today Enrique’s stunning daughter Estrella carries the flamenco song flame for the family; her art doesn’t sound funky, but it’s gorgeous from the word go.

5. Fernanda de Utrera sings a soleá, accompanied by Diego del Gastor.  No label.  No company.  No multinational enterprise.  Just some dedicated foreign aficionados who were determined to preserve Spain’s cultural heritage.

Notes:  The first great female flamenco singer to appear in New York was Fernanda de Utrera, master of the deep song form called the soleá.  When her mother put her on the train to Madrid, she gave Fernanda some garbanzo beans so she would have something to eat in New York.  Soon she was onstage in Queens at the 1965 World’s Fair with her sister Bernarda, a fine singer of flamenco’s festive songs.

This cut is from one of the miles of tape recordings made by various Americans in and around Morón de la Frontera in Seville province.  It reveals a crucial side of flamenco which is by definition not found on official recordings made in studios.  It is instead made within an intimate gathering of artists and aficionados who know one another, and have gathered in a juerga or fiesta or, in English, a sort of jam session, with no schedule and no predictable outcome, assuming it starts at all.

In other words, the objective of this event is not to create a product.  If the truth be known, the aim is to create a few fleeting moments when some mysterious force or entity seems to invade the proceedings and take over an artist.  The entity is called the duende, and in the realm of flamenco and the bullfight in Spain, it is as real as it is rare.

Some of the foreigners went to certain Andalusian towns in the sixties and seventies did not go to “hear flamenco” or “find flamenco”.   You could do that almost anywhere.   Instead, we went with the hope of penetrating a normally closed circle of artists and aficionados so that we might be present to witness something unique  — a performance that went far beyond inspired.  In other words, we were hunting down the duende, and we knew that this word was used in southern Spain in just two contexts.

We were there on the off chance that in an intimate flamenco session at about five in the morning, or in a bullring at exactly  five in the afternoon (“cinco en punto de la tarde” in Lorca’s timetable/lament) we might see an artist simply bypass all normal barriers of performance, seemingly without effort, and start to function as – what? – well, perhaps as human receiver/transmitter mediating between the normal world and a realm beyond our ken.

Among hundreds of bullfighters, exactly two – Curro Romero from Seville, whom most people assumed was a Gypsy, and an actual Gypsy from Jerez named Rafael de Paula – might occasionally do this.  They were easy to find in the escalofón or ratings columns published in the bullfight weeklies, because while others who fought a hundred times would have cut eighty or a hundred ears. those men would have cut perhaps eight or ten ears, in a good year.  And yet we followed them from town to town, because – well, because they were obviously doing something that was qualitatively different from all the other matadors.  They were bringing down the duende, and the whole crowd of thousands knew when it started and stopped, and they were so happy that they kissed strangers and cried because that was what they had desperately hoped to experience.  And the newspapers the next day would matter-of-factly note the fact, and perhaps mention the strange feeling of time slowing down that characterizes those moments.  Typical headline:  “Curro Romero Stops The Clock”, or “Rafael de Paula Enduendado en Jerez” (“Rafael de Paula Duendified in Jerez”

(Yes, we now know that this always deadly and very Spanish spectacle is simply barbaric and/or morally indefensible and even illegal in parts of Spain that would rather not be parts of Spain.  But before our enlightenment, Life and Time and Sports Illustrated and Holiday and a dozen other American magazines reported on the bullfight season at least once every summer.  While some flamenco-seekers in those years already hated the bullfight, others thought it was an important art which shed light on a culture and its music.)

Alternatively:  A few hours before sunrise, in dingy, smoke-choked rooms in bars and roadside ventas, the handful of flamenco singers mentioned in the notes on the Agujetas recording above just might pull off the same trick.  Fernanda de Utrera was one of two women – the other was Piriñaca de Jerez – who could make the leap into this void.  Piriñaca once said, “When I am singing well, I taste blood in my mouth.” This is why we were there.

Of course,  the postmodernist deconstructionist authorities  who are now in charge of Spain’s official flamenco narrative will reassure you that this is all romantic nonsense designed to extract something from us gullible rubes.  And come to think of it, we usually shelled out a few bucks for the wine, or Tío Pepe sherry if we could.  Somehow, we thought we came out ahead.

6.  Carlos Montoya plays a solo bulerías on an anthology record, Las Guitarras Flamencas.

Notes: Carlos Montoya was the first guitarist to leave Spain in order to build a career as a soloist.  He was also by far the most successful, in large measure because he was a truly charismatic performer.  After proving himself as an accompanist for more great dancers than any other guitarist, he made his move.  In reality, he had no choice.  In Spain, the idea of a flamenco guitar concert was incomprehensible, because the “proper” purpose of the flamenco guitar was to accompany dancers or singers.

While we loved the dancers, flamenco singers have never really been appreciated in America.  The often rough voices, the language barrier (many Spaniards say they can’t understand the agonizingly extended vocal lines and the deep southern  Andalusian dialect) and the alien, oriental nature of the melodies remain an acquired taste that virtually no one wants to acquire.  But the guitar was both exotic and accessible, especially in the hands of a magnetic personality like Carlos Montoya.  He came to New York in the fifties, settling in midtown a few blocks from the immortal Sabicas and the brilliant Mario Escudero – making the Big Apple the epicenter of the concert flamenco guitar explosion for decades.

Montoya knew that hard-core aficionados would likely prefer the music of Sabicas, and would dismiss some of his mannerisms as crowd-pleasing efectismo – striving for effect at the expense of flamenco expression.  But the pleased crowds voted for Carlos Montoya and never felt deceived.  He sold out halls and even stadiums, and made more than 60 LP’s.

In fact, this bulerías reveals a very Gypsy style.   In an era where flamenco guitar concerts have devolved into group performances inspired by jazz quint-, sext- and septets, it’s remarkable that these lone artists could hypnotize audiences with two pounds of wood and six nylon strings.

7.  Antonio Piñana sings the Cartageneras del Rojo el Alpargatero “Los puntales del cante cartagenero” accompanied by his son, Antonio, from the record Antología de Cantaores Flamencos.

Notes:  Among the remarkable items in this exhibit, the most striking may well be the actual film of the Spanish dancer Carmencita, who was wildly popular in America at the turn of the last century.  She was so well known that when Thomas Edison decided to use his new-fangled motion picture camera to capture a dancer for the first time, he asked  Carmencita to come to New Jersey (the town probably wasn’t named Edison yet) for her close-up.

Her real name was Carmen Grau Dauset.  And when flamenco song buffs heard the name Grau, it rang a bell.  It seems that Carmencita was the sister-in-law of one of the most important singers in flamenco history.  He was called El Rojo el Alpargatero, but named Antonio Grau.  Regrettably, he was never recorded.  Incredibly, he sang in New York City – no doubt the first important flamenco singer to work in America, and probably the first of all.  He was the key creator in a distinct branch of exquisitely ornamented fandangos from the eastern mining region of Almeria that includes the tarantas, the cartageneras, the mineras and others.  He passed his music on to his son, who in turn entrusted it to the late Antonio Piñana.

