Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Innovation vs. Flamenco Tradition

Flamenco Singer Manolo Caracol speaks – 1970 Interview by Paco Almazán – translated with comments by Brook Zern

Translator’s introduction: This blog’s many interviews with great flamenco artists of the past are important. They can also be surprisingly relevant, shedding new light on contemporary arguments and issues. They let serious English-speaking aficionados understand the thoughts and feelings of those who shaped the history of the art.

As an example: No singer in my lifetime has been greater than Manolo Caracol. None came from a more illustrious artistic lineage, or more completely embodied the entire known history of the art. None were as prodigious — winning a historic contest at about twelve years old. And I think no recording reveals the emotional power of flamenco song as well as Caracol’s double-LP “Una Historia de Cante Flamenco”, on which he is magnificently accompanied by the guitarist Melchor de Marchena.

This interview by Paco Almazán from Triunfo magazine of August 8, 1970, goes to the very heart of the art. It served as a response to an earlier interview in that publication where Antonio Mairena, the leading singer of that time, had challenged the greatness of the other Gypsy giant, Manolo Caracol. Caracol would die not long after this interview appeared.

The interview can be found in the blog of Andrés Raya Saro called Flamenco en mi Memoria, at this url: http://memoriaflamenca.blogspot.com/2017/01/las-entrevistas-de-paco-almazan-ii.html?spref=fb

(My attempted clarifications appear in brackets.)

Sr. Almazán writes: Manolo Caracol started by weighing in on the casas cantaores – [the few crucial families who were immensely important in the early development of the art.] He claims that in reality, his family is the one and only real deal when it comes to bloodlines or heritage:

Manolo Caracol: The house of the Ortegas [Manolo Caracol is the professional name for Manuel Ortega] is actually the only one we know of. In the rest, there were one or two singers, but not a whole branch of them. I know of no other, because the house of Alcalá [a town that produced notable singers] is not a single family. Los Torres [the family of Manuel Torre, who remains the supreme paradigm of male Gypsy artistry] have produced some artists, and so have the the Pavóns [the family of the La Niña de los Peines, the maximum female Gypsy singer, and her brother Tomás Pavón, one of the four or five most revered male singers]. Pastora, Tomás and Arturo – three siblings, and that’s it. My great grandfather, [the legendary singer] Curro Dulce, who was my father’s grandfather; and on my mother’s side, [the legendary singer] El Planeta who was the inventor of the [important early song] polo, and was the world’s first flamenco singer. Or who created the polo, because I believe that flamenco songs are not made. Furniture is made, clothing is made, but flamenco songs are created. El Planeta was older than El Fillo, and from there on, and the Ortegas emanate from them. El Fillo was an Ortega, and was the first “cantaor” [singer] who was “largo”— who had an extensive repertoire. A great cantaor, a grandiose cantaor – that was El Fillo, and he was from Triana. Before me there were several cantaores. Now, in the Twentieth Century the most famous – well, I think that was me, and for that reason I say that even children know me and me biography. But I’d like to talk about today’s problems.

Interviewer’s note by Paco Almazán: Remember Caracol’s beginnings, after being one of the winners of the 1922 Concurso de Cante Jondo of Granada – he says “when I won the prize” [a stunning achievement for a twelve-year-old boy]. He traveled to Madrid and triumphed on the terrace of the Calderón Theater, reaffirming that Madrid plaza’s importance.

Interviewer: But Manolo, everyone accuses you of just that. Of having taken the cante into theaters, degrading the purity of flamenco! Don’t think that everyone thought it was a good idea!

M.C. It’s not a good idea? Well, what’s good? If right now the inventor of penicillin, Doctor Fleming, hadn’t shared it with the world, the sick would not have been cured. If I don’t take flamenco song to the people who might like it, and understand it, or at least welcome it. You can sing with an orchestra, or with a bagpipe – with anything! Bagpipes, violins, flutes…the man who has real art, real personality, and is a creator in cante gitano… You have my zambras [his rendition of sentimental popular songs with a flamenco aire, which had enormous sales], and my cantes [flamenco songs, which had more limited sales], all with roots of pure flamenco song, not fixed in a cosa pasajera!…But if this business of pure song [cante puro] has become popular now, starting about ten years ago, when the flamencologists decided to speak of flamenco and the purity of flamenco! Es un cuento! It’s a story! [A fairy tale]. This business of the purity of flamenco is a story! Singing flamenco and speaking of whether it’s pure flamenco…and they chew on the idea, and they talk, and talk [a clear reference to Antonio Mairena]. That’s not flamenco singing! That’s a guy giving a sermon. Cante flamenco and cante puro – not even the singer knows what’s what. He’s a cantaor who has been born to sing above him. The rest are just copying. That’s why today there is no creation, when before there was creation.

Paco Almazan’s note: How happy Caracol must have been after these statements! He goes on and on, and when Almazán asks him which artists he liked most or influenced him as a youngster, he gives us this gift:

M.C. There were different aspects. Who moved me the most, whose singing reached me most deeply – that was Manuel Torre. Who was most pleasing to listen to – that was Antonio Chacón. Tomás Pavón was pleasing, and also reached me. And another great artist, La Niña de los Peines [Pastora Pavón, sister of Tomás], the greatest cantaora [female singer] that was ever born. She was a singer who had everything, had altos and bajos [high and low registers]. And any singer who doesn’t have a good low register is worthless. There are many singers from that era who sing de cabeza [using headtones? In a studied way?], sing songs that never existed and that they couldn’t have known, and who call them cantes de Alcalá, or cantes del patatero [songs of the potato seller?] or of Juan Perico. [This again refers to Antonio Mairena, who probably invented certain styles of important song forms and attributed them to other, perhaps fictional, artists.] That’s worthless! It’s as if we dijeramos un aperitivo [served an aperitif?] to cante flamenco. Sing – sing and create – take command the way a great torero does, improvising. That’s real singing!

There are fewer real singers today. Today, as far as I know, among the younger singers I like Camarón [who would become a revolutionary and the most important singer of his generation], and among the veterans I like Pepe Marchena, a creator in his own style [the established master of a pleasing style of singing, with clear tone and a strong vibrato]. Juanito Valderrama [another pleasing singer, in the “cante bonito” or “pretty song” style] is an extraordinary artist [both Marchena and Valderrama, like Chacón before them, were non-Gypsy artists who represented a cultural counterbalance to the great Gypsy artists like Caracol; Caracol himself shows appreciation for both camps, when many others were partisans of one side or the other.] Valderrama doesn’t really reach me, but he’s a great artist and I like listening to him nonetheless. Those girls from Utrera [Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera] are true cantaoras, and a lot of admired artists today are copying them. The places with the best singing are Triana, Jerez and Cádiz. In Alcalá what there are is bizcotelas. That’s what you’ll find in Alcalá, bizcotelas and dust for the alberos of bullrings. Among the guitarists, there’s Sabicas and this boy [este muchacho] Paco de Lucía, who plays very well, although not on the level of the maestro [Sabicas]. And Mario Escudero, who has come here from America. And among the Gypsy players [in addition to the Gypsy artists Sabicas and Escudero] we have Melchor de Marchena, Niño Ricardo, and that other guy, Habichuela [presumably the great accompanist Juan Habichuela]. Manolo de Huelva is retired now, but is a phenomenon, although he’s eighty. [Many people who saw this guitarist at work say no one was better, or as good.] And in dance, after Carmen Amaya, from this period I don’t know anyone among the dancers, neither in this era nor before [delante de] Carmen Amaya. I don’t know anyone.

