Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Singers – Information and Opinion

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

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

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

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

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

(My attempted clarifications appear in brackets.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then the final question:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BZ

January 27, 2017   No Comments

Everything You Didn’t Want to Know About El Planeta, The First Great Singer in Flamenco History – by Manuel Bohórquez – Translated with comments by Brook Zern

Translator’s Note:  Don’t even try to read this.  Admit that you didn’t even know that you didn’t want to know about El Planeta, because you probably never heard of him.  I just thought this should be translated and hung up on the internet for all eternity, or until I forget to pay the bill for my hosting service.

It’s a monument to the divine addiction that flamenco becomes for some aficionados.  A superb writer, author, researcher and flamenco critic, Manuel Bohórquez, subsumed himself into a daunting quest to determine once and for all the identity and the life details of the singer called El Planeta.  El Planeta, along with a singer known as Tío Luís el de la Juliana, was perhaps the earliest noted figure in flamenco song.

And at that dawn of flamenco time, being a singer didn’t mean changing a note of a siguiriyas or a soleares or a caña.  It meant inventing new and distinctive ways to sing those recently crafted forms, or even creating crucial new forms out of whole cloth, or bitter experience.

How hard was that?  Put it this way:  It’s fair to say that no important flamenco forms have been invented in the past century – not even in recent decades when every innovative artist would give his eye teeth to go down in history as the progenitor of such a monumental creation.

This article is a labor of love devoted to history’s first noted – even “high-profile” for his epoch – flamenco singer, and an homage to flamenco itself.  It is remarkable not because people care, but precisely because hardly anyone cares.

I came to flamenco thinking of El Planeta as a ghost in the fog of time, an unreal being, existing only in passed-down stories.  (The impression was only reinforced by hearing his eerie signature siguiriyas as recorded by Pepe Torre, son of the immortal Gypsy genius Manuel Torre – it seems to come from beyond the grave.)

Imagine my consternation when one of my flamenco friends who takes a less romantic view of the art called me one day.  “Hey,” he said, “guess what I just found in a crumbling newspaper in the Madrid archives.”

“I give up,” I said.

“It’s an ad,” he said, “an ad for a throat gargling product.  It’s an endorsement by a singer, who says he uses it twice a day to keep his voice in great shape.”

I didn’t like where this was going.

“And guess who the product endorser is,” he said gleefully.

“I give up,” I said.

“Well, who is the earliest great flamenco singer, so mysterious his real name is unknown, a guy you assume sang in dank cellars for three initiates after finishing his day job as a galley slave or being a condemned prisoner – the guy who wrote that kvetchy verse asking the moon to free his father from prison, which you imagine him singing outside the jail hoping his father might hear him before being executed…”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “We seem to have a bad connection.”

I hung up.

Here’s the full-on dose of reality-check:

In Search of the Lost “Planeta”

Article from the blog of the noted flamenco expert Manuel Bohórquez [the url is below -- and it also includes more than a hundred comments from dozens of other obviously obsessive-compulsive Spanish flamenco nuts].

The legendary singer and guitarist called El Planeta is considered to be the first great maestro of cante andaluz [Andalusian song, in this case flamenco song], but until now we have only known him by his artistic nickname.  The costumbrista writer [focusing on ethnic and folkloric customs] Serafín Estébanez Calderón (1799-1867) made him known in his celebrated account “Un baile en Triana” (published in El Heraldo in 1842), but gave no biographical information.  Antonio Machado y Álvarez “Demófilo”, in his book “Colección de Cantes Flamencos” (1881) said El Planeta came from Cádiz without providing enough useful data to try to learn more from parish records and crumbling municipal records.  Without knowing his first and last names it was practically impossible to determine where he came from, when he was born, whether he had married and had children, and above all, where and when this historic artist had died.  In an article from a Madrid publication, La Iberia, from May, 1856, about a book by a barber from Seville named Joselito Pantoja, it was reported that he was from Malaga  and that he had composed for Señor Pantoja “a caña and a soleá” [two important flamenco forms].  The words? The music?  It’s quite revealing that El Planeta in that time period should already have had this recognition as a creator.  In another article, this one by the Malaga writer and politician José Carlos de Luna, in the newspaper ABC of April 27, 1962, el Planeta was also identified as being from Malaga and it was claimed that he had paid for the Silver Key of Flamenco Song  [“llave de plata del cante”], given to Tomás “El Nitri” in Malaga’s Café Sin Techo [Open Air Café].  Finally, Rafael Benítez Caballero, author of the work titled “El Barquero de Cantillana” – edited in 1894 – referred to him also as “el Tío Antonio “El Planeta”:  “I passed by a store of montañesas where there was a juelga [usually “juerga” – a flamenco gathering that is comparable to a “jam session”], and among others, I heard Tío Antonio El Planeta sing, and it couldn’t have been better or more charged with feeling [que no cabía más de bien y de sentimiento.]

How could we discover his personal data without knowing his [apellidos – his father’s name and mother’s name]?  There was only one way: by analyzing the birth information of [the great flamenco singer] Manolo Caracol, his great-great grandson, despite the fact that wise and well-informed investigators have always doubted that this genius from Seville’s Lumbreras Street was in fact the great-great grandson of the man called “the King of the Polos” [another important flamenco song form].  The task was not easy, but at some point it would be necessary to embark on the impassioned and burdensome venture of localizing the first documented, influential singer of cante jondo [deep song, the most serious and demanding branch of flamenco song].  If we sought information about the maternal great-great grandfather of Manolo Caracol and found that he was named Antonio and that he was from Cádiz, it was clear that we would be arriving at a good place [buen puerto], and this is indeed what happened.  In the birth records of Manuel Ortega Juárez, Manolo Caracol, I found the names of his grandparents, both from Malaga as would be expected: Gregorio Juárez Monge and Francisca Soto Ramírez.  Localizing them was complicated, but after an arduous investigation in the census or registry [padrón] of Malaga the hoped-for miracle came to pass, and there appeared the records a presumed grandfather of El Planeta, the above-mentioned Gregorio Juárez Monge.

[copy of document captioned “Birth certificate of Gregorio Juárez Monge, grandson of El Planeta and grandfather of Manolo Caracol, Malaga, October 6, 1854,]

On discovering his birth certificate in Malaga I confirmed beyond a doubt that his maternal grandfather was named Antonio and that he was from Cádiz.  We already knew that El Planeta was named Antonio Monge.  The next step was to find details about the mother of Gregorio Juárez, who turned out to be named Dolores Monge Bara – that is, a daughter of El Planeta whom I discovered to have married José Juárez García, 32, of Malaga, in the Parish of San Juan de Malaga  Since they lived on 1 San Juan Street in Malaga, the records from 1852 gave me the second apellido of El Planeta, which was Rivero, and the name and the two apellidos of his wife, María Bara Gallardo, also from Cádiz.  Demófilo was right when he stated the the mythic singer was from the 3000-year-old city of Cádiz.  Joselito Pantoja and José Carlos de Luna weren’t far off, because El Planeta soon left the city of Cádiz after marrying and having his last child, Tomás, to move to Malaga around 1836, where he married off some of his descendants and where he died, quite old for that epoch.

Antonio Monge Rivero “El Planeta” was from Cadiz, where he was born about 1789.  He may have been born on Marzal Street – known today as Vea Murguía – in the old Barrio de San Antonio.  The son of Gregorio Monge and Francisca Rivera, also from Cadiz, he married María Bara Gallardo of Cádiz when both were young.  He had at least seven children in Cádiz between 1810 and 1834 – in birth order, Antonia, Tomasa, Francisco, Dolores, María Dolores, María Magdalena and Tomás.  It’s likely that there were more, and that they died.  In fact, in the Census List of Cádiz the names of the first two children do not appear.

It wouldn’t be very absurd to think that El Planeta was the son of Tío Gregorio who was described in a countryside fiesta by the Cádiz writer José Cadalso in his Cartas Marruecas [Moroccan Letters], in the last third of the Eighteenth Century.  Those letters were first published in the Correo de Madrid in February of 1793 and four years later they appeared in a book published by Sancha.  The military man never saw them published because Cadalso, who was born in Cádiz in 1741, died in 1782.  That writer tells us that this Gregorio was a Gypsy butcher from Cádiz who, moreover, was in jail for stabbing someone during the city’s Fair, which might explain the verse of siguiriyas [a key form of cante jondo or deep song], “para que saque a mi pare, que verlo camelo”  [To take out (set free) my father, whom I wish to see.  [Camelar is a verb in caló, the language of Spain’s gypsies; the Spanish verb would be querer.]  Of course, it’s very difficult to prove that Tío Gregorio would be the father of our singer, although that’s quite possibly the case, because at that time there weren’t many butchers with that name, according to the census of Gypsies of the era.  This matter remains pending for a possible biography of  the artist.

As I’ve indicated, Dolores Monge, one of the daughters of El Planeta, married a man from Malaga named José Juárez García on October 31, 1852.  El Planeta lived then at 1 San Juan Street with his wife and two of their childrend.  His daughter Dolores had one daughter, Antonia Juárez Monge, on August 6, 1853, at 19 Santos Street in Malaga, who was baptized in the Parish of San Juan on August 12 of that same year.  In 1854 he had Gregorio, also at Santos Street, who was married in Malaga to Francisca Soto Ramírez of that same city.  One of their daughters, Dolores Juárez Soto, also of Malaga, first married a man from that city who died from a knife wound  in the city, mediating during a street brawl.  The young widow started a laundry and ironing business in Malaga and there she met Manuel Ortega Fernández “Caracol Viejo” [Caracol the Elder]; with him she gave birth to Manolo Caracol on Lumbreras Street in Seville, on the Alameda [a famed flamenco neighborhood], in July of 1909.  From this we see that Antonio Monge “El Planeta”  was the maternal great grandfather of the Seville singer, as the artist always said, and as he sang to the four winds in this poem of Antonio Murciano of Arcos:

Great-great grandson of El Planeta,

Great grandson de Curro Durse…

Manolo Caracol led me to his great-great grandfather El Planeta, and Planeta, when we followed his descendants in Malaga in an impassioned voyage through time, led us back to the genius from Seville.  It was an investigation that someone had to make someday to clarify something fundamental for the history of flamenco song, although there are those who don’t give any importance to putting flamenco genealogies in order – something that for us is fundamental.

According to the Padrón of Malaga, Antonio El Planeta lived for twenty years in the city of [the great flamenco singer] La Trini, with most of that time spent on the central street of San Juan where the shops were – silversmiths, antique dealers, artisans, printers, etc.  By profession he was a cortador, that is, a butcher or talajero, as they say in Cádiz, surely with his own butcher shop where he employed two of his children, Francisco and Tomás, though the former was also a printer by occupation according to the census of the period.  The artist had to have reached an acceptable economic position, because during some of his years there he had servants, something almost impsosible for a Gypsy family in those times – the mid-Nineteenth Century.  One of those servants was Catalina Liñán of Malaga.

San Juan Street is today one of the most animated in Malaga, ever since it was made a pedestrian way and filled with businesses.  When Planeta lived there with his whole family – wife, children and a few others such as his nephew, the Cadiz singer Lázaro Quitana Monge – it was also an animated street.  In the same house where El Planeta lives was the posada La Corona, where merchants and people of the bohemia of that era lived.  There was also a shop that sold colored glass items for wall-niches, as well as a tavern or two and food stores. It was a centrally-located street, very well situated, near the Alameda and the [principal street] calle Larios, where there were cafés like Don Andrés Ruiz’s Café de la Loba, on the Plaza de la Constitución, one of Malaga’s oldest establishments with the richest flamenco history until it closed on March 31, 1902.

[picture of page:  Padrón [official record] of Malaga of 1852.  El Planeta lived on San Juan Street.  He’s the first listed and appears with two of his children.  It’s interesting [curioso] that he is given the honorific of “don”, something quite extraordinary in that era where a Gypsy was concerned.]

According to my data, the artist must have lived in Malaga in the mid-1830’s, after the birth of his last child, Tomás, in Cadiz on September 8, 1834.  He would have taken advantage of the fact that in those years that city became one of the major exporters of iron [hierro] – the singer was an ironworker [herrero], it seems, as well as a butcher – and the fact that the textile business of the Larios family and of the meat markets offered employment opportunities in Malaga.  That was in addition to the seaport, a source of riches, with significant exports of wine and olive oil.  In 1856 the Bank of Malaga was created, which shows that money was flowing in the city and the entire province, something important in the Cadiz singer’s reaching a solid economic status and deciding not to ever return to Cadiz or to emigrate to other cities of Andalusia.    The fact that he lived for so long at the same domicile, 1 San Juan Street, is significant considering that most families changed residences often to recover the deposit money that was required to rent a home.

[picture:  El Planeta (guitar in hand) with [the singer] El Fillo in the famous Fiesta in Triana as described by Serafín Estébanez Calderón.]

As a consequence, it’s more than likely that our protagonist never lived in Triana [Seville’s Gypsy neighborhood], at least in a fixed residence, but went where his services as a singer were requested, as in the instance of the famous fiesta described by Estébanez Calderón on Castilla de Triana Street, as published for the first time in El Heraldo of December 1, 1842.  Five years later, in 1847, the Malaga writer’s famous book appeared.  El Planeta still lived on the central San Juan Street in Malaga.  A year later, in 1848, the Semanario PIntoresco Español published a lovely story about a dance in San Juan de Aznalfarache [a town near Seville] in which El Planeta was called “The King of the Brave [Bravura] Singers”.  That same year he lived in Malaga, in that same house.  Nonetheless, the fiesta described by Estébanez Calderón took place in 1838, when the Malagan author, who used the pseudonym El Solitario, was the governor of Seville.  It’s possible that El Planeta was living in Triana at that time, though this is not documented.  It’s even hinted that he had a son with a woman from Triana, without any basis.  Surely, since he was a moneyed Gypsy of the time with his own lucrative butcher business, he would have moved around a lot in Andalucía and the rest of the country.  Indeed, his arrival in Madrid was announced with a certain interest when he got there with the flamenco singer María La Borrica, the celebrated sister of El Viejo de la Isla [another legendary early singer].  He must have had a certain renown and prestige as a singer, recognized as the maestro [teacher/master] of artists as important as Francisco Ortega El Fillo and the no less celebrated Lázaro Quintana Monge, whom we find living with him in his house in Malaga in 1850, and who was also a cortador by trade.  In summarized accounts, it can now be stated without fear of contradiction that Antonio Monge Rivero El Planeta was the maternal tatarabuelo [great-great-grandfather] of Manolo Caracol and the bisabuelo [great-grandfather] of Caracol’s mother, Dolores Juárez Soto, although this has been put in doubt many times.

In his first years as an artist, he was known simply as Antonio Monge, or Señor Monge.  The use of El Planeta as his artistic surname, would have come much later, and it seems he got the nickname in Malaga for being an aficionado of the stars, according to the conclusions of some flamencologists, although I have another theory that I’ll reveal at the right time.  In fact, one of the his few verses that have survived until now is among the most primitive and beautiful siguiriyas gitanas [Gypsy siguiriyas] that one can hear today:

A la luna le pío,

la del alto cielo,

Como le pío, le pío,

que me saque a mi pare

de donde está metío.

I ask [or beg] the moon,

She [or it] of the high skies.

How I ask, how I ask

that she takes out [frees] my father

from where he’s been put [jailed?].

This beautiful cante has come to us through Pepe Torre, the brother of [the supreme Gypsy singer] Manuel Torre and the grandfather of the present-day singer José el de la Tomasa, who [Pepe Torre] recorded it in the Antología del Cante Flamenco (Columbia, 1960), through the initiative of the [late, great Gypsy singer] Antonio Mairena, who also recorded it as the sigiruiyas of El Planeta, as did the [late, important Gypsy singer] Rafael Romero “El Gallina”.  Notwithstanding, it’s a siguiriyas that has vanished from the repertoire of today’s singers, becoming a relic of extraordinary beauty and enormous musical rarity.

