Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Festivals

Encyclopedia of the Cantes Mineros [Flamenco songs from the mining regions of Eastern Spain] – by Juan Vergillos – translated by Brook Zern

Encyclopedia of the Cantes Mineros [Flamenco songs from the mining regions of Eastern Spain] – by Juan Vergillos – translated by Brook Zern

From “VaivenesFlamencos.com – “A Magazine of Flamenco Today”, by Juan Vergillos, winner of the Premio Nacional de Flamencología.

Translator’s note: The so-called “cantes mineros” are an important family of flamenco forms, and they can be especially confusing for us outsiders.

Structurally, they are derived from the ubiquitous fandangos. Perhaps the oldest versions of fandangos in flamenco are the rhythmic forms, notably the fandangos de Huelva, the fandangos de Lucena and the verdiales. Each sung verse consists of six melodic lines – but only five lines of text, because one line of text is repeated. (Usually it’s the first line, which is repeated as the third line.)

While most flamenco songs work in an unusual (for us) mode, usually called the Phrygian, the sung and/or danced fandangos initially seem to work in our familiar major key – the first line going from G7 to C, second line going from C to F, third line going from F to C, fourth line going from C to G7, fifth line going from G7 to C — but there’s a catch. At the end, during the sixth line, the song exits the major-key format and slips back down into the exotic (for us) Phrygian. implicitly passing from A minor to G to F before coming to rest on the tonic E.

[Note that these chords do not dictate any required pitch or register to the song -- the use of the capo in flamenco guitar means that its pitch can be raised arbitrarily in half-tone intervals to match the vocal range of any singer. Also, the guitarist may choose to use a tonic chord of A instead if E -- while the intervals between the chords remain unchanged.]

At the end of the 1800’s, those bouncy fandangos were slowed down and the rhythm was abandoned so they became more serious-sounding – the Spanish say they were “aggrandized”, which sounds right. These forms included the malagueñas, the granainas – and the cantes de Levante, a sprawling and confusing family that includes the tarantas, the cartageneras, the mineras and more.

While the malagueñas work in a tonality rooted in the familiar guitar chord of E major as described above, the granainas are based on the guitar chord of B major (an A major chord barred on the second fret). The cantes de Levante are traditionally based on the guitar chord of F sharp major – an E chord barred on the second fret, but with the two highest strings, B and E, played unbarred, resulting in a disturbing, “darkling” and mysterious sound.

It’s worth noting that while flamenco is an Andalusian art, these Levante forms are from Spain’s East Coast above the southernmost region of Andalusia. But again, they are based on musical conceptions that are firmly “andaluz”.

Enough background – here is Juan Vergillos’ report on a new CD by the singer Jeromo Segura titled La Voz de la Mina: Antologia de los Cantes Mineras de La Union, and a new book, Cantes de las Minas, by Jose Luís Navarro García, with valuable insight into this often confusing musical realm.

Singer Jeromo Segura, from the province of Huelva, was fascinated in 2013 by the cantes de las minas, a fascination that led to his winning the [very prestigious] Lampara Minera at the International Concurso of the Cantes de las Minas in that same year. For his second CD, he has chosen songs exclusively from that category.

Seguro has made an authentic encyclopedia of mining styles, demonstrating his love for these unique forms using his sweet, intimate voice that is rich in feeling and precise. He uses today’s terms for the songs – terms often derived from the rules of the contest he won. Thus the so-called taranto, a name that was never applied to a flamenco style until 1957 when the singer Fosforito used the term on his first record for what had previously been called the minera. The “murciana de Manuel Vallejo” which that Seville singer called “cante de Levante” on a 1923 record but that today, evidently because of the record collector Yerga Lancharro is called the murciana. Seguro includes one of these, with the verse that Vallejo used back then.

The book by Navarro Garcia is a reedition of the 1989 version, giving biographies of the great creators and historic interpreters of the genre, from the more or less mythical like Pedro el Morato and La Gabriela to those who have made recordings and whose biographies are well established such as Antonio Chacón and El Cojo de Malaga. Thus, the different cante minero styles, tarantas, cartageneras, levanticas, murcianas, etc., are presented with the biographical data of their creators. The history of the cantes mineros, their interpreters and festivals and contests, notable La Union, stops in 1989. There is a chapter dedicated to the start of the mining industry in Jaén, Murcia and Almería. The first edition of this book generated new investigations about the genre, among them one by José Francisco Ortega who wrote the booklet that accompanies the CD by Jeromo Segura.

To that list, I’d like to add one done two years ago by Rafael Chaves Arcos: both books have contributed enormously to our understanding of the songs and singers of these forms. Research his advanced a lot but we should underline the pioneering text of Navarro García’s “Cantes de las Minas”. For many years it was the key reference work in the field.

The crucial “matrix” style of the cantes mineros is the taranta, perhaps from the town of Linares: That’s the view of Rafael Chavez and José Manuel Gamboa among other researchers of these forms. All of the other styles are modalities or variants of the tarantas, and within the tarantas we find great melodic variety, with some of those variants given their own denominations. Moreover, all of them without exception are accompanied on guitar by the style used today for the tarantas [i.e., using the tonic chord shape of the partly-unbarred F sharp. On his CD, Segura offers two tarantas styles – that of La Gabriela, probably the basis of the mineras, and that of Fernando de Triana. The first, perhaps composed in the [late] Nineteenth Century, was first recorded in 1908 by the Seville singer Manuel Escacena, and memorable versions have come from the voices of Seville’s La Niña de los Peines, Jaén’s La Rubia de las Perlas, or La Unión’s Emilia Benito. The taranta of Fernando el de Triana, whose authorship is not in doubt today, was recorded by El Cojo de Málaga and La Niña de los Peines, who was the first to record it.

Many who haven’t heard early recordings will be surprised by La Niña de los Peines’ mastery of the cantes mineros. But she, born Pastora Pavón, was a master in all songs, and many served as reference points for other singers in her era and afterwards. Segura’s versions are sentimental, intimate, sweet and also academic.

Regarding the cartagenera, Rafael Chaves believes that the one called “cartagenera grande” on Segura’s disc is melodically linked to the malagueña while that of Antonio Chacón would be reasonable views as a “taranta cartagenera”. In any case. Both are accompanied today in the tarantas style, as are the rest of the cantes mineros. And both were recorded in his day by Chacón who is, logically, the man responsible for the reference versions of these two cantes.

For the minera, the star style of the Festival de La Unión, Segura offers seven versions, although all share a single melodic base. It is traditionally associated with El Rojo el Alpargatero, though it bears the imprint of Antonio Piñana. Pencho Cros and Encarnación Fernandez. On this record, Segura offers one by Piñana, four by Cros and two by Fernández.

The levantica and the murciana, like the minera, are tarantas with a single, specific melody. Both are linked to the singer El Cojo de Malaga, whose verse Segura sings in his murciana, a song that at one time was labeled by singer Gabriel Moreno as “taranta de Linares”. The levantica follows the model of Encarnación Fernández, using a well-known verse that Ginés Jorquera composed for that singer from La Union who was born in Torrevieja, according to Ortega’s album notes.

The taranto, as we’ve noted, was known in Chacón’s time as the minera, a name that at that time covered different cantes but today is linked to only one style as analyzed above. On the record, Segura follows the model imposed by the Jerez singer Manuel Torre in the 1920’s when, the term taranto was never used.

The so-called “cantes de la madrugá” [early morning songs] are another variation on that same model, and owe their name to the Jaén singer Rafael Romero. Segura provides two examples, both with verses recorded by Romero. Finally, he offers three verses of the mythic fandango minero of Pencho Cros.

End of article.

In doing research for the exhibit “100 Years of Flamenco in New York” that was presented at the Lincoln Center branch of the New York Public Library, I noticed that a very famous dancer who appeared in the Big Apple well before 1900 was named Carmencita Dauset — more accurately, Grau Dauset. She was actually filmed in the Thomas Edison’s studios, and seems to have been the first dancer ever filmed. The name Grau rang a bell — because the legendary pioneer singer and creative giant of the cantes de las minas, called “El Rojo el Alpargatero”, was born Antonio Grau Mora. Sure enough, he was her brother — and he sang flamenco during her successful run in New York.

Yes. Incredibly, at least to me, a great flamenco singer was appearing in the U.S. in that era. It would be two generations and many decades before another great flamenco singer would again grace our shores. It would’ve been nice if Edison had recorded El Rojo — his agents were recording flamenco singers in Spain back then — but no such luck. There are no recordings of Antonio Grau “El Rojo el Alpargatero”.

Final note: The form called the taranto is often defined as simply a melodic variant of the free-rhythm tarantas — where the free rhythm has triple time or 3/4 feel when it acquires any feel of a steady beat.

