Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco in Granada

Flamenco Artists Speak – El País Interview with José Menese, Rancapino and Fernando de la Morena by Iker Seisdedos – Translated by Brook Zern

From El País of June 15, 2014 

Three Roads to Purity in Flamenco Song

-  Past, present and future of flamenco, according to Jose Menese, Rancapino and Fernando de la Morena

-  A unique recital will bring the three together in Madrid at the end of June

 Translator’s note:  When I insist that there is a ruling flamenco establishment in Spain, the claim is often questioned by people whom I consider to be part of that informal cabal. 

If there is such a group, its idol is the late Enrique Morente, that brilliant, courageous and iconoclastic Granada singer who first proved he had total command of a vast part of the great flamenco song tradition and then went on to break old rules with new and daring approaches to the art.   

During the recent years I’ve spent mostly in Jerez, I’ve found that bastion of traditional flamenco was not buying Morente’s act.  But it has also been clear that the town’s alternative attitude,  reasonably termed purity or “purism” before those words became epithets, was falling out of favor nearly everywhere else in Spain. 

(A decade ago, I unintentionally antagonized Enrique Morente’s posse during a New York Flamenco Festival by using the word “controversial” in rewriting/translating program notes – it was an urgent last-minute request, as usual, done without any thought of compensation, as always.  The idea that his radical and daring new work, ridiculed and parodied in Jerez, was somehow “controversial” outraged his people, and admittedly it was not in the original text.  Because I had done the work for someone else, I wrote abject apologies to Morente and several others including a leading “critic” and avid booster who clearly felt that Morente was beyond all criticism.  I don’t think my apologies were ever accepted.)

This article puts three traditionalist artists in the spotlight, or on the firing line, as, among other things, they try to explain their resistance to “morentismo” – and the high price they pay for their apostasy. 

José Menese, who appeared in the sixties as a hugely gifted (and non-Gypsy) follower of the great Gypsy singer Antonio Mairena, has been very outspoken in attacking Morente and other artists who are trying to change the essential nature of flamenco song.  He continues to take real heat and suffer heavy career damage without apologizing.

Rancapino, emerging from Cadiz in that same time-frame, is a greatly admired exponent of traditional flamenco song , now recognized as a national treasure – perhaps it helps that he doesn’t usually seek controversy.  He’s a sweet guy, and I was surprised to see him weigh in against the Granada faction.

Fernando de la Morena is an admired figure from Jerez, part of a revered family tradition – an elegant man I’ve been privileged to hear on many public and private occasions.  He bears witness to the suffering brought upon Jerez by wealthy bankers and other un-indicted co-conspirators

Oh, yeah — the interview:

The appointment is in one of those corrales de vecinos or modest courtyarded multiple dwellings in Seville’s Triana district, from which the Gypsies were expelled in the 1950’s.  The participants come from three magical vertices of flamenco’s dramatic ritual:  the Seville countryside, the ports of Cadiz, and Jerez de la Frontera.  José Menese (La Puebla de Cazalla, 1942), Alonso Núñez “Rancapino” (Chiclana, 1945) and his contemporary Fernando de la Morena, born in Jerez’s barrio de Santiago, on June 27th will converge on the Teatro Español during Madrid’s Suma Flamenca Festival to celebrate “50 Years of Cante”, though in fact they have between them more than two centuries of art if we start at their birthdates.  It will be a sensational gala, supported by the Comunidad de Madrid, where each represents his own:  Menese, the torrential song unleashed by Antonio Mairena and that he still follows, affiliated to orthodoxy, immersed in the quarrels between the old and the modern, and also his adherence to the Communist Party.  Rancapino, with his aphonic [Note:  perhaps "tuneless", a word I'd take issue with] way of honoring beauty.  And De la Morena, cantaor de carrera tardía que se bajó del camion de reparto al compás de una bulería perfecta [whose career began late, but was always marked by the rhythm of a his perfect bulerías].

The chat among these legends of flamenco song, well-known elders, begins with the inevitable moments of mourning (for Paco de Lucía, for the writer and critic Felix Grande, for the Jerez singer El Torta and others) and goes on to the woes of aging, noting the effects of their baipá [a Spanish rendition of the English word “bypasses” which is then rendered in parentheses] and other results of a well-lived life, before going on to subjects that are more or less cabales [a word that refers to true understanding in flamenco.]

Q:  How have things changed in flamenco song during the past 50 years?

José Menese:  Very much.  Not just in the song; there have been changed in humanity, in the human, in the essence.

Q:  For the worse?

José Menese:  Not for the better.  Though I’m not saying anything, because when I do, everybody hits me with everything they’ve got.  I’m the most beat-up guy in history.

Q:  I guess you’re saying that because of your last polemic about Enrique Morente, where you said on TV that “No tiene soniquete el muchacho…” [“The guy doesn’t have the right sound, the character one looks for in a singer, and he knew it, he knew how to sing the soleá as God requires.  And then, he turned his back on it [echó mano de esas cosas].”

José Menese:  I know that they were going to give me an homage in Granada, and that’s off because of what I said.  That’s the leche [milk, usually mala leche or “bad milk”, nastiness].  The power of that family… [still very important, largely thanks to the beautiful singing of Enrique's stunning daughter Estrella]…  The other day on Canal Sur TV I met a singer who confessed to me:   “I’m glad you said that – somebody had to say it.”  But I’m the guy who does it and takes the blows.  If you ask me, “For the better?  [A mejor?]  Well, that’s what I wanted, and what Rancapino and Fernando wanted, but that’s not the way it is.

Rancapino:  I hope you’ll all pardon me for saying this:  In Granada, they’ve never sung flamenco well [no se ha cantado nunca bien].

José Menese:  I say that the idiomas [ways of speaking?  languages] are tremendously important.  Córdoba – what has it given to flamenco?  Nothing, but let’s not exaggerate [pero no lo exageres tampoco].  Malaga?  [Just] the malagueña.  Jaén?  I don’t know. They say it gave us the taranta de Linares.  I don’t know if that’s the case, because the miners were going all over the place.  In my 71 years, I’ve realized that flamenco was really developed  in Seville, Jerez, and Cádiz and its nearby ports.

Rancapino:  And you can stop counting right there.

Menese:  Are we lying, primo [cousin] Fernando?

Fernando de la Morena:  The expression is totalitarian, my friend.  [Note: this seems to indicate agreement.]

Q:  How are these various schools differentiated?

Rancapino:  The song is the song, it’s born with someone or it isn’t.  And that can’t be changed.  The fact that some sing with a prettier voice or a hoarser voice, that’s the least of it.

Fernando de la Morena:  I’ve always sung, but I didn’t start it seriously until I had three kids and was working at the Bimbo bread bakery.  I didn’t record until late, until I was 50; I sing for the public now, but I’ve always sung.

Q:  What have you gained, and lost, with the years?

José Menese: Flamenco has arrived where it has arrived, but there it has remained.  It needs a renovation [not with novelties and fusions but rather] in the people who sing and transmit it, so that it really reaches deep within the listener.

Q:  There’s also the Patrimony of Humanity [a recognition granted to flamenco by UNESCO in 2010] that makes it sound like it belongs among the fossils in a museum.

Fernando de la Morena:  Patrimony of Orphanhood, that’s what flamenco really is.

Rancapino:  Olé tú!  [Hooray for you!  You said it!]

José Menese:  It’s a tremendous paradox that just when it’s named a Patrimony of Whatever of Humanity, that’s when singers stray away from everything that’s expected.  What’s wrong?  Well, like with the bullfight where only five or six matadors duelan.  That’s the way it is with flamenco song.  It has to hurt, and if it doesn’t hurt, well, just go to bed, pal.  [Note: Doler means: to cause pain (dolor) or anguish within the witness – this is considered a crucial virtue in the realms of serious flamenco and toreo.  It is also a crucial distinction between these great Spanish arts and virtually all great non-Spanish arts that usually seek to evoke pleasure even in their pathos.  Go figure.]

Rancapino:  It has to hurt, yes!  Pero con faltas de ortografía!  But with a lack of orthography.  [Note: this refers to another requisite quality -- that of being essentially untrained or instinctive; flamenco should not smell of fancy handwriting or high literacy, but should transmit emotion directly.]

José Menese:  There’s an anecdote that García Lorca tells in [his conference of 1933 – (a note inserted in the article itself)] titled Juego y teoria del duende [Interplay and theoretic of the duende].  Once, in a flamenco fiesta in El Cuervo with Pastora Pavón [La Niña de los Peines – that name inserted into the article], Ignacio Sánchez Mejías [a legendary torero] and the sursuncorda [?] of that moment, she was singing passively, transmitting nothing, when a man [Note: Lorca termed him “one of those genies who materialize out of brandy bottles”] yelled “Viva París!”  And she, always proud, was offended [by the implication of glossy, urbane sophistication rather than raw emotion].  She asked for a pelotazo de machaco [a very stiff drink] and then she got into it.  It rips at the vocal cords.  One has to fight with the song, and then the people went crazy, tearing at their clothing.  Flamenco is just that way, like the bullfight and paintings.  And there you have it.

Q:  And what will the real aficionados do when, like the King, these artists abdicate?

José Menese: [laughter].  I’m not going to retire, as long as I’m okay here, knock wood [points to his throat], I’ll stick it out.  I’m a republicano [opposed to royalty].  I remember this by [the late flamenco expert, poet and author] Fernando Quiñones:  “Porque a rey muerto / rey puesto / bien que lo dice el refrán / y es antiguo ya / solo ha conseguido el absurdo criminal / dejar sin padre a esos hijos / y el mundo sigue igual.”  Things will keep on as they are.

Q:  Although the royals are no longer our fathers?

Fernando Moreno:  Let’s trust in the chaval [the kid, the new King, Felipe VI] whom they have prepared for this.  Yo tengo 69 tacos pero aún así, de política, natimistrati.  [I’m 69, but even so, when it comes to politics, I don’t have a clue [?]

Q:  Not even about the economic crisis – how do you see the crisis?

[Laughter]  Jose Menese:  This crisis has overwhelmed everything.  I’m not a pessimist [but...]  Culture is flat on the floor.  The theater no longer exists, classical music no longer exists.  They’re even taking away the bullfight!  What happened the other day, when all three toreros were gored and the fight couldn’t continue – that’s not normal.

Fernando de la Morena:  Y a las pruebas nos remitiéramos en el pretérito que le perteneciere…Olé, que gitano más fino! [?]

Q:  Do you see hope in Podemos [a new political movement/party, [Yes] We Can]?