Despite everything that has been uncovered about Antonio Monge Rivero and his family, and being absolutely sure that this man is in fact [the legendary] El Planeta, it’s a bit unnervering, daba cierto miedo [“it gave a certain fear”] to close this investigation without having found anywhere the irrefutable proof that we are dealing with the historical Cádiz artist.  As far as can be known, his name never appears in any periodical along with the nickname.  Following the trail of his son Francisco in the records of Malaga, once the artist himself had died I found the necessary proof,  His son appeared as Francisco Monge Planeta instead of as Francisco Monge Bara, his actual family name.   Since his father had died, the records from 1859 used the father’s nickname instead of his second apellido [family name], perhaps as an homage to his progenitor or because whoever had the task of filling in the page didn’t know his family name but knew the nickname [el apodo familiar].  Or because he simply confused the apodo with the apellido.  After months of work, I was able to state with certainty that the Antonio Monge Rivero who was so intensely scrutinized in records was the celebrated El Planeta, the great Gypsy singer of Cadiz.  Nonetheless, to assure myself even further, in following the records of all his children I found one of his grandchildren [nietos] in Malaga, Tomás, who in the end turned out to be Tomás Monge (a) Planeta as he was often called in the newspapers of 1872 when he worked as a banderillero [one who places barbed sticks into a bull’s back during a bullfight] with the grandchildren of his paisano El Lavi.

[picture:  “Records page in which El Planeta’s son Francisco gives his father’s nickname as his second apellido.  The singer Lázaro Quntana appears as “agregado” [added to the family?].

Nor was it easy for me to find El Planeta’s death certificate.  I followed the Malaga records until his house on San Juan Street was listed as vacant, in 1857.  When he didn’t appear as living with his daughter Dolores, on Santos Street, or with his other daughter, María Magdalena, on Lagunillas Street or Granada Street, it was clear that he had died in 1856.  In fact, Antonio Monge El Planeta died in his same house in Malaga, on San Juan Street, on September 30, 1856, as a result of “cerebral congestion”.  According to the death certificate, the singer was 65 years old and was a “merchante” by trade – that is, a seller/vendor of goods without a fixed store.  Although it’s possible that the word is “marchante”, a synonym for “commerciante” [dealer, businessman].  After reposing in the Parish of San Juan, right beside his house, his body was buried the same day, probably in the Cemetery of San Miguel, where he received a Christian sepulcher, because the certificate of burial found in the Municipal Archives of Malaga, lacks that data.  As he was a person of some importance in Malaga, his burial would have been noted, but the local press of the time made no note of this news that I’ve found.  I suppose that El Planeta, at the age of 70, had been forgotten as a singer, and was dedicated to his business and to enjoying his grandchildren, those of Francisco, Dolores and María Magdalena, because Tomás, who was a “cómico” [comedian] by trade, was still a bachelor in 1863.

[picture:  Original document concerning the burial of el Planeta in the Municipal Archive of Malaga, dated September 30, 1856.  You can’t imagine the emotion I felt when I had this in my hands.]

His children continued as butchers, being cortadores or tablajeros.  This was the business of Manolo Caracol’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother, José Juárez García and Dolores Monge, who lived on Santos Street.  Also Planeta’s daughter Magdelena, who married a man from the town of Jijona in Alicante, Manuel Bretón, soon becoming widowed and alone managing a prosperous butcher shop at 128 Granada Street.  Francisco Monge was also a butcher, and had a number of children, among them Tomás Monge Planeta, a well-known Malagan banderillero, and Francisco Monge El Guarrirro, who married the dancer Rita Ortega Feria, a butcher of jurdó [with money]and lots of gracia [style, flair].  Tomás, the youngest son of El Planeta, remained a bachelor and dedicated himself to comicidad (comedy) as a trade, though he never got very far.

Up to this point, these are the most interesting personal details of Planeta’s agitada [rough, unsettled] and impassioned  life that I’ve been able to find – a man who is so often cited in books and specialized flamenco publications but of whom so little was known.  Now we know who he was and what was involved in his initiation into the flamenco art, in creating and making known his songs and in molding the art of other interpreters who spread his musical legacy when he died, notably El Fillo, Frasco el Colorao, Lázaro Quintana, Paquirri el de Cádiz, Silverio Fanconetti, Tomas El Nitri and many more, making an almost interminable list.

Wherever you may be, Tío Planeta, thanks for everything.  [Tío is a term of respect and affection for an elder – but quite different from the rare honorific “don”, which was applied to El Planeta at least once above; it has only been commonly applied to the immortal and very dignified non-Gypsy singer Antonio Chacón, and more rarely to the great and very dignified Gypsy singer Antonio Mairena.]

I hope you may forgive us for all those forgotten years, that lamentable historic abandonment that I have tried to remedy with humility and much love.  As the saying goes, nunca es tarde si la dicha es buena [better late than never].

[picture:  The Cemetery of San Miguel at the time of Antonio Monge “El Planeta”.  He was buried in niche number 370 of the First Patio, with no more honors than the tears of his own people.]

This investigation has reached its goal thanks to the inestimable help of my wife, María de los Ángeles Ojeda.  Thank you for your many hours of sacrifice at my side, codo con codo [shoulder to shoulder], and putting up with my long and continued absence from home, because I almost had to go and live alone in Malaga to do this research.

Translator’s note:  And thank you, Don Manuel.

Note:  the original is found at:  http://blogs.elcorreoweb.es/lagazapera/2011/02/20/en-busca-de-el-planeta-perdido-2/

January 24, 2014   No Comments

1996 article/interview with El Chocolate – translated with comments by Brook Zern

1996 article/interview with El Chocolate – translated with comments by Brook Zern

This article/interview by Teresa Sesé about the fabulous flamenco singer El Chocolate appeared in La Vanguardia of May 16, 1996.  (As usual, parentheses were in the original articles; anything in brackets is explanatory.)  My comments appear below.

Chocolate:  “I’m not a strange singer, I’m a delicate singer [or: a sensitive singer].”

It is said of Antonio Núñez “Chocolate” (born in Jerez de la Frontera in 1931) that he is “un raro genial” [a strange, peculiar or eccentric genius].   But he says that people shouldn’t confuse eccentricity with delicateness and that he, like some singers from the past, is “un cantaor delicao” [a delicate singer; possibly a sensitive singer].  And he says, for example, that to sing well one must like “the faces of the public” and that, sometimes, an inopportune movement in the audience can eradicate inspiration.  “But does this make me raro?  No, this is the mystery of an ancient way of communicating [una communicación milenaria] – the delicacy or sensitivity of the flamenco singer.”

Revered by aficionados and possessing one of the most singular personalities in the world of flamenco song of the Twentieth Century.  Chocolate will sing tonight at he Pati de les Dones del Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona.  The second half of the recital will feature the singer Miguel Poveda and the guitarist Chicuelo.

For Chocolate, flamenco song, like the bullfight [toreo] is an art of inspiration.  And to round out a good bullfight [cuajar una buena faena] one must be a gusto [feeling good – or perhaps, “in the zone”].  “It’s important to note that the public welcomes me and inspires me [me anima].  I like it when they shout encouragement [me jaleen] at the end of each song, that they clap for me, because si se aplatanan, I get the feeling that they don’t understand me, and it brings me down.”

Born in the province of Cádiz [i.e. Jerez] and raised in Seville from childhood, Chocolate got his name from his loved of cacao.  He learned to sing at the same time he learned to walk and talk, and he sang on the trains going to Huelva or Alcalá de Guadaira, in the city streetcars or for the wives of the Guardia Civil military police at at a barracks near his house in exchange for a hot meal.  “Buenooo, if I arrived to sing in the middle of a fight…” he jokes.  But for him, the real game was soccer.  “I was better than anyone with both feet, but I earned money first from singing.  One night they gave me five duros [25 pesetas, about a quarter] in the Alameda de Hercules [a legendary center of Seville song] and I immediately gave up football.”

Chocolate has shared stages with Juanito Mojama, el Niño Gloria, La Moreno, Tomás Pavón, La Niña de los Peines, Manolo Caracol…; he sang for the dancer Manuela Vargas and for Carmen Amaya in the film “Los Tarantos”; and he owns the most important prizes and awards in the realm of flamenco.

Singing that wounds [Un cante doliente]

Even so, his fame has not spread much beyond the limited circle of aficionados (though his appearance in Carlos Saura’s film “Flamenco” left a number of spectators nailed to their seats.)  “The pure flamencos, the basic ones – we don’t work every day; what I do isn’t flamenco pop or whatever they call that stuff nowadays.  It is still an art for a minority,” he argues, and then adds, “You know what’s happening?  I like myself a lot [me gusto mucho] – only when you get to that point do you learn to sing – I’m enamored of myself.  And because I like myself so much, there are times when I say, why should I go somewhere when I won’t be good.  It’s better to just sing for myself, no?”

Because the song, he reflects, has to hurt [tiene que doler].  And he laments the fact that today we are not seeing new “cantaores de pellizco [singers who give you chills, give you goosebumps.]  I wouldn’t want to die without continuadores [who will carry on that way of singing].  I’m sad to see youngsters who do not transmit the grief and lament in the songs.  Today everyone wants to create.  And the song is a very old art that is already fully formed [que ya está hecho], an art that has its seasons, its stops and starts, its temperament… Those of us who live this way are disappearing.  And then, what will happen?”

End of article.

Well, El Chocolate did indeed disappear, though he lived long enough to win a Grammy [his refreshing response:  ”Que es un Grammy?‘] and to tolerate my backstage harangue about how great he was and how lucky I was to have known him in Seville in the mid-sixties.  And we know what happened after he left us: The once-dominant notion that someone like him [did I mention that he happened to be a Gypsy?] may occasionally have something that certain other people don’t have, has gone from unfashionable to anathema.

In fact, today’s in-step aficionados would sincerely lament missing this concert — but only because the second half showcased an up-and-coming Barcelona singer named Miguel Poveda who has become the most important singer of our time.  [Did I mention that Poveda happens to be a) not a Gypsy; b) not raro; and c) a true genius and a master of virtually all significant flamenco song forms, as well as a wonderful guy?]

I was astonished to learn that El Chocolate got his name from his childhood love of cacao [c.f. Sabicas, who loved habicas or garbanzo beans].  I had casually misreported or fabricated the “fact” (I hope I’d heard somewhere) that he got his name from the color of his unusually dark skin.

I recall that he sang all the time — not flamenco, but Spanish songs and advertising jingles and whatever — though he didn’t like the Beatles songs (apparently because of intervals that were bigger than he was comfortable with).

I also recall that to my utter surprise, he gave a very technical and detailed singing lesson to my friend Anita Volland, who had already learned a lot of the songs of the immortal Niña de los Peines.  I had warned her that El Chocolate was obviously an instinctive genius who had no idea how he did what he did. Fortunately, Anita knew better.

Times change, tastes change.  El Chocolate’s notion that change in flamenco is not just unnecessary but inappropriate now seems not just unfashionable but absurd.

A lot of successful singers insist that Gypsy artists were overvalued until the world recently wised up; some seem to be dancing on their graves, or they would if they could dance.

But some discerning people still have a soft spot for the old perspective.  Among the artists who make clear their respect and admiration for the Gypsy contribution to flamenco, I’d say the massively popular Miguel Poveda — who will soon appear in Madrid’s huge bullring — is the main man.

June 2, 2013   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Antonio Chacón Speaks – interview from La Voz of June 28th, 1922 – translated by Brook Zern

Cante Gitano [Gypsy Flamenco Song]

Speaking with the Maestro Chacón

Article in La Voz of June 28th, 1922 by Luis Bagaria [evidently a gifted illustrator, judging from a caricature of Don Antonio Chacón – the “Don” would soon become a universal and unique expression of respect for Chacón – that accompanied the article.]

[subhead]  The decadence of the art [of flamenco].  The malagueñas of Juan Breva and of El Mellizo.  How Antonio Chacón got his start, and how the fear of singing made him celebrated for his malagueñas. Those “siguirillas” [siguiriyas]!  Those soleares!  Those tonás!  Those livianas!

Pardon me, reader, if once again I meddle in areas that are not part of my profession, and go into things for which God has not called me.  Be kind to me, because after all, you and I are Spanish, and we are all accustomed to such gentle tolerance,

The other day I was passing by the door of Los Claveles, when a friendly voice invited me in for a chato (glass of wine). I confess, hand over my heart, that it was not hard for me to accept; not only because the invitation was so readily acceptable,  but because it came from none other than Antonio Chacón himself, the catedrátrico (professor) and amo (master) of the art.

“My dear Bagaria. How are those caracoles [snails – also the name of a song Chacón likely created that praised the city of Madrid] coming along?”, synthesizing in that question his kind judgment about my drawings.

And after my somewhat evasive answer, he continued:

“I already know that you’ve been tangling with the trade of writing.”

I rejected that supposition with a vehemence inspired by my respect and friendship toward actual writers.  But I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to talk, and indicated that I would like to talk to him about the “cante jondo” [“deep song”, a term reserved for a select few of flamenco’s many forms, considered the most profound, often tragic, and most emotionally powerful of all flamenco songs].

“Stop right there,” he interrupted, with a certain severity.  “You should call it “cante gitano” [Gypsy song] – none of this “cante jondo” business.

[Translator’s note: Antonio Chacón was not a Gypsy – he was in fact the greatest non-Gypsy singer in the history of flamenco; yet here he is insisting that this facet of the art is Gypsy – a claim that many non-Gypsies of that era, and an increasing number of non-Gypsies today, are denying with ever-increasing vehemence.  They are in effect disagreeing with the man they consider the paradigm of flamenco artistry and expertise.  See my further comments following the interview.]

Bueno, as you wish.  The fact is that you, who in this matter are the supreme authority, are speaking to the readers of this publication, La Voz, about cante gitano.”

“Fine – I am at your disposition, Bagaria my friend.”

I began the interrogation with the natural hesitancy of one who, not even being a student, would quiz the head of a great university.

“Was flamenco singing better in the old days than today?’

“For the songs that one hears today, it is not necessary to study the way it was back then.  Then, before one began to sing, one had to be “someone”.  Today anyone can dedicate himself to the the song.  That is clear from the case of the old man Bermúdez – [Diego Bermúdez “El Tenazas”, an almost unknown singer who was the surprise winner of the 1922 Contest of Cante Jondo in Granada organized by Manuel de Falla and others who feared that the authentic deep song was being lost and hoped to revive interest in the art; Chacón was among the judges] – who despite his defects, was admired by everyone for his art , because he knew how to overcome the difficulties in singing the caña and the polo [two nearly forgotten forms that were considered keystones of serious flamenco song, but are not given such importance today.]

“Do you believe, then, that the cante is in a state of decadence?”

“What I believe is that if the songs sung today had the importance of the older styles, the art would not have lost its prestige, it would not be disrespected as it is today [“no se hubiera llegado al desprestigio de hoy”].

“But you realize that eminent artists of today have given great realce (splendor) to the art.”

“That’s true.  It owes the importance it has today to the painter Zuloaga and the composer Manuel de Falla.  But you can’t deny that it’s also a sad turn of events that it took the likes of these illustrious artists to give us  their hand, and raise us up from the decadence into which we had fallen.  It’s sad that it was not we ourselves who could do enough to raise us up.  Every day I explain myself less (not today, when I’m old, but even when I was young) about how we have lost the memory of the beautiful siguiriyas of Curro Dulce, and in general, all the songs of Silverio Franconetti [a key figure in the creation story of flamenco – one of the very few non-Gypsies in that role].  It has to be due to the fear of not being able to surmount the huge difficulties presented by the songs of these two men.  What can you say about those serranas, those cabales of Silverio, and those soleares of Paquirri?”