But for flamenco dancers and singers who work with them, taranto means something else: It is a version of the song that is instead done in a strong duple rhythm, our familiar 4/4 or perhaps 2/4 time. The even rhythm makes it danceable. It was a big hit for the then-young singer Fosforito around 1956 or so. A bunch of us aficionados are busily trying to pin down the artist and the definitive date for the first rendition of that rhythmic taranto, with its very different feel, but no luck so far.

Brook Zern

March 6, 2015   No Comments

Letters Requesting Admission of Spanish Flamenco Artists to the U.S.

Introductory note:  I’ve been helping flamenco artists get permission to enter and perform in the U.S. since the 1970′s, when my friends and I at the American Institute of Guitar in New York started putting on concert series, and the stringmaker Juan Orozco did the same.  Among the artists we debuted in New York were Serranito, Manolo Sanlucar and Enrique Morente.  In addition, at the New York Society of the Classical Guitar, sometimes backed by Augustine Strings, we presented scores of first-rate foreign classical and flamenco players.  (For local talent, we fell back on neighborhood regulars like Sabicas and Mario Escudero who didn’t need recommendation letters.)  

Those early letters are lost, of course, but since the invention of the “save” button, I’ve cached some later letters which I’m pasting below.  I hope they’ll be useful for others who are asked to make such recommendations — it has become very problematic to obtain approvals in these nervous times, and I often hear of rejections, but I can’t remember getting any rejections.  It’s important to stress that the artists are unique and culturally important, note the prizes and acclaim they’ve received, and say that their work can’t be done just as well by American performers (sorry, folks).  But when multiple groups are involved, as for a festival, it’s necessary to keep things short and perhaps generalize about the overall quality of the event itself.  It’s also necessary to brag or exaggerate the credentials of the writer.  Here are some examples — others, for the Brooklyn Academy of Music,  the Post Classical Ensemble and Nina Menendez’s terrific Festival Flamenco Gitano, were dictated by phone so I don’t have copies. (I wonder what I said about Agujetas…)

Immigration and Naturalization Service

November 3, 2002

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am the Flamenco Editor of Guitar Review magazine and Flamenco Consultant to the Columbia University Ethnomusicology Department.  I am very pleased to write on behalf of the outstanding flamenco artists who comprise the Flamenco Festival 2003 performers to be presented by The World Music Institute in New York on January 30, 31, February 1 and 2, 2003.

These acclaimed artists represent the pinnacle of flamenco performance in Spain today. To have them appear in our country represents a cultural event of the highest order.

Juana Amaya, Farruquito, Manolete and Sara Baras are all world-class artists, and their supporting dancers, singers and instrumentalists are all major talents in their own right.  They have received universal acclaim in Spain because of their ability to move flamenco forward while retaining a keen sense of the tradition that gives it such vitality in Spain and around the world.  In previous visits to the U.S., they have earned extremely enthusiastic reviews from the most demanding critics.

I believe these artists are collectively the most remarkable group of flamenco artists to visit our country in many years, and I look forward to the privilege of seeing them onstage here.

I would of course be glad to speak with anyone from your offices in this regard.  I can be reached at the above address, and by telephone at (914) _____

Thank you for your consideration.


Brook Zern


Immigration and Naturalization Service
75 Lower Weldon St.
St. Albans, VT  05479

October 3, 2003

Dear Sir or Madam:

It is my privilege to write to you on behalf of the artists who comprise the Flamenco Festival Ensemble to be presented by the World Music Institute in New York on January 29-31, February 7 and February 27, 2004.

I have been writing about flamenco for some 40 years, in the New York Times and many other publications, and also serve as Flamenco Consultant to Columbia University.  While I try to avoid superlatives, I am frankly amazed by the quality of this year’s artists.  I believe that the greatest living female flamenco dancer, the greatest living flamenco singer and the greatest living flamenco guitarist are all part of this singular event.  I refer to Manuela Carrasco, El Chocolate and Paco de Lucia, respectively.

These individuals represent the absolute peak of an art form that is considered one of the world’s cultural treasures.  Manuela Carrasco’s dancing is an inspiration to every other dancer in the field, and it was unforgettable to see her artistry two years ago in New York.  El Chocolate’s singing is simply incomparable, and yet I was astonished to see it recognized with a Grammy last year – it is so rich and demanding that it could hardly be expected to win such a popularity contest, but somehow it did.  Finally, Paco de Lucia is universally acknowledged to be the most important flamenco guitarist to emerge in the last half-century and he continues to be the undisputed master of the art today.

In addition, Jose Merce is the most gifted and important of an entire generation of younger singers.  Like Paco de Lucia, he strives to make flamenco relevant to a new generation and succeeds. Mayte Martin occupies a similar position among younger female singers. The dancer Sara Baras is also noted for connecting to contemporary audiences, and may be today’s most important dance trendsetter.

All of these artists are renowned for the quality of their supporting troupes that provide indispensable backing.

I would of course be glad to speak with anyone from your offices in this regard.  I can be reached at the above address, and by telephone at _____.  Thank you for your consideration.


Brook Zern


Immigration and Naturalization Service

November 7, 2004

Dear Sir or Madam:

I consider it a privilege to write on behalf of the outstanding flamenco artists who comprise the Flamenco Festival 2005 performers to be presented by The World Music Institute in New York, January 27-30.

The artists selected to appear in this event are among the very finest in flamenco today.

Carmen Cortes is one of a few dancers who embodies the majesty of the flamenco tradition.  I saw her dance recently in Seville before a demanding and knowledgeable audience, and her triumph was absolute.  She has received innumerable awards and honors in her illustrious career, and is a cultural treasure by any standard.

Eva Yerbabuena is not only a brilliant dancer, but also a world-class choreographer.  Her vision of flamenco dance and its potential to transcend artistic boundaries has made her an important figure in the world of dance.  In her last appearance here, the New York Times described her as “breathtaking”.

The artists who will support and accompany these dancers are all highly acclaimed in their own right.  Alejandro Granados and Carlos Rodriguez have important companies, and Rocio Molina has been called a “treasure” by the New York Times.  And the guitarist Gerardo Nunez is, after Paco de Lucia, the most influential player in Spain.

I am currently teaching a course in flamenco at the City University of New York (CUNY), and am the Flamenco Editor of Guitar Review magazine and Flamenco Consultant to the Columbia University Ethnomusicology Department.  I would of course be glad to speak with anyone from your offices concerning this matter.  I can be reached at the above address, and by telephone at _____

Thank you for your consideration.


Brook Zern



November 7, 2005

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am the Flamenco Editor of Guitar Review magazine and Flamenco Consultant to the Columbia University Ethnomusicology Department.  I am very pleased to write on behalf of several outstanding flamenco artists who have been invited to appear as part of the Flamenco Festival next February.  This has become the most important event in the U.S. flamenco calendar.  It is presented by The World Music Institute, the leading exponents of international folk and traditional music in this country.

Specifically, I support the admission of these artists:

Esperanza Fernandez – a master of the demanding art of flamenco song, and perhaps the leading interpreter of the extraordinary songs of the mining districts of eastern Andalucia.

Vicente Amigo – probably the most gifted and original of all the astounding guitarists who have extended the modern legacy of Paco de Lucia; winner of the 2005 Latin Grammy.

The Nuevo Ballet Espanol – an exceptionally important Spanish troupe, headed by acclaimed artists Carlos Rodriguez and Angel Rojas, who synthesize traditional and modern influences to create powerful and original dance.

Son de la Frontera – a group of astonishingly talented musicians with a unique and contemporary sound, largely based on the musical creations of guitarist-genius Diego del Gastor, with whom I studied until his death in 1973 and whose singular art lives on in the work of this ensemble.

All of these artists carry on a uniquely Spanish cultural heritage and represent the best of this art.  I would of course be glad to speak with anyone from your offices in this regard.  I can be reached at the above address, and by telephone at _____


Brook Zern    brookzern@gmail.com



December 12, 2006

Re:  Flamenco Festival 2007

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am writing in support of the admission of several extraordinary artists who have been invited to perform in this country by the World Music Institute and Miguel Marin Productions as part of the Flamenco Festival 2007, the most important U.S. flamenco event since its inception six years ago.

These artists include:

Estrella Morente, currently regarded as the most important young female singer in Spain today.  I recently saw her perform in Seville, to enormous acclaim from discerning aficionados, critics and the world’s most demanding public.

Gerardo Nunez, the most innovative and important guitarist of the generation that followed Paco de Lucia (who’ll perform at Carnegie Hall as part of the Festival.)          Gerardo Nunez has successfully expanded that great legacy.  His quintet represents             the current state of the art, and the fine dancer Carmen Cortes adds a vital element.

El Pele, one of the very few living masters of flamenco’s most difficult and demanding old song styles.  I saw him last September in the Bienal de Sevilla, Spain’s most prestigious flamenco event, and he clearly surpassed other giants of the art.