In other words, this the music that Carmencita’s never-recorded brother-in-law probably sang in Brooklyn more than a century ago.  It might be considered the world’s first sound track, except that the song is in a free rhythm while the dance is most certainly not.

8. Carmen Amaya sings and dances a rondeña accompanied by Sabicas; from the 1958 LP Queen of the Gypsies.

Notes:  They’re back – the dynamic duo does a number on everyone by creating a previously nonexistent musical number.  Granted, the rondeña song did exist as a rare variant of a folky, bouncy fandango.  And Ramón Montoya, the progenitor of the musically developed flamenco guitar (and uncle of the famous New Yorker Carlos Montoya), had created or perfected a new guitar-only flamenco piece (the only such piece in the repertoire) using a unique tuning to create a mysterious and evocative free-rhythm form of the same name.

But Amaya and Sabicas at their creative peaks here conjured up a new rhythmic pulse and a singular melody.   It may never have happened again, and we are fortunate to have this recording.

9.  Luís Vargas sings a tangos, accompanied by Basilio Georges, on “Cante Flamenco”.

Notes:  There have been all too few singers living in New York, and our cadre of hard-core aficionados have treasured them all – in the older generation, we have had Paco Ortiz, Domingo Alvarado, and not many more.  Luís Vargas is a fine singer, steeped in the traditions of his native Cádiz but commanding a wide range of flamenco forms.  Here is his rendition of the form including the distinctive Tangos of La Repompa de Malaga.  The tangos, incidentally, is that rarity among flamenco pieces – it’s in a solid 4/4 tempo, march time or rock time, just like 98.6% of all the music that sells in the western world.

(The great majority of rhythmic flamenco forms use a weird polyrhythm or amalgam with twelve beats, of which five (yes, five!) are accented.  So in the soleá, the alegrías family and the bulerías, the accents are on three, six, eight, ten and twelve; the peteneras and the guajiras accent the one, four, seven, nine and eleven; and the siguiriyas and serranas accent the one, three, five, eight and eleven.  This is why you can’t tap your foot to flamenco songs without years, or at least hours, of practice.)

Guitarist Basilio Georges is a valued asset in the New York flamenco scene, both for his expert playing and for the tireless work that he and his wife, the dancer and singer Aurora Reyes, do in keeping their midtown group Flamenco Latino active in teaching and performing both flamenco and Latin music in the city and far beyond.  This recording resulted from their determination to properly document the art of Luís Vargas.

10. Mario Escudero plays his bulerías titled Impetu on Mario Escudero Plays Classical Flamenco.

Notes:  For decades, New York – the world capital of the concert flamenco guitar – was privileged to be the home of the marvelous guitarist and true gentleman Mario Escudero.  Mario had made a name for himself accompanying dancers including Vicente Escudero (no relation) and other superb artists.  He was a dear friend and ardent admirer of Sabicas, and it was mutual – they made several duo recordings that have never been surpassed.

Mario Escudero had received some classical training in Spain, and it gave his artistry a broad musical dimension.  In fact, he was a visionary of the flamenco guitar, determined to give genuine structure to solos that were usually just random agglomerations of a guitarist’s store of material, whether original or borrowed from others.  Mario patiently explained that there was a way to build a theme and development into a guitar solo.  And then he proved it with this remarkable invention in the complex bulerías rhythmic pattern or compás.

His bold move was vetted and seconded by the young emerging genius Paco de Lucía, who included Impetu on an early recording – in retrospect, an honor bestowed only on Mario and on Esteban de Sanlúcar, another genius who, like Sabicas, left Spain before the Civil War but who settled in Argentina.

11. David Serva plays a bulerías on a private recording of a concert in Minneapolis in 2006.

Notes:  David Serva, the American who accompanies Agujetas on the second selection, displays his singular solo style in this bulerías, which draws on the guitar tradition embodied by Diego del Gastor.  David was the first and, according to Diego, the best of the foreign players to go to Morón de la Frontera.  (In the early sixties in Greenwich Village, where we both played in coffee houses, David showed me my first Diego material.  It’s among the finest music I have ever learned.)

The piece includes some of David’s own astonishing falsetas (melodic variations), which build upon the Morón style to create a very personal statement.  The ability to create worthwhile flamenco guitar music is surprisingly rare even among Spanish players; for an outsider, it seems even more remarkable.

Bulerías is usually played using the chords of A Phrygian or A Natural – most typically descending from D minor to C major to B flat major to a tonic or root chord of  A major.   (It’s not necessarily in the key or register of A, because in flamenco the guitarist might fasten a capo or cejilla around the neck to raise the pitch by an arbitrary amount, to match the singer’s  range or just to put more edginess into the guitar’s sound,)

This bulerías, however, uses the chords of E Phrygian rather than A –- characterized and defined by a falling chord sequence from A minor to G major to F major to the tonic or root chord of E major.  (This descending rather than ascending nature is one key, so to speak, to the essence of flamenco music.  In fact, it is called the Andalusian Cadence.)

12.  José Mercé sings a tangos called Bandera de Andalucia accompanied by Luis Habichuela on a CD titled Cultura Jonda – 14.

Notes: It’s possible that José Mercé today is the only true master of deep flamenco song who is in his prime.  He sings the soleá, the siguiriyas and the unaccompanied martinetes or tonás with a profundity – aficionados call it an eco because it seems to resonate in a space and time of its own– that only the aging Manuel Ajujetas can equal.  Mercé is the proud inheritor of a family tradition that extends back into the dawn of cante jondo.

Not long ago, at a press conference in New York, Mercé urged everyone to pay close attention to the second half of his City  Center recital the next evening, because it would be challenging and difficult to understand.

In the first half, he gave what may have been the finest rendering of  great flamenco song forms ever seen on a major New York stage.

For the second half, the curtains opened to reveal a rock or pop group, with José as the front man and lead vocalist.   He launched into a strange musical mélange that was, if nothing else, all his own.  And that was why he was so proud of it – because he had stepped outside of a glorious but confining family tradition and created unique music.

Afterwards, I was walking on 55th Street with Liliana Morales, a fine dancer and teacher and a  jewel in the city’s flamenco scene.  (When she had very little, she shared it all with a stream of confused visiting flamenco artists, helping them with heedless generosity.)  We were seated at a restaurant counter when José Mercé happened to walk in.  He saw Liliana, she saw him. They each let out  a yelp of joy and fell into each other’s arms, laughing and sharing memories of when they were kids, working and learning the ropes together in the tablaos or flamenco night clubs of Madrid.  Watching them, I envied Liliana’s vast intangible wealth.