Paco Almazán writes: The interview is long. Almost at the end, the newspaperman asks if flamenco loses something with the new verses that some younger singers are using.

M.C. Hombre, if the verses come from the sentiment of the song and the person who’s singing, and if they’re good… You can’t sing a martinete [a tragic deep song form] and tell about a little birdie singing in its nest. Now, anything that touches on pena [grief, misery], of love, of the blacksmith’s forge – all that is worthwhile.

Then the final question:

Paco Almazán:. Can you put the word “airplane” [modern, unpoetic, unexpected and possibly inappropriate to some] into a cante?

M.C. It’s all according to what’s being sung, and how. You can put it into a bulerías [a lighter form], “Ay! I went in an airplane, I went to Havana…” and there you have it. They can create precious new verses as good as the old ones, with more profundity and more poetry.

Comment by Andrés Raya: Remember that in its day, this interview, as well as the earlier one with Mairena, generated a lot of response among the flamenco aficionados of Madrid, giving rise to long arguments and heated discussions. Even beyond Madrid. In its Letters toe the Editor section, Triunfo published letters from many provinces. I’ve got copies of many, and may rescue them from the telerañas.

A press comment [about the Cordoba contest] confirms what Caracol says here. It’s from ABC of Madrid, dated August 9, 1922, and already the Caracol child is named “the king of cante jondo”.

Translator’s comment: Interesting indeed that Caracol singles out Camarón — who would become the ultimate rule breaker — as the most important young singer.

At the time of this interview, aficionados were choosing sides. Manolo Caracol had incredible emotive power, but he broke certain rules — as evidenced by his insistence that flamenco could be sung to bagpipes or anything else. (Today, that inclusive view dominates flamenco to the extent that a flamenco record featuring just a singer and an accompanying guitarist, once the norm, is almost unheard of.) He owned the genre called zambras [not to be confused with the zambras performed mostly in the caves of Granada, that are rhythmic Arabic-sounding songs and dances.]

The opposing view was embodied by Antonio Mairena, who obeyed (and invented) rules — to the extent that if he created a new approach to a known style, he might attribute it to some shadowy name from history to give it validity. Mairena rarely projected the emotional power of Caracol — he was almost scholarly in his renditions, giving what critics sometimes called “a magisterial lesson” in flamenco singing, rather than jumping in headfirst and just letting it all hang out. (In private, though, he could be pretty damn convincing.)

I tend to believe that early flamenco song had a gestation period, a “hermetic” stage when generations of Gypsy families forged the beginnings of the deep-song forms (tonás/martinetes, siguiriyas and soleares, which deal with Gypsy concerns from a Gypsy perspective) outside of public view due to the intense persecution of Gypsies in that era.

Caracol, who ought to know a lot better than I do, says that his great-grandfathers [Curro Dulce, El Planeta] were not just the first known flamenco singers but the first flamenco singers, period: they invented the whole genre. (It’s hard to defend the idea of this “hidden period”, especially since the “proof” is that it by its very nature it would be completely undocumented anywhere. (I’m not so sure that these alleged hidden sessions would have been reported in the Seville Gazette when they were essentially illegal and dangerous.)

For that matter, Caracol, like most authorities today, views the idea of “pure flamenco” as absurd or meaningless, while I kind of like the notion. I never liked the gifted singers like Pepe Marchena and Juanito Valderrama who specialized in the cante bonito or “pretty song”, now back in vogue, while Caracol always admired them.

Oh, well. It’s still a privilege to hear from the man best qualified to talk about flamenco history, and that’s why these interviews are so valuable.


January 27, 2017   1 Comment

Flamenco Singer Agujetas Speaks – Interview by Paco Sánchez Múgica – translated with comments by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:

Manuel Agujetas died a year ago. Shortly before, a Jerez publication called Voz Jonda ran an interview by Paco Sánchez Múgica titled “Agujetas, the man and the myth: “Flamenco is a lie”.

I’ve translated it here, starting with a few personal comments in italics:

The lion in winter? Portrait of the artist as an old man?
And is that a trace of mellow we see in this portrait of Agujetas?

Note: I got a kick out of seeing that Manuel still got a kick out of the Village Voice article I wrote when he showed up at the Sangria restaurant in 1976.

An ironic note: The actual headline of the article was: “Duende on Hudson Street — A Flamenco Master Sings for his Supper”. Well, I have too much invested in the mythology of “duende” and “black sounds” to take Agujetas seriously when he says in this interview that duende “is all a lie”.

Hey, Who ya gonna believe – me, or the man who held the patent on it and insisted it doesn’t exist?

Manuel’s memories of the time we spent in New York and Madrid were always sharper than mine – there was a formidable mind behind the forbidding persona he usually projected, and it shines through in this interview.

Incidentally, I had always felt grumpy that I’d never been invited to the endless round of private juergas which I assumed were the major part of Agujetas’ artistic life, as they were with all the other legendary singers he names. Now I learn from this interview that there were no such sessions — he had no interest in singing in private. It makes me feel better about the nights when he tolerated my nervous efforts to accompany his songs – a mismatch for the ages, but at least I wasn’t keeping him from lighting up all those amazing intimate fiestas and jam sessions that haunted my imagination. (He could be very hard on guitarists, even very good ones, who took up too much sonic space. Contrariwise, he seemed to appreciate my fearful approach and almost inaudible volume levels, which covered a multitude of sins — mine, not his.)

Okay, okay, here’s the interview:

A warm autumn afternoon. A narrow secondary road. Like an asphalt line traced with charcoal and marked with country houses. The sun is weak at five o’clock. The municipal terminal of the town of Chipiona, on the northeast coast of the province of Cadiz. “In Jerez they say I was born in Jerez; and in Rota, that I was born in Rota. I grew up in those two places,” says Manuel de los Santos Pastor. But there’s no birth certificate. “Do you need one to know how old a man is? There’s a monument to me in Rota and now they’re making another one in Jerez,” Agujetas says. There’s a feline aspect, but he’s engaged in friendly conversation with a neighbor who sometimes sometimes rests to listen to him. Manuel touches his right leg; the circulation isn’t very good lately. “The doctor tells me I have to walk.” Agujetas – how ironic – has even tried acupuncture [ironic because his name refers to the word for needle]. “But it’s useless, it’s a lie. They put in the needle [la aguja] and it doesn’t hurt.” He rubs his leg. “It burns here.” Walking has become a routine, walking through the farmland and going back home. He invites us to accompany him and gets into the car. We arrive at “Los Milagros” [The Miracles – his house.] “Here I come with my guards,” he jokes to his wife Kanako when we go in. As Luís Clemente would say, “With Agujetas anything is always possible.”

Two stories and a large garden, all modest. Two goats graze quietly on the lawn, near the well, and cats of different sizes and colors appear and vanish. Light pants, a black shirt and a colorful shirt unusual for a man of at least 75. Or three years older than that. He doesn’t know exactly where he was born, and doesn’t know when. “Que mas da la edad de un hombre”, after proclaiming that “love doesn’t understand languages”. He says those words, in his wise and cultured illiteracy. [“en su sabio y culto anaflfabetismo”]. And he urges us, “Speak, speak, ask whatever you want.” Now we start to talk to the man. Suddenly, Agujetas stops being Agujetas and changes into a man who is miles away from his own legend. Agujetas, as we’ve already said, is Manuel de los Santos Pastor. The self-proclaimed “king of cante Gitano [Gypsy flamenco song]. An endangered species. The last dinosaur of song with no concessions. Paleolithic. Contradictory. Controversial. A Gypsy, an estirpe, 100% pure crystal, as Walter White might say, Incorruptible. Uncontaminated and uncontaminatable. Aspero en el trato, huraño. But oat this time, no trace of the personality, just the person.