“In view of the fact that I have nothing to say about all this, please continue, my friend.”

“If the old man Bermúdez had sung these things in the Reina Victoria theater in Seville, the public would have seen the truth of what I’m saying.  Of course, that’s discounting the limitations that are to be expected in a man of seventy and who had not sung for many years.”

“And tell me, what is the cause of the decadence of cante gitano?”

“To me, the main cause was the great success of Juan Breva with his malagueñas.  The public was dazzled, and followed him, and ungratefully forgot the songs of the past.  Yes, it’s true that Juan Breva within his own sphere had real merit.  Then came El Canario, who with his delicious [delectable; accessible and easy-to-listen-to-and-love] song drew that public further away from the idea of the [rougher, unpretty, harder to appreciate] cante gitano.  And, if that weren’t enough, along came the exquisite singer Enrique el Mellizo, who knew how sing very seriously in the siguiriyas and admirably in the soleares [both deep song forms traditionally attributed to Gypsy creators], but who threw himself completely into the realm of the malagueñas – and while he sang them as I’ve never heard anyone else sing them, he abandoned the pure art [arte puro] and delivered himself over to the tastes of the era.”

“And you do not wish to speak of yourself?”

“Well, in my first years as a singer I started singing the siguiriyas, but with great pain and regret I had to abandon them (to appeal to the public, it’s understood) and follow the new trend created by Juan Breva, and El Canario, and Enrique el Mellizo.  And now you see me as a prisoner of the malagueñas.  However many thousands those malagueñas have given me (though I have nothing left), I am sorry about the way the old songs have been forgotten; I miss them, and when I see an old man like Bermúdez singing the old songs in the old way, my heart goes out to him, because I am a true admirer of my chosen art.”

“How did you begin to sing?”

“Well, listen.  The first time I sang was in Cádiz, in 1886, in the fair of Perejil.  I went to sing the siguriiyas, and when I had sat down beside the great [guitarist] Patiño I saw Enrique el Mellizo come in with his brother Mangoli and a group of intelligent aficionados and, to tell you the truth, I was afraid to sing the siguiriyas, and sang the malagueñas instead.  You could say that from that incident I drew my personality, my public persona.  The applause drove me to create various new styles of malagueñas.  Silverio heard about me, we met, and in 1887 he took me to appear in his famous café cantante in Seville.”

I asked Antonio Chacón for his view of modern singers, since he had given such interesting data about the older generations; but I could see that he wanted to dodge the question, and I didn’t insist.  He just told me, “That’s something I have to leave to the evaluation of those who listen to them.”

Giving a new direction to the conversation, I asked, “Which is the purest song?”

“The toná and the liviana are the purest, because they have their own rhythm, and there is no way to get away from it, not this way or that way.

I asked him his opinion about the guitarists, and he answered:

“Of the old ones, Patiño for accompanying the song and after him, Paco el Barbero was also one of the good ones.  But the one who beat all the others in terms of execution [technique] was Paco de Lucena who, if he was not as classical as the others, outshone them in technical prowess and harmony.  Then we came to another era or stage in the guitar, beginning with Miguel Borrull and Javier Molina, who were also excellent accompanists, recalling the art of the three men previously named.  Today, it would be [Juan Gandulla] “Habichuela” and el Niño de Huelva [Manolo de Huelva], and [Ramón] Montoya.  Of the first two, I’d say they are worth a lot, and as for Montoya, well, it’s not for me to praise him, because I’ve chosen him as my tocaor (guitarist).

With these words, we were at the end of the conversation.  We raised the penultimate “chato”, and I seemed to hear the maestro mumble one of his creations [a malagueña]:

Rosa: si no te cogí / Fue porque no me dió gana; / Al pie del rosal dormí; / La rosa tuve por cama; / Por cabecera un jazmin.”

Rose, if I did not pick you, it was because I did not want to.  At the foot of a rose garden I slept; the rose was my bed, the jasmine my pillow.”

End of interview.

This is a gold mine of revelations, both professional and personal, by the incomparable master and great creator of very important styles of malagueñas, tarantas, cartageneras, and granainas – all examples of a glorious branch of flamenco song descended from the fandangos, in which non-Gypsy artists have always reigned supreme.

But note the deep regret that seems to haunt Don Antonio Chacón as he nears the end of his unparalleled career.  He says he became a slave to the malagueña and a style of singing he did not really respect; truly a prisoner of his own device.

Now, let me drag this interview into a current debate that divides the “mundillo flamenco”, the little world of flamenco.

In the 1960’s and 1970′s, the dominant view was that although the beautiful styles I’ve just named were important, as were many other styles, they did not measure up to the few forms that Chacón himself so clearly revered: the cante gitano forms including the siguiriyas, the soleares and the tonás.  If there were contests, they were won by Antonio Mairena, leader of the Gypsyist movement, or future Gypsy giants like Fernanda de Utrera and El Chocolate and Manuel Agujetas.

Flash forward to 2013:  For twenty years, a ground swell of support has been building for what many non-Gypsy Andalusians call the cante andaluz. Untrained Gypsy singers, who usually heard the traditional music of their families and felt its rhythms in the womb, are no longer winning contests.  Instead, the winners are emerging from teaching institutions and academies – in some cases, a diploma is even required to obtain professional engagements.

The new trend is away from the sonidos negros (black sounds, named and beloved by García Lorca], and a recent album by the son of famed cante bonito (pretty song) singer Juanito Valderrama is called “Sonidos Blancos”.  Scholars are looking at old press accounts – though evidently not this one – and proving, at least to their satisfaction, that flamenco doesn’t owe nearly as much to Spain’s Gypsies as was previously thought. (The leading figure among sociologists in Spain has told me that Gypsies have nothing to do with the siguiriyas, and gone on to question the entire notion of a real Gypsy identity.)

Many authorities are renouncing their former Gypsy-centric views as unfortunate or even racist (i.e., biased toward one ethnic group at the expense of another).  New authorities are slashing away at the concept of Gypsy primacy in any area of flamenco.  Spain’s official flamenco explainer-in-chief will not allow the word gitano to be used in his discussions, and crosses out the word when he sees it written on a blackboard.

And yet here is their culture hero – the ultimate non-Gypsy genius, Don Antonio Chacón – saying they are wrong.

Okay, not in so many words – but expressing his strong preference for cante jondo, which he insists on calling instead cante gitano, and his poignant regret at moving away from this “pure” flamenco (his word), and instead responding to commercial pressure from the very moment of his first public appearance – going for the dough,  He sings the crowd-pleasing malagueñas instead of the siguiriyas he had intended to sing, because he knows the siguiriyas is just too difficult for a sizeable public to appreciate.

An amazing document – the actual words of a man who is, by any measure, one of the three greatest figures in the history of flamenco song.

I’ve always heard stories about Chacón’s boundless admiration for Manuel Torre, his Gypsy counterpart who was the most revered of all gitano singers and the greatest siguiriyero of all time.  Seems like it was an understatement.

Brook Zern — brookzern@gmail.com

February 2, 2013   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Mayte Martin – Early reports (1996) and 2012 update

In 1996, I wrote the following post to a flamenco discussion group:

A correspondent has demanded an explanation of the suddenly popular young flamenco singer Mayte Martín and her passion for non-flamenco music including boleros.

(Friend, if my proposed bill forbidding flamenco artists from thinking about other music is made into law, we won’t have to worry about things like this.)

The initial response to Mayte Martín was ecstatic, even sycophantic.  One appraisal came from critic/expert Angel Alvarez Caballero in his 1995 book “La Discoteca Ideal del Flamenco”, quoted in El Pais Weekly’s recent issue on flamenco).  A translation:

“Mayte Martín (Maria Teresa Martín Cadierno – Barcelona, 1965 – cantaora).

The best female flamenco voice of her generation, without the slightest doubt; and the most complete cantaora.  She sings everything, and sings it all well.  At this rate, this singer with an animated aspect but with her head really together will see her name joined to those of the greats who preceded her in history.  It’s a fact that flamenco does not include many great women singers in its annals — compared to men, the proportion is minimal, which may inevitably give the impression that the art has a ”machista” tradition — but those women who’ve made the grade are models of artistic quality: María la Andonda, Merced la Serneta, La Trini, Niña de los Peines, Fernanda de Utrera, Carmen Linares…

Mayte Martín has every element of triumph working for her.  Very cerebral, she is extraordinary at rationalizing/analyzing the song and fitting it to her capabilities, which are infinite.  Everything she offers is very well thought out and very well done, and she makes it seem easy.  But at the same time, she has soul and emotion, and never conveys any sense of coldness.

In 1987, when she appeared in La Unión to compete in the Festival Nacional del Cante de las Minas, she literally buried the other aspirants for the prized Lampara Minera trophy, winning it as naturally as if it had been hers all her life.

“Muy Fragil”, her only solo disc to date, is an example of a work that’s splendidly realized, in which she balances with rare sensibility her respect for the orthodoxy of the cante with accents that emerge from her most imaginative and creative artistic facet.

It offers her Alegrias, Granaina, Bulerias, Taranto, Cartagenera, Taranta, Tona y Siguiriya, Tientos y Tangos, and S.O.S. (a song).  Guitar by Chicuelo.  With Josep Perez “Cucurel-la” (bass) and Enric Canada (percussion).”

End of A.A.Caballero’s ecstatic 1996 quote.

Then Juan Diaz checked in from Spain.  Translation:

“Mayte Martín is a Barcelona-born singer, age 31, born in the barrio of Poble Sec and raised in Hospitalet.  She’s the daughter of Andalusians; the emigration from there to Catalunya in the 1950′s and 60′s by Andaluces seeking work and a better life was massive.  Her parents brought with them an aficion for flamenco, and her own aficion was born in listening to recordings.

It’s important to note that this singer’s formative influence is exclusively that of recordings she heard, and not a family tradition as is normal in Andalusian singers; this is becoming a more common phenomenon outside of flamenco’s native zones.

Mayte Martín is deeply influenced by the singers of Jerez, and she has been called the “white hope” (esperanza blanca) of flamenco — “white” referring to the fact that she is non-Gypsy (paya), and to her voice which is very different from the typically hoarse (rajo) Gypsy voice.

She won the Lampara Minera of the Concurso Nacional in La Union in 1987.  In 1989, she won a trophy in the XII Concurso Nacional de Arte Flamenco de Cordoba.  She recorded a disc of boleros, accompanied by the great jazz pianist Tete Montoliu, but it was never published.

Her record “Muy Fragil” was praised by the critics, and reveals a great knowledge and domination of the different palos…  Her usual accompanist is a Catalan named Chicuelo, a great guitarist for song accompaniment, who also plays for other Catalan singers like La Tolea, Duquende, Tijeritas, etc.

In an interview, she said:  “We (meaning Miguel Poveda, Duquende, Ginesa Ortega, La Tolea, J.M. Cañizares) don’t do flamenco-rock or flamenco-blues like Pata Negra or Ketama.  We do strictly flamenco, but not as a result of theoretical reflection — rather as a fruit of our family and social context. Here [outside of Andalusia] we learn through intuition, being self-taught, imitating our heroes — while in Andalusia they do it through tradition, in its context…”

End of Juan Díaz’s comments.

I haven’t yet heard this phenomena’s debut record — or her bolero record that has evidently been released.  Hope my pro-Gypsy (“black hope”) bias doesn’t interfere with my  appreciation of Mayte Martin’s “white hope” artistry.

Brook Zern

Update from about a year ag0:

Okay, that was the situation fifteen years ago.  Since then, Mayte Martín has justified these lofty opinions,  Today she is a consecrated artist, as they say in Spain.  I’ve seen her on many occasions, including two appearances in Jerez over the past six years.

(Want to learn how to sing from Mayte Martín?  Got a spare 150 Euros?  You’re in luck.  I just noticed an advertisement on the back page of the monthly publication called Flama, La Guia de Flamenco (www.guiaflama.com) that tells what’s going on flamencowise in Spain and beyond.  It seems that from the 9th to the 20th of January and from the 6th to the 17th of February of 2012, Mayte Martin will be teaching a Master Class ["Curso Magistral"] at Seville’s Fundacion Cristina Heeren de Arte Flamenco, a remarkable institution that delivers on its promise to teach all aspects of this difficult art to dedicated students from Spain or other countries — details at www.flamencoheeren.co

I’ll admit that Mayte Martin is not my copita of sherry, but she is very good indeed.  While she may was one of the first singers from the Barcelona area to make a big impression, her fame is overshadowed by that of Miguel Poveda who’s mentioned above.

In fact, Poveda may be the most widely admired singer in Spain, and he was absolutely terrific here in Jerez last night — or actually just a few hours ago, at 3:30 a.m. this morning, at a big event in memory of the great guitarist Moraito where dozens of outstanding artists were also in fine form.  For me, though, it was Jose Mercé who stole the show — he is a true genius, perhaps the only singer who can sing flamenco’s heaviest forms with the power and impact they demand.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he comes from one of the great flamenco families in this great flamenco city.  A separate report on the event will be posted soon.)

BZ

December 5, 2012   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Agujetas Speaks – 1998 Radio Interview – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:

This is my translation of a radio interview with the great flamenco singer Manuel Agujetas broadcast on April 25th, 1998 on Radio 3, on the program “Duendeando”.  The interviewer was Teo Sanchez.  Thanks to Rafael Moreno, who posted the Spanish transcription.

Agujetas is a difficult – okay, impossible – person, a living legend, and is seen in the flamenco world as a true monstruo (the word can be a compliment in Spanish, though in this case it could also indicate the usual English-language meaning.)  I knew him well in the 1970′s, and still see him often.  I feel privileged to have witnessed his singing up close and even face-to-face on many occasions.

I feel that Agujetas, and other artists who come out of the flamenco tradition, are extremely important sources of information and fact, and should be taken as seriously as any given anthropologist, sociologist, flamencologist or self-styled flamenco authority.  Yes, artists have axes to grind, and like to tell stories or cite facts or incidents that fit their interests.  So do I, of course, and more importantly, so do the actual authorities including those I know and respect.  (Agujetas, unlike most other people, freely admits here that he doesn’t feel compelled to tell the truth about certain parts of  his life — but he tells the truth about his art.)

Here’s the interview:

Teo Sanchez:  Here with us this afternoon is Manuel Agujetas, or Manuel de los Santos.  How are you, Manuel?

Agujetas:  So-so.

T:  Why is that?

A:  Well, it was a long trip and I haven’t slept well.

T:  That’s just today — but in general you’re pretty good, and content, I think.  With a new CD on sale, no?

A:  It must be on sale, according to the paper.

T:  Yes, it’s already on sale.  It’s called “Agujetas in La Solea”.  Quite a while since your last CD, no?

A:  Four years, at least.

T:  And the last one?

A:  “Agujetas in Paris”.

T:  I’ve got that one here.  And what a cover photo — you look handsome indeed, and the Eiffel Tower right behind you.  The French arranged this, right?

A:  Radio France — the government.

T:  Very good.  And how did they treat you there?

A:  Pretty well.  They treat me well wherever I go.

T:  And in La Solea, they treated you marvellously as well.

A:  Well, okay, because the owner is a friend.

T:  And when there’s a friend….

A:  There are very few friends; but anyway….

T:  When did the idea of doing this CD emerge:  How long since you started looking at the project?

A:  I think that Francis and the other guy had considered it for a long time.  They told me about a year ago that they’d record me in La Solea “whenever you want to do something”.

T:  And it was done in a special way, because it’s not a studio recording.  It’s a CD that was recorded during three of your performances, no?

A:  They wanted to do it over three days, to select things, but I don’t think they really selected anything.  They put in everything, because the disc runs to about an hour.

T:  I wonder about your name:  Is it Agujeta or Agujetas?  [Translator's note:  The interviewer here is asking whether it is singular or plural -- but in deepest Andalucia the "s" would be omitted regardless.  Agujetas focuses instead on whether there is or is not a "h" sound -- indicated by a "j" in Spanish.]