Today, Mercé is not just the best but also the best-selling singer in the business.  His records, like that recital, are divided between incredibly intense flamenco song and his new thing, and total sales have far exceeded the half-million mark that is otherwise unheard of in a profession where five thousand copies constitutes a smash hit.

This tangos is from the early phase of Mercé’s career, and reflects the influence of Camarón de la Isla, his contemporary in the tablaos, who from the seventies until his death in 1992 would work with guitarist Paco de Lucía to revolutionize and transform the art with a fresh and contemporary air.   It is a harbinger of Merce’s later willingness to break rules.

Here he has created an anthem to Andalucía, using a backing chorus.  The guitarist is Luís Habichuela, who died young and was part of Granada’s great Carmona dynasty that includes Juan Habichuela – for many years acknowledged as the finest accompanist in the flamenco tradition – and Pepe Habichuela, a creative genius who has played with jazz artists and actually made good music while doing so.

(Pepe is also a concise judge of character.  After a night at the amazing 1986 New York production of Flamenco Puro, I made a casually dismissive comment about the art of the late singer Pepe Marchena – Spain’s leading figure in a very popular subset of flamenco called cante bonito, or pretty song, because it values sweetness and fancy vocal ornamentation above all else.  Pepe looked over at me and asked, “Do you know what your problem is?”  I said no.  He said, “Your mouth is too big, and your ears are too small.”  For a moment, or maybe even longer, I was at a loss for words.)

Today, the Habichuela children and grandchildren are cheerfully mulching the flamenco rule book and making terrific music of their own.  That’s the way it goes, even if that’s not the way it used to go.

13.  El Chocolate sings a siguiriyas, titled (from the first line of the first verse), “Aunque murmure la gente” – “Even if people are whispering about us”, with guitar accompaniment by Niño Ricardo.

Notes:  Like many others, I consider the late Antonio Nuñez “El Chocolate” a charter member of the very exclusive (perhaps seven or eight members) Deep Song Masters Still In Living Memory Club.  (Agujetas concurs, which counts for much more.)

A few years ago, El Chocolate sang very well in New York’s City Center as part of the hugely successful Flamenco Festival.  This phenomenon was created by the visionaries Robert and Helene Browning, whose World Music Institute had offered music’s planetary pantheon to adventurous listeners; and by Miguel Marín, who insisted that such a festival could work despite my unsolicited advice to the contrary.  (Wrong again – but Miguel did write a long article for Andalucía’s official flamenco publication, detailing the daunting difficulties of attaining success.)

After the show, I found El Chocolate and launched into a long harangue about what a privilege it had been to know him and to witness his singing – all of it, because when he wasn’t singing hard-core flamenco he would walk around singing his exotic versions of Beatles songs or advertising jingles for Cola-Cao.  I had to tell him, because it was clear there might never be another opportunity.  There never was.

A decade or so ago, through some divine fluke, the tiny-selling El Chocolate won the Latin Grammy in the flamenco category.  No one will ever deserve it more.  Still, his initial response seemed refreshing:  “¿Qué es un Grammy?”

14.  Pastora Pavón “La Niña de los Peines” sings a peteneras, “Quisera yo renegar”, accompanied by Manolo de Badajoz on a 1929 recording.

Notes:  Manuel Torre? Antonio Chacón? Tomás Pavón? Manolo Caracol? – there is plenty of room for debate about who was the history’s greatest cantaor (the word means “male flamenco singer”).

As for history’s greatest cantaora, the verdict has been in for more than a century, ever since she started singing in the streets and cafés of Seville.  In the 1940’s, many New Yorkers haunted record stores, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next 78-rpm record by La Niña de los Peines.  They usually didn’t know about flamenco singing, or even care about the art itself.  All they knew, whether they were opera buffs or jazz fans, was that this woman had to be heard.  Like Edith Piaf or Amalia Rodrigues or Oum Khalsoum or Billie Holiday, this was a female voice that didn’t just transcend but simply demolished cultural barriers.

She sang everything brilliantly.  She absorbed the most profound songs from the magnificent Manuel Torre and her glorious brother Tomás, and scooped up everything else by just listening to the best interpreters and regurgitating it in new, improved and unforgettable versions.  To the public dismay and private delight of purists, she took Mexican ditties like Cielito Lindo and folksongs collected by Lorca like Esquilones de Plata, tossed them into the irresistible rhythm of her bulerías, and let it rip.

If she has a signature song, it is the peteneras that she recorded many times for many labels in her six decades as flamenco’s leading lady.  The origins of this song are unclear, since it doesn’t fit well into any particular branch that emerges from the trunk of the art.  A few of the early verses refer to situations between Jewish lovers, while another indicates that a woman called La Petenera was a famed femme fatale.

Unlike most flamenco songs, this melody seems almost catchy, or memorable, or even “memorizable”.   The rendition is supreme.

(In 1963, in the Seville bar owned by her adoring husband, the very popular singer Pepe Pinto, I haltingly exchanged a few words with Pastora Pavón, whose mind was gradually clouding over from what we now know as Alzheimer’s.  In my own mind, that momentito has become a hefty flamenco credential.)

15.  Sabicas plays an alegrías titled “Campiña andaluza” from his monumental first LP, Flamenco Puro.

Notes:  Sabicas had left Spain during that nation’s Civil War, and gone with Carmen Amaya’s troupe to the New World, finally settling in New York to launch his glorious career as a soloist.  We always called him maestro.  Sabicas didn’t exactly teach the guitar, but if we asked him which fingering he used for a certain falseta, he would indicate the correct version with a nod.  This was a lesson from Olympus.

In 1961, I went to Spain to learn how to play the real flamenco guitar.  I had been studying in New York for a few years with a fine player and fine gentleman named Fidel Zabal, who was my father’s teacher from the mid-1940’s to 1959, when I took up the challenge. Fidel was close friend of Sabicas, and he showed us a lot of his material.

When I was taking my first lessons in Madrid, the teacher asked me if I knew anything.  “Not really,” I said, “at least not the real flamenco guitar.  I just know New York flamenco, mostly stuff by Sabicas.”

His jaw dropped.  “You know the music of Niño Sabicas?!   “My god, how we have missed him!  Stay right there!”  He ran to a phone.  And a half hour later, I was laboriously showing Sabicas’s music to a half-dozen of the city’s best players, who immediately proceeded to play it with a professional punch, pizazz and command that I have never approached.

Moral: The grass might actually be greener on your own side of the fence.

Sabicas played with an uncanny mastery of flamenco’s fiendishly difficult rhythmic patterns, called compás.  His playing at any speed seemed effortless, and the sounds that emerged have never been equaled in the sheer beauty and perfection of every note and the glorious tone of the instrument.  It would serve as an object lesson for Paco de Lucía.

The twelve brilliant cuts on Flamenco Puro would give guitarists their marching orders for decades.  In addition to the maestro’s new conceptions, this alegrías incorporates some falsetas by the great unrecorded Jerez genius Javier Molina.