Rocio Bazan and the Panda de Verdiales de Malaga, probably the finest exponents of the traditional flamenco of the Malaga area of Spain.  This folkloric ensemble reveals an often overlooked and very appealing aspect of flamenco.

Joaquin Grilo, always placed in the very top rank of male flamenco dancers today. He manages to innovate without losing the essence of the dance tradition.

La Moneta, a young sensation in the world of flamenco.  Her art shows the strength of youth and, somehow, the wisdom of age.

Isabel Bayon, an outstanding dancer who has captivated audiences throughout Spain.

These artists and their respective accompanists are all leading exponents of flamenco today.  As an admirer of flamenco and Flamenco Editor of Guitar Review magazine, I am pleased to support their admission as unique exponents of their art.

Yours truly,

Brook Zern




Dear Sir or Madam:

I feel privileged to write in support of the applications for admission to the U.S. of the distinguished flamenco artists invited to participate in the 2008 Flamenco Festival USA.  Over the past seven years, this has been the most important flamenco event in our country, and I consider the 2008 edition to be the most outstanding presentation to date.

The program called “Cuatro Esquinas” (Four Corners) features Carmen Linares, today’s most important female flamenco singer; Miguel Poveda, whose program of songs was the absolute triumph of Spain’s premiere flamenco event, the Seville Bienal; Juan Carlos Romero, a young genius of the flamenco guitar and a musical visionary; and Pastora Galvan, a breathtaking dancer who electrified the audience at a recital I saw last spring in Jerez, Spain’s stronghold of traditional flamenco.

Tomatito, scheduled for Town Hall along with his quintet, has been universally acknowledged as a brilliant guitarist for nearly three decades.  His reputation as a soloist and accompanist is equaled only by the revered Paco de Lucia.

“Mujeres” (Women) at New York’s City Center, is directed by Mario Maya, the most influential male dancer over the last thirty years, and features his daughter Belen Maya who has assimilated and extended his artistry; Rocio Molina, the most recent dance revelation of the Flamenco Festival, and Merche Esmeralda, for years a leading light of this very demanding discipline.  The young singer Diana Navarro, a sensation in Spain’s elite flamenco circles, is also featured.

“Santo y Sena” (Signs and Wonders) is the latest creation of Eva Yerbabuena, widely seen as the most important and influential female flamenco dancer of our time.  She is the winner of numerous awards including Spain’s National Dance Prize.  Her entire troupe is astonishing in its ability to meet the challenges of her fresh approach to this ancient art.

Son de la Frontera is a flamenco ensemble that was formed in tribute to Diego del Gastor, a legendary guitarist with whom I studied some 40 years ago.  The interpretive genius and electrifying vitality of these young artists gives new life to an old master’s unique art.

I am currently the Flamenco Editor of Guitar Review magazine and director of the Flamenco Center USA in New York.   Please feel welcome to contact me at any time regarding this matter.  Thank you for your consideration.

Brook Zern


                                                     Brook Zern
                    The Flamenco Experience/Flamenco Center USA
                                                 P.O. Box 3063
                                      West Tisbury, MA 02575

August 24, 2011

Dear BCIS Official:

This letter is to confirm that the flamenco artist Jose Maya is known to me as an outstanding artist of unique cultural significance. I have met him and seen him perform in Spain on several occasions.  He is highly respected in Spain and is critically acclaimed as an artist of singular talent and ability.

Jose Maya’s extraordinary ensemble represents the very best of Spain’s great flamenco tradition, and includes superb dancers, singers and guitarists who are greatly admired by a broad public as well as the most knowledgeable experts in the flamenco community.

I have been writing, teaching and speaking about flamenco for many years and am qualified to comment critically on the artist in question.  In 2008 I was knighted by Spain’s King Juan Carlos for increasing American understanding of Spanish culture.  The Spanish Ambassador in Washington presented me with Spain’s highest recognition for foreigners, the Cross of Queen Isabella.

In this case, of course, Spain’s best ambassadors are the nation’s great artists. Jose Maya and his ensemble are an ideal representation of this key aspect of Spain’s artistic culture.

Please consider the enclosed petition. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Yours truly,

Brook Zern

brookzern@gmail.com   www.flamencoexperience.com


August 23, 2011

Dear BCIS Official:

I am writing in support of the outstanding Spanish singer Esperanza Fernandez, a singularly gifted and universally respected master of Spain’s flamenco and classical vocal music.   Like the music she sings, Esperanza Fernandez is culturally unique.

Esperanza Fernandez, who appeared yesterday in the closing event of Spain’s important Flamenco Festival of Almeria, has sung on the great stages of other major cities in Spain and many other countries.  She has earned many prestigious awards and critical accolades.  Her great gifts make her a culturally unique artist, an outstanding exponent of a distinctive national heritage.

Ms. Fernandez’s unique abilities also allow her to sing both flamenco and classical music, notably the work of the great Spanish composer Manuel de Falla.  She brings a unique emotional perspective and a new creative dimension to this challenge.   In fact, Manuel de Falla’s music is indebted to the flamenco tradition.  He had a special reverence for the art of Spanish Gypsies, and Ms. Fernandez comes from one of  Spain’s most respected families of Gypsy artists.  I am certain that she is also the only Gypsy singer who has this capability.

For forty years, I have been studying Spanish culture and sharing my experiences with other Americas through writings, university teaching, and lecturing at cultural organizations including the National Gallery of Art and New York’s Lincoln Center.

In 2008, I was knighted by Spain’s King Juan Carlos for the dissemination of Spanish culture in the U.S.  At the ceremony in Washington, D.C., the Spanish Ambassador particularly cited my work in increasing American understanding of Spain’s musical heritage.   The following year, I wrote the American section of an international petition to UNESCO requesting that flamenco be declared a Cultural Patrimony of Humanity.  Last November, this rare and extraordinary status was granted.

UNESCO’s recognition underlines the culturally unique nature of flamenco, which symbolizes Spain around the world.  While many non-Spaniards attempt to learn this fiendishly difficult art, all the true masters are Spanish.

I believe American audiences deserve the opportunity to experience the singular artistry of Esperanza Fernandez.  The Post-Classical Ensemble’s ambitious production of de Falla’s masterpiece El Amor Brujo is something that has never been presented here, and it requires the presence of Ms. Fernandez from Spain.  I look forward to seeing this event.

You are welcome to contact me at any time to further discuss this matter.

Brook Zern


Brook Zern

                                                                                                      November 2, 2012

Dear BCIS Official:

I am writing to support the admission to the U.S. of the flamenco dancer Farruquito, whom I know to be an outstanding artist of unique cultural significance.  Along with many critics and experts in Spain and in this country, I regard Farruquito as the finest exponent of Spain’s greatest style of flamenco dance.  He has based his art on the heritage of his father, and of his grandfather who is widely considered the supreme male dancer in living memory.

Farruquito’s ensemble of extraordinary singers, dancers and and guitarists adds an inspired and indispensable element to his performances, and I feel privileged to have seen this group on many occasions in Spain.

I have been writing, teaching and speaking about flamenco for many years and feel qualified to comment critically on this artist and ensemble.  In 2008 I was knighted by Spain’s King Juan Carlos for increasing American understanding of Spanish culture.  On that occasion, the Spanish Ambassador in Washington presented me with Spain’s highest recognition for foreigners, the Cross of Queen Isabella.

I consider Spain’s great artists to be her best ambassadors.  Farruquito and his ensemble represent a crucial element of Spanish culture.

I hope you will view this request favorably, and that you will feel free to contact me if you have any questions

Yours truly,

Brook Zern


May 1, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Expert Manuel Bohórquez Takes On the Seville Bienal – Translated by Brook Zern

From Manuel Bohórquez’s blog “La Gazapera” for today, April 11

Translator’s note:  Here’s how a savvy flamenco authority views the just-announced programming of the 2014 Bienal.  Original url at end…

Seville’s Flamenco Bienal earns the world’s ridicule

The Bienal de Flamenco has made itself ridiculous worldwide, and I don’t know if something will be done about it or not, or if anyone will be compelled to respond.

I’m referring to the fact that the festival is dedicated to Paco de Lucía because he has died, when until now they never dedicated anything to him.  The only relationship between the world’s most important Andalusian guitarist and the world’s most important flamenco festival has always been strictly commercial.  And now, because he has left us, they dedicate to him this latest festival edition that ignores the guitar more than any other, and has less quality than any other.

Could anything be more absurd?  I realize that the death of this genius took the organizers by surprise, as it did all who love his music.  And I realize that the programming was already half closed, with inevitable compromises.  It would have been better to announce that the next edition, for 2016, would revolve around Paco de Lucía’s work, instead of making this bungled arrangement.  Moreover, according to the programming presented so far, there will not be a single night dedicated to the universal artist from Algeciras, except what’s being arranged right now.  I have said before that the Bienal is a dehumanized festival, dedicated to promoting tourism, without personality and without style.  But this year’s version is para mear y no echar gota – just unbelievable, just pathetic.