There’s none of the usual reticience [sequedad] with the media. Not a trace of the arisca and irritable public personality he tries to project. Here, he attends to us entranable. Between affable smiles he speaks of one of the goats, as if to break the ice: I bought her very young, now she’s pregnant – I have to distract myself with something. Like her (he indicates Kanako) with her cats…” In front of the photos, he says, “I’m not dressed as an artist here. Well, we’re out in the country, right? I’m a little sick, though I’m not one of those who have those veins in their legs.” He goes through a doorway, and shows us a relic that he made with his own hands and that hangs on his porch, almost like a little sanctuary: a strange crucifix, “more than 40 years old. I’m friends with all the abstract painters,” he says. “This (pointing at the Christ) I made with a file that was in my kitchen. But I castigate myself. I caught pneumonia 40 years ago; when I recovered, they told me “Ya te ha quitado el arresto, recogelo. Ouka Leele me daba 80.000 duros [400,000 pesetas] for the Christ.”

[The interviewer writes]: Let’s begin. Manuel, for those who may not know you… But he suddenly interrupts the question: “Who doesn’t know me? Name somebody” (he laughs). We correct ourselves: How do you spend your days here? “I’m not here often, I’m rarely here. I’m always going to France or to Japan… They say there’s flamenco in Japan but that’s a lie – there are a few poor back-up artists [“artistas de cuadro”] who don’t have anything else to do so they go to Japan. To sing there you have to go to a bar, where they put up a little portable stage floor and they dance and play the guitar. But people go there to give classes, usually female dancers. When I go to see my mother-in-law, I rent a theater to appear in. It costs me a million [yen?] and I make two million. And I earn two million here in Spain, so why do I have to go over there?” But even so, he travels a lot. “Yes, I travel – who in Spain will pay anything? And even less in profit. Here you can call up a little peña [flamenco association], and they pay 200 or 300 [euros] — nothing.”

Tell us about purity [pureza] – your purity. Where it comes from? “I haven’t lived purity, and I was the last to emerge [Yo no he vivido la pureza, yo fue el último que salió.] When I showed up, El Chocolate [the great Gypsy singer] had been around for thirty years. Terremoto [the great Gypsy singer], thirty years. La Paquera [the great Gypsy singer], forty years. Mairena [the great Gypsy singer, older than the others who were not much older than Agujetas]…I was the last to come forth. I emerged one year after Camarón [the great Gypsy singer, much younger than Agujetas]… But since I’ve been fighting for flamenco puro, joé! [joder, the strongest expletive in English but much milder in Spanish]. I mark the end all those who did classic flamenco. Everything is being lost. Everything is modern. I never stopped singing and singing, and now everyone wants flamenco puro.”

Is it really appreciated enough? “Andalucía doesn’t stand up for flamenco, or for any music at all, because Andalucía is [musically] illiterate. I sing in France and nobody says a word. Nobody. When I get up, the chillíos, look…Because they’re people who know about music. But here? It’s not that they are disrespectful, it’s that they just don’t know. And in Jerez? In Jerez they all think they know about flamenco, but when they go to hear it they’re all talking and eating sunflower seeds. Because they think they know, but they know nothing. Nothing about singing or dancing.”

But Manuel, not even the good aficionados? “Well yes, those who really like it, yes. Those who really like it.”

Well then, Manuel, just in case there’s a remote possibility that someone has never heard of you, that you are, in the words of Manuel Torre [the greatest Gypsy singer], the last [of the artists who can generate the fabled] black sounds [soníos negros].”

“Don’t say that. It’s a good thing that Antoñito [Manuel's son] isn’t here, si no te pega. I don’t tell you anything. That kid wants people to tell him he’s better than his father, understand? A man of nearly fifty. Kid, that’s when you’ll hear it. He left here in tears. He was getting over a drug habit little be little, and they’re starting to call him to sing, three or four places. Now that he’s getting cured, I tell him, ‘Antonio, not like that.’ And sometimes he leaves crying. Where will someone tell him your father is here.’

Can flamenco song be taught? “Nobody can teach you that. The one who teaches him when he’s here is me. But my father [the great singer Agujetas el Viejo] never taught anyone anything, Nobody. Nooo. My father was working at the forge. I put the iron in the right place. My older brother placed the coal. And my father sang when he was resting. Because the notion of a blacksmith singing at the forge is a lie, a myth, because you can’t sing a martinete [a very difficult flamenco song] while you’re working. How can you sing a verse – you’d have to stop swinging the hammer [martillo]. Get the idea? It’s all a lie. It’s a lie told by people to fool other people. Why? Then my father would do two songs, resting and singing. Or he was in a corral at a friend’s house. Or on Sunday he’d sing a few songs for friends. And we’d listen. Don’t think that my father would say ‘this goes like this, and that goes like that’. Que va! [That’s nuts.]

Besides arte jondo [deep flamenco song], do you listen to other music?”

I never listen to any flamenco. Not by anyone. Ever since my father died, I don’t listen any more. I keep the record here, the one I made, and that’s it. But I don’t listen to my father’s singing – I have to be very good… to listen to it. Because when our family dies, let them be quiet and not bother That’s what they have to do. Then, everything is a lie. Flamenco is a lie and the books about it are a lie. There has never been more of a singer than Juan Talega [a great Gypsy singer] in the epoch I knew. I met him a few days before he died. I met La Niña de los Peines [the greatest female Gypsy singer] and she died a few days later. I didn’t know any of the other old masters. And I knew Antonio Mairena.

How were things between you and Mairena? “It was okay [Me llevé bien]…for a few days Because the man fell in love with me [se enamoró de mí]. People said “Agujetas slugged Mairena – you knew about this, right? Agujetas hit him. I didn’t hit anyone. We were at a Flamenco Festival and [the great guitarist] Melchor de Marchena took me out [me sacó]. Curro Mairena [a great singer, the brother of Antonio] was with me. There was the Yunque de Oro [Gold Anvil, an important prize], but we went for the festival, not the prize. For the best singer – and the way I sang, the public was with me, Then the guy gave the prize to aquel que era el que le hacía cara. The guy passed by thirty seats on my side, I was in one, he was in the other. I was put in jail for a half hour, until the festival ended.

Despite the incident, he doesn’t hide his admiration. Antonio was a maestro. True, he was a bit cold. But he was a maestro, man. They shouldn’t tell stories about Antonio. Antonio learned from the four old singers of Jerez. He took old songs, from my grandfather and my grandmother and from Manuel Torre. To know how to sing like Antonio… Maybe he was cold, but he was a maestrazo [a great master]. Don’t say that stuff about the Gypsies – that the Gypsies don’t like them. There are those who don’t even know how to open their mouths, but want to sing stuff by Mairena or me. Let them go where that takes them. People will go to see flamenco knowing that it’s not flamenco.”