Sabicas had many American admirers, none more fervent than New York’s Dennis Koster.  Dennis plays both classical and flamenco guitar quite well, and he regards both Sabicas and his long-time teacher Mario Escudero as extraordinary and important composers, often integrating their works into programs that are primarily classical.  It is an interesting and revealing perspective.

16.  José Greco dances la caña, which is sung by Rafael Romero while Miguel García accompanies; from the record Danzas Flamencas.

Notes:  If New York ever had an official bailaor or male flamenco dancer, it was the late José Greco Bucci, born in Italy and dance-educated in Seville, who built his career while based in the Big Apple. In 1942, he toured the States with La Argentinita, working with her until her death in 1945.  He accompanied her body to Spain, and joined the Pilar López troupe before working with Carmen Amaya and Mariemma before founding his own group.   He did a memorable star turn in Around the World in 80 Days”, was a regular on the Ed Sullivan Show, and did shows at Lewisohn Stadium before audiences that could approach 20,000.

José’s personal style was very athletic, very efectista or effects-driven, and sometimes over the top.  But he was an excellent dancer, and today we can still see some of his charisma in the work of his son José II and his daughters Carmela and Lola.  If he was also showman, it was often in the best sense of the word: He was not  afraid to share New York stages with some phenomenal artists, up to and including the young El Farruco, now posthumously seen by many as the finest bailaor in living memory and perhaps of all time.  (As was often the custom in the early phase of such dance troupes, there was a mixture of flamenco and other styles, such as the jota and formalized dances in the bolero style.)

Greco even had an ear for guitarists, and when he took a youngster from Algeciras to New York, the kid was introduced to Sabicas.  The maestro listened to him play, recognized a budding genius and potential rival, and suggested that he stop copying the material of the great Niño Ricardo as most Spanish players were doing, and instead create his own style.  The kid listened, and when he walked out onto Eighth Avenue that night, the future of the instrument was literally in his hands.  A decade later, Paco de Lucía’s revolution was rapidly overshadowing and obliterating all the flamenco guitar music that had come before, including the styles of giants like Ricardo and Sabicas himself.

On this recording, a marvelous Gypsy singer named Rafael Romero sings his signature song, called la caña (that article “la” is unique in flamenco nomenclature, and seems to be a sign of respect for this unusual old song which was once revered as the “Mother of the Soleá”, although that historical claim hasn’t held up.)

Romero had been a key figure in a transformative earlier event.  In 1954, when it seemed that serious flamenco song was in danger of extinction due to a lack of interest, a French company decided to document its death throes with a swansong 3-volume LP called the Antología del Cante Flamenco.  Among the select singers they chose, Rafael Romero did a lot of the heavy lifting and the appealing caña was among its revelations.

The record won France’s Grand Prix du Disque, and suddenly, perhaps because of that fashionably French imprimatur, Spain woke up to the monumental cultural creation that it had been neglecting for so long.  (It probably helped that the great singer Antonio Mairena had been struggling for many years to put flamenco song in its rightful place.)

Whether it was the anthology, the current of mairenismo, or just a propitious moment, the die was cast.  By the mid-sixties, Spain had embraced serious and difficult flamenco music, along with the idea that singers from venerated Gypsy families had a virtual patent on intense flamenco feeling.

In this view, that extraordinary dimension may have resulted from the Gypsy experience since their arrival in Spain in the Fifteenth Century.   There followed several centuries of intense persecution, documented in the deep song styles that are traditionally attributed to Gypsy artists.  Those songs served as a testament and as a warning to future generations, and were restricted to Gypsy gatherings.  Only when the persecution eased in the mid-1800s did the music emerge into public view, joining the many other styles in the flamenco panorama.

This view dominated until the 1990’s when a backlash developed.  Today, gitanismo or “Gypsyism” is out of favor among Andalucía’s officially-anointed authorities and among most academic researchers and writers.  They distrust malleable oral histories and rely primarily on documents including newspaper reports that began appearing around 1850, insisting that the art itself didn’t exist until then.

Those of us who still retain gitanista views may be viewed with suspicion, and termed “racist” for bringing ethnic heritage – and an admitted predilection or bias – into the arena.

17.  The legendary dancer Pilar López sings and dances an arranged version of peteneras titled “El Café de Chinitas”, from the arrangement originally danced by her sister, La Argentinita.  Another singer, Niño de la Corredera, joins her at times.  They are accompanied by guitarist Pepín Salazar, on her record Suite Flamenca.

Notes: Pilar López, born in Madrid, was the younger sister of La Argentinita, who was born in Argentina before the family went to Spain.  Pilar was a professional from the age of 15, playing piano, singing and dancing.  There followed a string of triumphs in Madrid and beyond, and intellectuals and artists were among her adoring public.  In 1933, she worked with her sister for the first time in a version of Falla’s El Amor Brujo.  In 1943, they appeared in the Metropolitan Opera House in the sensational production El Café de Chinitas, and reports insist that in Washington’s Water Gate they danced on a floating stage while some ten thousand spectators watched from boats.  They went on to barnstorm the nation until Argentinita died in 1945.

After a year of mourning, Pilar formed the Ballet Español de Pilar López, featuring veterans of her American tour including José Greco, Manolo Vargas and Rafael Ortega.  A seemingly endless series of triumphs followed, as she conveyed her infallible sense of precision and elegance to a generation of great dancers, including Roberto Ximénez, Alejandro Vega, Mario Maya and Antonio Gades.  The accolades and awards were endless, and included two Silver Cups awarded in New York for the finest interpretation of flamenco dance as well as Spain’s Cruz y Lazo de Isabel La Católica.  She effectively retired from the stage in 1974.

This arranged version of a peteneras from El Café de Chinitas shows how this flamenco song, heard earlier as sung by La Niña de los Peines, is reimagined from the perspective of a flamenco dance production.

18.  Another legendary dancer, Vicente Escudero, dances and plays castanets to an arrangement of Isaac Albéñiz’s classical piece “Sevilla”, played on the piano by Pablo Miquel, on Escudero’s record Flamenco!

Notes: Vicente Escudero, born in 1888, was one of the most important flamenco dancers of the twentieth century, and one of the most radical.  In the bohemian Paris of the 1920’s, he was drawn to Dadaism and surrealism – at one point, dancing to the sound of a massive electrical generator.  Among his pals were Picasso and Miró, Man Ray and Luís Buñuel, Juan Gris and Paul Eluard.  He worked with Diaghilev and when Ana Pavlova died in 1931 he performed at her tribute in London.  In 1932 Sol Hurok booked him for New York.  In 1939, he broke a flamenco taboo by dancing to the crucial siguiriyas, answering critics by saying “I could dance in a church without profaning it.”