While there are flamenco festivals worldwide that are growing and showing how it’s done, the Bienal is sinking at an alarming rate, regardless of how many tickets are sold, which seems to be the only important thing.  A quick glance at the program shows that it is done without thought, without any sense of today’s flamenco reality, with the same stuff as always, and again with headliners who are considered necessary.   It even repeats artists who in the past edition pegaron el patinazo [made a blunder], like Carmen Linares.  It seems to have been done to avoid angering anyone, with “world premieres” that will be the same as ever, absolutely descarados [shameless].  Again, it offers a theater to anyone, with all the respect that those who sing or play guitar or dance deserve,  And there are artists who work often because they sell tickets or have good relationships with important people.  However, there are others who don’t get the change.  And all because the programming is based on what’s offered by artist’s agencies.

Programming a festival of this envergadura [dimension, reach]doesn’t mean just accepting proposals, or it shouldn’t be just that.  It should mean creating, proposing, taking charge, using real imagination that offers freshness, new elements, genuine changes.  It means the injustice of dividing flamenco between that which sells and that which doesn’t.  Artists who in festivals abroad are presented in great theaters and treated like great stars are, in the Bienal, presented in inappropriate venues at inappropriate times.  The programming continues with the politicking, without rhyme or reason, just for the sake of making a long Bienal with dozens and dozens of presentations of greater or lesser interest.

Someone may say that there are good artists and that the programming is intended to appeal to all tastes.  Well, in each Bienal the big stars are going to be a factor and things will get repetitive.  But it’s crucial to make room for new voices, new guitarists, new dancers.  Whey aren’t they treated better, given better venues and times?

It’s simply because the stars generate interest and sell tickets, and the rest is just filling, so everyone will leave happy.  Put the commercial above the genuine and, in the end, with some tickets for big spectacles priced beyond the reach of young people or local aficionados in this economic crisis.

Finally, if they’ve asked the artists to reduce their fees to be able to put on this Bienal, there’s something worth noting: That the total cost is 200,000 euros higher than the 2012 edition, while the festival is several days shorter.   Let’s have someone explain this.  If they’ve asked for sacrifice from the regulars, let the stars share the pie.  When all is said and done, it’s pure business.

Amiguismo [“Friendism”], enchufismo {“Connectionism”] and artists who complain in social media

The social media were burning up yesterday over the Bienal, the nonsense about the homage to Paco de Lucia and the complaints of those who were left out of the event. As always.  It’s sad when a dancer as great as Milagros Mengibar, who was also left out of the last two Bienals, says in Facebook that “The Bienal is for the four people who suck the ass of the directors.”  As always, the artists complain only when they’re not invited, and stay quiet when they are.  We don’t say that just about this dancer, but all the others.  And it happens every time.  There is a belief that certain artists work in the Bienal because of their good relationships with the institutions that make up the organization – it’s true, and has always been true.  José Luís Ortiz Nuevo [a former director] had to include certain artists at the orders of the Town Hall, to repay the favors of singers who performed for their election campaign events.   They cite a concert by a famous singer in the Maestranza Theater and was a disaster.  Other artists have complained on the Facebook and Twitter about being omitted, but there are also complaints by aficionados who can’t afford to see certain artists, and others who say the festival is just more of the same.  Despite all this, we will keep working to make the Seville festival bigger and better.

Original is at



April 11, 2014   1 Comment

1996 Potaje Flamenco de Utrera (an homage to female singers) – Report by L.G. Caviedes – Translated by Brook Zern

The Madrid paper, El Mundo, reviewed the 1996 Potaje de Utrera — perhaps the original annual flamenco festival from which all others took their inspiration.  The article by Luís García Caviedes was headlined “All the Essences of Cante Gitano: The ‘Girls’ (Niñas) of Utrera Triumphed in the 40th Edition of the Potaje.”  It said in part (I had trouble with many of his stylish words):

“The brejes (what’s a breje? a wrinkle?) do not erode the cante when it is true.  They may diminish the faculties, but not the worth of the song.  That’s the way it is with Fernanda and Bernarda.  The eternal “Niñas de Utrera” remain a touchstone in the cante gitano andaluz.

The 40th Potaje Gitano de Utrera was conceived as an homage to women singers.  And for the second time — the 18th edition, in 1968, was an homage to the Fernanda and Bernarda — it centered on these geniuses from Utrera.  It was a time to find out just who carries the sceptre, and just what the cante really is.

Bernarda is the compás made into woman.  She can sing the Official Government Regulations on Housing por bulerías.  She interpreted bulerías of every stripe: bulerías cortas, bulerías al golpe, romances por bulerías, fandangos por bulerías, and tarantos por bulerías.

But her genius isn’t limited to this.  She dominates like no one the technique of cante, she knows the secrets of breathing and the exact points to pause.  Moreover, when she knows there’s a problem ahead, she is capable of lowering her cante a full octave (una escala entera) and continuing to sing with full harmony, tone and compás.

Fernanda is the empress of the queen of the cantes: the soleá.  She is the inheritor of the musical conception of Mercedes “La Serneta” and Rosario “La del Colorao”.  She follows their guidelines (pautas) but recreates them as well.  Her cante is now the solea de Fernanda.  Her way of teasing the lines (burlar los tercios), the flavor and insight (sabor y tino) with which she sings, form a majestic, torn (desgarrado) and vital whole.  She is the essence of the cante.

Angelita Vargas opened the event.  She danced por soleá as the Gypsies dance: moving (meciendo — swinging, swaying) her whole body to the compás and with primary emphasis (predominio) on the waistline and above (“de cintura para arriba“), without abusing the legs and feet.  Force and bodily expression are her primary powers.  She put a face on the evening (Puso cara la noche).

In this line continued Inés and Pepa de Utrera.  Inés knows every inch of Utrera, which is something indeed.  The niece of Fernanda and Bernarda, with her own very personal style (sello), she displays elegance (galanura) and knowledge to spare.  In this day of bait-and-switch, of substituting inferior goods for the real thing (“En calendas de tanto gato por liebre” (passing off cats as hares), she does not enjoy the recognition she deserves.  The flavor and prestancia (elegance, prestige, taste, style, grace) of Inés should have more resonance with the public (debería tener otra resonancia para el público).

Pepa de Utrera is the flamenco fiesta itself.  In the opinion of maestro Miguel Acal, she is the finest festera (festive-style performer) in Spain.  She has a clear voice and the force to knock out (sacar) seven or eight other cantaoras.  Manuel Romero “El Divino”, the singer from Las Cabezas, walked out and said that Pepa is cabable of playing dominoes with the bulería.  And she must be quite an artist, to have commanded the stage for twenty minutes with a single palo (the bulerías) without wearing out her welcome (y no hacerse jartible).

Antonia “La Negra” and her daughter Angelita Montoya marked another climactic moment of the night.  “La Negra” is already known for her strength (garra) and expressive force.  She is a maestra in the tangos; terrific (desgarrada) in bulerías, and impressive por soleá.  Working with Angelita Montoya, she had a great success (una noche redonda).  Angelita Montoya was the surprise. She integrates all the wealth (caudal) of her family, which is no small thing.  Loaded with faculties, and with a cannon of a voice, she almost reached the level of her mother.  There are differences between those who assimilate musical experiences and concepts in the true school of flamenco – the family — and those who decide to study recordings and recreate the music by calculation.  The former artists evolve and create; the others never get beyond merely reheating the meal.  (Aquellos evolucionan y crean, estos no pasan del refrito.)

Tomasa “La Macanita” is one of the bright hopes of aficionados.  This Gypsy from Jerez, with the surprising and interesting guitar of Moraíto Chico (hijo), drew the cante (dibujo el cante).  The flavor of Jerez was in her tientos, while her tangos were reminiscent of the Plaza Alta of Badajoz.  Por soleá she scraped (rozo) perfection, and por bulerías, there was the pure aura of the [Jerez] barrio de Santiago and of la Perla de Cadiz.  “La Macanita” and Moraíto Chico almost decided (casi sentenciaron) the night.

End of report.

Translator’s note from 1996:   That’s the poop from the Potaje.  Quite an event.

I’ll close by noting that the female bullfighter Cristina Sánchez is off to an excellent start.  She just started fighting full-sized bulls, and has already proved herself capable.  She did very well in Burgos, cutting an ear (awarded after a good performance, and much harder to earn in major rings like this than in small provincial rings) from a bull that weighed nearly 600 kilos.  No easy task for any 60-kilo person.  Lots of devoted fans and publicity for this revolutionary figure, the first to successfully penetrate this macho domain.  I may disapprove in theory, but she walks it like she talks it.  Olé, torera.

