Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Singer Rocío Márquez

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