By the 1950’s, this inveterate rule-breaker regarded the great Antonio as his principal rival.  Suddenly, he conjured up the new rules of dance orthodoxy – a ten point decálogo that happened to forbid a lot of Antonio’s coolest moves.

In 1961, as a student at Columbia College, I saw Escudero perform at the MacMillan theater on the campus – it was one of his many farewell tours, and in fact it really was his last hurrah.  I found his art confusing and disconcerting, and some others shared similar reservations.

(As a flamenco guitar student, I was probably watching the superb accompaniment of Mario Escudero, (no relation to Vicente) at least as closely as  I was watching the old man.  And years later, at the New York Society of the Classic Guitar, I saw an old film of Vicente dancing – in silence, because the separate soundtrack had been lost if it had existed at all.  I contacted Mario, who watched the film while recording precisely the accompaniment that had been missing; I hope that film has surfaced somewhere.)

The aesthetic of Vicente Escudero, minus the most disconcerting idiosyncrasies, infused the work of other dancers, most notably the brilliant Antonio Gades.

This exhibit includes a 1951 José Ramírez flamenco guitar on which Escudero has etched in pen his remarkable autograph that incorporates a drawing of a dancer and a guitarist and is dated “España 1952”.

19: Adela La Chaqueta sings a colombianas called “De los rizos de tu pelo”, accompanied by Sabicas.

Notes: When the great 1980’s Flamenco Puro production opened on Broadway, unsuspecting audiences were often overwhelmed by the intensity of the proceedings.  Fernanda de Utrera, El Chocolate, El Farruco – this was flamenco immersion therapy, starting with a dive off the deep end.  Even neophytes sensed that this black art could be not merely disturbing and desolate but downright terrifying.  In fact, deep song can seem like a dance with death – because death is always its real topic.  (Okay, putting aside all this absurd mumbo-jumbo – let’s just say  the show was not what a normal audience would expect for its entertainment dollars.)

And then Adela La Chaqueta came bouncing onstage, overflowing with joy and energy, and the crowd heaved a collective sigh of relief.  Yes, there is a happy component to a lot of terrific flamenco, and it came just in time.

On this recording, accompanied by Sabicas and his beloved brother Diego Castellón, Adela performs a colombianas, allegedly one of several charming cantes de ida y vuelta or “round trip songs” like the Cubanesque guajira and the Argentinish milonga, that emigrated from Spain to Latin America and returned with a lilt, a sway and a slightly lascivious tropical air.  Allegedly, because despite its name and that believable backstory, the colombianas was actually fabricated entirely in Spain by Pepe Marchena, the most gifted of Spain’s popular cante bonito or “pretty song” maestros.

(The runner-up was Juanito Valderrama, whose son Juan recently released a CD called “White Sounds”, riding today’s majority-pride backlash against the mystical myth-making that García Lorca weaved around Gypsy “black sounds”.)

20:  Antonio dances to a folk song, “Anda Jaleo”, collected and annotated by Federico García Lorca and possibly sung by Carmen Rojas.  The guitarists are Manuel Morao and Mariano Cordoba, on Antonio’s record Flamenco Fiesta.

Notes:  There is flamenco dance, the province of the bailaor, and there is the more formal and classical Spanish dance, the province of the bailarín.  In the world of Spanish dance, there was Antonio el Bailarín.  He was born Antonio Ruíz Soler, but as a professional he never needed more than “Antonio” or “the Antonio” to show he was in a class by himself.  (“The great Antonio” seemed almost redundant.)

As noted above, the revolutionary Vicente Escudero cemented his reputation by daring to dance the deep siguiriyas.  That left only the older and even more profound martinete as sacrosanct.  And no wonder – the song evidently predated the use of the guitar, and it was sung rather freely, not revealing a pronounced metric system.

Then, in a remarkable 1952 Spanish documentary film by Edgar Neville called Duende y Misterio del Flamenco, a breathtaking shot showed a small platform, at the foot of the great gorge of Ronda, one of the world’s most spectacular sights.  And there was Antonio, alone, blithely borrowing the rhythm of the siguiriyas but revealing a completely new dance form: the martinete, now a major part of the repertoire.

Here Antonio dances to “Anda Jaleo” – not a flamenco song but a popular or folk song which may be among those collected and annotated by Lorca.  (It has always seemed a bit strange to me that virtually all of the songs allegedly brought to light by Lorca have memorable melodies, irresistible hooks and marvelous lyrics, and have become permanent parts of Spain’s national consciousness.  Beginners’ luck?  Or did Lorca polish, refine or perhaps even invent some of these remarkable “popular” creations?  Hey, just sayin’.)

21.  La Argentinita sings and plays castanets to the song “Los Cuatro Muleros”, accompanied on piano by none other than Federico García Lorca.  From the Italian record “Canzoniere Spagnolo – Flamenco e Canti Popolari”.

Notes:  Again moving away from the unbridled intensity of hypercharged flamenco, we hear the restrained elegance of the great dancer La Argentinita as she sings and plays the palillos/castañuelas/castanets (pick one).

Tickling the ivories is a folksong collector who wrote the definitive essay on the phenomenon of the duende and also dabbled in poetry.

In 1929, while he was studying uptown at Columbia University and observing New Yorkers firsthand, Federico Garía Lorca wrote a letter to his family.  It began: “You have no idea how deeply moved these Americans are by the traditional music and song of Spain.”


Brook Zern




March 16, 2013   1 Comment

Flamenco Guitarist Paco de Lucia – April 19 article from Publico.es – translated by Brook Zern

Flamenco Guitarist Paco de Lucia – April 19 article from Publico.es – translated by Brook Zern

Note:  This article is evidently based on an interview with Paco de Lucía from EFE, Spain’s official news agency.  In it, Paco says he doesn’t intend to “vivir de las rentas”, a phrase that may mean he won’t sit back and live off his income, or perhaps rest on his laurels, and that he’s delighted with the effusive welcome he has received in the U.S. at the “equador”, or midpoint, of his 17-city tour.  It continues:

“Paco filled the Strathmore in Washingon, D.C. and says that his U.S. public is ‘a minority that keeps on growing.’  He adds that he loves playing the guitar more than ever, and is passionate about flamenco and about composing.

“If the music I compose doesn’t surprise the professionals, I will immediately retire – what I don’t want to do is ‘vivir de las rentas’, because that has always seemed sad to me.”

The tour supports his latest record, “En Vivo: Conciertos de España 2010”, released last year – seven years after his previous CD, “Cositas Buenas”.

They don’t make live recordings anymore,” he says.  “Everything’s done in the studio.  If you mess up, they fix it and it sounds marvelous – everybody plays and sings well”.  But he says that a live recording “has soul; it’s human.”

At 64, he remember his beginnings as a musician in the U.S., a country he has toured since his childhood and which in that era “had more poetry, more romanticism”, but which “due to the problems we all know about”, has now “turned itself into a police state/police system” [“un sistema policiaco”].