Brook Zern

January 17, 2014   No Comments

Cough Up Your Old Flamenco Tapes Or Else: A Modest Proposal

About fifteen years ago, give or take five years, I was wandering around my old flamenco stomping ground of Morón de la Frontera (flamenco stomping ground, get it?) when I passed the offices of Radio Morón, which in the sixties and seventies always broadcast that town’s annual Gazpacho Festival and other high-profile events.

At the time, I was still under the influence of a Blues Brothers movie, and believed I was on a Mission From God to preserve and protect great music.  (The world’s two greatest musical traditions, of course, are 1) the blues and 2) flamenco song, though not necessarily in that order.)   (I was also convinced that I’d finally helped rescue the fabulous Rito y Geografia de Flamenco TV series; assuredly, I’d been generously allowed to pay a lot for the very first film and tape copies.)

Anyway, I went inside.  A nice-looking woman asked if she could help me.  “Yer darned right you can help me,” I said, albeit in a mangled Spanish equivalent.  “You can release all the tapes I know you have here of great flamenco events by the best artists who ever lived – singers like Fernanda de Utrera and Antonio Mairena and Juan Talega and guitarists like Melchor de Marchena and Diego del Gastor, and then you can…”

Predictably, she yelled for Security, but equally predictably, the station didn’t have any Security.  But a guy came running downstairs, prepared to wrestle me to the ground.  He finally managed to calm me down, and introduced himself as the station manager.  He asked how I knew about their trove of tapes; I told him I didn’t know, but bluffing usually worked.

Astonishingly, he didn’t press charges – in fact, he said he really liked flamenco and asked me to come upstairs.  “Funny you should mention the idea of releasing the tapes”, he said,  “We’re in the process of doing just that.  In fact, I’ve given the tapes – hundreds of them – to a local electronics expert who says he can do a great job of digitizing them, cheap.  We’re going to start with about twelve hours of amazing stuff.  But hey, here’s one example.  This one was originally made in the early fifties on a wire recorder, before magnetic tape had gotten to Spain.  The singer is Pepe Marchena, the most popular flamenco singer ever.  And maybe you’ll recognize the guitarist.”

“Holy smokes,” I said, though the phrase “Santos Fumos” didn’t seem to ring a bell with him.  “That’s Diego del Gastor!  That’s gotta be the earliest recording that exists of him!  And it’s also an unknown recording of Pepe Marchena.  This is great news, and speaking on behalf of all flamenco lovers everywhere, and using the royal we, we humbly thank you for making this great treasure available to humankind for eternity.”

Even as we said it, it occurred to us that in fact that was not going to happen, even assuming that everyone involved had noble intentions.  But he played a bunch of other material from other great artists, and it was tempting to believe that something might work out.

He then hauled out a bunch of scrapbooks and asked if I could name the people in the photographs, and sure enough, they were the usual suspects, the artists and local aficionados I still remembered.  (García Lorca, in his definitive essay on Duende, called such people “the kind of genies who pop out of brandy bottles.”)

He said he was too young to be part of that Morón scene, but he remembered walking along country roads with his friends when a speeding Land Rover careened around a corner and they all dived into ditches to save their own lives.

“Hey,” I said.  “I was in that Land Rover!  Me and eight other gringos, usually.  Don Pohren was either driving us to a fiesta or to a great restaurant that didn’t even have a sign, it was just somebody’s house.  You think you were terrified?  Pohren’s blood level was negligible.  Still, he the best drunk driver I ever knew.  Aside from being the first and best foreign expert, of course.”

Well, a few years later I went back into that studio.  It seemed that some problems had arisen.  I feigned surprise, though I would have been flabbergasted if all of that priceless material had not vaporized.  (In fact, I now realize that my simply inquiring about a rare tape or film can cause it to spontaneously combust.)

Why am I telling you this, whoever you may be?  Because I’d like to know whether any of those tapes have survived and were digitized, and how I can hear them.

I’ve lost the manager’s  business card, but I think he was named Camacho, maybe Antonio Camacho?  And while he seemed to be a nice guy, I’m hoping that some of my real or virtual friends or acquaintances who live in or hang out in Morón will drop into the radio station and start pushing their elegant ceramic awards onto the marble floor until someone promises to do the right thing, or explain exactly what went wrong.

Also, I’d like to urge everyone to bust into all local radio stations they pass in Spain and demand the immediate release of all their good flamenco recordings, copyright issues be damned.

Why not?

(Hey, you want legality, I’ll give you legality.  This week, hundreds of recordings of the Beatles at the Beebe (the BBC) from 1963 were quietly finally made available.  Why now?  Because it seems that copyrights expire after fifty years, in this case on December 31 – unless the material is officially released, in which case the copyright can be extended.  So either cough up those disintegrating flamenco tapes now or lose all rights forever, okay?)

Brook “Property is Theft” Zern

December 17, 2013   1 Comment

Holy Cash Cow! India Buys Into Spain’s Most Venerable Flamenco Festival – News article from murcia.com – translated by Brook Zern

Historic Accord for  Flamenco at the International Level

That’s the headline in today’s edition the Spanish publication Murcia.com

Background of this accord:  The party of the first part is the cash-strapped annual Festival del Cante de las Minas held in the town of La Unión in the province of Murcia – perhaps the most important of all flamenco festivals, despite its out-of-the-loop locale on Spain’s Lower East Side and its special focus on the songs of that area’s mining towns – the tarantas, the cartageneras, the mineras and a few more.

The party of the second part is India, specifically the Maharajah of Jodhpur, who has what Spain and its festivals so sorely lack these days: cold cash.  He also evidently shares the notion that flamenco is closely related to some forms of Indian music.  (Note:  This idea depends on the actual fact that the Gypsies or rom originally come from the Indian subcontinent.  It also implies that the Gypsies are hugely important in the development of flamenco – an idea that has become quite unfashionable within Spain’s official flamenco establishment.  But money trumps ideology.)

The subhead:  India will host the first International Edition of the Festival del Cante de las Minas

The article:  Following an agreement between the Maharajah of Jodhpur, HH Gadj Singh II, the Consul Minister of the Embassy of Spain in India, Don Ramón Blecua, and the Mayor of the town of La Unión and Executive President of the Foundation for the Cante de las Minas, Francisco Bernabé.

The agreement foresees the creation of a Center for the Study of Rajastani Music and Flamenco, which will organize an annual flamenco festival in which, in addition to the musical component, studies will be made about the possible common origins between the two forms of artistic expression.

The festival, which will last about one week, will have a first part featuring important stars of flamenco, and a second part that will feature local artists in contests for flamenco song, guitar and dance which have made the Festival of the Mines the most important of all flamenco festivals.  The winners of this Indian edition will automatically be qualified to enter the final phases of the La Unión contest.

The financing of the event will come from the Mehranghar Fort Trust of Jodhpur, as well as certain other public and private Indian entities that wish to help further the project’s development.

The memorandum of agreement was signed in the Urmaid Bhawn Palace, the official residence of the Maharajah of Rajahstan, attended by many of his family members including Princess Shivranjai Rajye.  It featured performances by a Rajastani group composed of four musicians and a dancer, and the Spanish flamenco troupe “Raices Flamencas” made up of the singer Antonio Mejías, the guitarist Antonio Muñóz, the dancer María Canea and the percussionist Josué Rodríguez, whose duende delighted  the many officials and  authorities as well as the press and broadcast media that covered the event.  Then the Rajastani group appeared, followed by a joint performance of both groups with original musical fusion that demonstrated beyond doubt the shared roots of these styles, to enormous acclaim and applause.

In the words of Francisco Bernabé, “we are joining in a historic accord that will mark a before and after for the international projection of flamenco in general, and the Cante de las Minas in particular, since never until now has such a significant step been taken by any flamenco festival.

The Executive President of the Foundation for the Cante de las Minas added, “this will generate an important flow of cultural, touristic and empresarial exchange between India, which is now the world’s fifth most important economic power, and La Unión – and by extension the Region of Murcia and Spain, that can only generate extraordinary benefits for both parties.”

To conclude, he noted that in addition to the ties on every level, “this event provides a new source of funding for the Cante de las Minas festival, since the contract guarantees that the initiative will never involve any costs for the Foundation, and that in fact it will receive a percentage of the income that will be generated.”

End of article.

May 14, 2013   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Aurelio Sellés (Aurelio de Cadiz) speaks – 1962 interview by Anselmo Gonzalez Climent – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  Aurelio Sellés was the great master of flamenco song from Cádiz — the seaport town renowned for a brighter and happier style of song than Seville or Jerez.  But Aurelio was also a notoriously crusty and cranky guy.   The flamenco magazine Candil reprinted an old interview with him, conducted in 1962 by the pioneering Argentinian flamencologist Anselmo González Climent (who coined the word flamencology as the title of a seminal book, “Flamencologia”).

