Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Cante de las Minas Festival

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

Flamenco Singer Rocío Marquez – article by C. David Carrón from La Razon.es – with comments by Brook Zern

Today’s edition of the online La Razon.es has an article about the important young singer Rocío Márquez titled “Sweet Flamenco: The clearest voice in “jondo” [“deep”, referring to deep flamenco song, though her specialty is not the three forms that traditionally fall in that category; “jondo” is increasingly used as a synonym for “flamenco”.].

Written by C. David Carrón , it stresses the change in taste that has made “cante bonito” or “pretty flamenco song” so popular in the last decade or so, at the expense of the rough, ragged, and raunchy flamenco that displaced the reigning pretty song starting in the mid-sixties.

A key factor in this sea change has been the Fundación Cristina Heeren in Seville, where many of today’s most successful non-funky flamencos have been educated and trained.  This admirable foundation inherently challenges the Gypsy-centric notion that flamenco is best learned within families, notably Gypsy families.  It offers excellent training to all comers in all flamenco disciplines, and for many years it even offered becas or scholarships to promising young people who otherwise would not have been able to get good instruction.

The article:

Rocío Márquez – “Sweet Flamenco: The clearest voice in “jondo”

Her duende [intense emotive power] is nearer to that of the singers La Niña de la Puebla or Pepe Marchena than to those flamenco singers of the last thirty years, who believed that to sing was to rip one’s throat to shreds.  “Formerly,” she says, “the timbre of flamenco was very sweet; then the broken voices arrived.  Now sweetness is returning.  I’m very sweet,” she says, and she’s not referring just to her singing.  Rocío Márquez, born in Huelva in 1985 and still shy of thirty, can claim to be the only singer in history, along with Miguel Poveda [probably today’s most successful and popular flamenco singer], to have won four prizes in a single Festival of Flamenco Mining Songs [Spain’s most important annual contest].  (Beside winning the overall Lámpara Minera or Miner’s Lamp award, she triumphed in the categories of mineras, tarantas, murcianas, and the songs of Malaga, Granada, Córdoba and Huelva), much like the most important master of flamenco.  But she also belongs to a new “jondo generation”  that “studies”, preparing for a career the way an opera singer would.

In 2005, she got a beca from the the Fundación Cristina Heeren.  There she learned that it wasn’t enough to have grown up listening to one’s grandmother, mother and cousin, nor was it sufficient that she could sing the correct melodies of the fandangos at two years old, or to have made the rounds of Spain’s flamenco clubs from the age of fourteen.  This was just the base, the price of admission:  Talent was an expected requirement, but it had to be buttressed by listening to the elders, and immersing oneself in flamenco’s theoretical and musicological bases.   Only thus, knowing the true tradition, could one surmount the complexes of the “immobilists”, [i.e., old fogeys and stick-in-the-muds] who called themselves purists:  “One must respect the essence, but also be aware of the fact that we are talking of tradition that is just a century and a half old; that is to say, we’re dealing with a relatively young art that must be allowed to advance and grow because if not, you are “coartando” [cramping or hobbling] the art, she says with certainty.  And she demonstrates this, because in here recording career, with the albums “Aqui y Ahora” [“Here and Now”] and “Claridad” [“Clarity”], she is just as likely to revive popular songs as traditional jotas, or to dare to sing an orthodox petenera as to collaborate with other artists in singing Argentine tangos.

She learned to sing siguiriyas with José de la Tomasa [a superb singer who happens to be a direct descendant of Manuel Torre, the greatest Gypsy flamenco singer of all time]; she learned that “as a singer, one has the same virtues and defects as one has as a person”.  That is to say, if on getting angry one can’t slam a door, neither can one become carried away by the song’s emotion; it’s better if the tears are flowing down the cheeks of the spectators.  She also knows that it was artists like Enrique Morente who opened a door through which those of her generation must pass.

With this knowledge, she has continued to build a strong career:  On first hearing, her voice stands out for its great arabesques or oriental ornamentation and her perfect “afinación” or pitch and melodic accuracy, but she has attracted a following through her infinite capacity to transmit down to the finest matrix of these venerable verses.  Recently, at the Andalucía Flamenca festival in Madrid’s National Auditorium, she was named the “heredera” – successor or inheritor –of the two women who have brought the most to flamenco song in recent decades: Carmen Linares and Mayte Martín.  She is part of an emerging group of artists from the province of Huelva that follows the path of Arcángel, with other great singers like Argentina.  She’s about to leave for a tour of France, accompanied by the guitarist David Lagos [a marvelous Jerez player] and the percussionist Agustín Diassera.  In her recitals one hears echoes of Don Antonio Chacón [considered the supreme master of flamenco's non-Gypsy forms and non-Gypsy vocal style], Manuel Vallejo, Pepe Marchena and Juanito Valderrama [the latter two are the greatest exponents of cante bonito].  And in December she’ll be going onstage in Madrid’s great Teatro Real; to accompany the tenor José Manuel Zapata.

In the next fifteen years, we’re sure to hear a lot of talk about Rocío Márquez. Since aside from her skyrocketing ascent she gives conferences about flamenco.  Unlike earlier generations, she is able to construct paragraphs about her art and transmit it to the faithful and to the merely curious.  And when she can’t quite find the exact word she seeks, as she herself  says, “I burst into song: fortunately, there’s a flamenco form for every feeling or sentiment.”

End of article.

Ms. Marquez’s triumph at the crucial Festival of Mining Songs proved her mastery of this special group of songs – the exquisite tarantas, mineras and murcianas among others.  Unlike some other “pretty songs” like the garrotín or the colombianas or the milonga, those songs from Eastern Spain are very demanding and melodically complex.  Their greatest recent interpreter was Antonio Piñana, who inherited his knowledge from El Rojo el Alparatero and Antonio Grau.

Like most articles these days, this one simply assumes that flamenco’s so-called purists are nuts.  Any ignoramus who doubts that flamenco is better the more and the faster it lightens up is either despised or pitied.  Still, there is often a failure of nerve in this regard – the artists who most enthusiastically embrace innovation and the related phenomenon of fusion frequently feel compelled to pay lip service to the idea that tradition (and thus rigidity) deserves the kind of  respect they don’t give it.  In nearly every interview, they’ll mouth a phrase about how they are courageously smashing all existing rules and templates – but always with respect for the pure art and its venerable canons.  And never because the pay is better.  In the case of the sweet Ms. Márquez, it comes out as “We must always respect the tradition but…”  Emphasis on the “but”, not on the “tradition.”

(On several occasions, I’ve recommended the Fundación Cristina Heeren to very promising American flamenco students.  When they get on the plane, they think I’m an expert.  When they come back, they regard me as a hopelessly confused relic of the Dark Ages.)

Still, putting my own prejudices aside, and listening to the huge talents and the sheer artistry of Rocío Márquez or Arcangel or Argentina (all from Huelva, which in the past produced few artists who excelled beyond the local tradition of rhythmic fandangos) or the incredible Miguel Poveda (from the Barcelona region), it’s tempting to admit that flamenco is all the richer for it.

Tempting, but not irresistible.

Brook Zern

November 9, 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