“I’ve been playing for people here since I was twelve,” he says, “at first filling two rows of seats, and then two more rows.  Now it’s rare not to sell out a concert” in this first U.S. tour in five years.

He knows that transatlantic tours can be tiring, though he’s delighted to go onstage with the “savia nueva”, [new savvy, fresh approaches] of the dancer Farru [a more appropriate name than ‘Farruco’ which is being used here], the percussionist “Piraña”, and the singers Duquende and David de Jacoba, who demonstrate the good health and vitality of flamenco.

Speaking of the public, Paco said it’s “a thousand-headed monster, and in general reacts the same way to musical stimuli” in different parts of the world, but specifies that the American audience is “very effusive and always good.”

After the Washington event, which drew numerous standing ovations, the group heads for Symphony Center in Chicago and will end the remaining eight concerts in Austin, Texas.

Up to now, the public response has translated into a totally sold-out venues and enthusiastic crowds like that of Washington, where notable numbers included the bulerias, tangos and siguiriyas.

Paco de Lucía said that today’s flamenco is bursting with new talents, an art with a bright future “that’s in very good hands.”

This artist whose compositions have already been incorporated into the history of flamenco, such as “Entre dos aguas”, says that he has never stopped learning, “though I’d love to have the same energy I had before.”

In his opinion, the musical and artistic culture of the U.S. owes a great deal to the African-American community, which has given an international dimension to the rhythms of jazz and the blues.

He says he would have liked to play along with musical geniuses like the trumpeters Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong.  In his own music, he says, he tries to “channel other types of rhythms and influences toward flamenco.”

End of translation.

April 21, 2012   No Comments

Flamenco Documentaries – Rito y Geografia del Cante Flamenco – The Good News, The Great News and the Bad News – by Brook Zern

Flamenco Documentaries – Rito y Geografía del Cante Flamenco The Good News, The Great News and the Bad News – by Brook Zern

You’re a flamenco aficionado, right?  And even in this era when audio and video piracy is considered proper behavior, you still buy some videos and even a few CD’s every year, right?

Well, here’s the Good News.  The greatest flamenco documentary series ever made, or that ever will be made, is called Rito y Geografia del Cante Flamenco.  It consisted of 100 black-and-white filmed programs made for Spain’s national broadcasting network, RTVE, between 1970 and 1973.  It was the work of a team of dedicated visionaries, and the key person was José María Velázquez-Gaztelu  who remains a major presence in the art with his twice-weekly radio program Nuestro Flamenco on Radio Nacional, available as podcasts, and his outstanding presentations and commentary at flamenco conferences and festivals worldwide.

The brilliance of the films was enhanced by the fact that they were filmed in the field, or more specifically in the homes, bars and other haunts where the artists were most comfortable.  In the process, the shows reveal a vanished Andalucía that is barely post-Medieval, and where permanent hunger was a very recent memory.  In other words, these films help us understand the time, place and reality that engendered and nurtured the art of flamenco.

Now, for the first time, you can buy eight of those great shows on two DVD’s bound into two striking hardcover-books, all material beautifully restored and brilliantly documented, for an absurdly low price.  The programs on the first one include:

Terremoto de Jerez – very possibly Jerez’s finest cantaor or male singer in living memory, here rendering his fandangos, soleares, magnificent bulerias and legendary siguiriyas accompanied by his compatriot, the great guitarist Manuel Morao.

Viejos Cantaores – including songs by the immense artist Juan Talega, boss of the crucial style called the Solea de Alcala; Agujetas el Viejo, known as the father of Manuel Agujetas and a great singer in his own right; Diego el Perote, a master of the song of Malaga; Antonio Piñana, the main man for tarantas and its related styles from the Linares/Cartagena/Murcia region of  Eastern Spain; and Pepe de la Matrona, the all-around man from Madrid.

Malaga y Levante – lots of styles of Malaguenas and also of the mining forms of the East or Levante area, including Piñana and Fosforito among others.

Maria Vargas – a brilliant cantaora from Sanlucar, with a rare asset – a voice that is actually pleasant, even beautiful, even when she delivers hard-core flamenco.  She’s accompanied by a hot kid from her home town – yes, the great Manolo Sanlucar.  María Vargas has just re-entered the flamenco scene here in Spain.

Here’s the rundown on the other DVD/booklet:

Manuel Agujetas – not the nicest guy in the world, but the savviest artists in Jerez say that when he’s gone, the game is over.  He’s accompanied by the wonderful Parrilla de Jerez and by Manolo Sanlucar, and his father Agujetas el Viejo is also seen in fine form.

Cante Flamenco Gitano – revealing the song and the way of life of artists including Gaspar de Utrera, Rafael Romero, Santiago Donday, Cristobalina Suarez (wife of Miguel Funi) and El Turronero.  Accompanists include Manuel Morao, Perico del Liunar hijo, Pedro Bacan and Paco Cepero.  For great homestyle flamenco, these are the usual suspects for a really fine lineup.

Fandangos Naturales – a favorite form for artists and Spanish devotees alike, but hard for some of us outsiders to fully appreciate.  A lot depends on the words of the verses that the artists choose – and these are are more melodramatic or histrionic than you’ll find in other styles.  Worse yet, the words can be hard to understand.  Still, with Camarón, Enrique Morente and El Mono de Jerez among other masters of the form, it’s worth your attention.

Beni de Cadiz – another challenge for outsiders, El Beni always charms his Spanish fans with his ebullient personality, his very funny stories and some dynamite dance moves.  At his singing best, he evokes the great Manolo Caracol.

Now the Great News:

Those two new DVDs/Books are actually Volumes 17 and 18 of this wonderful edition of this incomparable documentary – which means that there are 16 more volumes that have already been published over the past few years, for a total of 72 half-hour programs.  Every one is priceless, and every one is for sale cheap.

I don’t know the best way to get them all, and some volumes may be hard to find but should turn up sooner or later.  Maybe you can buy them, or some of them, in the store linked to the excellent website deflamenco.com.  Maybe they’re available from elflamencovive.com in Madrid.  Maybe they’re all over eBay’s English or Spanish incarnations.  Google will reveal all.  Start saving up.

And now the Bad News:

While these two latest publications add eight very fine programs to the previous 64 on the 16 previous DVD’s, my primitive math indicates that – umm, let’s see, 100 minus 72 equals – roughly 28 programs that are not available and might not be for a long time, if ever.

For me personally, that’s actually good news.  I did a lot of begging, bribing and paying to help ensure the survival of this series (and a lot of other RTVE flamenco programs filmed in their studios as well, though my focus was always on the Rito series.)  In 1987, after 15 frustrating years and after giving the first set to the Flamenco Archive or Flamenco Collection I’d established at Columbia University, I finally ended up with the world’s only at-large copy of these programs.