Here are excerpts from the interview, with comments from Climent and some interjections or clarifications of mine [in brackets]:

Aurelio Sellés: “Juan Talega [the revered deacon of serious flamenco song and a key source for the singer Antonio Mairena] only knows the monotonous song of his uncle Joaquín [el de la Paula, a legendary master and creator of a key soleá form, the soleá de Alcalá].  He’s shameless, sloppy, boring and corto [short, i.e., limited in repertoire].  He’s a hindu [evidently a deprecatory word for Gypsy] whom I can’t stand.  A bad person, a liar, incompetent. I’m tired of the “geniality” [alleged genius] of Gypsies.  It’s Manuel Torre this, and Manuel Torre that, and on and on. [Manuel Torre is universally admired as the greatest Gypsy master of cante jondo, or flamenco deep song, which is attributed to the Gypsies of Andalucía].  In fact, Torre was only good for siguiriyas [the most difficult form of the so-called "deep songs"], and only when he could do it.  In the rest, he just danced around something that he fundamentally didn’t know.

I’ve seen Juan Talega booed by Gypsies.  [Talega's reponse: "Aurelio and all the cante of Cádiz are worthless.  There's no variety, and no personal styles.  It's all a lie."]

Climent, the interviewer, says:  “Aurelio told me to stay away from the Gypsyphiles headed by Ricardo Molina.  So I did, out of respect and docility.  But it put me in a bind.  Ricardo counterattacked, warning me that if I maintained fidelity to the payo [non-Gypsy] faction, our ethnic-preference differences would deepen, and we wouldn’t be able to make common plans for the future.  And in fact, we never again could deal peacefully with the matters that had united us so amiably before…”

Aurelio:  “Don Antonio Chacón [considered the greatest non-Gypsy singer of all time] was the divo mas largo de todos los tiempos — the most complete, masterful singer of all time.  But he adulterated all the songs, to fit them to the tastes of the señoritos (posturing would-be gentlemen).  Because of his voice [in a high register] he couldn’t really do the siguiriyas and soleá.  He got his best songs from Curro Dulce.”

“In Granada, the flamencos are demanding and violent.  They didn’t just boo La Paquera and Terremoto [two gigantic figures of the flamenco song of Jerez] — Terremoto couldn’t vocalize well — they actually threw them out.

Seville?  I don’t know anyplace where the people are more fickle.  I’m outraged that Mairena and Talega dare to talk of a Seville school of singing.  How can you compare that with the roots of Cádiz.  And the Gypsies — if there were more of them, they’d get rid of the payos and all of Andalucia.  The Gypsies are blind about flamenco.  They don’t know a lot of the styles.

Okay, Antonio Mairena knows the song. But he has no gracia [charm, appeal], and doesn’t reach your heart.  His brother Manolo [who unlike Antonio is half non-Gypsy] is better.  Antonio invited me to be on an anthology he directed [Antología del Cante Gitano y Cante Flamenco].  He took away jaleo and palmas, and put the guitarist where we couldn’t hear each other.  I think he did it out of malice.  It hurt my reputation a lot  .

My mother disliked Enrique el Mellizo [the greatest interpreter of Cádiz flamenco song of all time] — said he was dirty and uneducated.  But when he sang, Gypsies would hurl themselves out of windows.  In a way, I admire him more than Chacón.  The first time Manuel Torre heard Mellizo, they had to stop him from jumping out of the window.  [Interviewer's note: It seems that the true measure of the glory of a singer was measured by the quantity of listeners who, possessed, leaped from balconies -- at least during fiestas on the lower floors.  Aurelio assigned this honor to Chacón, Torre, Mellizo, Tomas el Nitri and once to Antonio Mairena.]…

Aurelio:  I put the true cante por alegrías [the most important flamenco song form from Cadiz] in circulation in 1921.  Before that, the best singer of alegrias was Paquirri el Viejo, a disciple of Enrique el Mellizo…

Socially, Pastora Pavón [La Niña de los Peines, the greatest female flamenco singer of all time] was a beast — she deserved no honor for her comportment…

People go to flamenco concursos [contests] because it’s fashionable.  And what’s worse — they dare to give opinions!  I mean, people who still stink of singers like Pepe Marchena [a wildly popular singer of cante bonito, or “pretty” flamenco song] or Antonio Molina [another cante bonito singer] — giving opinions!…

In Córdoba, they think they have good cantes — what a lie!  The songs are twisted, unimportant, and desangelados [de-angelized, lacking in magic].  I only sang there to show them the real cante.

“Today, nobody knows how to sing tonas, deblas, martinetes, [three similar forms of unaccompanied deep song sung in a free rhythm], cañas, polos, etc.  The only one with an idea is Manolo Caracol [the fabulous Gypsy singer] despite his famous anthology where he sang bad stuff that was not the true cante.  [The anthology is considered Caracol's masterpiece.]  He has hounded me to show him the key to some styles.  He wanted to record everything I know.  Once he beseiged me, to repeat the tangos de Cádiz as done by my older brother, el “Chele Fateta”  I don’t want to help others rob me; I’m going to write my memoirs, and record an anthology that’s all mine [sadly, Aurelio never recorded a true anthology].  Caracol keeps after me to show him the Cádiz cante, but though I consider him a true phenomenon, I fear him as a person.  With that kind of desperation, he’d take what’s mine and pass it off as his.  I know his caste [i.e., Gypsies, or Caracol's kind of Gypsies].  They’re capable of anything.  The branch that lives in Cádiz have customs to scare anyone.  I heard one, once, singing siguiriyas to someone who had just died….

No aficionado of flamenco can be a bad person.  They’re all good people.  But the flamencos themselves  — they’re crápulas [this is not a compliment, to sat the least]…

The best flamenco guitarist of all time was Rafael de Jerez.  [Could he mean Javier Molina?  Or Rafael de Aguila, a noted disciple of Javier but a lesser artist?]  Others are Manolo de Huelva, who’s still alive but drunk and worn out, and Melchor de Marchena, the greatest one right now.  Perico del Lunar [the revered Jerez guitarist who was behind the monumental 1954 Antologia del Cante Flamenco] is a veteran with too much prestige.  He’s one of the biggest sinverguenzas [shameless frauds] in the business…

When Fosforito [the admired non-Gypsy master who won the important 1956 Cordoba contest] tries to sing the Malagueñas del Mellizo, it’s pathetic.  His bad malagueñas are on a par with Mairena’s bad tanguillos [another Cádiz form].  Fosforito sings with his head.  He’s a good aficionado, but he pontificates a lot and learns little…

Juan el Ollero was a cantaor from Triana who invented the soleá of Córdoba about a century ago.  [This story may be true.  It would mean that the so-called soleá de Córdoba was not the invention of a Cordoban singer, but was imported by a noted non-Gypsy singer from Seville’s Triana district who knew that version.  The two soleares certainly sound similar to one another.]

My older brother lived in Argentina around 1878, and brought back a lot of songs that he expertly crossed with our songs.  He specialized in milongas [an Argentine song borrowed by some flamenco artists, and sometimes even considered a light flamenco song], rematados [ended] por alegrías…”

[Climent begins the second part of this interview by noting Aurelio’s reservations about the material on Antonio Mairena’s very important first LP.  Aurelio says that Mairena’s siguiriyas are barely interesting, particularly the “cambio” of Silverio — the part that changes from the Phrygian mode to the major key – and adds that the soleá of Enrique el Mellizo has merit, but is far from the mark of Enrique.  Regarding the corrido or romance — old Spanish ballads which were conserved only in a few Gypsy families — he allows it to be called authentic.  Aurelio sings “a bajini” (in a whisper) a version that is not as close to the compás of soleá as is Mairena’s.  He recalls hearing in Seville a romance sung to the style of martinete.  He deduces that the traditional form called the romance acquires a distinct flamenco base according to the preferences of each region where it’s sung.

Climent notes that Antonio Mairena often said he didn’t know know how to sing polos, cañas or — with more reason — fandangos.

Aurelio says: “I’ve never in my life heard a complete polo or caña.  And what I do remember of those cantes has nothing at all to do with what is circulating today.  I know and sing some fragments, above all the remate of the soleá apolá [accent on the final “a” of “apolá” — so it would be a soleá that was influenced by the polo, or “apola(da)“, “poloized”.   There’s talk of cañas of Seville, Triana, Cádiz and Los Puertos, and of a singer called Tobalo.  If he was a singer, he wasn’t the only one to give it shape.  There must have been many types or variants of polos.  Today, we hear one that was made fashionable by the dancer Pilar López, who knows how to experiment and invent.  But the blame for the monotony of the form goes to Perico del Lunar [the Jerez guitarist who arranged the influential and venerable and original 1954 Anthology of Cante Flamenco, and who allegedly clued the singers in on the more obscure forms].  Perico, with good or bad faith, has adulterated almost all the old cantes…His anthology is neither authentic nor correct.

