Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco in Cordoba

Flamenco Singer Estrella Morente Speaks – 2013 Interview in eldiadecordoba.es by Alfredo Asensi – translated with comments by Brook Zern

“Cordoba is a Gift of God”, says the Granadan singer Estrella Morente.

The singer returns to the Gran Teatro with her latest disc, “Autorretrato” (“Self Protrait”}, imbued with the presence and heritage of her father.

Estrella Morente offers a self-portrait a 8 p.m. tonight to inaugurate the Twentieth National Contest of Flamenco Art in Córdoba, accompanied by the guitarists Montoyita and El Monti, with percussionists El Popo and  with Antonio Carbonell, Angel Gabarre and Kiki Morente as her chorus.

Q:  How does Autorretrato fit into the trajectory of your career?

A:  Autorretrato is the most sincere creation I could make; I looked deep inside myself, to express what I’ve felt, lived and learned in music and in my life until now.  It’s a work produced by [my father] Enrique Morente – he was the director, and the person who liberated me.  He taught me to be free and honest, and I think those two elements are very much present in this recording, called Autorretrato which means nothing more than that – to reveal oneself and be sincere about it.  I’ve had the luck and the privilege of being able to count on the most marvelous people you could ever find in the music world, and all of this is thanks to the collaboration  and generosity of all of them, and to their friendship and respect for my family.   It’s a dream to share this with others, so they can make it their own.  The acceptance and the appreciative enjoyment of the public is my greatest reward, because in truth this is how my father saw it – he was so touched and enjoyed every step of this musical adventure, and was proud to be able to share with his daughter his own searching and needs, a quest that led him to more poets, more musicians, more friends, which in the final analysis is the most valuable aspect of a work: that it makes you learn, advance, and develop as a professional and as a human being.

Q; In what artistic moment do you find yourself right now?

A:  I’m always surprised when artists give this type of answer:  ”I’m at a stupendous moment, the best of my life, I have finally found what I sought…”  I think it’s much more interesting and natural to leave it up to others to see how they find you at the moment, while you fight to make yourself stronger, to work humbly but with big professional dreams.  You can’t put a price or a value on the sacrifice and the drive behind this, but just realize that the more you learn, the better, and that you when keep moving forward  others will understand.  But it’s hard to define what it means or what phase you’re in; if it’s hard to explain it to yourself, imagine how hard it is to explain it to others.

Q: What has San Juan de la Cruz (Saint John of the Cross) bring to all this?

A:  San Juan de la Cruz has always been a fount of inspiration for my father.  My relation to his words is something I’ve felt since childhood, when I heard Enrique Morente put some of his most important poems to music.  It is one of the strongest pillars of universal literature.

Q: What is the role of women in flamenco today?

A:  There have always been great women in this art, like La Niña de los Peines and La Perla de Cádiz, who as in other fields have fought and made women be recognized as equally able and important as men.  There is still so much to do, so much work to eradicate the huge problems and discrimination of the female sex, much as we’d hope to the contrary, but those women are our example, our road to follow so we can contribute and help make things better.

Q:  From your perspective, what does Córdoba represent in the history of flamenco?

A;  Córdoba is a gift of God.  Cordoba is one of the most important parts of our culture, through which different civilizations have passed over hundreds of years, and it is part of the essence of flamenco, with its Mezquita mosque, its people, its Jewish quarter, its salmorejo (a version of gazpacho) and all its gastronomy; and its bull ranches where my husband, the superb torero Javier Conde, had the chance to live the art of bullfighting in the house of don Rafael…  And its (triennial) National Flamenco Contest, where the great singer Fosforito triumphed in its first edition in 1956 and which has given us so many other great artists, nothing more nor less than (the great Cádiz singer) my uncle Chano Lobato, (the great Seville dancer) Matilde Coral, (the fine singer and great storyteller) Beni de Cádiz, (the great Jerez belter) La Paquera…  All in all, a beautiful thing, a place where afición (love and affection for the art) is turned into art, and where kids play at bullfighting and at flamenco singing.  Córdoba has given us singers like (the great singer) El Pele, for whom we have special cariño (love and affection), not just for his way of singing, which wounds us (que nos duele) and reaches us so deeply, but because my father always told us that he had great admiration for him as a singer and a friend, and he gave great importance to this sense of friendship.  Cordoba is a place that is adored in the Morente family for having given us so much, and of course we will always be thankful that it has been the mother-earth that gave us the sensibility of soul of (the great guitarist) Vicente Amigo.

End of article by Alfredo Asensi.