Like sand castles erased by the tide, Manuel knocks down the urban legends surrounding serious flamenco. Those that shape the deepest mythology. The mystique about the dark night of the soul, or the dark trunk of the Pharaoh, like the “soníos negros” or black sounds, which [the great poet Rafael] Albertí revealed was nothing more than Federico García Lorca’s obsession with the sound of the sharps or flats on a piano. The black keys, the “black sounds” it seems. Agujetas offers no doubts when he’s asked about the duende, that other great unknown: “It’s a lie…” [Es mentira, es mentira, eso es mentiiiiraaa. Aquí no hay duende ni ná [Here there is no duende or anything]. I don’t know anything about it. Duende is for little kids, the guy who comes to you, the bogeyman [coco]. The same. [Iguaaaa.] I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know what it is. I have no idea.” And a new parenthesis: “And my father, as I’m going to tell you, in that era was a man who had a sweetheart and when he saw that he had two kids, Antoñito and Dolores, me dió por ser artista he set me toward being an artist, po carajo, well, I went to become an artist. Nothing happened here. Now, I sent the money I made to my daughter. I wasn’t here, like all artists. It’s the same with movie actors, they send money to their children and their wife, but if the man goes to America and comes back with nothing, well then, there’s no papa. If he brings money, there’s a papa. Have you heard this? Well, there it is, so you’ll know.”

He revisits his comments on duende: “It’s all a lie. There is no duende, no bogeyman, none of that.” And he says “Cantar [to sing]. There are those who need drugs, wine and the rest. I don’t need anything. I take a little water and I sing. Why should I be ashamed of singing (he laughs) if I live from it.”

Is it also untrue that business of the enormous juerga [flamenco jam session, usually private] that flamencos need in order to be a gusto [in their element, at their peak] and to seek out the real truth of the flamenco song? Haven’t you been in such juergas?

“Never, never, not one, not a single one. No juergas. There you have it. They’re a bunch of frauds. And in their book they say that I’ve been everywhere when I haven’t even left my house. I sing and I sleep. Others keep saying I was with them to god knows where, and I – god knows – I haven’t gone anywhere. Once when I was with this guy’s uncle [he indicates the photographer, alluding to his uncle the painter Paco Toro]. I just took a copita at the Feria and in his house with his wife and kids. Never, with Toro, nothing more. No juerga. What do you think. All the rest just a lie. They also said that Manuel Torre went to bed with his son’s wife. All a lie. Manuel Torre – a man like that going to bed with his son’s wife?”

So much confusion between flamenco and what is not flamenco – true?

“No, none at all. Confusion is what we see in the people who go to see it, those who like what is not flamenco. You can’t have a book about flamenco because it isn’t flamenco or anything like it – it’s just garbage.

And the market for recordings?

“There is no market – it’s over. No company offers flamenco discs. Maybe they put out a record with two or three artists together – but who do they sell them to? To their friends? Before, they’d come to me: ‘Agujetas, we want to make a record. What’s your price?’ Six or seven million [pesetas, maybe $50,000] plus ten percent,’ ‘Okay, let’s do it’ Now? Where can you make a record nowadays? Nobody calls me. One came out where they wanted two songs from me. Two songs. I took whatever it was and that was it. I have my live performances, but those are outside the country. I don’t have a manager because that’s worthless; they call me here at home.”

And even so, Manuel says that he has a Japanese passport and U.S. residence [residencia norteameriana] due to his last two marriages, and has toured the world twice, though never in Australia. “The first time I went to New York, I didn’t go to sing; I went with a gachí [a non-Gypsy woman -- La Tibu or Tibulina, a fine American dancer who died about a decade ago.] I went to a restaurant, and there was flamenquito [a diminutive term meaning “flamenco lite”], performers with Spanish names but who weren’t Spanish, and now they even have bars there. And fijate [get this!] there was a newsstand with a newspaper hanging up, and I saw a picture of me; and I asked the lady to read it to me and she said “The Leading Figure in Spain is now in New York” (he laughs). I have it right here, here’s the paper. I got to know a lot of countries, like I’d been born there. It seemed that way, at least. I told my father that. For me, it’s as if I’d been born in America. And he told me, “It’s because your uncle was there, and he brought back English chickens.”

But he doesn’t travel by plane. “The doctor told me: You have cañas tapás [a medical condition, clearly]. But the doctor wouldn’t operate yet. Now I can’t fly, the blood thing is scary. And now I’m headed to Japan, and it’s going to be a nice voyage. When I finish a gig in Paris and another in Jerez, I’m taking a train to Moscow, and after that, a two-day boat trip to Japan. Two weeks in a train! (He laughs]. One station, another station. But seeing the countryside. It’s scary, you won’t believe it. Those boats are preparaos. The boats float on the water, and if a boat goes down, it goes down.”

With all that traveling, do you want to sing again in Jerez?

“If I don’t feel bad, I’ll sing. If someone makes a stink about it, who cares? I sing well everywhere and that’s it. For the poor guy who doesn’t know, kmaybe he has more responsibilities. But what are they going to say to me? I rehearse every night. Even sleeping. I get up in the morning, I have a headache, but I practice every day. You can’t let this thing stop (he indicates his throat). And often I practice sitting here for an hour or so. Because if you don’t do that, yur voice will close up. The mouth has to be open. If you stop, it closes up and then how can your voice ring out? I don’t have anything written – I start singing a verse and 300 come out. According to what I encounter, with help from above.”

Winding down. Agujetas returns. “Okay, that’s it – your recorder will wear out. And the people will see this interview and say, whoa, look what Agujetas is saying. And you’ve done what no one else has done in your lifetime, with money. I’ve done it for you. (He laughs). You’ll be astounded, the other day a team from Moscow TV was here and I spoke about two words and they give me four thousand dollars. I didn’t do anything, right? That’s good. Nobody has done that – I did it for you because you made me a poster,” he reminds Juan Carlos, whose mural-sized photo of Agujetas was on a wall for weeks at the San Telmo roundabout in Jerez. And he insists: “4000 Euros” I tell him I don’t give credit, that I can’t believe he allowed us to interview him in his own house. So human, so entrañable. So far from the flamenco God that he is for those who love him. And those who hate him.” (He laughs.) You don’t believe it? Noooo – whatever you can believe. You say that Agujetas charged you a lot. Come on, you’ll be late.” “Habeis sacado la entrada ya?” he questions.

And that’s it – punto y final.

End of interview. The original is at http://www.lavozdelsur.es/agujetas-el-flamenco-es-mentira – corrections are always welcome.

The pictures are excellent. The bottom picture links to film of part of the interview.

December 26, 2016   1 Comment

Tell Me Again How Fusing Flamenco With Jazz Will Guarantee It New Popularity…

From TheJazzLine.com:, March 11, 2015:

Jazz has become the least popular music genre in the U.S., accounting for just 1.4 percent of all music consumed, and more people are moving away from the genre every year.

Taylor Swift’s new album “1989″ is expected to sell more copies (5.2 million) than all jazz records combined sold in in the past year.

Meanwhile, on the increasingly popular streaming services. jazz accounts for 0.3% of music played.

Hmmm. Let’s consider this astonishing information. Over the last three decades, Paco de Lucía devoted much of his life and his creative genius to creating a viable flamenco/jazz fusion. I didn’t like it much, but then I don’t understand jazz. I am certain he did it because of a personal vision and not for commercial success.

But I also assumed it would open a vast new world of sales possibilities, like hitching flamenco’s wagon to a star. Now the question arises: could flamenco someday outsell actual jazz?

I think José Mercé, probably the greatest living singer of very serious flamenco, has sold more than a million records, mainly because his records mix great flamenco with a pop/flamenco mashup that he loves but that sounds kinda cheesy to me. On a per capita basis, I’d bet that flamenco in Spain outsells jazz in the U.S.