José Menese:  I was pleased because the kid [party leader Pablo Iglesias] strikes me as marvelous, but we’ll see.  I began as a militant in the Communist Party in 1968 [when the party was banned under the Franco dictatorship].  I’m still affiliated, though the party doesn’t exist today.  The problem is that we’ve lost our ideals.   A ti te cogen fumándote un canuto, como me pasó a mi el otro día no a mí, sino a una persona que iba conmigo, y se arma la de dios es Cristo.  Nonetheless, they rob millions and millions and absolutely nothing happens.

Fernando de la Morena:  And nothing appears – nothing here, nothing there.

Q:  The case of your hometown of Jerez is one of the worst.

Fernando: What my father taught me is that you have to work.  And now you have to be glad to have a job.  But my kids… and everyone’s kids…

Q:  Do your kids have jobs?

Rancapino:  Fat chance!  [?]

Fernando de la Morena:  It’s the same in flamenco.  We’re like El Brene who sang for tapas at restaurants long ago.  They’d say “Brene, sing a little song.”  “Yeah,” he’d say, “As soon as you give me a little tapa of potatoes.”  And here we are again, we’ve returned to the old days [of begging for food]”.

Rancapino:  There’s no afición for flamenco these days.  Before, a singer would start to sing and forty people would stop and crowd around.  Now, if the greatest singer ever, the Monster Number One who for me was Juan Talega, arose from his grave and started to sing – well, no one would care and he’d just have to go back home.  [Note:  One of Rancapino's uncanny gifts is that he could always evoke the spirit of the great and ancient-sounding Juan Talega, even when he was young.]

José Menese:  It’s like what Don Quixote said to Sancho Panza. With your belly full you don’t create much.  Today they learn flamenco in schools, but singers have to be born.  This business of giving singing classes seems horroroso to me.

Q:  How did you learn about the death of Paco de Lucía?

José Menese:  In La Puebla. And I thought of a photo where I’m singing with him.  Testimony of a time of incredible natural richness.

Rancapino:  Afterwards I went to his funeral.  Because Paco liked me a lot, ever since the years when I went with Camarón to Algeciras and then to Madrid with Paco’s father, who made him study so hard.  And I said to his father [Francisco], “Paco, when will you make a record of my singing?”  And he said, “You?  Tú vas a grabar en un queso!”  [You’d record on a wheel of cheese!” [?]  [Laughter]  Camarón and I went everywhere together.  Hasta lo casé con La Chispa.  [I even married him to La Chispa [his wife].  I went to la Linea because I liked one of La Chispa’s sisters.  The whole family really liked me – except the sister.  Ya que no casé yo, casé a Camarón.  Since I didn’t get married, he did.  [?]

Q:  You didn’t stay a bachelor.  Is it true, Rancapino, that Felipe González [Spain’s first Socialist leader, after Franco's death] is the godfather of one of your children?

Rancapino:  Fortunately or unfortunately, yes.  Look, we were at a fiesta in [with?] El Chato in Cadiz.  And in conversation it came out that I had a lot of kids.  And I said, “I’ve got so many kids that one hasn’t even been baptized.  And he said, “I’ll baptize that one.”  I said, “look, the only thing I can give you in exchange is the kid, because I don’t have anything else.”  [Laughter].

Q:  Is flamenco still more appreciated outside of Spain than here at home?

José Menese:  Yes:  They treat us differently than they do here in Andalucía.

Rancapino:  Just yesterday a young Japanese woman came to Chiclana to be with me.  She had to be pretty brave, because I’m no Robert Redford.  [Laughter].  And she started to sing.  And I said, “How can this be?”  Fernando, how she sang the soleá!

Q:  And is it the same?

Rancapino:  “How could it be the same!  Never!  Once I spent six months in Sapporo singing to a young Japanese woman.  Since I couldn’t remember her name, I called her Maruja.  Then she came to Madrid.  And in six months she learned to cook and to dance.  For me to learn that would’ve taken me six years!

Q:  You must have learned some Japanese…

Rancapino:  Sayonara and arigató.  And chotto matte.  That was to ask them to wait a while longer for me.

Fernando de la Morena:  Musho tomate.

Rancapino:  With potatoes!  [Laughter].

End of interview by Iker Seisdedos.  Corrections are always welcome and will be added.  The original is found at:  http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2014/06/14/actualidad/1402757369_102448.html

Translator’s coda:  Why do I devote so much time and effort to translating artist interviews, when just being a flamenco aficionado is masochistic enough?  It’s because I like the art and the artists so much that I need to understand what they are saying to outsiders and to each other.  And while I understand Spanish reasonably well, that’s not the same thing as understanding the Andalú dialect of five a.m. as spoken in the darkest bar in deepest Jerez, rendered by a bunch of gravel-voiced, aguardiente-seared, life-long black-tobacco smokers who have just sung their guts out (amid the inevitable excuses of “mu refriao” — I can’t sing, I have a terrible cold), and who are constantly interrupting or shouting at each other.  It’s a luxury to have someone else do all the work of putting that conversation into recognizable Spanish, and just having to fabricate an English approximation.

– BZ





June 16, 2014   2 Comments

Granada: Recollection, Reunion and Remuneration – 1979 Jaleo Magazine article by Brook Zern

This is a 1979 article I wrote for Jaleo, Paco Sevilla’s excellent American flamenco publication that lasted from 1978 to 1990.  Issues can be found online at www.jaleomagazine.com.

In 1961, I went to Granada to study flamenco with the Gypsies.  That fact alone should fully demonstrate the depth of my ignorance at the time.  I was unaware of the geographical constrictions on the art, which tend to confine the best stuff to the Seville/Jerez axis and environs thereof.  But God takes care of drunks, children and befuddled flamenco freaks.  I had come to learn guitar, and after reluctantly rejecting some tempting offers in unrelated areas, I found Pepe Tranca.

Pepe – José Maldonado Cortés, technically speaking – was considered a bit strange by some of the other Gypsies.  He had actually taken the time and trouble to learn good guitar, despite the fact that people apparently preferred bad guitar.   (Actually, people didn’t prefer the guitar at all.  In the caves, the lead melody was generally taken by the so-called Portuguese guitar, or maybe a bandurria – it has doubled steel strings, as I recall, and sounds like an overgrown mandolin.)

Pepe worked in the cave of María La Canastera, and was married to a striking young woman who may have been her daughter.  (My Spanish was pretty bad at the time; for that matter, so was Pepe’s – his accent was all but impenetrable.)  They evidently lived in the caves, and I took lessons in a small room carved into the Sacromonte hillside.  The air inside was delightfully cool.  Unfortunately, the flies appreciated this as much as I did, and at times there would be one on each finger as I tried to mimic Pepe’s music.  Every few minutes he would call a fly break and we would waggle a white sheet from the back of the room toward the door to the evident amusement of the flies themselves, who had learned to hide in the brassware until the humans finished their mysterious ritual.

Pepe was my first real live Gypsy, and I was evidently his first real live discípulo extranjero.  He had light skin, which puzzled me a bit.  And perhaps he noticed, for one day he looked at me intently.  “I may be white,” he said, “but my heart is black.”

Two years later I came back to Spain and headed for Granada to find Pepe.  I did, but things had changed for the worse.  Torrential rains had crumbled many of the habitable caves, and while the showplace caves were open for business most of the Gypsies had been relocated to flimsy, tin-roofed, windowless Quonset huts beneath the Sacromonte.  I can’t imagine what the were like in the winter cold, but in summer the roof functioned as a broiler.  It was hot.

My wife was with me, and we got to know Pepe’s wife  and children pretty well.  The children would proudly show us pictures they had done in school, usually on the theme of the Blessed Virgin.  The kids were beautiful.   It seemed that other people thought so, too.  Pepe and his wife told us that an English couple had recently offered them a very handsome sum of money in exchange for their little girl – or perhaps more precisely, for the right to take their little girl away with them and raise her in a proper environment, with all of the concomitant advantages for her future development.  The suggestion was firmly refused, of course.  “What would be the advantage?” Pepe asked, “What advantage is there in growing up to be like those people?”

Pepe’s daughter danced pretty well by any standards, and especially well for a six-year-old.  I asked her what her favorite dance was, hoping to see a pure and uncorrupted zambra at last.  “El twee,”, she replied, launching into a very creditable imitation of Chubby Checker himself.  The world is getting smaller, I thought to myself.

Pepe’s intense interest in his children’s academic progress became especially understandable when I asked him to autograph a picture he had given us.  He said he would, and that I could have it  mañana.  “No, why not do it right now?” I suggested.  My wife kicked me unobtrusively in the ankle, which is her wont when I am being especially obtuse, and which accounts for my chronically purplish ankles.  “On second thought, tomorrow is even better,” I said.   And so we got the picture our last day in Granada, along with a short and touching dedication in a hand which clearly indicated the great investment in time and effort it had taken,

During our two year stay in Sevilla and many subsequent visits, we made it to Granada only once (an overnight visit), and failed to find Pepe.  So it was not until last summer [1978], fifteen years after our first contact, that we had another chance to try.

During that time we had often wondered what had become of Pepe and his family.  I was hardly optimistic as we headed up the narrow road toward the Sacromonte, squeezing the dink Seat sedan into doorways to dodge the convoys of tourist buses.

Our children were still excited from the afternoon spent wandering through the Alhambra.  The Gypsies, heedless of my dashing and clearly Continental appearance, inexplicably took me for an American.

“You want to see dancing girls, see real flamenco show?”, they hollered in English as they ran alongside the car.

“No,” I said pettishly as I continued along the road.  “I’m looking for Pepe Tranca..  He was my maestro many years ago.”

Immediately, the strange Gypsy communications network went into action.  We went along, faster than anyone could follow, but all along the road, people were pointing.  “Tranca,” they said, guiding me toward the Canastera cave.  Soon, we had acquired a motorcycle escort – young Gypsies who had to make sure that the reunion went smoothly.  We arrived at the cave and left the unlocked car in the care of these riders (there are times when Spain’s gitanos suspend their normal mode of operation and become fiercely protective of an outsider’s property as a matter of honor.  I knew this was such a time.)

We walked to the crowded cave entrance.  I stopped and held up my 7-year-old while her slightly older sister looked under people’s legs.  They were impressed by the spectacle and disappointed when I decided not to go in – our flamenco budget was tight, and I couldn’t quite rationalize blowing it on the Gypsy caves of Granada.

The frantic rumba finally bumped and ground its way to a halt, and Pepe came out to see me.  For some reason he looked older than before, but still very good,  I could tell that he remembered me well, and he seemed as happy as I was.  I introduced him to my kids – my first objective – and then demanded one more lesson.  He gave me complex directions to his new house, and I said I’d show up the next afternoon.