Some thoughts:  Estrella Morente is one of the glories of Spanish song.  Her flamenco art is astounding in its maturity of expression, its emotional reach and its breathtaking technical perfection and tonal precision.  And when she moves beyond flamenco, she gives brilliant renditions of other genres, notably Argentine tangos.

Her father, Enrique Morente, who died suddenly in his prime about five years ago, is considered by many authorities and artists to be the most important flamenco singer and visionary in our lifetime – and yes, the competition  includes Camarón.  Enrique was utterly fearless in his art, constantly smashing rules and staking out new territory.  Unlike some other innovators, Enrique had already made his bones by displaying uncanny mastery of the entire flamenco tradition – no one could wonder if he was doing new tricks just because it was easier than singing hard-core flamenco.

I wasn’t very interested in Enrique’s daring explorations – I kinda liked flamenco the way it was.   And because I’ve lived mostly in Jerez, I had plenty of company, since that city is the last stronghold of strictly traditional flamenco and Enrique was essentially a persona non grata,

The key flamenco tastemakers in Madrid literally felt that Enrique could do no wrong.  Folks in Jerez, however, thought the whole thing was a joke,  When I used the adjective “controversial” in the program for his Carnegie Hall concert, it set off a firestorm of outrage – Morente’s posse that was traveling with him, including so-called critics, wouldn’t acknowledge that anyone could possibly doubt the genuine flamenco validity of his work with the “trashmetal” rock group Omega, for example.

Random additional points:

This triennial Córdoba flamenco contest that began in 1956 is probably Spain’s most prestigious and important, at least historically.  The other contenders would be the big Seville bienal, with about half the history, and the venerable annual Festival de Cante de las Minas de La Unión, which, remarkably, is not in Andalucía.  Meanwhile, it can be hinted that Córdoba isn’t prime flamenco territory, since it’s way above Seville and other key breeding grounds. When I mentioned a town in the province of Córdoba (but below that city), the great ancient Seville singer Juan Talega sneered, “Esto pa mí es Alemania” (“For me, that’s in Germany”)

My two previous blog entries, the first about the gifted and well-schooled singer Rocío Márquez and the second about the dancer and festero (hell-raiser) Bobote and his group, drew unfashionable distinctions between Rocío’s contained and constrained non-Gypsy ways and the untrained and untrammeled flamenco of the muy gitano Bobote.

In the present fascinating instance, Estrella Morente’s mother is a Gypsy, while her father was not.  And when it comes to formal training versus assimilating the art from birth in the home, well, she was kept awake by many of the greatest artists in living memory.  Her family was from Granada, the city most closely associated with Gypsies and flamenco.

(In self-defense, I’d note that Spanish writers and critics can assume that their readers likely know which artists are gitano and which aren’t – but as an outsider writing for outsiders, I can’t reasonably make the same assumption, nor can I agree that this ethnic distinction is no longer relevant or appropriate.

My non-avoidance of the topic irritates many non-Gypsy commentators, who assure me that modern Spain is now post-racial and there is no issue whatsoever — and correctly add that Spain is probably the country that has done the best job of minimizing the anti-Gypsy hatred that is growing dangerously out of control in so much of Europe.  Meanwhile, my ineffectual attempts to defend the centrality of the Gypsy tradition in flamenco irritates many Gypsies, who say they can stick up for themselves quite well, thanks.)

(When I arrived in Spain in 1961 seeking “authentic” and “pure” flamenco, I immediately headed to Granada, where I spent my days and nights in the Sacromonte cave of María la Canastera talking to people and studying with several fine guitarists.  Only later did I learn that I’d been in the wrong place – that way over on the left side of Andalucía was the real heartland and soulland of flamenco – Seville and Jerez and Cádiz, and several smaller nearby towns.)

Note Estrella Morente’s praise for El Pele’s flamenco singing “que nos duele“, that wounds us.  One reason for the unpopularity of the three deepest flamenco forms, notably the soleares, siguiriyas and martinetes or tonás, is that they wound, they hurt, they cause a kind of pain in listeners who understand their essential nature, which, like it or not, is intertwined with death.  (It’s fair to say that these songs are not Ms. Morente’s specialty, which helps explain why so many people love her art.)

And note, too, her fearless embrace of the bullfight, now banned in Catalonia but not in Spain, not to mention her bullfighter husband Javier Conde.  Many of her ardent admirers and fans find the bullfight disgusting or criminal.  Like it or not, I consider the bullfight crucial to understanding Spain, Andalucía and, of course, flamenco.

Brook Zern

November 11, 2013   No Comments