When the initial efforts to fuse jazz and flamenco began in earnest in the eighties, I was unnerved. I thought that jazz, which I considered to be the real world music, could swallow flamenco whole and not even burp.

Well, it has certainly digested a lot of flamenco artists and denatured a lot of the art. But jazz is contracting. Maybe it’s time for flamenco to cut its losses and desert that shrinking ship.

The Jazzline article is at: http://thejazzline.com/news/2015/03/jazz-least-popular-music-genre/

Brook Zern

March 11, 2015   6 Comments

Spain’s national news agency on Paco de Lucia’s relationship to New York City

On February 26, 2014, soon after the grievous loss of Paco de Lucía, Spain’s official news agency EFE published an article that ran in La Información and many other Spanish-language publications.  It focused on Paco’s connection to New York City.  I was contacted as a source of information.  Here’s my translation of the piece:

New York, a key city in the transformation of Paco de Lucía

New York, Feb 26 (EFE) – The city of New York, with its chrysalis of cultures and the enormous effervescence of the sixties and seventies, was a key factor in the musical evolution of Paco de Lucía from traditional flamenco to the fusion that revolutionized the art.

From his early years, de Lucía repeatedly visited the city starting in the first half of the sixties, and found himself in the confluence of great Spanish guitar masters, as well as the richness of sounds from that era that influenced his evolution, which also became the evolution of flamenco itself.

The late guitarist arrived in the city of skyscrapers at the age of 16 or 17, with a group of musicians and dancers brought by José Greco, a New York dancer of Italian descent who became a flamenco artist and one of the protagonists of flamenco life in the city since the 1940’s.

Greco had appeared in that decade with some great figures like Carmen Amaya, Pilar López and La Argentinita, and for many years brought musicians and promising groups to accompany him in his appearances, among them the dancer El Farruco,

In his second trip to New York with Greco, Paco de Lucía remained extremely promising and he was presented to Agustín Castellón “Sabicas”, a Gypsy guitarist from Pamplona who lived in New York and was considered the world’s greatest flamenco guitarist, according to Brook Zern, the music critic, flamenco expert and former flamenco editor of Guitar Review.

“After Paco played for him, Sabicas realized that he had seen the future,” recalls Zern, and Sabicas told him that he could not keep on playing the way he did, imitating masters like Niño Ricardo.  Instead, he had to find his own path.  “Create your own flamenco”, Sabicas insisted, according to the critic.

In addition to Sabicas, other Spanish guitar masters like Carlos Montoya and Mario Escudero had settled in New York in the 1940’s and 50’s as flamenco guitar soloists, a form of interpretation that had not found acceptance but in New York was becoming increasingly successful.

“In the U.S. we were ready for it – not for the singers, but for the guitarists, much more than in Spain,” recalls Zern.

Paco de Lucía discovered that format, but he also took advantage of his trips to New York to absorb all the musical styles that were permeating the city, from jazz and bossa nova to rock and salsa.

New York was “a bubbling melange of cultural ideas”, where Paco “soaked up  the cultural mix” that is the city.  “He realized, to the dismay of the purists, that the future was in fusion,” Zern adds.

In his New York experience, Paco de Lucia “discovered that flamenco’s musical vision was too narrow,” and, for example, lamented that he could not appear accompanied by a flutist or a bassist, in the manner of a jazz ensemble – a vision that would later become reality, Zern says.

Today, a flamenco guitarist can be like the leader of a jazz group.

For example, in 1970 or 1971 – Zern isn’t sure of the precise year – Paco de Lucía appeared in New York’s Spanish Institute, and in the audience was Andy Warhol (accompanied by his courtiers from The Factory), who at the end met with the young flamenco genius – an encounter that evidently left no photographic record since the pictures Zern took did not come out.

The result of this cocktail was that Paco de Lucía “reinvented flamenco in several distinct phases or periods, until he had almost created a new art”, says the critic.  To such a point that Sabicas once told him that when he had given his advice to Paco, he had never dreamed that the young man would take flamenco so far, Zern recalls.

Paco de Lucía expressed this evolution in his famous collaboration of 1980 with two non-flamenco guitarists, the Englishman John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola, from New Jersey.

If the late guitarist fed off of New York musically, the city returned the favor in the form of affection and applause and filled concert venues like the legendary Carnegie Hall, as well as critical raves for his performances.

“The New York public adored him,” and even followed him to restaurants after his shows just to watch him eat, says Zern, for whom the loss of Paco de Lucía was “utterly devastating,” especially since he was “at the pinnacle of his career, despite the fact that he was no longer young.”

(Agencia EFE)

End of article.  One example of the original story is seen at: http://noticias.lainformacion.com/arte-cultura-y-espectaculos/musica/nueva-york-una-ciudad-clave-en-la-transformacion-de-paco-de-lucia_WxsG0XhkGfnuw2dUwVX6S6/


December 29, 2014   No Comments

When Flamenco Is Not Andalusian – Singer El Lebrijano on Camarón — translated with comments by Brook Zern

In a recent interview, the outstanding flamenco singer El Lebrijano spoke of the key influences on Camarón, and Camarón’s influence on everything since:

“[Much of today's flamenco song] is not gitano-andaluz [Gypsy-Andalusian].  It is gitano-extremeño [Gypsy-Extremaduran].  That’s something I’ve never said before and we should reflect on this.  All of the flamenquito [flamenco lite, little flamenco, easy-listening flamenco] comes from the singers la Marelu and Ramón el Portugues.  Afterwards, Camarón made it greater [lo engrandeció] with his sweet voice.  Today everybody sings in the manner of tangos, as picked up from the Portuguese Gypsies who live near the border with Spain.”

Translator’s note:  Okay, let’s reflect on this.  Lebrijano is a veteran Gypsy singer, from Lebrija deep in the province of Seville.  He was always an outstanding master of traditional flamenco.  But he was also one of the first noted singers to do fusion — an album with the Arab-Andalusi Orchestra, and concept albums like Tierra, about Spain’s discovery of America, and others.

The sentiment he expresses isn’t new.  I remember the influential early albums by La Marelu and Ramón el Portugues.  Both those artists are not from the region of Andalusia, but from the region of Extremadura, where Spain meets  Portugal.  (Lebrijano calls them “Portuguese Gypsies” but I don’t think they are actually from Portugal.  I remember an interview in which Ramón el Portugués complained that this unwanted professional name had cost him dearly, because people thought he wasn’t even Spanish and probably couldn’t sing flamenco.)

A lot of people really liked those artists and others like El Indio Gitano from Extremadura.  Among those admirers was the young Camarón de la Isla, from the Andalusian seaport town of San Fernando.  And as El Lebrijano says, Camarón aggrandized this distinctive way of singing.  When I first asked what it was that made Camarón so different, and why it was so easy for so many people to enjoy his unusual way of vocalizing, the usual answer was that he borrowed key aspects of his art from Extremaduran singers.

(Ramón el Portugués has said that Camarón was obviously interested in his way of singing, but “was clearly a genius who always improved what I did.”)

The tangos, Camarón’s specialty along with the bulerías, make the connection very obvious and are often called the tangos extremeños.  The other key form is the jaleos extremeños, related to bulerías.  One of the first singers I ever heard on records in the fifties was the very famous Porrina de Badajoz, an exceptional Gypsy artist from that Extremaduran city.  (On at least one American LP, he was accompanied quite well by the immensely famous Carlos Montoya.)