That meant I could show them in those rare instances where cultural organizations and universities would allow me to do that.  And so it was that I ruled — at least in terms of having great VHS cassettes to show for friends and for any interested culturati.

You wanna see it, you gotta go thru me, pal.  Hey, I coulda been a contender, if only anyone had wanted to see it.

Then a lot of the programs were published, albeit in bad shape and with silly documentation by Alga Editorial in Spain, so I lost my monopoly.  Worse yet, some jerk invented YouTube, so that anybody could see good and even great flamenco at the push of a button.  And then this great new edition came out.  The jig was up.

But I still have nearly all of the still-unpublished programs.  Good for me.  But I also have a bad feeling that with these latest eight programs now available in improved fidelity, the remaining stuff is relatively weak.  (Yes, there were some feeble programs, about wine and flamencologists and Lorca and deFalla and whatnot, that I rarely bothered to look at, and that wouldn’t add much to the glory of this achievement.)

But I digress (what else is new, you ask).  Hunt these programs down.  Never mind the fact that you can see lots of them on YouTube — the books alone are worth much more than you’ll pay for the combo.

Get the whole batch.  You’ll sleep better knowing that you have the definitive documentary on flamenco, right up to the moment when Paco and Camarón (both featured, though separately) delivered on Paco’s published threat in Triunfo magazine (you’ll find it on this blog) to rip flamenco from the hands of the men they called old farts, fogies and phonies who controlled it and, with the help of a kid from La Isla, reshape it into the hipper, jazzier, freer, fusionier art form it has become.

And remember, even Paco is on record as saying that if you don’t understand where flamenco came from, you’ll never know where it is or where it’s going.

Brook Zern

March 20, 2012   No Comments

Jerez Post-Partum – The Mijita Family Keeps Flamenco Coming – Report and Gypsyphile Rant by Brook Zern

Beyond the Jerez Flamenco Festival – Rants and reports from Sherrytown.

The Festival Flamenco de Jerez ended last week.  It had its moments.  Big dance shows in the big Villamarta Theater.  And some good events in the small performance space at the Moorish Alcazar that overlooks the town.

Lots of dance students from around the world, but mostly from Japan.  A few guitar students, too, and a handful of brave people who are determined to learn how to sing flamenco.

They’re all gone now, vanished like smoke.  Okay, time for flamenco as I understand the term.

A few nights ago, after the jerezanos retaken their town, I went to the Peña La Bulería at around eleven, hoping to be unfashionably early and maybe get a seat.  No way.  The joint was already jammed and already jumpin’.  Hundreds of neighborhood people were there to see the Mijita family – Mijita hijo, Mijita padre and Cousin José.  On the six-stringer, the terrific accompanist Domingo Rubichi – brother of the late, lamented singer Diego Rubichi.

Who are these people?  Well, the kid – not literally a kid, but still a young guy – sang a verse that referred to his own family as the Carpios, the Mijitas and the Agujetases (who are related to the Rubichis).   Here in flamencolandia, that genealogy trumps any other calling card you’re likely to see

Anyway, all hell kept breaking loose, in the best possible way.  This was great singing by people who have assiduously neglected to study flamenco recordings, settling instead for living and learning every note of the art in their homes and in the bars and dives of the Plazuela, as this fabled neighborhood is called.

And the event itself differed from those of the official Festival because it was essentially intimate, a happening among friends and an admittedly extended family.

Before the break, the flamenco lover/expert, writer and radio emcee José María Castaño came out and stated that this fantastic vibe could only be felt at a peña – an organized entity that is supported by its members and by ever-dwindling public funding, and that opens its doors to anyone and everyone without charging a centimo.

Hundreds of jerezanos.  Zero foreigners.  Well, one.  (As a typically dissatisfied but unusually alphabetically-oriented woman once told me, “Zern?  Oh, yes.  Always one step short of Zero.”)

It can be awkward, looking in from the outside in a town and a society where everyone is evidently related to everyone else, and where the endless sound of kissing – guys kissing guys, girls kissing girls, everyone kissing babies – is the real soundtrack to every public and private event.

But for us foreigners, being present even at one remove is the price to be paid for experiencing flamenco as a non-commercial non-spectacle.

It’s worth it.

Brook Zern

Racist P.S.:  I am often taken to task for remaining unfashionably fixated on the Gypsy aspect of flamenco – this is now called racism, to my dismay – but I can’t help pointing out the obvious here:  The Mijitas and the other families mentioned above are all among the fabled Gypsy families of Jerez, and the kind of flamenco they do, and the way they do it, bespeaks their Gypsy ancestry in every cracked and croaked note, gripping gesture and perfect pataita (impromptu dance step) that they generate.

Not to belabor the point, but at the Peña Tío José de Paula a few days before, in a terrific event organized by Pedro Carrasco “Niño Jero”, or Periquin, a four-year old girl who may have been named Triana was carried onto the stage and immediately knocked off a drop-dead bulerías with absolute aplomb, great gracia and a better sense of flamenco rhythmics (compás) than I’ve acquired in sixty years of listening and fifty years of diligent guitar study.  Granted, I didn’t check her background and maybe she’s from Texas.  But she smelled of Jerez to me.  Maybe she was born in Texas but switched at birth for a Jerez infant who is already a prodigy of the two-step in the nightspots of Laredo…Yes, the Carrascos are, at latest report, still Gypsies.

Okay — I realize that such aptitudes are entirely environmental and not literally ”carried in the blood.”  But why do I have the nagging feeling that if I’d had the foresight to have switched myself at birth into a Jerez Gypsy family, I would still be struggling to master the local swing or soniquete that defines the guitar sound around here, and oozes from the pores of every fourteen-year-old kid with a Mohawk haircut who picks up an instrument?

Racism?  Okay, if you insist.  My own people, on my mother’s side, have a saying.  (No, not “You never know who your father is.”)

I don’t know exactly what it means, or how it‘s used or spelled, but I think I get the gist of it.  It goes like this:  “So call me pischa”.


PPS:  Taking the heat for excessive gitanismo is evidently nothing new for me.  I just found a crumbling 1975 letter to me from a key flamenco authority, Francisco Vallecillo, who founded the Centro Andaluz de Flamenco (CAF) documentation center here in Jerez.

Translating the penultimate paragraph:  “The Flamenco Festivals [annual outdoor all-night events in many Andalusian towns, still happening but less frequently] are in a state of crisis this year, above all in terms of their artistic aspect.  Almost always the same names as ever, but at a very undistinguished (muy discreto) level.

Your idol, El Chocolate, is causing a lot of scandals, just like your other idols, the bullfighters Curro Romero and Rafael de Paula.  In towns like Pegalajar, Montilla, Malaga, etc., El Chocolate has first-half appearances that are splendid, marred in the second half by an excessive intake of wine that causes the scandals.”

There it is already, 37 years ago – I’m rightly accused of excessive devotion to Gypsy artists.