A:  Well, in Andalucia they say “Aguheta” [Agu-eta], the same as they say ”naranha” [naran-a] for orange; up here they say “naranja” [naran-ha], or patata…

T:  I mean about the “s”, Manuel.

A:  I don’t know.  I’m illiterate.  Down there they say “Aguheta” [Agu-eta].

T:  The name seems to come from your father.

A:  Yes, he worked on the RENFE national railroads, and my mother would call out “Manuel, Manuel”, and he didn’t hear; but then there were the spikes, the agujas, and that’s where the name “agujetas” came from.

T:  So your father worked on the railroad.

A:  Yes, changing the spikes.

T:  But he also had a forge.

A:  Hombre, that was his real job.

T:  And you’re from Rota….

A:  No, no, I’m not from Rota.  I was born in Jerez de la Frontera, and that’s why I’m called Agujetas de Jerez.  But my mother was from Rota and that’s where my father went…the usual thing…then…there were two of us born in Jerez.  One died, who was older than me; so we’re from Jerez, understand?  Whatever happens, happens.  People want to know about this stuff more than the artist himself.  “He’s from Rota”.  Agujetas de Rota…  My father wasn’t from Rota.  He spent 40 years there, and there’s an Agujetas Street in Rota, but my father is from Jerez and I was born in Jerez.  But the falsehood remained.  I was born…now people want to know how old I am and I wasn’t even baptized or officially noted.  How can people know how old I am?  Were they all by my mother’s side at the time I was born?  Gypsies never tell the truth to anyone.  I, specifically, never tell the truth to anyone.  I tell the truth about flamenco, and what’s good and not good, yes.  But the truth about my life, I never tell to anyone.  I’m not like those who go on TV and blather that “I fought with my brother four years ago” or “I don’t speak to my mother”.   That’s not what one does.  That’s shameful behavior.

T:  Your father sang…

A:  He was one of the very best, the purest.  And there was Manuel Torre, and now there’s me.

T:  What did Manuel Torre represent in flamenco

A:  I didn’t know him, but when my father was 13 he sang the cante of Manuel Torre; but it was my grandmother who sang just like Manuel Torre — and my grandfather, and my uncles.  So my song is like an amnistia — a pardon, an amnesty, see?   And my father did four cantes of Manuel because he liked Manuel, but my father is a born artist.  What happened was that I did the recordings, and I brought the music to light, because at that time there were no artists.  The four Gypsies that there were, well they sang for the señoritos — for rich folks, in private sessions.  Then I came along and made the recordings.  Just as Borrico and other old singers of Jerez did.  But none were artists.

T:  There is a romance, a flamenco-style ballad, recorded by your father.

A:  There is one, done in his style.

T:  It’s believed that those old romances are part of the origin of flamenco song.

A:  Well, no.  That stuff had nothing to do with flamenco.  A romance is a story.  A story that lasted perhaps two hours.  The Romance del Bernardo el Carpio or of all those Counts they had, you know?  But no sung corrido or romance existed.  It was a story that lasted for two hours, but then, much later, some flamenco artists dedicated themselves to doing romances as song.  The first to do it was Juan Paterna, a man from El Puerto who was the father of el Negro el de la Pipa, of Tio Jose de los Reyes, who is my cousin, part of my family.  He was the first.  In a communal house in Puerto de Santa Maria, in some rooms on the side where some women lived in the summer, nursing their children, this guy came along who wasn’t even a Gypsy — at least I think he wasn’t, though I was just a kid of about 14 — he came out doing this corrido, but it wasn’t sung.  At first he just spoke or recited the words, it was a story that lasted one or two hours, and the women fell asleep.  And he was the first who sang these little songs in Puerto de Santa Maria; but before that it was just a recited story, understand?

T:  Yes, yes.  It was a story first, and wasn’t sung till later.

A:  I did it as song.  I had never heard it, ever.  Now, in books, you won’t find that.  I have a book about the cante that’s from a hundred years ago and there they wrote down all the corridos that were done back then, like the one I recorded called “Cuatrocientos sois los mios”.  I did that on an early CBS recording I made with flamencologist Manuel Rios Ruiz, both speaking and singing it.

T:  Is it true that your father did little song contests with his children?  That he would have you sing to see who did it best?

A:  No, no.  My father worked at his forge.  The big box was in the middle, and there was an anvil for my brother.  I was little, and would straighten the irons…and my father was working and singing while the iron heated up.  That business about the Gypsies singing while they worked is a lie, understand?  Working and singing martinetes is impossible.  I guess you could hit something with a hammer, but doing the real work would not be possible.  I told that to Rios Ruiz, and on my first record there’s a “Martinetes of the prison”, which is an old cante jondo.  The Gypsies picked that up from those who were in the society.  Flamenco is not something created by the “canastero” Gypies like Camaron, and all those making up all these modern things.  This has nothing to do with flamenco.  Flamenco is from those Gypsies who functioned within the society, but who’d end up in jail because they misrepresented the mules they were selling, understand?  And they’d be sentenced to five or six years, and they’d sing to family members and end up crying.  But if you’re working at a forge, why would you be singing with such intense emotion?  You toss the hammer down and go to a bar for a glass of wine.  No, the martinetes come from the prisons.  You were stuck inside, and you sang.  If you were at the forge, hauling coal and throwing water around, well, you could sing, but only if you weren’t working.  You can’t sing at the forge — why do they want to fool people like that?

T:  We’re going to listen to a solea por bulerias from your CD.

A:  A bulerias para escuchar.  [Note:  This is an alternative word for the bulerias por solea, which is neither a bulerias nor a solea but a distinct form that has a clear relationship to both.  The form can also be called solea por bulerias, or a bulerias al golpe.  ”Proper” usage varies according to locality, so some people will get irritated no matter which term is used.]

T:  So the bulerias por solea is one that’s meant to be listened to, rather than danced to… and what’s the difference between the compas of the bulerias and that of the solea?

A:  The solea is more parada — braked, slower.

T:  But the compas is basically the same.

A:  No, no.  It’s a miajica, a little crumb, that’s lighter than the solea, and more for listening.  The folks who don’t know call it bulerias por solea, but it is not bulerias por solea.  It’s proper name is bulerias para escuchar.  And now we’re into that book that you mention.  The Gypsies don’t tell the truth to anyone.  How are you going to write a book, then?  If someone wants to write a book, let them make a record.  But through good luck or bad luck, flamenco ended up in the hands of illiterates.  Chocolate, Terremoto, Agujetas…  How could a writer create a book about flamenco?  They can’t, because they don’t know the real truth.  The Gypsy walks off with your money and tells you lies.  Understand?  I tell no one the truth.  Because my father never told me, “Do you hear this song as it should be?”  Never.  “”Well, and because you’ve sung it that way here at the forge, as we’re talking”.  “Whatever you say.  Manuel sings it this way, but now it will go that way because no one knows.”  And the day came, “Let’s go listen to Manuel”.  “Yes, Manuel knows everything.”  “Of course, if you say that it wasn’t like that, it was like that; and now it’s going to be like this.”  I sing in 70 different ways, but without ever losing the rhythm of the cante gitano.

T:  When did you first decide to become a professional?

A:  I was working at the forge.  I was fifteen, and had my own workshop.  I had a girl.  And at seventeen, with the father of [the great guitarist Manuel] Parrilla called Parrilla el Viejo and with Manuel Rios Ruiz, who was a mailman in Jerez.  Then he worked for CBS records.  And with the friendships of Parrilla el Veijo we made a few records with Manolo Sanlucar accompanying, the first for CBS.  And I went up to Cafe Chinitas for a few months.  And when I got back I was an important artist.  I gave 16 recitals in the Ateneo theatre.

T:  Manolo Sanlucar was on your first record.

A:  And the second and third.  I have 11 LP’s with Manolo Sanlucar.  The first two were on CBS.  Then five years on an exclusive contract with Compania Fonografica (CFE?), making 10 records — one every six months.  I was in America and would come and record two at a time.

T:  What are you doing now?  Still working?

A:  Yes, I live through the cante.  This year I go to Japan.  But I don’t want to leave.  They call me at home and I go where I please.  I don’t have to call anyone, or hope I’ll get work.  I sit at home.  They call and say “Agujeta, come to such-and-such…”  And if I like the idea, I go; if not, I say “Nah, I’m retired”.  That’s my way, and I’m not about to change.

T:  Where do you get the words for your cantes?

A:  I make them up.  Some are from my father, and those of Manuel Torre are in the tradition.  But I make up verses, according to what is happening in my life.

T:  There’s a song on the CD called Soleares al cambio.

A:  That doesn’t exist.  If they’d only asked me, they wouldn’t have put down all that nonsense.  I said, “I’ll make the recording and you have to do it as I tell you.”  It should begin here, and be in a certain order.  Don’t put the Solea after the “fuerte” (strongest part, macho); there are those who put the “fuerte” before the solea itself, and the whole piece becomes worthless.  Because properly, you sing the solea, and then the macho that follows is stronger than the solea, to wrap it up.  Understand?  And if you put that macho section first, and then follow it with the solea, that’s worthless.

T:  What is the macho?

A:  It’s the stronger part.  When you sing the siguiriyas, there’s a macho that’s stronger than the siguiriya.  When you sing a solea, there’s a macho that’s stronger than two soleares.  You end with them.  Do you think just anyone can sing?  People listen to four howling dogs and say they know how to sing.  Well, they don’t know how to sing.  Singing flamenco is very difficult.  Not just anyone can do it.  But that fact is not appreciated, so you get people who do all kinds of foolishness.

T:  Do you think the siguiriyas is the most moving flamenco song?

A:  The siguiriyas is the greatest flamenco song.  Siguiriya, solea and martinete.  And to know how to do them, one must endure a lot of suffering and troubles.  Those who haven’t suffered can’t sing flamenco.  One must suffer, and often go hungry, and have lice.  If you’ve been well brought up, in good circumstances, then you can’t sing worth a damn.  Understand?  You must have a cause, a reason, within yourself.  One must have something.

T:  I find myself doubtful about flamenco, because the times have changed so much.  There is not the same kind of misery and suffering that there was years ago.

A:  But I still carry that suffering with me.  That’s from the way I was raised.  I was raised badly.  The lice I had — they carried national identity cards.  I slept on a heap of straw, not a bed.  My father raised nine kids, but on a heap of hay with one blanket on top.  Understand?  That’s what made me what I am.  Should I pretend I was never hungry?  I’m the same as I was.

T:  But couldn’t you know yourself and sing flamenco if you hadn’t suffered such deprivations?

A:  No — you could know, but you wouldn’t feel the same.  To express this, you have to have undergone something.

T:  So there are really two flamencos?

A:  No, hombre, no.  There is only one flamenco.  The other is just a bad copy.  All this modern stuff is a bad copy of flamenco.  Flamenco is this:  Juan Talega, Chocolate, Mairena.

T:  Something must save it.

A:  If you want it to, sure.  You’re asking.  But actually, flamenco is what I’ve told you it is.  The modern stuff is a bad copy.  Does everyone have a right to eat?  Sure.  Get it?

T:  But in the beginning, the song — as you said before — was only in families, in homes.

A:  And don’t you think these homes each held miseries of their own?  Men in prison, men working the forges with heavy hammers, lice-infested, kids raised sleeping on hay.

T:  But when flamenco leaves these homes, does it remain flamenco?

A:  The purity remains, if it was there in the first place.  Who carried flamenco within themselves?  El Chocolate did.  I did.  Terremoto did, with those four sings he did so well.  Antonio Mairena did.  And who carries flamenco today?  Just one person:  Agujetas — and a son of mine who, if he weren’t involved with drugs, would be an important figure.  I’m talking of Antonio Agujetas, who made a record at the age of 14, and sang the other day in Casa Patas in Madrid.  This kid could’ve been a figure today.  But he isn’t, because he’s a drug addict.  And then there’s the fact that young singers are doing modern stuff.  So if one comes along who could actually sing flamenco, he doesn’t know how.  Who could sing like that son of mine?  Nobody.  But he’s been in jail for 15 years, because of drugs.  Who has suffered as much as he has?  When you remember what flamenco is…but he is ignorant about life, because he thinks that modern flamenco is what’s best.  The other day, when he sang in Casa Patas, in the first part he did nothing, but then he remembered his father, and he did two fine cantes in the last part.  That’s what the newspaper wrote.  The only one left who can do it, and he doesn’t do it.

T:  So you think it’s all over?

A:  Hombre, who is going to do it?  There’s no one.  Everybody is doing modern stuff only.  They don’t do flamenco right…  I say to them, “Tell the truth, man.”  But they don’t.  Artists today don’t tell the truth because they know doors would close, and no one would call them.  I tell the truth about flamenco because it’s all the same to me, and I don’t care what people say.  Of course flamenco is dying.  It’s over.  Who do you go to when you want to hear cante flamenco?  I taught my son to sing the right way.  The moment that young artists want to do the four modern-flamenco things, flamenco is lost…There’s a moment when you feel right, you feel a gusto, whether you’re sad or happy, you know?  Because I’ve cried in America with my pockets bulging with dollars — and my boots full of money, too.  When I had no place to put money, I’d fill my boots with it.  I have a sister who’s there in America, and she’d ask me for money because she didn’t want to go to the bank and I was carrying $10,000 in my boots.  Well, I cried with full pockets, but now I don’t know if it was from grief or happiness, you know?  And that must be what people call inspiration.  But reading and stuff like that, I don’t understand.”

End of radio interview with Agujetas.

Brook Zern

April 7, 2012   No Comments

Flamenco Documentaries – Rito y Geografia del Cante Flamenco – The Good News, The Great News and the Bad News – by Brook Zern

Flamenco Documentaries – Rito y Geografía del Cante Flamenco The Good News, The Great News and the Bad News – by Brook Zern

You’re a flamenco aficionado, right?  And even in this era when audio and video piracy is considered proper behavior, you still buy some videos and even a few CD’s every year, right?

Well, here’s the Good News.  The greatest flamenco documentary series ever made, or that ever will be made, is called Rito y Geografia del Cante Flamenco.  It consisted of 100 black-and-white filmed programs made for Spain’s national broadcasting network, RTVE, between 1970 and 1973.  It was the work of a team of dedicated visionaries, and the key person was José María Velázquez-Gaztelu  who remains a major presence in the art with his twice-weekly radio program Nuestro Flamenco on Radio Nacional, available as podcasts, and his outstanding presentations and commentary at flamenco conferences and festivals worldwide.

The brilliance of the films was enhanced by the fact that they were filmed in the field, or more specifically in the homes, bars and other haunts where the artists were most comfortable.  In the process, the shows reveal a vanished Andalucía that is barely post-Medieval, and where permanent hunger was a very recent memory.  In other words, these films help us understand the time, place and reality that engendered and nurtured the art of flamenco.

Now, for the first time, you can buy eight of those great shows on two DVD’s bound into two striking hardcover-books, all material beautifully restored and brilliantly documented, for an absurdly low price.  The programs on the first one include:

Terremoto de Jerez – very possibly Jerez’s finest cantaor or male singer in living memory, here rendering his fandangos, soleares, magnificent bulerias and legendary siguiriyas accompanied by his compatriot, the great guitarist Manuel Morao.

Viejos Cantaores – including songs by the immense artist Juan Talega, boss of the crucial style called the Solea de Alcala; Agujetas el Viejo, known as the father of Manuel Agujetas and a great singer in his own right; Diego el Perote, a master of the song of Malaga; Antonio Piñana, the main man for tarantas and its related styles from the Linares/Cartagena/Murcia region of  Eastern Spain; and Pepe de la Matrona, the all-around man from Madrid.

Malaga y Levante – lots of styles of Malaguenas and also of the mining forms of the East or Levante area, including Piñana and Fosforito among others.