Aurelio speaks of the cantiñas [a key Cádiz form, linked to the alegrías] of Fosforito and Mairena:  “This is my turf.  The entendidos [knowledgeable folks] discuss whether or not the cantiñas are independent of the alegrías.  Some say that’s not really the question: They say the cantiñas are not a special cante, but a light way of singing, of “cantiñeando” [singing out], or whatnot.  I assure you that the cantiñas are in fact a special type of alegrías, with a tonal change that isn’t too distinct [poco solido] and that gives the singer a lot of leeway and freedom.

It’s a form that is even lighter [todavia mas aligerada] than the alegrías.  The cantiñas of Fosforito are  loaded with ornamentation [adornos].  Those of Mairena are a mixture of cantes, with the unique trait of ending por romeras, which are also alegrías.  Mairena’s are more from Seville than from Cádiz.  He makes them monotonous, and they seen as repetitive as the sevillanas de baile.

The soleá de Alcalá is a slow, cold, short cante, without the bravura lines [tercios valientes] they give it in my region.  It has art, and balance.  It’s even agreeable.  But it lacks pauses, variety, high lines.  It’s very low-key [muy apagada].  The soleá de Utrera is more defined, it has more content and it even has some similarities with some variants of the soleá de Cádiz.

Climent notes that the Gypsyphile/Mairenista Ricardo Molina gained increasing respect for the non-Gypsy cante of Aurelio.  Climent wondered what had happened to cause the change.  Then one day, Molina said to him “Doesn’t Aurelio seem not quite castellano [payo or gache — i.e., not really non-Gypsy] to you — doesn’t he seem a little Gypsy?  Do you think he could really be a cuarterón [quatroon, in this case a quarter-Gypsy]?.

Aurelio:  “I don’t tolerate crossing the cante [styles].  You should start and end with the same style — of this person or that person.  You have to sing the malagueñas de Mellizo as a single entity, complete.  The same with those of Chacón or la Trini.  I can’t stand singers who start with a verse from Enrique, go to one by Fosforo el Viejo, and rematan [wind up] with La Trini’s.  It’s not right.  I sometimes need four or five coplas in order to get myself properly into the line of, say, Enrique.  Nowadays, nobody takes the trouble.  Let’s not fool ourselves — there’s a lot of ignorance out there.”

Climent:  Another key tenet for Aurelio is the almost sacred obedience to compás — flamenco’s often complex rhythmic system.  Aurelio says “The compás is the fundamental element of the cante.  I can exceed my limits, go crazy at the high point of a remate — but without ever leaving the axis of compás.  Caracol, when he gets carried away [se desordena], also loses [desordena] the compás.  It’s his worst defect, for all the high esteem I have for him.  [This is a common criticism of Caracol, acknowledged even by some admirers].  A singer who doesn’t stick to compás shouldn’t even qualify for a contest.  And certainly the cradle of compás is in Cádiz, above all in the soleá and the bulería.

I can’t sing with just any guitarist.  The tocaor who marks his own compás is a bad player.  He needs to support himself in a mathematical calculation.  And that’s not what it’s about.  The compás is something more subtle and fine than that.  You have to have it by right [de casta].   The best maestros are Manolo de Badajoz, Melchor de Marchena, Sabicas and Paco Aguilera.  Niño Ricardo [a revered and hugely influential guitarist] is incomplete, disordered, abusively personal.  He gets away from the cante and the compás.  With me, at least, we just can’t get it together.  [Again, there is some justification for this claim. Ricardo sometimes went out of compás, considered a sin in other guitarists, possibly because he was attempting very difficult material without correspondingly awesome technique, or maybe because sometimes his imagination just ran away with him.]

Fosforito has good and bad traits.  He interests me, and I voted for him in the 1956 Cordoba contest.  But his soleares are disordered, his siguiriyas indecisive, his alegrías debatable, his cantiñas absurd.  Still, his voice is appropriate to cante grande, and he’ll become one of the greats if he can capitalize on his strengths.

La Fernanda, La Bernarda, La Pepa, all those from Utrera, are Gypsies like you can find in any corner of Andalucía.  [La Fernanda de Utrera is acknowledged as the greatest female singer of soleá of all time, and the greatest cantaora of recent decades.  Her sister Bernarda is a fine singer].  They’ve done well in contests due to lack of competition.  Under the circumstances, they can be good.  The one who impresses me most is Fernanda.  She knows how to fight against her weak vocal faculties.  Among the young people, she was the one who was best in the whole Cordoba contest.”

Climent writes: La Perla de Cadiz [a great cantaora, and an inspiration for Camarón de la Isla] was the only contestant who excited Aurelio.  He convinced two judges, but failed to convince me or Molina.  Aurelio said “Perla as better than any other cantaora in the contest — at least in the cante chico.  As she is from Cádiz, she is a Gypsy with quality.  She’s a professional, born and bred [hecha y derecha].  It was ridiculous not to give her the first prize in the cante chico [lighter flamenco styles].”

Climent: “To Aurelio’s disgust, we only gave La Perla the second and third prizes.   I believe Aurelio was influenced by factors other than the cante itself.  But we all agreed that it was too bad la Perla’s husband didn’t compete, since he showed us privately that he was a magnificent singer and a fine dancer, too.  He was a “gitano fino“, prudent, modest, in his place [sic: “en su lugar“].

Aurelio: “Manolo [Manuel] Torre is the singer I admired most.  For me there have been two principal epochs of cante:  The first, of Paquirri el Guante, Enrique el Mellizo and Tomas el Nitri.  The second, exclusively of Manolo.  As a professional, he was a genius [genial], unique.  As a person, he was simple, “tirado“.  A humble Jerez fisherman, de cortas luces [uneducated, not bright], lacking character.  He was a low Gypsy [gitano barato].  But a friend of mine…”

[Translator's note:  With friends like Aurelio, who needs enemies?]

Aurelio:  The singer called Medina el Viejo was the maestro [teacher] of Niña de los Peines.  He was the best interpreter of peteneras — exactly the one that would make Pastora famous.  He also showed the way with his bulerías, tangos, tanguillos and alegrías.  Pastora specialized in tangos, taking cante chico to the heights.  But in the rest of the styles, her singing was weepy, overly quejado (lamenting), exaggeratedly abultado [inflated], as if to compensate for her lack of domination in songs as costly [demanding] as the [great and crucial] siguiriyas and soleares.”

Climent writes:  “Juan Talega’s countertheory denies any influence of Medina on Pastora.  Talega says “Pastora never suckled from that teta.  Anyone who says different is an ignoramus.  Medina had his style on some cantes, but never had the gracia and essence of Pastora.  He was a lightweight, a divo, a Pepe Marchena [pretty singer] of his era.  He was lucky, and got famous, but he’s worthless next to Pastora.  She got her cante chico, from tangos to bulerías, from Manuel Torre, her only maestro, before developing her own personality.  Manolo Caracol doesn’t agree on this, but he’s wrong.  He’s just jealous and envious of the Pavón family.  Tying Pastora to Medina is a way of taking credit away from her.  Caracol’s a bald-faced liar.  She was a disciple of Arturo Pavón, her older brother.  She is an unequalled singer of festive cante, although she does lament [queja] too much in the cante grande.  She’ll go down in history for her inimitable tangos.”

[Translator's note:  Folks, please forgive the length of this and related posts (which actually omit most of the original material).  For all we can learn by talking among ourselves, the real deal is found in the music and the words of the verses, and in the oral testimony of the artists, whose disagreements and vituperation, like their music, make us all look like amateurs.]

Climent writes:  Aurelio says he admires the singing of Manolo Caracol, and pardons his sins of theatricality, applauding his traditionalist spirit.  “I can’t deny the enchantment of his virile, rajo [rough, raspy] voice.  But I don’t like his anthology.  I don’t know why he elongates the soleá corta [“short soleá“] of Joaquin [de la Paula].  Or why he misses the purity and valentía [boldness, courage] of Enrique el Mellizo’s cante.  And his way of losing the compás when he’s emotional or distracted.

There’s no single mold for the martinetes [early, unaccompanied deep flamenco songs].  Those of Triana are classical, valiente [brave, gutsy], varied.  Those of Cagancho el viejo have no competition.  Those of Seville are more measured, more conservative, with more adornos than pellizcos [chillingly emotional touches].  Those of Los Puertos are the best of all.  They demand flexibility, courage and great depth.  Those of Cádiz are quebrados [uneven, rough] and gracioso, if that’s the word for such a serious cante.  The martinete of Tio Juan Cantoral is the most legendary.  But I prefer those of Los Puertos.

Chacon revived the caracoles [a song sharing the rhythm and major key of the alegrías], from the Goyesca period.  But even with his greatness, I don’t like the song.  The music seems defective, and nobody can stand the words.  ”Curro Cuchares and el Tato together in the Café de la Union” — why, they weren’t even contemporaries.