I should be embarrassed by that bias, or my failure to outgrow it.  Instead, I’m embarrassed by the fact that, like many aficionados, I blithely assumed that the magical bullfighter Curro Romero, like the Jerez torero Rafael de Paula and the singer El Chocolate, was a Gypsy, because that’s the feeling I got from his way of bullfighting.

I learned years later that I was wrong, evidently, and this fact shows the downside of my gitanista bias – its foolishness can demonstrated in some cases by actual facts, leaving me looking like a schmuck.  Oh, well.  I say again, “So call me pischa”.


March 20, 2012   No Comments

Flamenco Dancer Rocio Molina at the 2012 Jerez Flamenco Festival – comment by Brook Zern

Flamenco Dancer Rocio Molina at the 2012 Jerez Flamenco Festival – comment by Brook Zern

I am constantly shocked by how little I know about flamenco dance today.  Add the fact that I don’t have a good eye for dance, and you can see why I rarely comment on dance performances.

Well, I saw Rocío Molina in the Villamarta Theater in Jerez the night before last, and as always, I first listened to what my designated dance mavens said about it.

This time, they were wrong.  Not only that, but I was right.

Here’s the story:  I saw the woman who may be the world’s greatest dancer in any idiom, working at the top of her game, dancing a bunch of flamenco forms.  No one can ask for any more than that.

But the dance people I talked to weren’t satisfied, because they didn’t like the fact that the stage was dark, the dancer wore black, and the theme or mood – to the extent that I could grasp the strange language that is dance – was negative, troubled, and unhappy.

What the heck are they thinking?  Who are they to decide that a great artist – the finest in their chosen field – should wear cheerier colors, and smile at them, and leave the audience with an optimistic and uplifting feeling that all is right with the world?

That’s absurd.  It is not for us mortals to decide that Goya’s terrifying late-life black paintings, slathered on plaster walls in a frenzy of despair, needed some brightening up, or that Picasso should have added a nice dash of cerise to the eviscerated horse in Guernica.  If anything, I believe that art which stares unflinchingly at death and despair gets extra points rather than demerits.

And that’s about art in general.  Now, flamenco is a special case.  Flamenco – and this is the dirty little secret it shares with blues, and which elevates both arts from the realm of international folklore to the stratospheric realm of great art – is about death.

Okay, okay, of course we’re not talking about the alegrías [translation: joys] or the bulerías [jokings around].  We’re talking about the few core forms that give the art its center of gravity:  the soleá, the siguiriyas and the unaccompanied martinetes and its relatives.  The theme at the heart of flamenco is desolation and despair – yet another reason why so few people like the art form in its fullest dimension.

Rocío Molina is a dancer who is beyond category.  That was indicated by Spain’s decision to give her the National Prize for the Danza – the Dance – and not the National Prize for the Baile – the Flamenco Dance.  More importantly, it was proven by Mikhail Baryshnikov’s response to Rocío Molina’s art: He fell on his knees, and kissed her hand, or her foot, or both, according to the storyteller.

What was the phrase that Abraham Lincoln used in another context – oh, yes, “beyond our poor power to add or detract”.

I can’t comment on the fine points of dance, but once in a while the basic facts are so obvious – I once saw Nureyev dance in the bull ring of Barcelona, and didn’t need to second-guess my response – that you just have to quit quibbling.

Personally, I would rather watch the traditionalist Manuela Carrasco on a good night doing what some foolish people call “her same old soleá” than watch the difficult and disturbing art of Rocío Molina.  But that doesn’t alter the fact that when Rocío Molina dances actual flamenco, she honors the art.

I can’t believe that some serious dance people choose to focus on her choice of moods, much less her choice of lighting or colors or costumes.

A few years ago I was driving past a group of pickets outside a Ralphs’s supermarket in Los Angeles.  My six-year-old passenger asked what was happening, and I tried to explain the struggle for worker’s rights amid the growing wave of union busting.  He wasn’t buying my explanation.

“Why can’t they just be happy with what they have?” he asked.

Dance people, don’t be distracted by details.  You have Rocío Molina.  Be happy with what you have.

Brook Zern


March 7, 2012   1 Comment

News: Flamenco May Lose UNESCO “Patrimony of Humanity” Status

Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

November 16, 2011

by Brook Zern

There is truly astonishing news from the world of flamenco today, the first anniversary of the official UNESCO statement that the art of flamenco had been declared an Intangible Patrimony of Humanity.

UNESCO is warning the Andalusian government that it may withdraw that status if the government fails to comply with its promise to direct 15.5 million Euros — about $20 million — to support flamenco in 2012.

The Andalusian government — called the Junta de Andalucia — will almost certainly fail to meet that goal.  Its Department of Culture has planned to direct just 1.1 million Euros — less that $1.5 million — to flamenco next year.  And Andalucia promised 16.5 million Euros for flamenco in 2013 and 2014 — promises that will also presumably be broken.

It’s not just money where the government will fall short.  By November 2012, Andalucia told UNESCO that it would have completed 27 objectives to promote and safeguard the art.

I was at the First International Conference on Flamenco in Seville a few days ago when a member of UNESCO’s subsidiary group, the Mexican architect Francisco Javier “Pancho” Lopez,  laid down the law to the Junta:  ”There are rights that come with earning the honor of the Patrimony, but there are also obligations which must be met for the declaration to remain in force.”

There is no clear path to meeting the requirement.  The body that governs flamenco in Andalucia, recently renamed the IAF or Instituto Andaluz de Flamenco, has a budget of just over 1.1 million Euros for 2012 and the same amount for 2013 — including salaries for its staff.

Among the projects that Andalucia promised to undertake in its UNESCO application: A comprehensive study of the flamenco genre; recordings of ethnographic interest; a festival for young artists; support for the region’s penas or flamenco societies; support for international festivals; and a circuit of performances in colleges and universities.  They are supposed to be completed within a year, but most have not even been started.

Part of the problem is of course the terrible economic situation in Spain, and especially in Andalucia.  But there’s a political complication as well.  Just as Spain’s nominally Socialist central government, the PSOE, will fall to the center-right PP (Partido Popular) in next Sunday’s election, the PP will probably defeat the PSOE next March in Andalucia’s regional elections.  With a tight budget, the PP may not feel any obligation to honor this Socialist initiative.

At the request of the Spanish flamenco authority Jose Luis Ortiz Nuevo, I wrote the American section of the original international petition to UNESCO.  It’s strange to consider the very real possibility — perhaps even the likelihood — that flamenco will have the unique dishonor of being undeclared an Intangible Patrimony of Humanity.

Meanwhile, to commemorate this first anniversary of the UNESCO declaration, Andalucia’s officialdom has decided that this and every November 16 will be called the Day of Flamenco.  The announcement comes too late to arrange any events this year, of course.  But there’s an upside: Official announcements don’t cost anything.

November 16, 2011   No Comments