Today, the influence of Camarón is everywhere.  It’s interesting, as Lebrijano says, to think that this influence is not Andalusian, but from the very different region of Extremadura.  Of course, it’s clear that Lebrijano thinks it’s an unwelcome influence — one that led to the lightening-up of flamenco, giving it new popularity at the expense of the darkness or depth that was so important in the area of Seville.

(Note that another important component of flamenco, the many forms of cante minero from the mining districts including tarantas, mineras, cartageneras and others, are also non-Andalusian, from the eastern area toward the Mediterranean.)

Of course, Lebrijano’s basic term “gitano-andaluz” to describe flamenco music in general can also be controversial.  It was used often by the great Gypsy singer Antonio Mairena to give equal weight to the Gypsy and the Andalusian aspects of the art.

Here’s the original text — I don’t have the original source:

“Lo que se está haciendo hoy no es gitano-andaluz. Es gitano-extremeño. Es algo que no he dicho nunca y debemos reflexionar sobre ello. Todo el flamenquito viene de la Marelu y de Ramón El Portugués. Eso después lo engrandeció Camarón con su dulce voz. Hoy se canta solamente por tangos, cogidos de los gitanos portugueses cercanos a la frontera”.

March 26, 2014   No Comments

Manuela Carrasco: “The Pure Flamenco Dance Is Gone Forever” – Interview by Rosalía Gómez – translated by Brook Zern

From Diario de Sevilla, March 19, 2014

Manuela Carrasco “The Pure Flamenco Dance Is Gone Forever”

Translator’s note:  The countless people and institutions working to change the flamenco dance to something newer, fresher and better have triumphed at last.  All over the world, spectacular productions on themes of Greek tragedy or the seasons or the architecture of Oscar Neimeyer are drawing huge audiences.

But such a total victory can cause collateral damage.  And in this case, according to la diosa, the loss – unlamented by today’s consumers of culture – is pure flamenco.

Here are the words of the greatest “bailaora” [female flamenco dancer ] of our age:  Read it and celebrate if you love everything new, avant-garde and trendy.  Read it and weep if you love flamenco.

“El baile puro se ha ido para siempre”

The artist from Seville, with the National Prize for Dance and the Medalla de Andalucía, returns to the Lope de Vega theater this weekend with “Suspiros Flamencos”, one of her most applauded spectacles

By Rosalía Gómez

Next Friday, along with springtime, there will arrive at Seville’s Lope de Vega Theater Manuela Carrasco, the genuine representative of a dance that is disappearing due to the transformation of the culture that has sustained and nourished it.  A dance of inspiration that this woman from Triana, who holds the Medal of Andalucía, has brought to stages for almost 45 years – she worked at Mariquilla’s tablao in Torremolinos at the age of ten – and through which she has earned endless honors, among them the 2007 National Prize for Dance [Danza – the dance as a whole, not merely flamenco] – as well as the unofficial titles of the ”Goddess” and the “Empress” of flamenco dance.

Following the premiere in the last Bienal de Sevilla, Carrasco returns with one of her most requested spectacles, Suspiros Flamencos (which debuted in 2009), a recital in which she’ll be accompanied by her usual musicians as well as those she calls the niños (kids): the dancers Rafael de Carmen, El Choro and Oscar de los Reyes.

Q:  Paco de Lucía felt panic when he played in Seville because there were always a hundred guitarists in the audience.  What does it mean for you to be dancing in your native turf?

A:  I love dancing in Seville, although it scares me, too.  I know a lot of dancers are coming to see me; I realize that I’m an artist’s artist [artista de artistas].  But like every responsible artist, I respect the public in general, in any venue.  Every time I go onstage is like a premiere for me.

Q:  What do you think of when you’re about to go onstage?

A:  I always ask God to light me up so I can give the public my best – to show them brilliance [genialidad], although when  the lights go down, the truth is that I don’t see anyone at all.  I’m alone.

Q:  How would you define yourself as an artist?

A:  I’m a woman who lives by the flamenco dance (baile) and for the flamenco dance.  Goyo Montero told me that there are two very different women inside me:  One who is above the stage, and the other who’s below it.  In my daily life I’m a very simple person; I cook, I like to be with my family, I ask for people’s opinions about everything I do…Onstage, on the other hand, I am responsible for my art, demanding of myself, and aware of the fact that I am not like the other artists; I am the representative of a flamenco dance that is ending (que se acaba).

Q:  That’s something that has been said for a century or more.  Antonio Mairena, for example, said that authentic song would die with him, and look how many major figures have emerged since then.  Do you really believe that el baile de raíz (dance with roots) is dying?  Don’t you go the the theater to see the young artists?

A:  Pure flamenco dance is gone forever.  I don’t go to the theater often because I always leave angry.  Today the majority of young people want to dance like Israel Galván.  And I took Israel into my troupe and I know well what that boy is capable of.  But who among today’s young people is still dancing pure flamenco?  Farruquito, and very few others.  I don’t deny the merit of today’s dancers.  And more than that, I admire their execution, their speed, their professionalism, their capacity to spend seven hours a day in a studio, to do turns like a spinning top and just eat up the stage; but flamenco puro, the art, is something else.  The art exists, but you have to slow or stop yourself to find it.  The hardest thing is to find your own language without taking away its virtues [sin desvirtuarlo].  In any case, to avoid seeming negative, I’ll say that today I’m noting an upturn [un repunte]; that is to say that there are more people doing true flamenco than there were 8 or 10 years ago.

Q:  In all your biographies, it’s said that you are self-taught.

A:  That’s true.  No one taught me to dance, though of course I saw a lot of artists.  Since I was little, I wanted to be like Carmen Amaya.  I say here movie “Los Tarantos” in a neighborhood theater with my girlfriends and since then she has been a model for me.  When I was 13 or 14, I remember that my father – also a dancer – corrected some of my postures and gave me advice, but my dance has always been my own and no one else’s.  It’s also a fact that from the beginning, I’ve always been at the side of great artists and loved to watch them.  In the tablao La Cochera, for example, I was there with the trio Los Bolecos, and to me, El Farruco seemed to be the greatest; and also Rafael el Negro and Matilde Coral.

Q:  Was it Farruco who showed you how to stop time with your arms.

A:  No, this I learned on my own.  He had a different way of dancing.

Q:  Compared to other artists of your generation, you don’t seem anchored to the past, and you try to adapt yourself to the times.  You’ve even chosen to be directed by people as distinct as Ortíz Nuevo, Jesús Quintero and Pepa Gamboa.  Has your dance also  evolved over the course of your career?

A:  Of course.  I know that I don’t dance now like I did 25 years ago, that I don’t have the potencia (power) I did then, but that what I’ve lost in power I’ve gained in wisdom and in majesty.  And the ilusión (the drive, the dream) is the same as ever.

Q:  You have four grandchildren now, and a lot of turns in your body.  Have you sometimes thought of retiring?

A:  No, not now, because I feel good; I get up each morning and go to practice and I always have some project in my head.  With myself I’m the most sincere person in the world, and the day I no longer see myself with the requisite faculties for being onstage, I’ll leave, without any doubts.

Q:  For many years, you’ve been sharing your life and the stage with the guitarist Joaquín Amador,  your husband and the father of your daughters Samara and Manuela.  What has Joaquín meant to your career?

A:  Joaquín is the best thing that has happened to me in my life.  He’s a great guitarist, a great musician and his music has let me open up my mind.  We argue a lot in rehearsals, but I realize that I don’t often seem old or outmoded thanks to him and his music.