When I arrived the next day, I realized that my apprehensions about Pepe over the years were misplaced.  The house, part of a bloque in a new barrio a few miles outside of town, was charming.  It was compact, like most Spanish homes, and very bright and appealing.  It was also Pepe’s.  He had paid for it – a pretty substantial amount by Spanish standards that are now approaching our own – which meant that Pepe’s net worth was a damn sight larger than my ow.,  I found out one reason why at the end of the lesson,  “How much?” I asked.

“Mil doscientas,” said Pepe with a perfectly straight face.

“No, not your guitar, Pepe.  Just the lesson.”  He repeated the price.  Twelve hundred pesetas, or seventeen dollars.

I remembered his old rates – about seventy cents for an hour.  I remembered the price of a lesson with Diego del Gastor in 1972 – two hundred pesetas, or about three bucks.  The world is indeed getting smaller, and also more expensive.  Since I only had a thousand pesetas with me, it was logical to seek a compromise on that amount.  Pepe insisted that many extranjeros – mostly French – were paying the going rate.  Still, he knew that America had fallen on hard times, and besides, I had bought some nice things for his children when they were little, and what the hell – just this once…

Was it worth it?  Absolutely.  First, I had the chance to tie up a few loose musical ends that had been bothering me for a decade and a half.  I also had a chance to evaluate Pepe’s playing from a broader perspective: an interesting, hard-driving style which seems impossible given his lack of fingernails, and occasional imaginative falsetas, although not as many as I had hoped for considering the high quality of the material he gave me years before.  And it was worth it because of the financial contretemps as well, I thought.  After all, anyone can rip you off — but only a few gifted gitanos can do it in such a way that you’re grateful to them, and know you’ve gotten the best of the deal.

Brook Zern

January 21, 2014   No Comments

Important 1883 Description of Flamenco From U.S. Book “Spanish Vistas” (with exact dance description) – Comments by Brook Zern

I found an 1883 book that describes flamenco as seen by an American traveler in Spain.  Passages touch on the song, and also describe in detail a dance performance in Malaga some time prior to the publication date.  The book is called “Spanish Vistas”, by George Parsons Lathrop, published by Harper & Brothers, Frankln Square (Philadelphia?), 1883.  It’s nicely illustrated by Charles S. Reinhart.

While suited to armchair travelers, the book is also aimed squarely at potential American tourists, with sections in the back on safe travel (bandits had recently been subdued by the Guardia Civil) and other handy hints.  It’s also gracefully written and sharply observed.  The intro (which mentions a book by John Hay from a few years earlier, called “Castillian Days”) describes a meeting with a Spaniard who, learning the author was not an Englishman but a North American, exclaimed happily “You are for the Spanish Republic (a Republican), then!”  The author says he then asked the Spaniard: “How many Spaniards are in that party?”

“Party,” the Spaniard cried.  “Listen: in Spain there is a separate political party for every man.”  After a slight pause he added, bitterly, “Sometimes, two!”

Anyway, the section on Seville shows that the author is conversant with music.  A description of the Thursday-morning fair still rings true.  He writes:

“With very early morning begins the deep clank of bells, under the chins of asses that go the rounds to deliver domestic milk from their own udders.  There is no end of noise.  Even in the elegant dining-room where we ate, lottery-dealers would howl at us through the barred windows, or a donkey outside would rasp our ears with his intolerable braying.  Then the street cries are incessant.  At night the crowds chafe and jabber till the latest hours, and after eleven the watchmen begin their drawl of unearthly sadness…until, somewhere about dawn, you drop perspiring into an oppressively tropical dream-land, with the sereno’s last cry ringing in your ears:  “Hail, Mary, most pure!  Three o’clock has struck.”  This is the weird tune to which he chants it.  (Then the book shows a well-rendered melodic line, done in common time, revealing an aptitude for writing relatively straightforward if unusual music; but, predictably, the author never attempts to render flamenco song in notation.)

The text continues:

“An Enlish lady, conversing with a Sevillan gentleman who had been making some rather tall statements, asked him:  “Are you telling me the truth?”

“Madam,” he replied gravely, but with a twinkle in his eye, “I am an Andalusian!”  At which the surrounding listeners, his fellow-countryment, broke into an appreciative laugh.

So proverbial is the want of veracity, or, to put it more genially, the imagination, of these Southerners.  Their imagination will explain also the vogue of their brief, sometimes pathetic, yet never more than half-expressed, scraps of song, which are sung with so much feeling throughout the kingdom to crude barbaric airs, and loved alike by gentle and simple.  I mean the Peteneras and the Malaguenas.  There are others of the same general kind — usually pitched in a minor key, and interspersed with passionate trills, long quavers, unexpected ups and downs, which it requires no little skill to render.  I have seen gypsy singers grow apoplectic with the long breath and volume of sound which they threw into these eccentric melodies amid thunders of applause.  It is not a high nor a cultivated order of music, but there lurks in it something consonant with the broad, stimulating shine of the sun, the deep red earth, the thick, strange-flavored wine of the Peninsula; its constellated nights, and clear daylight gleamed with flying gold from the winnowing field.  The quirks of the melody are not unlike those of very old English ballads, and some native composer with originality should be able to expand their deep, bold, primitive ululations into richer, lasting forms.  The fantastic picking of the mandurra accompaniment reminds me of Chinese music with which I have been familiar.  Endless preludes and interminable windings-up enclose the minute kernel of actual song; but to both words and music is lent a repressed touching power and suggestiveness by repeating, as is always done, the opening bars and first words at the end, and then breaking off in mid-strain.  For instance:

“All the day I am happy,
but at evening orison
like a millstone grows my heart.
All the day I am happy.”

[Limitless Guitar Solo.]  [sic]

It is like the never-ended strain of Schumann’s “Warum?”  The words are always simple and few — often bald [sic].  One of the most popular pieces amounts simply to this:

“Both Lagartijo and Frascuelo
swordsmen are of quality,
since when the bulls they are slaying –
O damsel of my heart –
they do it with serenity.
Both Lagartijo and Frascuelo
swordsmen are of quality.

But such evident ardor of feeling and such wealth of voice are breathed into these fragments that they become sufficient.  The people supply from their imagination what is barely hinted in the lines.  Under their impassive exteriors they preserve memories, associations, emotions of burning intensity, which throng to aid their enjoyment, as soon as the muffled strings begin to vibrate and syllables of love or sorrow are chanted.  I recalled to a young and pretty Spanish lady one line,

“Pajarito, que te vuelas”.

She flushed, fire came to her eyes, and with clasped hands she murmured, “Oh, what a beautiful song it is!”  Yet it contains only four lines.  Here is a translation:

Bird, little bird that wheelest
through God’s fair worlds in the sky,
say if thou anywhere seest
a being more sad than I.
Bird, little bird that wheelest.

Some of these little compositions are roughly humorous, and others very grotesque, appearing to foreigners empty and ridiculous.

The following one has some of the odd imagery and clever inconsequence of some of our negro improvisations:

“As I was gathering pine-cones
in the sweet pine woods of love,
my heart was cracked by a splinter
that flew from the tree above,
I’m dead: pray for me, sweethearts.”

There was one evening in Granada when we sat in a company of two dozen people, and one after another of the ladies took her turn in singing to the guitar of a little girl, a musical prodigy.  But they were all outdone by Candida, the brisk, naive, handsome serving-girl, who was invited in, but preferred to stand outside the grated window, near the lemon-trees and pomegranates, looking in, with a flower in her hair, and pouring into the room her warm contralto — that voice so common among Spanish peasant-women — which seemed to have absorbed the clear dark of Andalusian nights when the stars glitter like lance-points aimed at the earth.  Through the twanging of the strings we could hear the rush of water that gurgles all about the Alhambra; and, just above the trees that stirred in the perfumed air without, we knew the unsentinelled walls of the ancient fortress were frowning.  The most elaborate piece was one meant to accompany a dance called the Zapateado, or “kick-dance.”  It begins:

“Tie me, with my fiery charger,
to your window’s iron lattice.
Though he break loose, my fiery charger,
me he cannot tear away.”

and then passes into rhyme:

“Much I ask of San Francisco,
much St. Thomas I implore;
but of thee, my little brown girl,
ah, of thee I ask much more!”

The singing went on:

“In Triana there are rogues,
and there are stars in heaven.
Four and one rods away
there lives, there lives a woman.
Flowers there are in gardens,
and beautiful girls in Sevilla.”

That’s the end of flamenco references in the Seville section.  The author then moves to Granada.  He writes:

“The gypsies of Granada are disappointing, apart from their peculiar quivering dance, performed by gitanas in all Spanish cities under the name of flamenco.*

[* Footnote:  Fleming, a name commonly applied to Spanish gypsies; whence it has been inferred that the first of them came from the Netherlands.]

Their hill-caves, so operative with one’s curiosity when regarded from across the valley, gape open in such dingy, sour, degraded foulness on a nearer view, that I found no amount of theory would avail to restore their interest.  Yet some of the fortune-telling women are spirited enough, and the inextinguishable Romany spark smoulders in their black eyes.  Perhaps it was an interloping drop of Celtic blood that made one of them say to me, “Señorito, listen.  I will tell you your fortune.  But I speak French — I come from Africa!” And to clinch the matter she added, “You needn’t pay me if every word of the prediction isn’t true!”  Much as I had heard of the Spanish bull, I never knew until then how closely it resembles the Irish breed.

[The famed Spanish artist] Fortuny’s model, Marinero, who lives in a burrow on the Alhambra side, occasionally starts up out of the earth in a superb and expensive costume, due to the dignity of his having been painted by Fortuny.  Dark as a negro, with a degree of luminous brown in his skin, and very handsome, he plants himself immovably in one spot to sell photographs of himself.  His nostrils visibly dilate with pride, but he makes no other bid for custom.  He expands his haughty nose, and you immediately buy a picture.  Velveteen [the author's fellow traveller] chanced upon Marinero’s daughter, and got her to pose.  When he engaged her she was so delighted that she took a rose from her hair and presented it to him, with a charming, unaffected air of gratitude, came an hour before the time, and waited impatiently.  She wore a wine-colored skirt, if I remember, a violet jacked braided with black, and a silk neckerchief of dull purple-pink silk.  But that was not enough: a blue silk kerchief also was wound about her waist, and in among her smooth jet locks she had tucked a vivid scarlet flower.  The result was perfect, for the rich pale-brown of her complexion could harmonize anything; and in Spain, moreover, combinations of color that appear too harsh elsewhere are paled and softened by the overpowering light.”