Maria Vargas – a brilliant cantaora from Sanlucar, with a rare asset – a voice that is actually pleasant, even beautiful, even when she delivers hard-core flamenco.  She’s accompanied by a hot kid from her home town – yes, the great Manolo Sanlucar.  María Vargas has just re-entered the flamenco scene here in Spain.

Here’s the rundown on the other DVD/booklet:

Manuel Agujetas – not the nicest guy in the world, but the savviest artists in Jerez say that when he’s gone, the game is over.  He’s accompanied by the wonderful Parrilla de Jerez and by Manolo Sanlucar, and his father Agujetas el Viejo is also seen in fine form.

Cante Flamenco Gitano – revealing the song and the way of life of artists including Gaspar de Utrera, Rafael Romero, Santiago Donday, Cristobalina Suarez (wife of Miguel Funi) and El Turronero.  Accompanists include Manuel Morao, Perico del Liunar hijo, Pedro Bacan and Paco Cepero.  For great homestyle flamenco, these are the usual suspects for a really fine lineup.

Fandangos Naturales – a favorite form for artists and Spanish devotees alike, but hard for some of us outsiders to fully appreciate.  A lot depends on the words of the verses that the artists choose – and these are are more melodramatic or histrionic than you’ll find in other styles.  Worse yet, the words can be hard to understand.  Still, with Camarón, Enrique Morente and El Mono de Jerez among other masters of the form, it’s worth your attention.

Beni de Cadiz – another challenge for outsiders, El Beni always charms his Spanish fans with his ebullient personality, his very funny stories and some dynamite dance moves.  At his singing best, he evokes the great Manolo Caracol.

Now the Great News:

Those two new DVDs/Books are actually Volumes 17 and 18 of this wonderful edition of this incomparable documentary – which means that there are 16 more volumes that have already been published over the past few years, for a total of 72 half-hour programs.  Every one is priceless, and every one is for sale cheap.

I don’t know the best way to get them all, and some volumes may be hard to find but should turn up sooner or later.  Maybe you can buy them, or some of them, in the store linked to the excellent website deflamenco.com.  Maybe they’re available from elflamencovive.com in Madrid.  Maybe they’re all over eBay’s English or Spanish incarnations.  Google will reveal all.  Start saving up.

And now the Bad News:

While these two latest publications add eight very fine programs to the previous 64 on the 16 previous DVD’s, my primitive math indicates that – umm, let’s see, 100 minus 72 equals – roughly 28 programs that are not available and might not be for a long time, if ever.

For me personally, that’s actually good news.  I did a lot of begging, bribing and paying to help ensure the survival of this series (and a lot of other RTVE flamenco programs filmed in their studios as well, though my focus was always on the Rito series.)  In 1987, after 15 frustrating years and after giving the first set to the Flamenco Archive or Flamenco Collection I’d established at Columbia University, I finally ended up with the world’s only at-large copy of these programs.

That meant I could show them in those rare instances where cultural organizations and universities would allow me to do that.  And so it was that I ruled — at least in terms of having great VHS cassettes to show for friends and for any interested culturati.

You wanna see it, you gotta go thru me, pal.  Hey, I coulda been a contender, if only anyone had wanted to see it.

Then a lot of the programs were published, albeit in bad shape and with silly documentation by Alga Editorial in Spain, so I lost my monopoly.  Worse yet, some jerk invented YouTube, so that anybody could see good and even great flamenco at the push of a button.  And then this great new edition came out.  The jig was up.

But I still have nearly all of the still-unpublished programs.  Good for me.  But I also have a bad feeling that with these latest eight programs now available in improved fidelity, the remaining stuff is relatively weak.  (Yes, there were some feeble programs, about wine and flamencologists and Lorca and deFalla and whatnot, that I rarely bothered to look at, and that wouldn’t add much to the glory of this achievement.)

But I digress (what else is new, you ask).  Hunt these programs down.  Never mind the fact that you can see lots of them on YouTube — the books alone are worth much more than you’ll pay for the combo.

Get the whole batch.  You’ll sleep better knowing that you have the definitive documentary on flamenco, right up to the moment when Paco and Camarón (both featured, though separately) delivered on Paco’s published threat in Triunfo magazine (you’ll find it on this blog) to rip flamenco from the hands of the men they called old farts, fogies and phonies who controlled it and, with the help of a kid from La Isla, reshape it into the hipper, jazzier, freer, fusionier art form it has become.

And remember, even Paco is on record as saying that if you don’t understand where flamenco came from, you’ll never know where it is or where it’s going.

Brook Zern

March 20, 2012   No Comments

Jerez Post-Partum – The Mijita Family Keeps Flamenco Coming – Report and Gypsyphile Rant by Brook Zern

Beyond the Jerez Flamenco Festival – Rants and reports from Sherrytown.

The Festival Flamenco de Jerez ended last week.  It had its moments.  Big dance shows in the big Villamarta Theater.  And some good events in the small performance space at the Moorish Alcazar that overlooks the town.

Lots of dance students from around the world, but mostly from Japan.  A few guitar students, too, and a handful of brave people who are determined to learn how to sing flamenco.

They’re all gone now, vanished like smoke.  Okay, time for flamenco as I understand the term.

A few nights ago, after the jerezanos retaken their town, I went to the Peña La Bulería at around eleven, hoping to be unfashionably early and maybe get a seat.  No way.  The joint was already jammed and already jumpin’.  Hundreds of neighborhood people were there to see the Mijita family – Mijita hijo, Mijita padre and Cousin José.  On the six-stringer, the terrific accompanist Domingo Rubichi – brother of the late, lamented singer Diego Rubichi.

Who are these people?  Well, the kid – not literally a kid, but still a young guy – sang a verse that referred to his own family as the Carpios, the Mijitas and the Agujetases (who are related to the Rubichis).   Here in flamencolandia, that genealogy trumps any other calling card you’re likely to see

Anyway, all hell kept breaking loose, in the best possible way.  This was great singing by people who have assiduously neglected to study flamenco recordings, settling instead for living and learning every note of the art in their homes and in the bars and dives of the Plazuela, as this fabled neighborhood is called.

And the event itself differed from those of the official Festival because it was essentially intimate, a happening among friends and an admittedly extended family.

Before the break, the flamenco lover/expert, writer and radio emcee José María Castaño came out and stated that this fantastic vibe could only be felt at a peña – an organized entity that is supported by its members and by ever-dwindling public funding, and that opens its doors to anyone and everyone without charging a centimo.

Hundreds of jerezanos.  Zero foreigners.  Well, one.  (As a typically dissatisfied but unusually alphabetically-oriented woman once told me, “Zern?  Oh, yes.  Always one step short of Zero.”)

It can be awkward, looking in from the outside in a town and a society where everyone is evidently related to everyone else, and where the endless sound of kissing – guys kissing guys, girls kissing girls, everyone kissing babies – is the real soundtrack to every public and private event.

But for us foreigners, being present even at one remove is the price to be paid for experiencing flamenco as a non-commercial non-spectacle.

It’s worth it.

Brook Zern

Racist P.S.:  I am often taken to task for remaining unfashionably fixated on the Gypsy aspect of flamenco – this is now called racism, to my dismay – but I can’t help pointing out the obvious here:  The Mijitas and the other families mentioned above are all among the fabled Gypsy families of Jerez, and the kind of flamenco they do, and the way they do it, bespeaks their Gypsy ancestry in every cracked and croaked note, gripping gesture and perfect pataita (impromptu dance step) that they generate.

Not to belabor the point, but at the Peña Tío José de Paula a few days before, in a terrific event organized by Pedro Carrasco “Niño Jero”, or Periquin, a four-year old girl who may have been named Triana was carried onto the stage and immediately knocked off a drop-dead bulerías with absolute aplomb, great gracia and a better sense of flamenco rhythmics (compás) than I’ve acquired in sixty years of listening and fifty years of diligent guitar study.  Granted, I didn’t check her background and maybe she’s from Texas.  But she smelled of Jerez to me.  Maybe she was born in Texas but switched at birth for a Jerez infant who is already a prodigy of the two-step in the nightspots of Laredo…Yes, the Carrascos are, at latest report, still Gypsies.

Okay — I realize that such aptitudes are entirely environmental and not literally ”carried in the blood.”  But why do I have the nagging feeling that if I’d had the foresight to have switched myself at birth into a Jerez Gypsy family, I would still be struggling to master the local swing or soniquete that defines the guitar sound around here, and oozes from the pores of every fourteen-year-old kid with a Mohawk haircut who picks up an instrument?

Racism?  Okay, if you insist.  My own people, on my mother’s side, have a saying.  (No, not “You never know who your father is.”)

I don’t know exactly what it means, or how it‘s used or spelled, but I think I get the gist of it.  It goes like this:  “So call me pischa”.

BZ

PPS:  Taking the heat for excessive gitanismo is evidently nothing new for me.  I just found a crumbling 1975 letter to me from a key flamenco authority, Francisco Vallecillo, who founded the Centro Andaluz de Flamenco (CAF) documentation center here in Jerez.

Translating the penultimate paragraph:  “The Flamenco Festivals [annual outdoor all-night events in many Andalusian towns, still happening but less frequently] are in a state of crisis this year, above all in terms of their artistic aspect.  Almost always the same names as ever, but at a very undistinguished (muy discreto) level.

Your idol, El Chocolate, is causing a lot of scandals, just like your other idols, the bullfighters Curro Romero and Rafael de Paula.  In towns like Pegalajar, Montilla, Malaga, etc., El Chocolate has first-half appearances that are splendid, marred in the second half by an excessive intake of wine that causes the scandals.”

There it is already, 37 years ago – I’m rightly accused of excessive devotion to Gypsy artists.

I should be embarrassed by that bias, or my failure to outgrow it.  Instead, I’m embarrassed by the fact that, like many aficionados, I blithely assumed that the magical bullfighter Curro Romero, like the Jerez torero Rafael de Paula and the singer El Chocolate, was a Gypsy, because that’s the feeling I got from his way of bullfighting.

I learned years later that I was wrong, evidently, and this fact shows the downside of my gitanista bias – its foolishness can demonstrated in some cases by actual facts, leaving me looking like a schmuck.  Oh, well.  I say again, “So call me pischa”.

BZ

March 20, 2012   No Comments

Booklet from 1968 Archivo del Cante Flamenco by J.M. Caballero Bonald – Translated by Brook Zern

ARCHIVO DEL CANTE FLAMENCO – TRANSLATION OF NOTES BY J.M. CABALLERO BONALD

Translator’s note:  The Archivo del Cante Flamenco of 1968, originally released as a six-LP set on Vergara and later in CD format, is a monumental document.  It was important not only for the caliber of the artists, but because it was recorded in the field (that is, in homes, bars and ventas, rather than in a studio), trading a slight loss in sonic fidelity for a large gain in emotional and expressive fidelity to the core aspect of good flamenco — the spontaneous transmission of emotion,

Here is the creation story, a story of the people and places and the era.  Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera, still young and fresh; Juan Talega and Manolito de la María and La Piriñaca de Jerez and Tomás Torre (son of the immortal Manuel), old but very much alive; and other giants as well as extraordinary little-known non-professionals.  And an illuminating report from Morón de la Frontera, featuring Luís Torres “Joselero” with Diego del Gastor, his brother-in-law, backing him up.  All in the context of a time and place that I was fortunate to witness as an obviously confused but respectful outsider, a world that would soon vanish.

The organizer, and writer of the notes, was J.M. Caballero Bonald, who wrote the first book I bought on flamenco in Spain, in 1961 — a two-peseta (three cents) thin booklet  that was full of the usual misinformation that characterized the material of that epoch.

Here is a ten-part translation of the booklet that accompanied the original six-LP set.  Some sections reflect my indebtedness to Brad Blanchard, whose translation appeared in Jaleo magazines in 1981.

There are some fascinating assumptions at work here.  First, the concentration on the Gypsy “race” as the source of many key forms of flamenco, including the central “cante jondo” or deep song forms.  This entails a wide range of stereotypes.  (While that underlying attitude is under intensive questioning, and does not enjoy extensive documentary support, this does not necessarily make it erroneous.)

Another unusual factor is the emphasis on seeking out some non-professionals, who are implicitly viewed as having a kind of authenticity that some professionals may lack.  This is similar to the assumption that characterized the important but not really successful Granada Concurso de Flamenco of 1922, in which cultured figures like de Falla and Lorca and Segovia actually disqualified professionals in their search for a “truer” folk expression that could only emerge from the non-professional realm.  The results were interesting, but not optimal — flamenco is not an art that should not disqualify those who become professional

Here goes:

PART I – INTRODUCTION – PREPARATIONS

This document is intended simply as an informative guide for the listener, a sort of literary complement to the recordings that constitute this “Archivo del Cante Flamenco”.  We wanted to offer a living chronicle of the work behind the project.  In a way, we have wrapped our own information about the complex moral and material world of flamenco in a sort of travel journal, paying special attention to the experiences that marked our search for sources and the actual recording sessions.

Clearly — and even granting due credit to some partial, praiseworthy efforts achieved to date — the task of collecting and ordering the diverse and widely dispersed gamut of cante flamenco still remains ahead.  Despite the growing bibliography produced in the last few years, and the enthusiastic attention of a varied public, flamenco remains a music that is fragmented and not deeply known.  There is no doubt that the most effective and complete recorded archive is yet to be created, and that this would be the truest and best way to fix the purity of the older forms, accurately conserving the greatest known examples of cante so that they could become known with confident precision.

We realized that our particular task presented a number of serious obstacles.  From the beginning, there was the ticklish problem of finding credible sources in the native zones of the specific cantes; in addition, there was the stumbling block presented by the increasing degree of professionalism on the part of today’s singers.  The character of our archive could not stray from the fundamental idea of finding non-professional interpreters, in many cases anonymous and in others only known in the restricted area of their birthplaces.  Once the general approach was established, it was necessary to carry out an advance exploration of the ambiente — the context of the performances.  Our personal experience, or that of third parties, guided us through a careful and detailed sweep of the area that runs from Seville to Cadiz and that constitutes the region where flamenco developed.

In these initial trips, we were able to prove something that we already suspected: the increasing absence of the cantaores in their native zones.  Little by little, the social foundation of the cante has been undergoing a series of predictable transformations, resulting from the normal changes in the life style of the singer and the growing influence of professionalism.  Flamenco, which began as an intimate way of expressing countless episodes of hunger and persecution that are atavistically buried in the memory of Andalusia’s Gypsies, has been altered by the passage of time into a few initiated repetitions of those primordial experience, now very different in both their causes and their effects.

The singer of a century ago limited himself to narrating his own personal and painful history; he was the interpreter ofhis own life, and could rarely transmute his art into a commercial phenomenon.  But it would be absurd to suppose that in the immutability of these communicative formulas, rooted in the material and spiritual misery of the culture, offered the only possibility for true greatness in the cante.  Today’s perspectives are simply not the same, and the singer has typically become a professional, linked to other spheres.  He is no longer the protagonist of that touching intimacy that flamenco manifests; rather he transmits an expressive heritage latent in certain corners of Andalucia.  We are speaking, of course, in general terms and only with the intention of illustrating the different circumstances of our work.  It is hardly necessary to state that now almost all of the good interpreters of flamenco are professionally linked to certain companies, or regularly perform within certain troupes that present flamenco “spectacles” around the world.  To track down and arrange to record a worthy selection of these indispensable professional singers, we naturally experienced a number of complications and readjustments that disrupted our original plans.