Q:  Has the tremendous economic crisis we’re living through affected figures of the first category like you?  And what do you think must be done to get out of this situation?

A:  Of course it has affected me.  Each time there are fewer galas and everyone pays late and pays badly.  I think we’re living through one of the worst moments in history and to fight it I’d ask the politicians to support artists and, above all, that they make it possible for everyone – artists and the people in the street – to have a job and  a worthwhile (digna) life.  There are poor people who are going through terrible times.

Q:  After your appearance in the Lope de Vega you’ll start preparing the big production that you plan to present in the Maestranza Theater during the next Seville Bianal.  In it, and following in the footsteps of Camarón, El Chocolate, Pansequito and El Pele, it will be Miguel Poveda who sings the soleares [Carrasco's signature dance] for you.

A:  Yes, God willing, although we haven’t been able to start rehearsing because he’s on tour.  I would like to create some new dances and I hope everything comes out marvelously well, the same as the coming 21st  and 22nd at the Lope, because the most satisfying thing for an artist is that the public goes home content.

End of interview by Rosalía Gómez


March 19, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Dancer Pepe Torres – Review in Crónicas Flamencas – translated by Brook Zern

Morón 2008

Pepe in Morón, 2008

Translator’s note:  Here’s a review from today’s Crónicas Flamencas website, describing the art of the brilliant dancer Pepe Torres of Morón.  It correctly compares Pepe’s extraordinary artistry to that of the greatest dancer I and so many others ever saw, the legendary El Farruco, and another of the art’s top ten, Rafael el Negro.


(It also makes a savvy and respectful reference to Pepe’s grandfather Joselero, the fine singer whom I heard most often while living in Morón and studying guitar with his brother-in-law Diego del Gastor).

Surrendering to the deep power of Pepe Torres’ flamenco dance

We live in a time when flamenco dance is taking different artistic directions: adapting distinct schools of dance to flamenco, making theatrical productions that try to channel certain messages, and in general becoming divorced from its primitive aesthetic.  And that strikes me as just fine; art is movement – never more appropriate than in this case – and it can be necessary to seek other sources to feed its evolution.  But with all these evolutions and devolutions, I note a certain lack of flamenco truth, of flamenco essence, of that characteristic perfume that flamenco must have and that, as I’ve said, has become all too scarce.

Fortunately, there are always people who take charge of maintaining the form, the personality and the character of this deep and serious art.  Pepe Torres, from Morón, is a clear example of this.  He was charged with bringing flamencura – the heart and soul of flamenco – to the Círculo Flamenco de Madrid, that filled out its programming with the only element that had been lacking: the dance.

Pepe’s dance distills flamenco-ness and essence.  And that’s what stood out during his performance in Las Tablas de Madrid.   For the occasion, he brought with him an outstanding group: the singers David El Galli and José Méndez and the guitarist Eugenio Iglesias.  Pepe’s humility is evident in his productions, where he always cedes a major role to his people, so one can enjoy the song, guitar and dance both separately and together.

Pepe Torres represents the elegance and masculinity of today’s flamenco dance.  In his movement one recognizes diverse aesthetic elements, but above all the style of El Farruco and Rafael El Negro.  His school has been his environment, his family – and it shows.  The spontaneity of the Gypsy whose apprenticeship begins in his mother’s womb, and in whose veins runs the blood of artists.  If there is anything the best defines his grandfather, the singer Joselero de Morón, it is the exquisite taste he had in simply pronouncing his words.  Pepe has inherited this, the simplicity with taste.  Starting with this premise, he develops his deep and emotive dance without banal adornments, alone with his personal truth.

With a public hungering for serious flamenco, Pepe Torres began the recital dancing his intensely flamenco bulerías as if he was in a family gathering.  Then Eugenio’s guitar came in behind David and José for the tarantos that changed to tientos.  After those sketches, it was time to bring on the steamroller song.  José Méndez was in charge of the soleá, and how well he delivered, slowly but with great taste and knowledge.  To close the first half, the man from Morón  danced an alegrías and a bulerías de Cádiz, to which he brought elegant porte (carriage) and gracia (flair, stylish charm).

As is becoming normal, and unlike the world of cinema, sequels are always good.  The artists come back on stage hot and ready, and things went flawlessly.  Eugenio played a granainas that gave way to a soul-stripping, grief-stricken siguiriyas de Jerez sung by David El Galli, who fought courageously to reveal the essence of the song .  Then, adding to the audience’s sense of tragedy, Pepe mounted the stage for his signature dance, the soleá.  His instinctive grasp and respect for that song and all its meaning make Pepe Torres’ interpretation one of the indispensable reference points for understanding the significance of this style within the realm of dance.  And – how could it be otherwise? – the evening concluded as it had begun, with a bulerías, pulsing with rhythm but this time with all the aficionados fully satiated with moving art.

End of review:  The original is at:


March 14, 2014   No Comments

A New Recording of Saetas by Manuel Agujetas and His Son Antonio – by José María Castaño – translated with comments by Brook Zern

From “Los Caminos de Cante”, March 13, 2014

Translator’s note:  Go to the link at the end of this blog entry to hear this recording.  Los Caminos del Cante is terrific radio program done in Jerez by José María Castaño, who literally wrote the book on that city’s flamenco, titled “De Jerez y Sus Cantes”.  (He sometimes lets me sit in on his otherwise-expert weekly panels, where my friend and expert informant Estela Zatania is an actual regular.)

This announces a rare event:  A flamenco recording.  No jazz, no flutes, no nonsense – not even any guitars, because this particular flamenco song form, the saeta, is accompanied only by muffled drums and, sometimes but not here, a brass band of cornets and trumpets.  They are the songs sung during Holy Week as the huge, heavy floats move through the nearly silent streets, when amateur and professional singers, sometimes overcome by emotion, speak directly in verse to Jesus or Mary as they make their annual passage through the town.  (A dimly-recalled verse: “Here he comes/ the best of all those ever born (el mejor de los nacíos)/ His hands bound so tightly/ it would crush a rock”.  As a true non-believer, incidentally, I find it problematic to navigate the emotional realm between my involuntary oneness with the singer and the song, and my complete separation from the underlying religious impulse.)

It’s hard to place the saetas into the context of flamenco’s hierarchy of song forms.  They can be intensely moving, and some versions – including those rendered here – are evidently indebted to the great deep song form called the siguiriyas.   In fact, they are attributed to the greatest Gypsy singer of all time, Manuel Torre.   (There is another kind of saeta that is simple, folky, and touching but without the terrifying depths of the versions heard here.

The main singer is Manuel Agujetas, referred to in the New York Times recently as “a great Gypsy singer”.  Yes, very possibly the greatest living Gypsy singer – not an admirable man, but a gigantic artist.  He is joined by his son Antonio, who I hope has overcome or outgrown some personal difficulties and who can be a powerful singer.

Here’s José María Castaño’s article:

We have received the new CD “Al Mejor de los Nacío” by Manuel and Antonio Agujetas

Manuel de los Santos Pastor “Agujetas” has sent us his latest discographic publication:  A recording dedicated to the saeta, with no additives except the presence of his singing son, Antonio Agujetas.

The disc, recorded in the studios at La Bodega de Jerez, with José Manuel García Pelayo in charge, includes nine new saetas from Manuel Agujetas, complemented with two by Antonio.