That’s the end of descriptions of flamenco and Gypsies in Granada.  From there, the author and Velveteen go to Malaga — via Bobadilla, a railhead I remember from the 1960′s.  The next chapter begins:

“A gypsy dance!  What does one naturally imagine it to be like?  For my part, I had expected something wild, free and fantastic; something in harmony with moonlight, the ragged shadows of trees, and the flicker of a rude camp-fire.  Nothing could have been wider of the mark.  The flamenco — that dance of the gypies, in its way as peculiarly Spanish as the church and the bull-ring, and hardly less important — is of Oriental origin, and preserves the impassive quality, the suppressed, tantalized sensuousness belonging to Eastern performances in the saltatory line.  It forms a popular entertainment in the cafés of the lower order throughout the southern provinces, from Madrid all the way around to Valencia, in Sevilla and Malaga, and is gotten up as a select and expensive treat for travellers at Granada.  But we saw it at its best in Malaga.

We were conducted, about eleven o’clock in the evening, to a roomy, rambling, dingy apartment in the crook of an obscure and dirty street, where we found a large number of sailors, peasants and chulos seated drinking at small tables, with a very occasional well-dressed citizen or two here and there.  In one corner was a stage rising to the level of our chins when we were seated, which had two fronts, like the Shakspearian stage in pictures, so that spectators on the side might have a fair chance, and be danced to from time to time.  On this sat about a dozen men and women, the latter quite as much Spanish as gypsy, and some of them dressed partially in tights, with an affectation of sailors or pages’ costume in addition  At Madrid and Sevilla their sisters in the craft wore ordinary feminine dresses, and looked the possessors of more genuine Romany blood.

But here, too, the star danseuse, the chief mistress of the art of flamenco, was habited in the voluminous calico skirt which Peninsular propriety prescribes for this particular exhibition, thereby doing all it can to conceal and detract from the amazing skill of muscular movement involved.  A variety of songs and dances with guitar accompaniments, some effecive and others tedious, preceded the gypsy performance.  I think we listened nearly half an hour to certain disconsolate barytone wailings, which were supposed to interpret the loves, anxieties, and other emotions of a contrabandista, or smuggler, hiding from pursuit in the mountains.  Judging from the time at his disposal for this lament, the smuggling business must be sadly on the decline.  The whole entertainment was supervised by a man precisely like all the chiefs of these troupes in Spain.  Ther similarity is astounding; even their features seem even identical: when you have seen one, you have seen all his fellows, and know exactly what they will do.  He may be a little older or younger, a little more gross or less so, but he is always clean-shaven like the other two sacred types — the bull-fighter and the priest — and his face is in every case weakly but good-humoredly sensual.  But what does he do?  Well, nothing.  He is the most important personage on the platform, but he does not contribute to the programme beyond an exclamation of encouragement to the performers at intervals.  He is a Turveydrop in deportment at moments, and always a Crummies in self-esteem [the meaning of these references is unknown to me].  A few highly favored individuals as they come from the café salute him, and receive a condescending nod in return.  Then some friend in the audience sends him up a glass of chamomile wine, or comes close and offers it with his own hand.  The leader invariably makes excuses, and without exception ends by taking the wine, swallowing a portion, and gracefully spitting out the rest at the side of the platform.  He smokes the cigars of admiring acquaintances, and throws the stumps on the stage.  All the while he carries in his hand a smooth, plain walking-stick, with which he thumps time to the music when inclined.

At last the moment for flamenco arrives.  The leader begins to beat monotonously on the boards, just as our Indians do with their tomahawks [sic -- shouldn't it be tom-toms?] to set the rhythm; the guitars strike into their rising and falling melancholy strain.  Two or three women chant a weird song, and all clap their hands in a peculiar measure, now louder, now fainter, and with pauses of varying lengths between the emphatic reports.  The dancer has not yet risen from her seat; she seems to demand encouragement.  The others call out, “Ollé” — a gypsy word for “bravo!” — and smile and nod their heads at her to draw her on.  All this excites in you a livelier curiosity, a sort of suspense.  “What can be coming now?” you ask.  Finally she gets up, smiling half scornfully; a light comes into her eyes; she throws her head back, and her face is suffused with an expression of daring, of energy, and of strange pride.  Perhaps it is only my fancy, but there seems to creep over the woman at that instant a reminiscence of far-off and mysterious things; her face, partially lifted, seems to catch the light of old traditions, and to be imbued with the spirit of something belonging to the past, which she is about to revive.  Her arms are thrown upward, she snaps her fingers, and draws them down slowly close before her face as far as the waist, when, with an easy waving sideward, the “pass” is ended, and the arms go up again to repeat the movement.  Her body too is in motion now, only slightly, with a kind of vibration; and her feet, unseen beneath the flowing skirt, begin an easy, quiet, repressed rhythmical figure.  So she advances, her face always forward, and goes swiftly around a circle, coming back to the point where she began, without appearing to step.  The music goes on steadily, the cries of her companions become more animated, and she continues to execute that queer, aimless, yet dimly beckoning gesture with both arms — never remitting it nor the snapping of her fingers, in fact, until she has finished the whole affair.  Her feet go a little faster; you can hear them tapping the floor as they weave upon it some more complicated measure.  but there is not the slightest approach to a springing tendency.  Her progress is sinuous; she glides and shuffles, her soles quitting the boards as little as possible — something between a clog dance and a walk, perfect in time, with a complexity in the exercise of the feet demanding much skill.  She treats the performance with great dignity; the intensity of her absorbtion invests it with a something [sic] almost solemn.

Forward again!  She gazes intently in front as she proceeds, and again as she floats backward, looking triumphant, perhaps with a spark of latent mischief in her eyes.  She stamps harder upon the floor; the sounds follow like pistol reports.  The regular clack, clack-clack of the smitten hands goes on about her, and the cries of the rest increase in zest and loudness.

“Ollé! ollé!”

“Bravo, my gracious one!”

“Muy bien! muy bien!”

“Hurrah!  Live the queen of the ants [sic]!” shouts the leader.  And the audience roars at his eccentric phrase.

The dancer becomes more impassioned, but in no way more violent.  Her body does not move above the hips.  It is only the legs that twist and turn and bend and stamp, as if one electric shock after another were being sent downward through them.  Every few minutes her activity passes by some scarcely noted gradation into a subtly new phase, but all these phases are bound together by a certain uniformity of restraint and fixed law.  Now she almost comes to a stand-still, and then we notice a quivering, snaky, shuddering motion, beginning at the shoulders and flowing down through her whole body, wave upon wave, the dress drawn tighter with one hand showing that this continues downward to her feet.  Is she a Lamia in the act of undergoing metamorphosis, a serpent, or a woman?  The next moment she is dancing, receding — this time with smiles, and with an indescribable air of invitation in the tossing of her arms.  But the crowning achievement is when the hips begin to sway too, and, while she is going back and forward, execute a rotary movement like that of the bent part of an auger.  In fact, you expect her to bore herself into the floor and disappear.  Than all at once the stamping and clapping and the twanging strings are stopped, as she ceases her formal gyrations: she walks back to her seat like one liberated from a spell, and the whole thing is over.”

Well, that’s all I can find about flamenco and Gypsies in the book “Spanish Vistas”.  The illustration for the last section, incidentally, looks like an engraving, and is signed “G.S. Reinhart — Paris, 82″.  (The author implies that the artist worked from sketches, done by Velveteen.)  It shows five seated people — three women, a male guitarist, and the cane-wielding character described as doing nothing; I wonder if he’s the agent/manager, or could he have been a big-deal singer who didn’t happen to sing that night?  The women, including the one shown dancing, are all in very full dresses with shawls.  The guitarist leans forward, clearly paying attention to the dancer.  The instrument has the pre-Torres shape, the head is scalloped on the sides and the pegs are of wood.  There’s an atmospheric painting behind the stage, and what looks like a footlight up front.

I’m certainly impressed with this author’s descriptive powers.  I think I saw that same dance last month at Symphony Space on Broadway, at the flamenco show.

I won’t start evaluating any historical insights all this might or might not offer.  I’d just note that when I thought everyone agreed flamenco was really pretty old, I remember looking at these passages without much wonderment.  After all, they were — well, hardly contemporary, but written in what I viewed as the latter stage of flamenco development.  Seen in that light, everything seemed logical.

Now, when I am forced to wonder whether flamenco might not have coalesced into a coherent art until the 1850′s or so — I hope that’s a fair paraphrase of the thinking of the postmodernist scholars and some others — I must consider the notion that all this describes an art that was really quite new at the time of writing.

And that doesn’t seem to make much sense to me.  Reading the book, I got the feeling that this art — which the author had seen in so many cities, always with great similarities, and involving so many recognizable forms (the pine-cone verse is associated with the jabera, a sort of proto-malagueña) — had certainly been around for more than one measly generation.  Not as a public spectacle, necessarily — but done in some context where flamenco could develop the many canons and rules that the author refers to here.  If folks really think all that happened in half of a single creative life-span — less than 30 years — then I can hardly apologize for calling the idea “insta-genesis” with all the doubt the term implies.

In any event, I hope others will get something out of these excerpts.

Brook Zern

Note from 2014:  It’s remarkable to think that this chatty and familiar description of touristy flamenco was contemporaneous with Spain’s first serious flamenco book, the crucial 1881 “Cantes Flamencos” by Antonio Machado y Álvarez, which makes the art seem so old and so deadly serious.

Please call this blog entry to the attention of dance scholars, and other researchers or interested people.  I don’t think it’s well known, and I think it’s important.  (Also, please suggest that they read another significant blog entry — this one on the singing —  by seeking the author’s name “Sneeuw”.)

And I hope someone will choreograph a flamenco dance based on the exact description of the one the author saw in Malaga. Thanks.


January 19, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Guitarist Juan Carmona of Ketama Talks About Flamenco – EFE Article – translated by Brook Zern

The Story of Flamenco, Told by “A Normal Guy From Andalucía”,  Juan Carmona

From El Confidencial  — by Jorge Fuentelsaz

Translator’s Note:   It’s rare for a certified flamenco artist to give a formal talk about where the art comes from and how it should be seen.  Here’s the story from EFE, Spain’s national news agency:

Algiers, November 15 – The Spanish guitarist Juan Carmona, a former member of the [very famous pop/salsa/flamenco group] Ketama, taught a Master Class in Algiers between flamenco songs, explaining the origin and evolution of flamenco and its varied form and branches.

“I’m speaking as what I am, as a normal Andalusian guy who has lived flamenco since I was five and who has had in his house all the key figures of flamenco, like Camarón de la Isla and Enrique Morente,” said Carmona (born in Granada in 1933 [sic – that’s actually the birthdate of the great Juan Carmona “Habichuela”, who may be his father] speaking at the Instituto Cervantes of Algiers.

Carmona offered a quick review of the “uncertain” theories about the origins of the Gypsies and of flamenco, as well as both of those words.

Afterwards, accompanied by the singer María del Carmen Segura Fuentes and with “Piripi” on guitar, he gave a brief review of the three principal groups into which flamenco forms are divided.