Once we had rejected the idea of recording songs outside of their natural regions, we found it necessary to make repeated visits to Andalucia.  After extensive reconnaisance, we went to the following locales in flamenco’s fundamental orbit:  Sevilla, Alcalá de Guadaira, Mairena del Alcor, Puebla de Cazalla, Morón de la frontera, Osuna, Arcos, Lebrija, Jerez, Sanúucar de Barrameda, Puerto de Santa María, Puerto Real, San Fernando and Cadiz.  We also considered other Andalucian localities, detouring from our planned route when circumstances made it advisable.  In each of the mentioned places, we had already located the cantaores who would be part of the archive.  The final cycle of taping took part in Madrid, due to the customary residence there of some professionals who could hardly be omitted.  In all, we gathered material that included more than two hundred different versions of cantes.  After the detailed task of contrasting the quality and ordering the styles, approximately a third would be included in the contents of these records.

All of the recordings carried out during our journeys to Andalucia — and also those that had to be made in Madrid — took place in characteristic surroundings.  From the first, it seemed vital that we not subject the interpreters — the majority of whom were non-professionals — to the unpleasant and possibly threatening experience of a recording studio.  We knew that without the normal atmosphere in which the singer usually performs, we would not have been able to achieve the authenticity that was part of our essential objective.  Indeed, we often found it so difficult to convince some non-professionals to participate that it would clearly have been all but impossible to induce them into a sterile studio; and naturally, the results would have been quite different.

As expected, the successive setting up of the recording equipment in locations with unusual acoustic conditions gave us plenty of headaches.  We had to keep the equipment working properly without interrupting the flow of the gathering.  On some occasions, we did not begin recording until nearly dawn, despite the fact that the rite of the fiesta flamenca had begun around midnight.  The imponderables in these cases were as frequent as the surprises:  One never knew which moment would produce a sudden outburst of brilliance and which would create hopeless frustration.  The true cante, that which grabs us and fills us with awe, that “obscure root of the cry” of which Lorca spoke — can arrive suddenly, like lightning, or it can never arrive at all.  At times the cante shuts itself in and becomes something impossible to express, and there are some who will fight desperately with it while others simply give up without trying.  There does not exist — there cannot exist — any in-betweens in an art like flamenco whose secret of communcation lies in surpassing its own limitations.

In the first review of the collected material, we were faced with two key problems: background sounds that were sometimes quite noisy and distracting, and the difficulty of choosing from a long series of styles of a specific cante those three or four that would be most appropriate for our archive.  How to eliminate the anecdotal comments that could be disturbing; and how to tie together and give the guitar adequate continuity when extracting a few examples from among a group of closely-linked cantes?  Aside from some well-known technical solutions, we have stayed true to the goal of avoiding the familiar character of sound that is associated with studio recordings.  The term “archive” is sufficiently self-explanatory in this respect.  It means filing all of this living and expressive documentation of flamenco as found in its original habitat, and taking advantage of unusual moments and occasions.  One true fragment of cante or an isolated moment of brilliance standing out from the usual confusion of the fiesta — these were especially valuable for our purposes.  It would have been preposterous to try to carefully plan the performances or to select the guitarists — very bad in some instances — who would best serve to support each cante.  From the moment we began, we were primarily concerned with the truthfulness and the impact of the material we would record.  From this standpoint, we contend that this archive includes the most traditional repertoire of cantes that can still be found in theri native setting:  In a tavern in Triana or Jerez, in a home in Puerto de Santa Maria or Mairena del Alcor, in a roadside tavern in Cadiz or Alcala de Guadaira, in a small restaurant in Arcos or Utrera, or a courtyard in Moron or Lebrija…

It should not be necessary to allude to the fact that the huge undertaking of grouping all the cantes, each of the many known variants of flamenco, would have made our ambitious project practically impossible.  With the hundreds and hundreds of styles of cante that could be classified in Andalucia — not to mention Extremadura, La Mancha and Murcia — and the countless individual styles and distinctions made by each interpreter, the huge task of recording this flood of divisions and subdivisions of flamenco would have demanded means far in excess of what this private venture permitted.  Our archive is intended as nothing more nor less than a basic panorama of the most genuine cantes that have survived to our time, authenticated by tradition and by the reliability of the artists we have chosen.  But we insist that this labor of compilation would not have attained its validity without the insistence on recording within the zone of flamenco’s birth, and in the natural climate in which it thrives and is performed.  We wanted to make a useful and necessary contribution to support this popular culture, to create an archive with genuine integrity that would preserve the most authentic expressions of flamenco.

END OF PART I

Here’s the second installment of the notes for the Archive flamenco, written by J.M. Caballero Bonald to tell the story of that important anthology released in 1968.  (As an aside, note the reference here to Triana as “open on other sides to the great pastures of the Betica plain or toward the endless rice fields in the marshes of Aznalcazar.”  No wonder I could recall flooding in that area during one long-ago rainy season.)  Again, thanks to Brad Blanchard for his original 1981 translation that has helped this effort:

PART II — SEVILLA

Our first trips were necessarily to Sevilla, and we’d return there many times as it offered the most reliable center of operations.  We had already realized that the cante, sociologically speaking, is a reality that is virtually archaeological.  We are not referring to its presumed corruption with the passage of time, but rather to its transplantation from its native areas to various other regions — a change which entails the loss of its original societal foundations.  One cannot deny that, due to the gradual popularization of flamenco, the art is today much better known — and, of course, more thoroughly mastered by some interpreters — than at any other stage of its development.  But this generalized progress involves turning its back on the historic and geographic nucleus from which it emerged.  Does this manifest uprooting imply some immediate danger?  It is difficult to venture an objective reply, but there is no doubt that, where its social involvement is concerned, the cante in its present form retains only isolated connections with the primitive cante.  That original, miserable and painful and intimate expression — originally sealed within a few anonymous Gypsy families — has today overflowed into the most far-flung arenas of fame.

Triana was, with Jerez, the most important and definitive site from which the cante sprang.  We now know that around the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, the hidden seeds of flamenco expression began to filter out from this domestic concealment towards its first public debut.  And this occurred in Triana, the very neighborhood of Seville where the city’s obscure Gypsy communities were located.  The absolute lack of documentation prevents us from reconstruction with any certainty the family-hearth atmosphere in which the hidden seed of the cante flourished initially.  Therefore, let us enter into the folk atmosphere of Triana.  After crossing the river from Sevilla proper to this opposite bank of the Guadalquivir, the urban landscape seems to change its character.  Triana is like a village pushed up against Sevilla, yet open on other sides to the great pastures of the Betica plain or toward the endless rice fields in the marshes of Aznalcazar.  The river also separates Triana in a way that is more than simply physical.  Triana may not appear to have any special distinction, but it nonetheless forms a unique nucleus that includes Gypsy, morisco and country folk.  Triana’s humble yet powerful personality is not external, but comes from the human interior of this neighborhood.

We walked through Triana both day and night.  We lost ourselves in the deep, light alleys of La Cava, of el Altozano, of el Arco de la Pureza.  Right here in some of these poor tenement houses, at the end of the eighteenth century, lived in anonymous misery some of those illustrious Gypsy families who were the only repositories of the heritage of the cante.  In this poor and unstable cradle, the dazzling artistic reality of flamenco was born.  Triana must not have been very different from what it is like now.  We know very little about the lives of those first interpreters of the cante — el Planeta, el Fillo, Frasco el Colorao, Juan Encueros, los Caganchos, los Pelaos — although we claim to know something of their styles of tonas and siguiriyas.  Although distantly linked to their long history of persecutions and with unclear relation to the Moors of the region, it is still not clear why these Gypsies were the ones who were entrusted with carrying out that fusion of elements of intensely oriental Andalusian music that would come to be called flamenco.  The oldest known verses of these cantes invariably speak of misfortunes and outrages, of prison and death.  It reflects, indeed it was, the life of the Gypsies, who are often viewed as non-human zeroes among the world’s wandering peoples.  From the beginning, the central theme of flamenco gathers together all that desolate flood of experiences, adapted in each case to individual sufferers; and with no relation to the usual themes of popular Andalusian song.

And what remains of that moral and material landscape of the Triana of 1800?  Only some vague trace is seen in the surroundings; the rest has been diluted, as society changed its outlines during the known histroy of the cante.  There is no doubt that the condition of life, and the daily ups and downs of the flamenco artist, have radically altered the ingredients of the art.  The present-day interpreters are removed from those special human conditions which made possible the genesis of flamenco.  The majority of today’s cantaores appear to be associated, actively and competitively, with the many opportunities that are offered by the growing international popularity of the cante.  The productive allure of professionalism — or the new ways of life — have practically caused thecantaor to vanish from the land of his birth.

During our various explorations of the flamenco scene of Sevilla, we counted extensively on the indispensable help of Antonio Mariena — the best living professional cantaor — and on Amós Rodríguez, a conscientious expert on flamenco and an excellent, though sporadic, interpreter.  The orientation and direct collaboration of these irreplaceable advisors was essential to our work.

Mairena has an exceptional knowledge of the history of flamenco.  He speaks to us of the old cantaores that he met when he was a child, of the unforeseen artistic baggage that they carried on their shoulders, of the miseries and the great moments of their ways of being.  Mairena himself is responsible for the rescue and the personal re-elaboration of many forgotten styles, and his lonely example has imposed, beyond any doubt, a demanding standard of performance on the dense professional payroll list of the cante.  His eagerness to revitalize a degraded heritage makes Mairena an essential point of reference for any examination of the sources of flamenco.  Amós Rodríguez, for his part, represents an important sector of non-professional cantaores who blend solid investigation with personal interpretive ability – a rare combination.  His points of view are somewhat different than Mairena’s, and define a different attitude in relation to the expressive canons of the cante.

We had very interesting conversations with Amós Rodríguez and Antonio Mairena during our walks through Sevilla and our ramblings through Utrera, Alcala de Guadaira, Dos Hermanas and Mairena del Alcor.  We met many times in Sevilla, in the bar of Pepe Pinto, whose wife, la Niña de los Peines, always attended in silence, the exhausted symbol of another epoch, listening to the discussions of that historical period of the cante on which she imprinted her own indelible stamp.  La Niña de los Peines today offers no opinons, and she can no longer sing.  But suddenly we feel that through this narrow bar of Pepe Pinto there circulates, now fragmented, an enormous current of history of the cante…

Mairena believes in personal styles as the only possibility for enrichment of the cante.  Purity is therefore measured by the importance we give to the oral tradition; that which follows the old flamenco tradition is pure.  Amós Rodríguez, on the other hand, believes that creations attributed to individual cantaores must always be suspect, since they will be adapted and deformed by those who interpret and transmit them.  The amount of truth in the cante corresponds to the amount of truth in the person communciating it.

The abilities of the cantaor should be subordinate to his power to captivate; he will communicate pain to others only as he feels pain inside himself.  And this can only be achieved if the cante is adapted to his life…  Flamenco could turn out to be inoperative  if the modern interpreter were to reproduce in his cante structures that no longer have anything to do with the world in which he lives.  The most logical thing would be for the cantaor to adjust his themes and expressive intention to the repertoire of his own experience.  It has already been said many times that no art – popular or otherwise — can lose touch with its history.  And flamenco was engendered by human junctures and social circumstances that no longer exist.

In Sevilla, on different occasions, Amós Rodríguez, Tomás Torre, Luis Caballero and Antonio Calzones were recorded.  We scheduled the meetings in the best and most natural surroundings: in a tavern in Triana, in a venta or roadside inn outside of Sevilla, in a home on the outskirts of Alameda de Hercules (a legendary site for flamenco until about 25 years ago).  Sometimes thecante came quickly, before midnight; on other nights, it was slow in arriving, as if it were struggling helplessly against its own destruction until dawn.  The inner ritual of the cante depends on the degree of abandon of the interpreter – something we never forgot during our work.  The majority of non-professional singers on this archive are people who haven’t tried, for one reason or another, to earn a living from their art.  In a way, some of them are the last representatives of that almost legendary caste of cantaores who limit themselves to narrating the dramatic burden of their lives.  We really believe that before long, when these illustrious figures in the history of flamenco have disappeared, they will take with them the possibility of directly experiencing that tragic chapter of flamenco history which is already changing to adapt to present conditions.  There is no doubt that the usual method of contracting and then recording the artist in the studio, in some set order and at a predetermined time, would have squeezed out of this archive its most essential characteristic — the authentic and spontaneous documentary value of cantes gathered from their own sources in the most authentic surroundings.

It was hard for us to convince Amós Rodríguez to participate in this archive.  He only sings on special occasions, and in this instance he sang unexpectedly, when the gathering had reached its climactic moment and its maximum communicative level.  For this unpredictable artist, not even the mediocrity of the guitar — we had to settle on this occasion for the only available player — diminished the validity of Amós’s gushing expressive passion.

The lone ascendancy of Tomás Torre now confers on him special validity as an interpreter.  Son of Manuel Torre — one of the most impassioned artists in flamenco history — this humble and now elderly Gypsy is now considered to be not so much a cantaor as a transmitter of memories of the old styles of Jerez, learned from the Torre family dynasty that culminated in his father.

It doesn’t really matter that Tomás’s abilities are somewhat limited.  The broken, dark voice, the tonal stridency, the lack of power, have nothing to do with the supreme truth of the cante.  It is something very similar to what happens in jazz, especially with the kind of exultation represented by Louis Armstrong.  In both cases, perhaps the only truly indespensable attribute is a spontaneous emotion, usually buried but brought to the surface by the rhythm — the compás of the music.

Flamenco, in large measure, is a matter of compás.  Rarely can its light shine through if the singer is not intimately attuned to that demanding norm which marks the luminous unfolding, the spiritual jolts, of the cante.  Tomás Torre knows the secret of the compás, and the secret of the truest Gypsy depths of flamenco.  What better documentary guarantee could we offer?  Tomás speaks of his father as a mythical figure. The life of Manuel Torre offers a model of the difficult and enigmatic personalities of the Gypsies who forged flamenco.

Tomás confirms many of the anecdotes concerning the proud, impenetrable and masterly flamenco creator that was Manuel Torre.  When he sings, Tomás’s dark eyes become moist and from his throat leaps the hoarse trembling of his own exposed memories.  He says that he, like his father, sometimes has to sing poorly — that it is impossible to always sing well, and that those who always sing well have become mere trained canaries.  Tomas only feels a true expressive impulse when he remembers the chills of his family experiences.

The siguiriyas and the soleares that he sang for us that night were worth all that he hasn’t been able — or hasn’t wanted — to sing in his unstable and difficult life.  In Tomás’s struggle with dark shadows of his voice, in the desperate root of each one of his broken laments, in the tragic Gypsy echoes, resides the deepest truth of the cante: its furious social meekness.

An apparent contradiction, yes.  But flamenco is only a cry without rebellion; a resigned protest.  Tomás Torre may not know it, but all of this is heartrendingly implicit in his exemplary sense of the cante.

Luís Caballero, for his part, is just the opposite of a flamenco professional.  Belonging to the petit-bourgeousie of Sevilla, without contacts beyond the daily happenings of the cante, he has nonetheless remained close to his artistic circle.  In Sevilla, as in any other southern Spanish locality, the average Andalusian never considers flamenco to be a popular music that identifies with his own preferences, his own taste, his own traditions.  It is viewed instead as a logical phenomenon, produced by the independent genesis of flamenco within a particular minority group and defined by the unusual, semi-clandestine paths of its development.  There is no doubt that these historical circumstances provoked an evident lack of interest and, at times, even a certain disdain for flamenco on the part of most Andalusians.  For many this music was suspiciously linked to a dark background, and conveyed a dark and strange meaning.  Generally, the popularity of the true flamenco song resulted only through its alliances with other kinds of popular regional folklore.

We allude to this because Luís Caballero represents, with some special characteristics, that slavish attraction for flamenco that sometimes arises in people who are far removed from the atmosphere in which it was born.  Despite his personal distance from the tight professional world of the cante, Luis Caballero generously agreed to participate in this archive.   Lucid and passionate at the same time, his ample stylistic command revealed extensive knowledge and a profound calling.