Juan Talega wants to show that he can sing a lot of siguiriyas.   Some are passable.  But in general, what he’s done is make variations on one siguiriya style — Loco Mateo’s.

There’s a pretty song that’s not given much weight, and is rarely sung well.  It’s a Gypsified style, with the sound of a slow bulería: the alborea [a ceremonial Gypsy wedding song, traditionally reserved for intimate gatherings].  In my youth, it was part of my repertoire.  It’s not easy.  It deserves to return to circulation.

Bulerías is not Juan Talega’s forte.  What he does is a rythmic trick, so he can keep singing soleares though it appears to be bulerias.  I don’t like those absurd and senseless combinations called the solea por bulerias or bulerias por solea.  The two songs [bulerías and soleares] are similar, but the purity of each one should be conserved.

My soleares are a mixture of Los Puertos, Jerez and Cadiz.  I don’t forget those of Frijones — nor does Caracol in his anthology.

I agree (me hago solidario) with (flamencologist) Jose Carlos de Luna when he says that the cante begins in Morón.

[Translator’s note:  This may be an odd geographic theory, or may be an attempt to attribute several great Gypsy song forms like the siguiriyas and soleares to Silverio Franconetti of the town of Morón de la Frontera.  Silverio, a non-Gypsy with an Italian father and a great singer and creator, was the key figure in first commercializing flamenco by creating “cafés cantantes” where a paying public could witness flamenco.]

Aurelio:  I’ll grant that this or that came from Seville, but Seville, in general, is very presumptuous and can’t compare with the solera [this refers to the sun-driven distillation or aging of sherry] of Cádiz.

The jabera is nothing more than a light malagueña.  It’s a malagueña for dancing.

Despite the unjust neglect [olvido] that surrounds her, Carmen Amaya is the most serious [exemplar] of baile flamenco.  With all her extraneous trappings, she never strays from flamenco.  There’s no other bailaora who’s similar to her.  The only other one who’s worthwhile is Pilar López, although at times, as Ricardo Molina correctly says, she is too “intellectual”.

Antonio Chacón was the first singer who tried to sing in Castillian (clear Spanish, rather than the loose and sometimes incomprehensible Andalucian dialect).  He did it to increase his popularity.  He thought that this way his singing would be more “formal”.  The bad thing was that his imitators carried this idea to ridiculous extremes.  Not even Pepe Marchena escaped this influence.

I have sung for the public just three times in my life.  First, with [the great dancer] Pastora Imperio at the beginning of my career.  Then at a public homage for me in Cádiz.  And finally this year in a festival dedicated to Parrilla de Jerez.”   [This would be the father of Manuel Parrilla.]

Climent writes: “Juan Talega thinks that the soleá dance is older than the song itself.  He doesn’t know the origin of the danced soleá — but he insists that the soleá as a song was invented by his uncle, Joaquín el de la Paula.  He goes on to say that the song was born in a little area encompassing Utrera, Alcalá de los Panaderos [Alcalá de Guadaíra], Seville and Triana.

Climent writes:  Ricardo Molina [the flamencologist and acolyte of the great Gypsy singer and gitanista Antonio Mairena], increasingly caught up in his gitanophilia, insists on ascribing Gypsy traits to Aurelio.  He’s sure Aurelio can’t be absolutely payo.  He tries dialectical approaches.  He professes surprise at the idea that Aurelio and his 21 siblings could really have the same father.   And it’s strange, but as if that same suspicion somehow reached his ears, Aurelio tells me that after four years absence in the war of Santo Domingo, his father returned to Cádiz and the first thing he did was go directly to his wife to assure himself of her fidelity.  “From that moment on,” Aurelio says, “that’s when my parents started to have kids one after another.”

Meanwhile, Ricardo Molina is really interested in helping Aurelio record his “flamenco testament”, in Cádiz, away from the intolerable friction with Talega and Mairena, who had made him record for their anthology unrehearsed and who chose the songs for him to sing — many eliminated in the final commercial release.  Ricardo Molina admires and really likes Aurelio — a complete change from his first response at an earlier concurso.  He calls him the most capable and genuine singer of his generation. [i.e., prior to Antonio Mairena's generation].

Aurelio speaks of the non-Gypsy giant Silverio Franconetti: “He was an incomparable siguiriyero, giving that form hierarchy and variety.  His variants and cambios are still done.  Ricardo Molina blathers about his being a disciple or imitator of El Fillo, but he was just as masterful.  I can’t stand Ricardo’s pro-Gypsy enthusiasm.  I admire lots of Gypsy singers.  Manuel Torre was a king, apart.   But all my life, the real singers have been payos [non-Gypsies].  Cante flamenco is a backbone with three names:  Silverio Franconetti, Antonio Chacón and Aurelio Sellés Nondedeu.”

Climent:  “Aurelio’s guasa [difficult attitude, wise-ass or mocking behavior] deserves an article of its own…  He’s a true friend, incorruptible, faithful to the point of partiality..”

Climent writes that the 1962 Cordoba contest was dominated by artists provided by Pulpón, the manager/promoter who had firm control of many flamenco artists.  This upset the Cordobans, and infuriated Aurelio de Cadiz, because Pulpón favored artists from near his Seville power base — including Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera and Juan Talega.  But, Climent says, things worked out pretty well “when La Fernanda, herself alone, justified the entire event.”

Aurelio: “I’m fascinated by the obsessive belief that there exist good soleares de Cordoba.  They have gracia, thanks to their simplicity.  They start without a warm-up temple, and go to the high parts (alturas) like an elevator.  I’m also intrigued by the alegrias de Cordoba.  Very castillian, cansinas [boring, tiring], of little compás, and with poor textual repertoire.  I think they came from a variant of Paquirri’s that were popular here.  I showed this to Ricardo Molina, and he agreed.”

“[Singer] Juanito Varea, from Castellón de la Plana [far north of Andalucia], was the disciple of a Gypsy guitarist called Castellón [probably not a reference to Agustin Castellón, called Sabicas].  He’s got his act together (es muy consolidada) now.  He has a classical flavor, and lots of courage.  There’s a certain leaning toward theatrical cante, above all when he does his famous fandango.  I’d advise him to lose that, and stick to the cante grande [great song, big song — a term that includes the three cante jondo or deep song forms and may go beyond that to include some other serious flamenco songs, e.g., the tarantas or granainas] where he belongs.”

Climent writes: “I noticed that Aurelio stayed near me, and seemed to sing to me.  I asked him about this, and he said “Sure, I do that in every reunion.  I sing for just one person, and forget the rest.  It’s more heartfelt, and comes out a gusto [just right].  The true singer draws inspiration from a friend, and grows.  Even in public, you have to imagine another person — just one person.”

Climent:  “We talked of the silences in the cante.  Aurelio’s are forged with “radicalidad jasperiana (¡dicho a cuenta de sus inefables jitanjaforas!“) [?].  They are more frequent and more believable than those of — we won’t name names.  They are more credible, in general, than those of the Gypsies, which are more aesthetic than metaphysical.  In Aurelio, they conform to a vital imperative.  He is clearly conscious of when this silent break is necessary.  It’s as a culmination of that which is impossible to express.  He says “Even in the alegrías or bulerías, sometimes the mood produces a kind of paralysis.  It must be the emotion.  Who knows?  But I know it when it happens.”

Climent says Aurelio wanted to visit Lucena [near Cordoba].  He didn’t say why.  But there, he sought out the baptismal font where his wife was baptised.  When he found it, he cried like a baby.

Climent:  “Ricardo Molina and Aurelio were devastated when Pepe Pinto kept impeding the efforts to have La Niña de los Peines (his wife) record her discographic testimony.  Ricardo wondered if Pinto was professionally jealous of Pastora.  He even suspected that Pastora “se ha aflojado” (perhaps meaning losing her mental faculties, which may have been the case, though around that time she did one final and fabulous star turn at a festival).  Aurelio, on the other hand, thinks she’s in excellent shape, and thinks Pinto is committing a grave error.”

End of translation.  A lot is being written about flamenco today.  I hope people will give due attention to the actual words of the flamencos themselves, including giants of the art like the irritating and irascible Aurelio Selles.

– Brook Zern   brookzern@gmail.com

October 30, 2011   1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:  “And tablaos?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:  “Have you encountered some false friends?”

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

Q:  “Why do you sing?”

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

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

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

Q:  “What next for your recordings?”

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

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

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

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

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

Q:  “Pepe Habichuela.”

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

Q:  “Manolo Sanlúcar.”

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

Q:  “Paco de Lucía.”

A:  The Pope of this epoch.

Q:  “Antonio Mairena.”

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

Q:  “Camarón.”

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

Q:  “Manuela Carrasco.”

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

Q:  “Mario Maya.”

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

Q:  “Menese.”

A:  Great singer.

Q:  “Lebrijano.”

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

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

Brook Zern

October 24, 2011   No Comments