He explained, without choosing a favorite, three theories about the supposed origin of the Gypsies: that the came from India, or Egypt, or are one of the twelve lost tribes of Israel.

He also looked at the many suggested theories about the word “flamenco”.  Because the artists wore tight, high-waisted pants and a short jacket, it made them look like the bird of the same name [flamenco is the word for flamingo in Spanish].    Or because “flamencos” was the word for the people who were “engreidos” [conceited, self-centered, smug, arrogant, vain].  Or because it was the word for a kind of knives, or one of the words applied to Spain’s gitanos.

But beyond the linguistics and ethnic origins, flamenco “was born from the mixing/crossing of the Muslim cultures with the Gypsies of lower Andalucia.

For him, flamenco “is not the music of the Gypsies, because flamenco isn’t always found wherever Gypsies live.”

Regarding its historical evolution, the maestro [teacher/master] cited several key moments such as the emergence of the first known figures in the art, “El Fillo” and “El Planeta”, in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century; and flamenco’s move out of the bars and taverns into the cafés cantantes [“singing cafés, with scheduled performances] in the [late] Nineteenth Century; and to the “opera flamenca” period [traveling shows combining noted flamenco artists with other entertainers] in the early Twentieth Century.

“With the advent of the Opera Flamenca phase, flamenco became commercialized and began to lose its pure and orthodox aspects, something that the flamenco people didn’t like at all,” Carmona said, referring to these shows held in big venues like theaters and town bullrings.

He also cited key points in flamenco history such as the 1922 Granada Concurso de Cante Jondo, orgained by Manuel de Falla and Federico García Lorca to promote “orthodox flamenco” which was decaying in the wake of the Opera Flamenca movement.

Lastly, he singled out Camarón de la Isla’s 1979 recording titled “La Leyenda del Tiempo”, with singer Enrique Morente and guitarist Paco de Lucía, saying it was “a revolution” in the art.

Aterwards, with the help of “Piripi” on guitar (and in translating the talk into French for the Algerian public), and with the warm voice of María del Carmen , he proposed dividing flamenco forms into three groups, “as soon as possible.”

The first group derives from the “toná”, Carmona said, explaining that he would put songs into that group such as the martinete, the debla, the carcelera and the soleá, which he described as “a song that is very much of the Gypsies”.

Por las vivencias” [Because of their social situation, the way they lived], the Gypsies agarraban [caught hold of, grasped, picked up] a series of palos [flamenco forms], and the payos [non-Gypsies] picked up others,” Carmona added, before remarking that “we cannot have racism in flamenco.”

The second group, which the guitarist considers “more payo”, than the first and “musically more open”, derives from the fandango and covers wide regions of Andalusia.

The third and last group, which would include the sevillanas, the cantes de ida y vuelta [“round trip songs” with strong Latin-American influences, like the Argentine-inluenced milonga and the Cuban-influenced guajira], and the campanilleros [Christmas songs], has a more folkloric origin than the other flamenco groups.

As he explained to EFE, the former member of Ketama combined his artistic aspect with teaching about the art three years ago, because he had always heard people talking about flmaenc “with very technical word and in a way that was hard for people to understand,”  Now he tries to tell the story in a way that’s “mas de andar por casa” [simpler, more homespun].

In the Instituto Cervantes auditorium songs rang out – a debla, a soleá and two fandangos, one from Granada and another from Malaga, a vidalita from Argentina and a final homage to the singer Enrique Morente, who died two years ago and who Carmona called “the last of the Mohicans of flamenco”.

“Those of us who remain don’t play flamenco with the same roots that it had before”, in Enrique Morente’s generation,” the guitarist concluded before joining María for one last song.

End of story.

Translator’s note: Mu worldwide RSS feed for flamenco spits out a dozen Spanish press articles a day.  Most are about flamenco-flanenco.  Some are about Flemish politics or painters (and some theories derive Spain’s flamenco to Flemish people, back when the two countries were royally linked.  The word for those weird visiting foreigners may have been applied to all non-conforming, misbehaving bohemians).  Still others are about the flamingos in the Coto de Doñana nature reserve.

The cover of one of the early American flamenco LP’s showed a male dancer wearing a short pink jacket with long black pants, with one skinny leg straight and the other raised and bent sharply at the knee.  Hs arms were bent to grasp the bottom of his short jacket, just like little wings,  He looked as much like a flamingo (they do that raised-leg thing) as a human possibly could. No wonder I’ve always loved that admittedly dubious explanation of the word flamenco.

Juan Carmona’s classification of forms is interesting.  He attributes Gypsy-ness to all the forms of the non-rhythmic unaccompanied tonás, and then adds the soleá — not clearly derived from the tona, but often given a Gypsy origin.  The siguiriyas isn’t mentioned, but I suspect he might have put it into the same box, making a clean sweep for all three deep song or cante jondo forms as Gypsy art.

I liked Carmona’s homespun efforts to make sense out of flamenco.  I suspect that the more advanced analysts wouldn’t take his theories as seriously.

Brook Zern

January 11, 2014   1 Comment

On the Tarantas, Taranto, Granadino, Authenticity, Air Travel, Rail Travel, Ripoffs Real and Imagined and the Martinete Guitar Solo — Endless Meditation No. 21 (b) by Brook Zern

In 1961, desiring to learn the real flamenco guitar, I became a charter member of The Little Sisters of the Poor, the Catholic charity group which recently sued Obamacare because they didn’t want to provide birth control information or supplies to their employees, a request temporarily supported yesterday by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.  (I just realized that every one of the nine justices — six are Catholic and three are Jewish — would have been on the Ku Klux Klan’s hit list…)

Okay, I wasn’t a charter member in the usual sense.  I just had to get to Spain, and at that time air travel was hugely expensive — in inflation-adjusted dollars, coach seats cost far more than first class today.

Happily, charter flights cost far less than normal flights, though still far more than today’s coach fares.  You just had to join the chartering group.  (Two years later, I’d take another charter flight, this one organized by my alma madre, Columbia University, sitting next to Francisco García Lorca – yes, the brother of you-know-who and a teacher at Columbia where his brother had studied decades before.)

Anyway — when I finally got off the propeller-driven DC-7 that took me to Europe (Manchester, England, specifically) in a mere twenty hours or so, I was walking groggily down the gangplank or stairway when a guy at the bottom with a big camera told me to smile.  He clicked the shutter and said he’d send me the picture as soon as it was developed, and asked for my address plus one pound, or about three dollars, which I gave him.  He said, “Thanks, mate”.  Wow.  Nobody ever called me mate before.  Only much later did I realized that I had been ripped off in Europe before my feet even touched the ground!

I spent the night in a movie theater watching Black Orpheus four times, and then headed for Granada, the only flamenco center I’d heard of, where I soon found Pepe Tranca, a good Gypsy guitarist and a sweet guy.

(He didn’t “look like a Gypsy”, whatever that means or meant, if anything; though come to think of it, he looked “more” like a Gypsy than another  of my teachers, the now-legendary Diego del Gastor, whatever that means – To me, Diego looked exactly like a Distinguished Professor of American Literature at Wellesley College, whatever that means.)

Anyway again, Pepe may have noticed that I looked dubious, because he pointed to his chest and said, and I quote directly, “I may be white, but my heart is black”.  I guess a sociologist or anthropologist or current flamencologist might say Pepe was playing the authenticity card, to manipulate my perception.  I think he was just telling me something he felt.

Well, Pepe immediately sat down and taught me how to play the granadino. Now, I already knew the taranto — to me and many others, the term just meant a free-form tarantas song that had been forced into an even and danceable rhythm, perhaps 2/4.  Clearly, there had to be a local Granada version of the same simple notion, but based on the town’s famous song form of granainas.

Only much later did I realize that there was no such thing – that in fact I had been ripped off in Spain before I finished my first lesson!

Y si este fuera poco [I think that's sort of Spanish for "As if that weren't bad enough"], the next thing Pepe taught me to play was the martinete.  Yes, the martinete, as in “the great and venerable unaccompanied deep song form, without a fixed meter and thus not even accompaniable, much less accompanied.  To reiterate: not played on guitar,”]

Now, the subtle difference between the photographer who ripped me off and Pepe — and other individuals of Pepe’s apparent ethnicity whom I’ve since had the pleasure of dealing with — is that they have almost always given me vastly more than my money’s worth, even if they didn’t realize it or even intend to.

I’ve still never met anyone who has heard of the granadino — but almost every guitarist and dancer I’ve talked to says jeez, what a terrific and totally logical idea.  You simply take the free-form granaina with its evocative chords (notably the tonic B major) and hammer it into an even rhythm.  Presto, a new guitar solo and danceable form, with all the evocative exoticism of the Granada connection.

(In fact, just deciding to play the hypnotic Moorish-sounding Granada-style zambra dance form in the key of B natural instead of the standard E natural would give the same result, and maybe that’s what Pepe was doing.)

(If any dancers out there are interested, I’m prepared to sell all rights to the granadino for a reasonable sum in unmarked bills.)

Was I ripped off?  I don’t think so.  I think I’m the only living flamenco player who knows the granadino and the martinete – forms so rare that they never have existed at all, at least until Pepe decided he might as well show me something for my fifteen pesetas, if only to avoid spilling the treasured guitar secrets of any actual styles…

P.S.  A remarkable thing, if only in retrospect, happened to me on the endless train ride that meandered through the switchyards of Bobadilla for quite a while on the way to Granada.  (It’s still a key railroad junction – I recently careened through it on the high-speed AVE train in about four seconds.)

Anyway, two fellow passengers, noting that the idiot in the next seat – no, make that wooden bench; hard wooden sharp-slatted bench — hadn’t laid in the requisite huge supply of provisions for the incredibly slow hundred-mile trip, generously shared some bread and wine with me.  I told them of my quest, which they thought was a riot.  But when we jumped down from the train, one of them took me by the wrist, placed my hand against a perfectly ordinary nearby tree, and said, “Típico! Auténtico!”

Then he laughed, and the other guy laughed (did I mention there had been some wine involved in this?), and he did the same thing; and then there we were, running around from tree to tree, while they shouted “Típico!! Auténtico!!” as I touched each one.  (It is hard to be a taciturn and private person in Spain, regardless of one’s preferences.)

With all that has happened to the notion of authenticity in recent years – I was at a recent travel expo show where it seemed that most of the countries seeking more tourists were shouting “Authentic!  Authentic!” – I have to give those guys some credit.  They heard why I’d come to their town, though I certainly didn’t use that actual word.  And they intuited that I was involved in some peculiar search for something I considered more real or “authentic” than my own somehow unreal self and inauthentic reality.  Otherwise, why would I be travelling all to hell and gone to find it?