The case of Antonio Calzones is quite peculiar.  Still a young man, not subject to the burdens of professionalism, his cante is a textual response to that previously mentioned way of seeing it as an expressive necessity.  We couldn’t pin down exactly what circumstances were causing certain difficulties as we prepared to hear this introverted, fervent and almost anonymous singer.  We recalled that same morning, when we went looking for him and when, unasked and without a guitar on hand, he burst into a long, trembling siguiriyas.  The surroundings were hardly appropriate — a merciless sun fell on the patio, there were distracting bustlings around us, people were shouting right nearby.  But suddenly, Calzones’ cry tore through the patio like an unexpected meteor, hushing and depopulating it.  It was only an announcement, a momentary test of power and integrity indelibly implanted in our memory.  But it wasn’t then possible to take advantage of that promising communicative gust; we had to wait for the quiet of early morning, in a venta on the highway to Jerez.  We were able to find a good guitarist — Antonio Sanlúcar — who still drags his noble old age through some of the little-known flamenco haunts in Sevilla.  Two fine scholars accompanied us: Fernando Quiñones, whose direct collaboration would prove quite valuable, and José Caba Povedano, who knows more than almost anyone about the heart of flamenco in Sevilla.  That night, Calzones sang a wide range of styles: siguiriyas, soleares, tangos, tientos, bulerías, cantiñas gaditanas, fandangos, taranto and petenera.  The singer groped and stubbornly struggled in his desperate efforts to overcome the hidden obstacles to his art.  Surrounded by a perfect climate in the blackness of night, Calzones felt more rigid than he had in the noise and the dissolving sunlight of that morning.  We have already alluded to the unpredictability of the cante:  either it annuls and cancels itself, without any evident reason, or it surges suddenly out of its own ashes.  “In flamenco”, Calzones tells us, “the only thing worthwhile is the flood of emotion that hurts you from within; to sing better or worse, according to the abilities of each person, isn’t so important. Antonio Mairena, for example, always sings so well that he no longer pleases.”  Calzones is, clearly, a typical cantaor buffeted by fate; in his own exhausting strivings, the shining honesty of his cante is clearly visible.

END OF PART 2

Here’s the third installment of this translation of the booklet by J.M. Caballero Bonald, on the inside story of creating the Archivo Flamenco, released in 1968; (acknowledgement to Brad Blanchard for his 1981 translation that ran in the American flamenco publication Jaleo.)

PART III – ALCALA DE GUADAIRA

Alcalá de Guadaira, situated not many kilometers from Sevilla, is a pueblo of deep and powerful personality that has been a decisive site for many key chapters in the history of the cante.  Naturally, we had to enter its twisting streets often.  Here, as elsewhere, it is not easy to discover the roots of flamenco on first glance.  Since the Eighteenth Century, the Gypsy section of Alcala has been on the hillside below the old castle that, like a proud memory, dominates the open setting of the pueblo.  We walked through this section many times.  A disorderly cluster of wide hovels, unsanitary and excavated partly from the living rock, are half barracks and half cave.

Between the labyrinth of small paths, the weeds grow, water runs, and life passes in miserable conditions.  Here lived Joaquín el de la Paula and Agustín Talega and la Roezna — great creators of the cante of the last century — and here today live their humble descendants, almost unknown, who are the transmitters of that monumental Gypsy inheritance.  The cantes of Alcalá — like those of all flamenco regions — were born and defined in the intimacy of a few Gypsy families, in this case the Talega and the Paula families whose last great representatives are Juan Talega — now almost 80, and the son of Agustín — and Manolito el de María, nephew of Joaquín el de la Paula, who died just a few months after singing a few exemplary soleares and bulerias for this archive.

Juan Talega currently lives in Dos Hermanas, a neighboring pueblo of Alcalá.  We therefore limited ourselves to seeking out Manolito el de la María in the houses of the Aguila neighborhood.  In our first journeys to Alcalá we failed to find him — he was clipping sheep on a farm in El Arahal.  Later, after asking in the venta de Platilla in front of the bridge that crosses the Guadaira at the entrance to town, we were told where he lived.  It was late when we arrived, and he was already in bed, but he quickly dressed and accompanied us, trying to overcome his exhaustion with an affable, somewhat forced show of vitality.  There was not a trace of bitterness in this elderly man who rose from his wretched family bed to join us.  As Alcalá slept, we descended the slope facing the fertile breath of the river, close to the rich pine groves of la Oromana.

It was already morning when the fiesta commenced, in a room on the upper floor of the venta de Platilla, a memorable site of many great flamenco sessions at the end of the last century.  We also made an appointment with two other anonymous singers from Sevilla — Jose Tragapanes and one called Ciego de San Roman — of whom we had been given somewhat contradictory reports about their possible involvement in the archive.  We had not met them before.  Tragapanes is a Gypsy, getting on in years, cordial and faltering, who earns a living singing in the ventas on the outskirts of Sevilla.  He possesses a strong-willed expressive passion — but it’s a monotonous passion, as though learned as a professional obligation.

Ciego de San Roman, for his part, earns a poor living by hoping for something to turn up in the flamenco venues of Sevilla.  His own darkness (he is blind) has logically sharpened his sense of hearing.  But his cante is a clear example of that poor, artificial manner of interpreting it according to dictates that are foreign to the creative core of flamenco.  Neither he nor Tragapanes were able to offer a valid contribution that met the specific requirements of this archive.

Manolito de la María’s memories of the cante were vague and random, as so often happens.  Rarely will a cantaor agree with another when speaking to us about his flamenco experiences.  The usual thing is that, after weighing and contrasting judgements, we find ourselves awash in indecision.  Manolito supported his ideas about the cante with recollections from his own life.  He always alluded to the journeys he had to make through these fertile lands of poor farmers where he worked, as God had made him realize he should, in humble and sporadic occupations.  Outside of his own specific environment, his knowledge of the cante was very incomplete.  He spoke to us more of singers than of songs — most of all, about his uncle Joaquín el de la Paula, who had also lived in the caves on the castle’s slope.  Joaquín created his own exemplary style of soleares, elaborated with fragments of other local cantes and enriched with that impressive artistic intuition that Gypsies possess.  Flamenco, for Manolito el de la María, was like a way of being, like a commandment of his race.  It’s not important to sing the cante “to the letter”.  Rather, one must feel a “pellizco” — a chill — inside, and cry out, calling to one’s own self.  The cante of the non-Gypsies is something else; the non-Gypsy sings by ear.  The Gypsy creates for his own kind, unearthing his personal experience, transmitting from parent to child the secret of an expression that used to belong to just a few families and that is now available to everyone.  Flamenco used to flow in specific, private ceremonies, but now it has been converted into a public spectacle.  Manolito el de la Maria spoke incoherently about this, losing himself in strange arguments.  It may be only logical that he wouldn’t know the exact roots of his art, but he did know why he sang and when he felt the necessity to do so.

Probably, while harvesting wheat or clipping sheep, Manolito sang for himself, calmly or passionately.  He sang because “he remembered what he had lived”, and sometimes he sang to seek relief, unconsciously, from a long history of afflictions.  There is no doubt that the cante of the Gypsies is, like its creators, an independent phenomenon, marginally and confusedly digested by a liberated inner intoxication and also, at times, offering a kind of catharsis.

Manolito’s name never left these restricted flamenco circles.  He did perform in some flamenco festivals in the area, but was scarecely recognized as an artist; it’s as if he himself preferred to remain in the background.  He said, “Sometimes, I knowingly sing poorly”.  He died as he had lived — poor and unknown.  And he was one of the cleanest, purest singers with whom we dealt.  He never had the slightest interest in turning his cante into a way of making a living.  We are convinced that everything he sang on that memorable night in Alcalá was a rigorously correct and unrepeatable example of his true creative capacity.  He remembered what he had lived, and perhaps he intuited that his life would not go on much longer.

In another of our visits to Alcala, we made contact with the children of Joaquín el de la Paula — Enrique and Merced — and with a well-known Gypsy called Juan Barcelona.  Amós Rodríguez Rey accompanied us, as he would on other occasions in his spare time, as a sort of castle-keeper for that now ruined fortress that is native flamenco.  Enrique also lives in the neighborhood of shacks that mine the castle slope over the gorge of the Guadaira.  With that resignation — at times irritating because of its serenity — that marks a long-subjugated people, this son of Joaquín el de la Paula exhibited his miserable life as would someone who had been temporarily deprived of his possessions.  He displayed a certain pride — that imprecise pride of the Gypsies that consists half of studied disdain and half of dense in the face humiliation — that serves to hide, like a delicate curtain, so much human poverty.  Enrique el de la Paula is stuffed with his family into an unwelcoming cubbyhole, but he doesn’t complain.  He limits himself to understanding that he has chosen these impoverished conditions rather than submit himself to the rampart of absurdities that mark non-Gypsy life.  It is, without doubt, the reactionary resignation of the Gypsy before a society that has refused to integrate him.  But isn’t the cante, in the end, like an intimate protest that has accepted beforehand its own conformity?

Enrique el de la Paula speaks in dark flashes of memory about the life and miracles of his father, of the people who made pilgrimages to his cave to hear him — then in the last years of his sickly, wandering life — this embodiment of of the famous flamenco stock of Alcalá.  Enrique knows the cante of his father — the purest and most genuine local style — but he cannot express it; his voice seizes up in a painful and ineffective effort that  barely reveals the deteriorating outline of the prodigious soleares of Joaquin.  It’s almost the opposite of what has happened to his sister Merced, who possesses an undeniable expressive capacity but who has forgotten the noble and incomparable Gypsy lesson of Alcalá.

End of Part 3

Here’s the fourth part of the booklet that accompanied the Archivo del Flamenco, released in 1968:

PART IV — UTRERA

Utrera is an eminently Andalusian pueblo.  By itself, though, this attribute may not mean very much.  It is widely understood that Andalusia is not a country, but rather a complex unity of countries, all differentiated by very evident physical and spiritual characteristics.  The Andalucía of Utrera is, of course, that which finds its most definitive representation in Sevilla. It does not seem to fit the concept of a tragic Andalucía, but there is something in its cheerful outward appearance that bespeaks a large dose of hidden pathos.  Utrera, like these other pueblos, is rich in land and livestock — generous to a few, and miserly to many.

The local cantes — the ones re-elaborated so masterfully by La Serneta and Juanique, by El Pinini and Rosario la del Colorao — were born, as is the norm, in those miserable Gypsy communities that blanketed the fertile landscape of Sevilla, mixing themselves initially with Moors and landless  country folk.  Geographically, as well as historically in flamenco terms, Utrera is situated on a crossroads.  It is, and was, influenced by the cantes of Triana and Jerez, of Alcalá and Lebrija and — in a curious way — by some styles of cantiñas and bulerias of Cadiz.  The flamenco forms of Utrera – above all, its prodigious soleares — have incorporated all the pure, solemn and emotional intensity of the primitive cante.  Its creative dynamism has been, in this respect, exemplary.

We came to this fortress of flamenco twice after our first reconaissance visit.  Our purpose was to select those examples that could best represent flamenco’s two branches — the professional and the more-or-less anonymous.

For that purpose we were counting on Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera, cantaoras who are well-known outside of the local area;  on Miguel el de las Angustias, a butcher by trade and quite removed from professionalism; and el Perrate, an itinerant laborer.  After much coming and going, we accomplished the first meeting in a mill outside of Utrera.  We were in the middle of deep olive orchards, exuberant orange groves and the endless pastures.  There was an unspoken ceremonial atmosphere in this mill which had been converted into an improvised and unexpected stage, thanks to the warm disposition and flamenco aficion of its owner.  The preparation for the fiesta was rather difficult, and it was already early morning when the first signs of real cante were heard.  Manuel el de Angustias and El Perrate were with us.

Manuel is a middle-aged Gypsy, dark-skinned, neat and well-integrated into the society of Utrera in spite of conserving his racial purity.  He lives freely and sings only for his friends.  He is one of the organizers of the so-called “Potaje”, a type of annual celebration, like a ritual examination, where the best — and hardest to find — group of local cantaores gather.  The long series of soleares that Manuel el de Angustias sang unexpectedly served to link the styles of Alcalá and Triana, though unmodified by the local colorings.  He did not know, of course, how to define the boundaries in the succession of these songs.  One might even say that it’s impossible to draw clear boundaries — though one could differentiate the styles in terms of their respective essential profiles — between the soleares of Triana and Jerez, Cadiz and Utrera, Lebrija and Alcala.  In the first place, we are not even sure which were the first primitive soleares of Triana.  Manuel thinks that each Gypsy sings what he heard in his own circles, and that if the cante carries truth within itself, nothing else matters.  It’s possible that by the middle of the last century, due to the competition and the creative stimulus generated by the cafés cantantes, an intertwining or blending was produced in the diverse styles of soleares that were then known.  The variants of Jerez, Triana, Utrera, and Alcalá must have influenced one another through the mouths of their interpreters, who may have mixed some of their most characteristic attributes.  Today we know, for example, which were the soleares of la Serneta — bound to Triana because that’s where this great singer lived — and which were those of Joaquín el de la Paula, from Alcala.  We know this in the same way that we recognize the siguiriyas of Diego el Marrurro — from Jerez, like the singer himself — or those of Enrique el Mellizo, from Cadiz.  Regarding the many branches of these songs, perhaps it is proper to speak of personal styles rather than “local” styles.  Each cantaor must have created a form based on an original nucleus-form of flamenco.  It’s clear that when these were created they had to first be reduced to a basic modality, and later divided and subdivided according to the virtue of the versions expressed by any given interpreter.

El Perrate de Utrera is a worthy exponent of the local cantes.  In his examples of soleares there are no specific distinctions, but in them one can hear the faithfully reproduced aire of a style that has not yet been deformed by public adaptations.  El Perrate is a Gypsy with legitimate flamenco credentials.  His grandfather was a poor but great cantaor who was not known to many, and El Perrate is married to a daughter of Manuel Torre.  His sister – La Perrata, mother of Juan el Lebrijano — is a very interesting singer from Lebrija.  These are the only things that seem to matter to him as we ask him about his views on flamenco.  He has grown up in this atmosphere; he sings because he knows how to sing.  When a man is missing that which is most necessary, the cante becomes an intimate form of expressing that necessity.  It is like the treacherous and evasive old saying, “cantando la pena, la pena se olvida” (“In singing of suffering, the suffering is forgotten”).

Without knowing how to explain it, El Perrate makes us understand that flamenco was born when the Gypsy was trying to free himself from the anguish of his difficult tasks and hurdles, and his long experience of injustice.  Flamenco has never been a work song; rather it has been an anguished means of outward expression, springing up from the harshly punished heart of the race.  El Perrate seems to intuit that if flamenco did not exist, the Gypsies would have to invent something similar to let loose that knot of human unease that boils inside them.  Perhaps for this it was born.

We again returned to Utrera, for an arranged meeting with Fernanda and Bernarda, professionals whose participation we considered indispensable for the archive.  Fernanda is one of the purest and most qualified contemporary artists in the cante por soleares.  Her sister Bernarda is a cantaora in a lighter flamenco vein, but here her cantes “por fiestas” and her bulerias with the flavor of Utrera were also perfect examples of compás and expressive emotion.  Both have performed outside of Spain, and they have been able to buy a house with their savings.  Of their travels they retain only the diffuse and picturesque memories common to all Gypsies who have traveled abroad — that is, the deformed and rudimentary notion of a world seen with an inborn capacity for understanding and assimilating it.  Fernanda and Bernarda have attained, in the meantime, what they wanted most: their own house in their own pueblo.  It is moving to see these two Gypsies, who only recently left their poor family circles, now showing with clear and overflowing pride the secure, legal evidence of their property.  The distance between the original style of life in which flamenco developed and its latest conquests are radical also from a material point of view.  It is understandable, and desirable, that this has happened.