The musical lineage of all these saetas is clearly identified with those left to us by Manuel Soto Leyton “Manuel Torre” which we hear in his recordings.  This primitive saeta, stripped of any adornment, very corta [brief, limited, short] and direct with a profound flavor of the old street cries adorned with some dry and forceful sung “ayes” that evoke the siguiriyas.  These may be the “old, simple saeta por siguiriyas [saeta sung in the manner of siguiriyas] that Antonio Mairena spoke of, that arrived in Seville in the beginning of the last century.”

As is logical, despite the fount that is Manuel Torre, the Agujetas insert that unmistakable rajo de dolor [ragged cry of grief], born of that atavistic eco that carries us into this mysterious sound that resembles the first wail emitted by our human species.

All the saetas are accompanied by the drums that seem to cover the nakedness of this sacred message of Holy Week and the traditional verses, including some very primitive versions that surely have survived in the selective memory of this family of singers.

An authentic relic.

End of article.

To hear these saetas, and read the Spanish comments, go to:


March 13, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Rancapino and His Son – Review by Manuel Bohórquez – translated with comments by Brook Zern

The excellent flamenco expert and researcher Manuel Bohórquez is a pleasure to hear or to read, though he is a major destroyer of romantic myths that surround the art.  I always expect that he’s going to haul off and smite those people who, um, play the race card in flamenco.

I’m referring to a dwindling number of unfashionable people like, um, me, who reluctantly confess to having a strong weakness for flamenco artists of a certain, um, ethnicity, like, – um, not Gypsy blood, of course; and not Gypsy genes, of course, since both words are loaded or downright poisonous.

But maybe it’s allowable to call it what it really is: Gypsy heritage.  Phew.

Here’s the March 12, 2014 entry from Bohórquez’s invaluable blog, which he calls La Gazapera (the den, the rabbit warren) and which cites the newspaper El Correo de Andalucía where he wrote, or has written, for many years.  It gets down to cases, and it says that there is a Gypsy way of doing flamenco, and that the people who do it best (though not the only people who do it) are Gypsies.  The exemplars in this instance are, first, the great singer Rancapino, with his strange voice – or voices, since sometimes he sounds like the nearly mummified Juan Talega and at other times like himself, terrific but not really agreeable; and second, Rancapino’s son, here being offered for public acceptance as a superb artist in his own right.

(As always, of course, you can witness the art of these artists and others discussed in this blog by simply conjuring them up on YouTube:)

Dragging the soul to the chilling realm of pellizcos [gooseflesh, little bites]

Some aficionados continue to believe that what we call a great voice is that of Rafael Farina or Naranjito de Triana, but that’s not the case.

[Rafael Farina was a hugely successful singer of relatively of pop flamenco and undemanding melodramatic fandangos, who sang clearly and with good diction and pleasing melodicism, if that’s a word.  Naranjito de Triana, who died in 2002, was a superb singer who sang a wide range of difficult song forms beautifully – both in execution and in overall effect. Naranjito is not a Gypsy; Rafael Farina was a Gypsy]

Another great flamenco voice belonged to Juanito Mojama and it was not a powerful torrent, but a whisper overflowing with Gypsy melismas.

Can we say that the voices of Rancapino and his son, Rancapino hijo, are two great voices?  Without a shadow of a doubt, though that may just be my opinion.  In the deep flamenco regions of cante jondo or deep song, a voice has to sound good and to transmit.  It has to have soul, so much so that it can hurt or wound you, or bewitch you [te embelece.  And the two voices we heard last night in Seville’s Teatro Central, Rancapino the elder and the younger, can hurt until it drives you mad [duelen hasta rabiar].

Last night, at least, we felt the agreeable/delightful (placentero) deep pain, two torrents of Gypsy emotion.  And I say Gypsy because the two are Gypsies and the cante calé [song of that people] is exactly that:  the song of the Gypsies, their unique way of communicating, of giving you chills [de pellizcar], of singing with emotion and with a compás (rhythmic pulse) that is natural in them.

Then we have the gachés [a Gypsy word for non-Gypsies] who sing agitanados [in a Gypsy way], those who want to be more Gypsy than Chorrojumo [this may be a fabricated name for an imaginary super-Gypsy singer, or it could be an obscure yet legendary Gypsy I’ve never heard of], and that’s a whole different story.  I have to admit that I left the theater with a pain in my chest that actually frightened me.   Maybe I was just predisposed to that reaction – these two singers from the town of Chiclana, that is, from the Cadiz region, just shred my soul [me partieran el alma].  Or maybe my soul was already shredded, I don’t know.

What’s certain is that it’s been a long time since I suffered so much listening to flamenco song – a suffering somewhere between physical pain and emotional pleasure.

The night began with a video in which Rancapino was trying to transmit to his son Alonso the norms of flamenco song, the road to follow.  Then, with a sung preamble of various styles of tonás [an early, profound unaccompanied flamenco lament], the two duking it out [mano a mano]  the presentation was made.  The master had come to present his student, who is simultaneously his own son.   Then he left him alone on the stage, with just Antonio Higuero backing him on guitar, to confront the Seville public in a place where the [legendary Gypsy singers] Tomás Pavón [brother of the supreme cantaora La Niña de los Peines] and Pepe Torre [brother of the supreme cantaor Manuel Torre] revealed their Gypsy song with the moon above the Alameda de Hercules song stronghold as witness.

And Rancapino hijo gave us a stupendous recital, with incredible freshness, but at the same time paying homage to [the fabulous Gypsy singer] Manolo Caracol, and to [the great Gypsy singer] Camarón de la Isla, and at times to the noted singer Antonio el de la Carzá.  With the right voice [voz justa], in perfect rhythm and always perfectly placed within the song’s framework, Alonso Núñez Fernández revealed the kernel of the malagueñas, alegrías, tientos-tangos, soleares apolás and bulerías, sometimes seated and sometimes standing up, in the manner of Manolo Caracol or his own father, to whom he paid constant homage with things from his repertoire.

To close the night, and with emotion running high in the theatre, out came the master, don Alonso Núñez Núñez, the man from Chiclana, to end up parting our souls.  With his destroyed voice, his soleares de Alcalá in the style of Juan Talega shook our guts, sacandolas casi a empujones [?], but marking every measure of the compás with a mastery that seemed uncommon indeed.

The senior Rancapino even dared to try and sing a malagueña de Chacón, “Viva Madrid que es la corte”, in the style of El Canario – not an easy feat when one’s voice isn’t in condition for it.  And he sang the plaintive siguiriyas with a dolorous, wracking pain, before ending with the bulerías that call to mind Manolito de la María, a style that no one remembers now.  But if that weren’t enough, the two artists then came onstage, where we again marveled at the son’s rendition of some fandangos of Manolo Caracol that simply killed us.  A great night of flamenco song, delivered in a way that is leaving us.  And it would be a pity if this was the end, because this quality is absolutely essential in understanding the art of Andalucía.  And our history.

End of piece by Manuel Bohórquez.  The original is found at:


March 12, 2014   1 Comment

Paco de Lucía (1947-2014)

The flamenco guitar has lost its greatest artist and its most daring visionary. No one will ever take Paco de Lucía’s place, no one will approach his influence. His reinvention of the art was total. His strength of character was immense. His constant questioning of himself, when a lesser man would have had no doubts, was an endless inspiration to all of us who loved the guitar and the art of flamenco. We were privileged to watch this miracle unfold before our eyes.

— Brook Zern, February 26, 2014

March 12, 2014   No Comments