(Flash forward fifty years or so.  I’m talking about flamenco with an anthropologist who is nonetheless a friend.  He seems a- or bemused by my attitude in this area, and so he gives me a pop quiz on which flamenco artists are authentic and which aren’t.  I give the correct answers.  Then he does it about blues singers, and pop singers, and painters and writers, faster and faster.

I’m on a roll, presumably batting a thousand.  Then he slips my name into the list, and I blurt out: “Inauthentic.”

And he looks at me for a while and says, “What exactly do you mean?  What are you inauthentic at?  Aren’t you an authentic example of, say, a half-Jewish, half-Pennsylvania Dutch, half-baked self-styled evaluator of certain things?”

“That’s not anything,” I say.  “I’m talking about real…”

“What exactly do you mean, ‘real’”, he says.

No wonder I hate academics.  This guy seems to think that everyone is equally authentic.  That’s crazy talk.

Isn’t it?

As the brain-damaged hero of “Memento” says in the terminal line:  “Where was I?”

Or did he say something else?  I forget.

But that’s typical.

Brook Zern

January 2, 2014   1 Comment

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

Flamenco Dancer Antonia “La Gallina” Speaks – 1987 Interview with M. Herrera Rodas – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  Sevilla Flamenca number 48, from mid-1987, carried a long interview by M. Herrera Rodas with an elderly dancer from Granada, Antonia “La Gallina”, born in 1917.  It offers a revealing look at a vanished world, and at the Granada tradition, so different from the flamenco world of the Seville-Jerez area.

Like many Gypsies who were raised in the caves, this woman has recently been relocated to a development (Poligono de la Cartuja) that may offer better physical conditions but lacks the atmosphere and charm of the Sacromonte.  In 1961 and 1963 I studied in the caves with guitarist Pepe Tranca, the son-in-law of the famous dancer and cave-owner María La Canastera, who is referred to in this interview.

Last summer I was at the venerable Peña La Plateria in Granada where Curro Albayzin — who comments on things during this interview — presented his new book giving biographies of hundreds of Granada’s noted flamenco figures.  [When I did this translation, I hadn't yet figured out how to add accent marks and enyas to Spanish words -- sorry]:

[The interviewer writes:]  Antonia Fernandez Heredia “La Gallina” is a gitana (Gypsy) from the Sacromonte of Granada, and in talking to her we hope to bring back to life an epoch, some dances and ways of dancing, and the history of a Granada and some people now gone forever.

Her own parents, “canasteros” [basketmakers] living in one of the humble caves carved into the Sacromonte mountainside, had ten children.  The father, Frasquito, made baskets (canastas) that he sold in the cortijos.  Her mother, also a “canastera” was finer (mas fina — more refined, having more class or status)…

– Yes, my father went around the Upper Sacromonte looking for cortijos (granges, farmhouses) where he could sell baskets.  Now, since my mother was finer, they called her La Canastera because she made very fine baskets for clothes, canastillas to put babies into, canastitos for the tourists, jewelry cases and the like.”

Int:  “Artists in the family?”

– No.  Well, they’d do their little songs (cantecitos) in family gatherings (fiestas de la familia).  And my mother did her little dances.  My mother was the aunt of my cousin Maria “La Canastera”, so I’m from all that branch (rama).”

Int:  “Always in the Sacromonte?”

– Yes, my parents were gitanos puros of the Sacromonte.  The Fernandezes and the Heredias, Gypsies forever.  My aunt was Micaela de la Alhambra, my father’s sister; she was the most famous gitana of the Sacromonte.  And the gitanos said that she was the “Queen” of the Gypsies.  You see her in photos of the Alhambra, at los Aljibes.  She told fortunes with cards.  And my aunt Antonia, my mothers sister, danced very well and was very pretty, very pretty (mu guapa, mu guapa).  And a very important gentleman (senor) fell in love with her, the fellow who built the roadway in the mountains.  He was named Don Juan Santacruz, and he was a Marquis.  And he married my aunt.  My aunt did all the dances that were done in the Sacromonte, and even made a movie called “El Nino de Oro”.  And my aunt Concha also danced in the Sacromonte…”

Int: “And you, Antonia, what do you remember of your childhood?

– Well, from the time we were very little, we’d go to dance and we’d do our dances, because it came from within us.  Of course, we learned from others, from the least important to the greatest.  Like La Chata, La Jampona, La Gazpacha, and all of them… And we’d hide behind the door to watch them dance, and that’s how we too started to dance.  And then we went to the Ave Maria school, with Don Andres Manjon [evidently the famous originator of an outdoor school for Gypsies]…

Int:  “Did you know Don Andres?”

– Yes, I remember him from when I was very young.  He always went around on a black burro.  And all that gitanitas and all the gitanitos went to kiss his hand.  And we’d say, “give us a limosnita (alms)”, and kiss his hand.  And he always, because he was so good, he’d tell us “Yes, yes, children, I’m going to give you something, but go tell your mothers that they should come and give us some garbanzo beans and habichuela chickpeas, and tell them to always take you to school…”

Int:  “And you went to school?

– Yes, to the Ave Maria schools because there the gave us food to eat.  But to learn — no.  I don’t know how to read or write.”

[The interviewer writes]:  Antonia has unwittingly reminded us of a whole chapter in Spanish pedagogy of early in this century.  She has taken us to one of the pillars of our pedagogy, Father Manjon, the founder of the Schools of Ave Maria, the first attempt to create open-air schools.  The well-remembered Professor Gil Muniz described it thus:  “In 1889, our worthy compatriot established the permanent open-air schools in the countryside (en pleno campo), before Germany established its Chalottemburg Schools, before other countries did the same, before this naturalist movement reached the apogee we see today.”

Yes, these schools in one of Granada’s loveliest spots, the Valle de Valparaiso, following the lead of a poor teacher of a sick friend who, for a few cents per child, taught the rudiments of learning in a Gypsy cave on the road between the Sacromonte and Granada.”  The objective:  “to pick up the poorest and most humble, to educate, dress and feed them.”

Antonia, like so many other Gypsy children of her time, went there to eat, to get clean clothes, and to seek what would become her reason for being:  the dance.  That, of course, is not found in a school.  If the good Don Andres had only incorporated dance into his curriculum in the open air school, our protagonist would surely not be illiterate today.  But that was impossible then, and Antonia, like so many other Gypsy children, went to school only for warm food to fill her stomach or for something to cover her naked body…

But we return to this Gallina (hen) of the Sacromonte, who learned the dance from her elders, pursuing a part of herself that she knew she had in her blood, as so many of her own people do, all those who’ve had seats in the caves and have created and transmitted an original and distinctive form of flamenco dance…

– I could talk all day, remembering the Sacromonte, because it is my whole life, the only place I want to be is there!

[The interviewer writes]:  It’s the eternal story.  The Sacromonte was her place.  As with other new barrios (neighborhoods) the Poligono de la Cartuja was granted to the Gypsies of the Sacromonte as a place where they, and others who did not have adequate housing, could be relocated.  “This Poligono development is the Gypsy barrio now”, Antonia says.  “[It's nothing but] a ghetto”, say Francisco Manuel Diaz and Curro Albaycin who have accompanied us and served to introduce us to Antonia on this visit.  A humble barrio, disconnected from the atmosphere of Camino, and poor.  A peripheral barrio, like so many others in big cities, uniform and drab, without personality, unable to satisfy the basic and artistic needs of its people.  For this reason, Gallina vehemently says today — in much the same way that the artists Tragapanes and la Calzona have said about their relocation from Seville’s Triana district to drab outlying developments:

“I want to live where I was!  In the Sacromonte!  In my cave!  That’s what I want!”

She doesn’t know of any cure for the rheumatism [that influenced her decision to finally move from the damp caves], or for these alleged urban necessities.  Now she has more rooms that she can use, but she lacks the warmth of her cave, and misses the warmth of her people [in their former communal lifestyle].

Int:  “When were you born, Antonia?”

– Ay, child, I have a very bad memory.  I don’t remember…

Her husband speaks:  “She’s seventy.”

– Yes, that’s it.  I married him when the war ended (1939), when I was about twenty.  In May, the most beautiful month.  When the flowers cover the fields, and the Sacromonte is so lovely.  And the almonds are in bloom.  That’s why they threw so many almonds at me on my wedding day.”

Int:  “What were the weddings like, Antonia?”

– I’ll tell you.  The most important thing was to prove that the bride was a virgin.  They did the test of the handkerchief, and if it didn’t emerge stained, it meant she was not a mocita (damsel).  When it did, that showed that she was virgin, and the fiesta began.”

[The interviewer writes this verse from the alboreas, the wedding song of Andalucia’s gitanos]:

“Alevanta, padrino honrao,

alevanta y no duermas mas

que ya la novia l’han coronao”

(Arise, honored godfather,

sleep no more,

The bride has been crowned.)

The most sacred rite of the Gypsy people (esta raza) is here, in the proof of virginity of the female (hembra).  In fact, the entire Sacromonte would develop around these intimate rituals that flowered among these people who never stopped appreciating their significance.  It was the song and dance of the “alborea” that became the great celebration of feminine purity.  What other group gives such emphasis to the cult of the virginity of its women?  We don’t know how it would break the hermeticism (sealed-off, private quality) of the family if it is converted into a public spectacle.  But one can guess — and surely, what it presented to the public is nothing but a bad copy of this great and intimate fiesta of the families, celebrating honor maintained, the purity of the heritage, the glory of the caste, sublimated into the purity of the damsel.

Dichosa la mare

que tiene, pa dar,

rosas y claveles

por la madruga.

(Happy the mother

who has and can give

roses and carnations

for the morning).

[The "roses and carnations" would refer to the proof of virginity of the daughter.]

The male, born to become a patriarch, head of household (dueno) and master (senor) of honor and life, would raise a glass of wine in the universal toast.  No one would be more important that night than the father who offered his daughter, “casta y pura” (with her breeding and purity?), to guarantee the continuity of the “raza”.  No one could take from the young Gypsy boy the glory of taking unto himself a virgin who would then have to exemplify the tribe (tribu).  These were the attributes of the Gypsy.  His highest gift.

Esta noche mando yo

que manana mande quienquiera.

Que esta noche v’y a pone

por las esquinas, banderas.

(Tonight, I am in command (in charge; the boss).

I don’t care who’s the boss tomorrow.

But tonight, I’m going to

put flags on every corner.)

– Yes, the weddings would last three or four days.  They’d throw lots of almonds at the bride and drink wine from the shoe of the groom.  Wine and aguardiente.  The dance of the bodas (weddings) was the “albola” (alborea).  The “albola” ended with the “ana” [?].”

Int:  “And your wedding?”

[The interviewer writes]:

Antonia looks at her husband who has remained respectfully silent during the interview, and smiles at him.  The man, a solid Gypsy (bien plantado) is named Juan Heredia Gomez and he is from Santa Fe, though following his marriage he lived in the Sacromonte.  He has done everything, working the fields, selling goods from a burro, as a tradesman — everything that people did in that bygone Sacromonte to make a living.  Singing was something he only did in family fiestas, weddings and baptisms.  He does his little Gypsy songs (cantecitos gitanos) por solea, por martinetes… Military service and the war took him to Granada, and when he went up to the Sacromonte he met Antonia….

– My wedding (Antonia continues) was like all Gypsy weddings.  I was a virgin.  My husband when he came as a soldier to the Sacromonte — How handsome he was, he looked like an alferez (ensign)!  Well, he told me “You must be mine” (Que tu tienes que ser pa mi).  “Tota(l) que” (The upshot was) he carried me off (me rapto), and took me to the house of one of his aunts in Santa Fe, who gave me a bed next to her daughter, and said to her nephew as soon as she saw me, “My boy, yes, she is a beauty (si, es mozuela!); you can be proud…”  And then came the wedding, in the Sacromonte, and it lasted all day and all night.  All the Gypsies of Santa Fe and all those of the Sacromonte.  And there was singing and dancing, as in every Gypsy wedding.  And they made me a bed full of almond blossoms (llenica de almendras).  Afterwards, they kept singing and dancing…”

Int: “Did you keep working as a dancer after the wedding?”

– Of course!  It is my life!  Even if I arose at two or three o’clock, I wouldn’t miss it.  I endured such cold in that Camino — that’s the way I am!”

[The interviewer writes]:

The dance, always the dance in El Camino.  We’ll return to it.

We’ve come close, but it’s good to spell this out:  In the Sacromote, all the dances had something to do with the ritual of marriage between the Gypsy macho and the Gypsy virgin.  The “rapto” or carrying off, despite how it may appear, served as nothing more than a guarantee of virginity.  The bride was deposited in a secure domicile of a family member.  Then the groom went to her father and begged his partdon.  The dance that evokes this stealing of the bride is the Cachucha:

La cachucha de mi mare

s l’ha llevaito el viento

y yo de ti m’ha levantao

la luz del entendimiento.

Ven a mi,

ven a mi,

junto a mi vera

ven a mi.

The cachucha [?] of my mother

is gone with the wind,

just as I’ve taken from you

the light of understanding [?]

This dance, according to Ca[n?]dido Ortiz de Villajos in his book “Gitanos de Granada” was the apotheosis of the zambra.  All the singers, dancers and musicians took part in it, making a circle of song and jaleo (cheering) around the couple.  Other dances, much more piquant, completed the trio of dances of the zambra.  The were the mosca, and the petaco (the latter always danced by the oldest gitana with some movements of the belly (vientre), some “recortes de la barriga” [possibly movements implying pregnancy], that, because it was done by the eldest, took away the frivolity that would have characterized the same dance had it been done by young women), and they came to represent the mirth after the wedding — the jokes and carnal insinuations, far from the lyricism that imbues the alborea, or, as they call it, the “albola”.

When the dance lost its intimate character and emerged into the light, the gitanas found a means of making a living through the dance.  That is what all the gitanas of the Sacromonte would do.  And it’s what Antonia, too, would do.

– When I was ten, I went to become a dancer (iba a la danza).  I learned in the cave of “La Coja”, which was the first place there was.  We all wanted to learn better, so we could go to the cave of Manolo Maya where they had the best danzas and you could earn a little more money.  When I was fifteen, I went to dance in the cave of Manolo Maya.”

[The interviewer writes/says]:  “Nonetheless, as a historical fact we note the the first recordings made of the songs and dances of the Sacromonte were those of the “Cueva de la Coja”.

– That’s true.  It’s just that we went there first, when we were younger and starting out, and then moved on to Manolo Maya’s.  When I was in the cueva of Manolo Maya, that’s when (the very well-known dancer) Vicente Escudero came and took us to America, to New York.  And there we were, all of us — in America, without knowing anything about life there, or anything!  And all the gaches (non-Gypsies) there were staring at us because we didn’t even have hats, like other artists…  And la Jardin said “Let’s go buy some hats, so these gachos don’t look at us like that.”  I bought one, and Pepa la Gazpacha bought a beret (boina) and when her husband saw it he said “Take that evil-looking thing off your head!”  Anyway, all kinds of things happened there.  Vicente Escudero taught me to dance “El Amor Brujo”.  I did my little bailecitos, but when Vicente saw me he changed my role of ?echando cartas” so an older woman did it, and he made me the bailarina doing the dance of “Amor Brujo” which was a classical dance.”

Int:  “What were the dances you used to do, Antonia?”

– Bueno, I knew all the dances of Granada.  The fandango del Albaicin, la mosca, la cachucha, la albola, la zarabandilla, la buleria corri(d)a, which is a special dance of El Camino, la manchega, los tangos…”

Curro Albaycin [a key figure in Granada flamenco] says “Her strongest number was the “tango de falseta” [falseta usually means a melodic guitar variation, as opposed to rhythmic strumming] that only two great dancers have done — her, and Pepa la Gazpacha.  The two best dancers we’ve had in all our known history.  It’s a dance with many Arab influences.  The woman has to bend (doblar) at the waist a lot, and does a turn, completely doubled over, on the ground (al suelo).  And it has a very rhythmic step (paso).  It’s very much our own dance (Es un baile muy nuestro).”

Int:  “What costume (ropa) is customary in the danza?”

– A vesti(d)o de volantes, of percale, that we wash, iron, and put on clean every day.  And the flowers!  We carried a maceta of flowers on our head, flowers from the paths and fields.”

Int:  “Your favorite color for costumes?”

– Well, it depends.  Sometimes, granate [presumably the deep red color of cut pomegranates, seen in the liquer called Grenadine; Granada is the Spanish word for pomegranate], other times blue dots on a white dress.  And now I have one that I made to work in the galas that feature us old folks (the circuit of the ITEAF, an organization intended to benefit elderly artists, which later evidently failed), that’s very pretty, black with white polka dots, and the panoleta is the reverse.”

Int: Have you danced with “pololos”? [? --could it mean palillos -- castanets?]

– No, not me.  That was the very old days, la Jampona, la Jardin, the mother of Maria la Bizca, la Trinidad…”

Int:  “Who were the women who danced best in the Sacromonte?”

– Many.  For example, Maria la Gazpacha, who also sang very well, and who in Barcelona won a prize for singing saetas that was given to her by (the famous singer Manuel) Vallejo.  Also there was La Nina de los Peines, though she was not competing in the contest.  And Carmen Amaya, who was very little.”

Now, of dancers, the best of all was Chata la Jampona who did the soleares of back then (de antes)…  Then, also, Pepa la Gazpacha who was the dancer I learned from first because she was much older than I, and wonderful to watch.  My favorite was la Jardin who did the most gracioso (wonderfully graceful or appealing) things with her hands — and what desplantes (heelwork)!  That was the part I took from her — she was some gitana (una gitana de bandera).”

Int:  “Older than you?”

– Uy, she could’ve been my mother!”

Int:  “Others?”

– My aunt Antonia who also danced very well.  La Faraona, Los Cotorreros.  And the newer ones, Pepa la del Morote [could this be a member of the family of the brilliant guitarist Juan Maya "Marote", despite the spelling difference?], la Pata Perro…”

Int:  “Antonia, tell us some things you remember about people…”

– Well, the musician Angel Barrios often came to see me dance.  And a man named Franco who’d give us the bills of veinte duros (100 pesetas) each month.  He came to the Alhambra, and they sent me up there to dance…”

Int:  “Do you recall the tavern of Polinario and the atmosphere there?”

– Of course, it was on Agua street by the Royal Alhambra street, where my aunt Micaela lived.  But I don’t remember the artists there because I was so young — but there’s still a gitana here who was in the cuadro of that concurso they had in Granada [the famed 1922 Concurso de Cante Jondo].

Curro adds:  “There are two survivors, in fact — one, the one who danced the Petaco, Maria Amaya, who is 87.  And my aunt Angustias, who was a singer and is 84 or 85.”

Int:  “What are the cantes of Granada’s Gypsies?”

– The tangos!”

Curro agrees:  “The tangos, yes, with a lot of richness and variety.  The ones that Camaron does, and Lole y Manuel, and Morente, and Panseco (Pansequito) — well, they’re all from here, from this rich place.”

Int:  “The best singer?”

– Juanillo el Gitano, who was a monster.  And Paquillo el Gitano, but Juanillo was the best of all.  He sang the verse:

!Valgame Dios!

!Que alegria tiene toito el mundo,

que duquelas tengo yo!

(My God,

how happy everyone is,

and what sorrows I bear.)

Curro says:  “Anyway, in Granada, what we have is fundamentally the dance.  As for singing, not so much — but what there is, is good.  But the dance above all.”

Now Francisco Manuel speaks up:  “And the guitar”.  And a tertulia (discussion group) begins, giving our protagonist more time to speak freely.

Int:  “What guitarists do you remember from the caves, Antonia?”

– The Ovejillas — one was Juan, the other was Manuel.  They were payos (non-Gypsies) and very good artists.  And Manolo Maya, El Cotorrero, Tio Pata Perro, El Tranca (Pepe Tranca — Jose Maldonado Cortes), the Fajardos [possibly the same family as the late singer Rafael Fajardo]…”

Int: “Do you remember Tia Marina?”

– From the time I was a little girl, she would look for little beans on the streets.  Her father, who was called El Mandeli, played the guitar [presumably the dedicatee of the recording by the outstanding guitarist Pepe Habichuela called "A Mandeli"], and she sang, sitting in a chair.  And she did her little dances in the taverns.  Then she was in the zambras, in the cave of La Golondrina.”

Curro intervenes:  “Tia Marina was a gitana whose singing improved with age (ha ganado con los anos).  How long she lived!  She had some granainas that were espeluznantes (set your hair on end).  And also some tangos that are her own, because she didn’t live in the Sacromonte but in las Cuestas which is another barrio, and she adopted those tangos and made something priceless…”

Int:  “Getting back to the Sacromonte and its caves.  You told us, Antonia, about two specific caves, those of la Coja and Manolo Maya.  But what other caves, what other zambras were there in El Camino?”

– In the 1940′s they started those of La Golondrina, la Faraona, la de Rocio, la de Maria la Canastera…and the cueva de la Coja went to her nuera (son-in-law?) and became la Vitirola.”

Int:  “And now, what remains?”

– Well, there’s the cave of Rocio, and that of Chato which was mine…”

Int:  “You mean you owned a cueva?”

– Yes; look, all us bailaoras aspired to have our own zambra (cave), but in reality it couldn’t be.”

Her husband Juan, after his long silence, intervenes to clarify:  “It’s hard to explain, but there, when we had the cave, we couldn’t really live.  There were jealousies (envidias) and also the guardias (Guardia Civil troops?  Regular police?) were there all the time.  And they never let us alone.  It was all legal in my case, but there were other problems, because not all Gypsies are the same, if you get what I mean…

Int:  “How long did you have your own zambra, Antonia?”

– About three months.  The cave was very beautiful, and my daughter Trini and I danced there.”

The interviewer writes:  “Antonia tells us all that happened in selling her cueva — or her “zambra” as she calls it, to differentiate it from the casa-cueva or house-cave where she lived.  She talks of the pressures and the problems they had with someone we shouldn’t mention here, because it’s not our intention to reignite old rancors.  She angrily recalls how she had to abandon the cave without even getting her pictures, or her “Virgen de las Angustias”.  And how, pained even with her own spouse, she decided to leave and spend time with a daughter who was married and living in Torremolinos.”

– Yes, I went to live with my daughter.  And I set to work polishing everything, but then I told myself, “What with all I could earn with my little dances and with my “cartas” [cards -- for telling fortunes]…”

Int:  “You told fortunes with cards?  (Echaba las cartas?)”

– Of course!   I went into the cave, and did the cards.  Well, you know how it is.  I would guess what each person wanted most to hear, and that’s exactly what I would tell them.  If they were foreigners (extranjeras), I’d tell them they were going to meet a handsome Gypsy and fall in love with him — things like that…”

Int:  “Did you tell them all the same thing?”

– Hombre, I tried to tell them what I’d guessed they wanted to hear.  And I’d tell them never to tell anyone else what I had told them, or else the dream would not come true…”

[The interviewer writes]:  Antonia shows us a picture of her daughter Trini that they made for the entry tickets.  At the bottom you can see the cave full of peroles (copper pots) that they’d then try to sell to the foreigners.  Of course, they wouldn’t sell the antique ones.  Their zambra didn’t last long, as we’ve noted, but Juan and Antonia, with their many children, kept on living in their Sacromonte cave, behind the road, until just over a year ago, when her rheumatism and her children obliged her to move to the little house in the new Poligono.”

Int:  “Tell us about your cave-house, Antonita.”

– Well, it was like all of them.  It had three rooms.  The old folks slept in one, the men (machos) in another and the women (hembras) in the other.  To wash up we went outside, to the lebrillo.  And we made our meals in the jornillon (large oven).”

Int:  “What did you live on?”

– Whatever my husband made, selling things from his little burro, or in the tratos (as a tradesman), or from the little lettuces that he sold with vinegar for folks going up to the caves.  And what I earned from my danzas.”

Int:  “Did you earn a lot?”

– No, que va!  (No — are you crazy?)  They paid very badly in the danzas.  I think the most I ever made was veinte duros (100 pesetas).  Very little.  The only time you’d make money was when you left here.  With Vicente Escudero in New York, and in Paris.  I went there, doing “El Amor Brujo” and the Sacromonte dances .  And here in Granada, the time we made a “penicula” (pelicula — film) with Carmen Amaya, called “Maria de la O”.  That would’ve been the year 1936 or so.  And now, when they take us for the galas (presenting old artists).”

Int:  “How many of you went on the trip with Vicente Escudero?

– He took ten of us.  Mara la Pata Perro, el Cotorrero with the pandero, two guitarists — yes, about ten of us.  And imagine — we had to go on airplanes, and in elevators — we who had never once left our caves!”

Int:  “Other espectaculos?”

– I was in Madrid three times.  With the empresario named Vedrines, who also took us to Tetuan (a Spanish colony on the African coast);  And in 1929 we went to the Barcelona Exposition.  I was there twice, because we also went there to continue the shooting of the picture “Maria de la O”.  (Curro intervenes:  “You went there to make “Forja de Armas”, which my mother also appears in.”)  “No,” Antonio continues, “that was another one that we made later.  The first was “Maria de la O” that we started here and ended in Barcelona.  Here, La Lidia is where Carmen danced por alegrias.  And we danced the fandango, and Pastora Imperio — ay, how gracioso she was with her hat! — danced the tanguillos de Cadiz.  And then we danced the “albola” of the bride.”

Int:  “What did you think of Pastora Imperio and Carmen Amaya?”

– Carmen Amaya was the phenomenon, the best of all.  La Pastora was very graciosa, dancing and moving her arms.  But Carmen Amaya was the best ever.”

Int:  “How should the dances be done, Antonia?”

– Well, you have to know how to move the hands, the arms, the torso…  Everything has to be related.  And you have to know what to do with your feet (saber meter los pies).”

Int:  “Are your dances related closely to Arab dances?”

It is the three who answer: “Mucho!  (Very much so!)”  Curro Albaycin says:  “You have to remember that the Gypsies entered Granada with the Catholic Kings (Ferdinand and Isabelle, who reconquered it from the Moors).  And they were with the moriscos (remaining Moors) who lived on the mount (el Monte) and in the surrounding area of Granada.  From them the Gypsies learned their dances (sus bailes, sus danzas), and their way of life.  Just think that the Arabs were in Granada a lot longer that the Christians have been since the reconquest — they haven’t been here five hundred years (yet), while the Arabs were here for 800 years.”

Francisco Manuel says:  “The very word ‘zambra’ is an Arabic word.  Rhythmically, that flamenco form falls between the tangos and the tientos, and it is a very majestic dance that requries a bailaora (female dancer) of real stature (“hechura”) to dance it well.”

[The interviewer writes]:  Indeed, according to Ortiz de Villajos in his cited work, the word “zambra” is Arabic and, etymologically, it means “flute”.  It was originally danced accompanied by “zabeles” or Moorish flutes and other wind instruments similar to the dulzaina.  And for how long were these dances proscribed, forbidden by the dominant society?  How could the Gypsies, with the imitative abilites (facilidad mimetica) that characterizes them, adopt this folklore, and mix it with their own rituals and their own musical expression, archaic and Oriental?  How was this osmosis possible, and how did new and different rhythms appear, and a new and distinct art?  How long was it before they realized that their own musical fermentations would interest the broader society?  What did this have to do with the literary current of “costumbrismo” (interest in popular culture and folk customs) that characterized the first third of the Nineteenth Century?  Was the American writer Washington Irving, who lived for some time in the Alhambra, one who contributed most to building appreciation for this music, for these rhythms?

Books don’t give very many answers.  According to Ortiz de Villajos, the first public zambra performance took place in the Placeta del Humilladero and was organized by Antonio Torcuato Martin, apparently called “El Cojon” (the chronicler didn’t dare to give his name), or “El Cujon”, according to Francisco Manuel, who still has an early-style guitar that belonged to this Gypsy.  In that Zambra appeared the dancer Talones, Frasquirri with his wife Carmen la Pella, the Cagachines (the Cortes family), the Amayas, the Mayas…  It was evidently a non-Gypsy from Cordoba, named Marmol, who died in the local jail, who robbed the proceeds and ruined the proceedings.  Things continued at the hands of Pepe and Juan Amaya and their sisters Pepa and Trinidad, who started up the spectacle in a cave then called Ave Maria.  Manuela, the wife of Pepe Amaya, was a genius who ened up dancing in Brazil.  Chorrojumo was a Gypsy who danced in the Eighteenth-Century style.

The dance, in all its forms, was on the street, and so there appeaed, for whatever reason, a new cultural expression in Andalusia.  And many others, of unknown origin, from other roots, emerged in our country.

Putting aside these complications to return to realities, we see that Antonia has put on her shawl and flowers for photos.  ‘

Int:  “What singers moved you the most, Antonia?”

– Juanillo el Gitano, who sang por solea, por siguiriyas, por bulerias.  And Frasquito Yerbaguena!  He was very gracioso, and did some cantes that were so beautiful.  And la Gazpacha…”

Int:  “Guitarists?”

– Miguel de los Santos, who played for Frasquito.  And the ones I’ve mentioned from the cuevas.  And now, the Habichuelas.  But my memory is failing, and I keep forgetting names.”

Int:  “Why do you dance?”

– The Gypsies dance because we carry it in our blood.  And because we have to eat.  But our hearts call us to dance.  And from this joy the dance emerges.”

Int:  “Can the non-Gypsies (payos) do these dances?”

– Yes, though there’s that little special thing (pellizquito, from pellizco) that the Gypsies bring to it.  But there are castellanos (Castillians=non-Gypsies) who do these dances very well.  I’ll tell you something.   In the caves, not all the dancers were Gypsy, but were given to the Sacromonte.  You see, it often happened that Gypsy women picked up abandoned children or those who needed help, and they were raised among us.  And in other cases, Gypsy men married Castellano women or vice versa, but when we lived in El Camino or on the sides of the Sacromonte, well, we were all equal (toas eramos iguales).  My own children are almos all married to Castellanos.  My Tini, no — she’s married to a grandson of la Micaela.  But that’s the way it is here, we’re all the same (iguales), the Gypsies and the Castellanos…”

The interviewer writes:  “Time is passing.  We could keep talking to this woman for hours, for days, learning more about the history of her pueblo, this Sacromonte now virtually uninhabited and without the splendorous life that it used to have, when the dance was the unique and exclusive reason for being, for these people born for dancing.  Now virtually everything is lost.  These elderly Gypsies are a reserve of knowledge that is on the verge of extinction.  Those four galas a year for elderly artists serve as much to revalidate old forms and modes of expression, beautiful and rich in matrixes, as to bring some material help to these living relics, now spent by the years, in pain from the effects of years of dancing on their bodies and joints, their health — the only thing of value they had — now ruined by smoke and by rheumatism…

But we have benefitted from having found the heart and soul of the Sacromonte through the genius, the duende and the memory of this gitana who still conserves in her face traces of the beauty of her now-distant youth, and in her essence as a dance displays the ancestral manners of a people who knew how to maintain their existence and their purity through dance, through movement, through the divine rhythms of their timeless dances (bailes milenarios).  With this Antonia La Gallina, a pure Gypsy (gitana de pura cepa), from the branch of the Canasteras, Granadan by postin [?], this dancer from El Camino who has appeared in the great theaters of America and Europoe, who has appeared in two motion pictures, who lives, nonetheless, in the artistic anonymity of the humble people of the zambra, we have learned a little more about this lovely and important corner of the flamenco world that is the Sacromonte.

May God bless you, Antonia!  (“Que Dios se lo pague” — usually said to someone who has given one precious alms or assistance.)”

End of translation of interview by M. Herrera Rodas in Sevilla Flamenca number 48 of 1987.  Thanks for listening.

Brook Zern

October 25, 2011   No Comments