Fernanda and Bernarda were waiting for us in their house, where they had organized a small party.  They were going to Paris the next day.  We arrived at midnight, after picking up the guitarist Eduardo de la Malena in Sevilla.  The whole family had gathered, waiting for us: the elderly mother (who recently died); an aunt, María Peña, who sang without a guitar and without power some old cantiñas of Rosario la del Colorao, half jota gaditana (jota de Cadiz) and half soleá bailable (danceable solea); and an abundant group of discrete relatives and annoying “animadores profesionales“, or professional enthusiasts.  The party, slow at first, soon produced that unforeseeable, intertwined magic that marks an intimate Gypsy gathering.  We had thought that the simple act of installing the recording equipment might have disturbed that atmosphere which was so appropriate.  Indeed, some people did seem a bit bothered by the activities of the sound technician who was trying to set up the recording apparatus in a back room of the house — perhaps he seemed suspicious to them.

Fernanda has inherited from her elders all of the primitive purity of flamenco.  Her soleares are truly unsurpassable.  No one in our time has so admirably reworked and enriched the shining local tradition as Fernanda has.  The old styles of Utrera — mixed, at times, with those of Alcalá and Triana – blend admirably in Fernanda’s noble, sobbing and profound expression.  We believe that more than a century ago, her family must have produced one of those characteristic Gypsy focal points where flamenco was shaped by its communicative formulas into that which we know today.  Fernanda and Bernarda – grandchildren of El Pinini — speak of the cante “de los suyos” (of their own people), of the gatherings in which the Gypsy girls of Utrera have participated, of the almost religious encounters with great cantaores who were still alive.  Fernanda captures with a masterful “cultura de la sangre“ (“culture of the blood”) the tragic and rich root of that legacy, while Bernarda can generate the most authentic “festera” outpouring.  In one way or another, all human feeling and artistic temperament of local flamenco history are powerfully integrated in the expressive fervor of these two optimal cantaoras.

Fernanda and Bernarda’s mother loved to offer information about flamenco to her daughters.  She alluded with intense emotion to Merced la Serneta and to Jauniquí — born respectively in Jerez and Lebrija, but who lived and forged their flamenco styles in Utrera; to el Pinini and to Rosario la del Colorao; to the cantaores of “the household”, who disdained and rejected celebrity; and to the ostentatious Gypsy rituals of the end of the last century.  Uncle Jauniquí lived in a shack, far from the pueblos, like a hermit.  Those were very different times, when the inveterate poverty of the flamenco creators could still be wielded with deliberate dignity against the false, tinseled promise of fame.  “You now see,” said this old and agreeable Gypsy woman, ”those who are starting to listen to the radio.  And later, it is as if they are bored when they sing.  To sing the truth, it is necessary to live that truth beforehand.”

And she was right.  Her opinion is closely linked to the already-mentioned essential difference between a cantaor who narrates his own life and another who limits himself to to repeating themes and concepts foreign to his experience.  We insist that the creator of the cante is one thing and the transmitter of it is another.  And that has nothing to do with the fact that today’s cante may be stylistically better than ever, despite its having become distanced from its social nurturing so that it runs the risk of changing into a falsified product that is strictly for exportation and sale.

End of Part 4 — thanks to Brad Blanchard for his earlier translation, (and Paco Sevilla and Juana de Alva of Jaleo, where it ran in 1981).

Here’s the latest installment in J.M. Caballero Bonald’s account of making the Archivo del Cante Flamenco record, issued in 1968.  My translation uses Brad Blanchard’s 1981 translation as a referee…

PART V – JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA

Jerez was — along with Triana — the most fertile and decisive founding nucleus of flamenco.  The proof of its importance is found by simply enumerating the city’s great cantaores.  Since Tío Luís el de la Juliana – who lived in the late 1700′s, and whose name is the first known in the history of the cante — the list of renowned Jerez artists includes Manuel Molina, Merced la Serneta, Paco la Luz, Salvaorillo, El Loco Mateo, Deigo el Marrurro, Carito, Joaquín La Cherna, María La Jaca, El Chato, Manuel Torre, Antonio Frijones, El Puli, Antonio Chacón, Tío José de Paula, Juan Junquera, El Gloria, La Pompi, Juanito Mojama, Tía Anica la Piriñaca, etc.  All of them represent to perfection the most fertile, creative contributions in the realm of cante since the middle of the last century.

Two principal barrios, Santiago and San Miguel, were until quite recently the sites of frequent family fiestas and spontaneous gatherings in the taverns, where one could still hear the anonymous, fervent brilliance of a cante performed virtually by instinct alone, modestly and truthfully taken from the ineradicable memory of the people.  Today, as in many other places, these sudden improvisations on the streets have almost completely disappeared.  It is inevitable.  The same changes of vital perspectives have altered the tastes and the aficiones of the people, displacing the would-be cultivators of the cante from their restricted narrative horizons.  The majority of the new artists have a very inaccurate idea of the embryonic fundamdentals of the canteand of its historic reason for being.  Of course, it is not necessary for artists to know this, and it may be unfair to demand that they do.  But the present widespread diffusion of flamence has in many cases confused the reasoning and the values of today’s artists.

For years, we’ve heard about an authentic case of conservation of the old styles of cante and of the special way of life of the great cantaores of the first public-performance era of flamenco.  We’re referring to Tía Anica la Piriñaca.  This exemplary Gypsy woman [translator's note from BZ: La Pirinaca was evidently not Gypsy -- or not completely Gypsy -- by birth, though she spent her life in the Gypsy world of Jerez], now almost eighty, has always been a kind of walking carrier of the best and purest essence of the cante.  She has never appeared outside of a small circle of aficionados.  We’ve seen her many times in the streets of Jerez, in some dingy tavern, practically begging for a few coins in exchange for an improvised version of soleares or bulerias.  Tía Anica la Piriñaca defines, beyond a doubt, the truest survival of the old social and stylistic context of the cante.  She learned from her fellow Jerezanos – from Manuel Torre, from Antonio Frijones, from Tío José de Paula — until she became a prodigious cantaora with vast knowledge of virtually forgotten styles.  She could have been an unsurpassable source of learning; rarely has she considered herself to be what she really is — an unknown yet prodigious example of human truth, and of the dramatic expressiveness of the cante.

Tía Anica la Pirñaca lives in the Jerez barrio of Santiago, close to the gardens of Tempul, in the heart of one of the most famous birthplaces of cante.  When we visited her home, we were accompanied by the man who knows the most about the history of flamenco in Jerez: Juan de la Plata, the director of the Catedra de Flamencología, an enterprising conservatory of Gypsy-Andalusian art.  A worn-out entranceway, a noisy and flower-bedecked communal patio, a small and tidy bedroom — a simple place for a poor woman.  Tía Anica la Piriñaca — Ana Soto, whose last name is the same as that of Manuel Torre — is small and rotund, a simple and vivacious old woman with a kind, smiling face.  She is dressed in black from head to toe.  We explain, as best we can, our objectives.  But she resists, with a touching sense of humility and disenchantment, as if she viewed her art as something that had been allowed to accompany her, without her having done anything to deserve possession.  Finally, she seems to relent a bit and we agree to return for her in mid-afternoon.

We wanted to take a random walk through the barrio — along streets like the Calle Nueva, Las Animas, La Sangre — perhaps the most quintessentially Gypsy redoubt in lower Andalucía.  We later approached the spreading barrio of San Miguel, less well-defined than Santiago from a flamenco standpoint, but still the site of many important episodes in the development of the art.  On the wall of one of the decaying houses — Calle Alamos, 22 — there is a plaque:  ”On the fifth of December of 1878, Manuel Soto y Loreto, the artist known as Manuel “Torre”, was born here.”  It would be strange to tell that enigmatic and brilliant guardian of the deepest and purest secrets of the cante that someday the city government, which essentially ignored him while he lived, would dedicate this fervently admiring remembrance to him.

We are completely surrounded by an air of miserable paralysis, as if abandoned by the rush of time.  We can’t help thinking of the odd connection between the popular decorations and the social demolition of some of the most authentic aspects of the cante.  Flamenco was born in places like these, surrounded by a specific physical and spiritual climate, existing precariously as part of some almost impenetrable social mannerisms, and never identifying itself with the traditions and preferences of the surrounding Andalusian culture.  Only when the cantaor was able to choose another, less deprived way of life could he also adapt the cante to these new public expectations and demands.  But the basic germ of truth in flamenco could not – and will not — ever disappear as long as just one person exists within whom it is preserved.  In this sense, Manuel Torre is a vital link with the original integrity of the cante and its most uncontaminated historical development.  No one knew as well as he how to gather the secrets of the flamenco legacy together with such deep intuition and illumination.

The case of another Jerez singer of that same era, Antonio Chacón, is very illustrative in comparison to that of Torre.  Chacón followed, to a considerable extent, the path marked out by Silverio Franconetti, another non-Gypsy, by taking the cante outside of its role as a torturous expression of the feelings of a minority, and adapting it to the ever-changing level of popular, general understanding.  Silverio was a key figure in flamenco, and he deserved credit for some exceptional sylistic re-elaborations; but to what point did the hero-worship of Chacón — so conditioned by the taste of the era — disturb a most pure way of being and of singing that could not be properly subordinated to the demands of the public?

Tía Anica la Piriñaca sang for our archive in the basement of an old café in Jerez.  We recorded while it was still daylight, after slow preparation of the setting.  We’re convinced that it would be difficult on another occasion to capture such impressive examples of her martinetes, siguiriyas, soleares and bulerías.  All the human flow of passion emerges from this elderly and exceptional cantaora like a terrible flower revealing each of her burning laments.  For us, the untouchable root of flamenco is represented perfectly in each of these heart-felt and humble yet overwhelming cries, extracted from the darkest racial memory.  There are no traces of the artificial, or any ornamental deformations; it is simply the anguished recounting of the history of the Andalusian Gypsy, the pure bursting-forth of painful human experience.

Tía Anica la Pirñaca doesn’t know, of course, the origins of her cante; neither has it ever mattered to her whence came that expressive fountain, or where it is going.  The cante, for her, was born in some of the Gypsy houses on Calle Nueva and Calle Cantarería.  Later the first professional venues, the cafes cantantes, appeared.  She remembers some that prospered in that area, offering certain Gypsies an escape from poverty.  But she never took part in those initial steps toward professionalism.  She preferred to keep to her own anonymous life and the happenstance of the cante.  We asked her to sing a tona.  She didn’t know what we were talking about.  Neither could she distinguish the particular variant called the debla, though she recognized that it was a type of martinete created by Tomas Pavon.  “It’s in the blood”, she insists.  “Each person sings the cantes of his pueblo in his own way.”

La Piriñaca, like Juan Talega or Manolito el de María or Tomás Torre — to name a few other old singers who took part in this archive — sings as though she were revealing all of her intimate feelings in a sob, a cry of grief.  She doesn’t understand how one could express in any other way that which comes from within.  She hands herself over to the cante with intuitive mouthfuls of liberation, as if opening bit by bit her muzzled spirit.  “When I’m singing like I want to, my mouth tastes of blood”, she says.  The themes of her cantes are experiences she has lived, or adapted to make her own.

What we gathered from this exemplary cantaora was the purest balance of the cante of Jerez — that is, one of the most integral survivals in the history of Gypsy-Andalusian song.  Tía Anica la Piriñaca is, in relation to the flamenco world of Jerez, what Manolito el de María is with respect to Alcalá — the last remaining voice of an era now only glimpsed through a few rare examples.  With her, this priceless memory will disappear.

On our second visit to Jerez we got in touch with two other local cantaores; Juan Romero Pantoja, nicknamed “el Guapo” (Handsome), and Manuel Borrico (Donkey, Burro).  Both are Gypsies from the Barrio Santiago, neither is a professional cantaor, and they can serve to represent, to a certain extent, the present state of the flamenco tradition in Jerez.  We found Manuel Borrico in a venta on the outskirts of town where he usually ends up at night, looking for the thankless work of singing for a possible fiesta which can provide some economic reward.  The atmosphere was depressing.  The venta was virtually empty, and Manuel Borrico was dozing at a table next to a good young guitarist, Parilla, with whom we’d already connected on our previous trip so he could accompany la Piriñaca.  This tedious and deserted night spot seemed a bit like the visible image of a chapter of flamenco that had come to an end.  The afición for the cante — seen only in certain isolated social sectors of Andalucia — has gradually been converted into a style for the masses, after being uprooted from its poor original environment and installed in the ambiguous realm of the big-city tablaos or flamenco night clubs.

Manuel Borrico seems to struggle helplessly between the two extremes.  He is a cantaor of noble fiber but diminished faculties, subject at times to an expressive mode that has fallen into the routine, but which can suddenly show the inextinguishable echo of his race.  Juan Romero Pantoja belongs to a very representative Gypsy family of Jerez, one that has given some illustrious names to the song and the dance.  He sings only every now and then, though he enjoys a consistent renown as an interpreter of saetas and siguiriyas.  We found him through Juan de la Plata, who had arranged a meeting in the patio of the Cátedra de Flamencología in the ancient Alcázar section of Jerez where Moors and Christians long vied for control of the city.  Juan Romero’s song is closely tied to the flamenco history of the Barrio de Santiago.  His saetas and martinetes, his siguiriyas and bulerías, are like a kind of crucible in which have been melted some unmistakable and distinct elements of the cantes of Paco la Luz, Manuel Torre, Tío José de Paula, Paco la Mele, and El Gloria.  Even without a well-defined creative personality of his own, this young Gypsy is a good exponent of that way of living and singing that is closely linked to the special human and artistic traits of the barrio where he was born.

End of Part 5.

Here’s part 6 of the translation of the booklet for the Archivo del Cante Flamenco.

PART VI – MAIRENA DEL ALCOR

Mairena del Alcor is a small, shining pueblo surrounded by olive and orange groves.  The plaza resembles a patio with its baseboards painted pink and indigo and a central garden filled with fragrant flowers.  The name “Mairena” suggests a phonetic evocation of sea and sand [mar y arena] but in fact we are in the heart of the plains in the Andalusian basin.  Mairena del Alcor is proud to have been mentioned by Cervantes in his novel “El Coloquio de los Perros”, as witnessed by a plaque that quotes the book: “And before daybreak I was in Mairena, which is a place four leagues from Sevilla”.

It was Antonio Mairena who took us to his pueblo.  He is, expectedly, the favorite son of Mairena.  His broad renown as a singer could only have been generated in a place like this, largely inhabited by a single, extensive family and where even daily life is like a simple, communal expression.  In more populous places, one is never a great singer for the many, but rather for the relatively small nucleus of aficionados — always a minority.  But in this pueblo, Antonio Mairena is known to all as a symbol of artistic lucidity and a source of pride.  It is impressive, when one isn’t used to it, to see him cross these wide, flowered streets accompanied by the respect and admiration of everyone.  We believe that this scene is virtually unique to Mairena del Alcor.

Before arriving, we had made a special call in Dos Hermanas, just outside of Sevilla on the way to Utrera.  Juan Talega was waiting for us in a modest bar near the plaza.  Although he now lives in this agricultural zone bordering the marshes of the Guadalquivir, the cante and life of Talega are linked to Alcalá de Guadaira.  Dos Hermanas, despite its location in the geographic cradle of flamenco, really belongs to other expressive realms.  Juan Talega, now almost in his eighties, is the son of Agustín Fernández, a great but anonymous cantaor of the past century, and a nephew — as was Manolito el de María — of Joaquín el de la Paula, the unforgettable craftsman of the soleares which bear his name.  Heavily built and proud, with noble Gypsy bearing, Talega represents to perfection the so-often-mentioned but almost lost group of great cantaores who can be found in their native regions.  Juan Talega is in this sense an exceptional example.  Faithful preserver of the old styles of Alcalá and Triana, of Jerez and Utrera, he is one of the two or three greatest present-day exponents of the cante — when considered according to its truest and most rigorous historical roots.  Talega is an ultimate example of dramatic clear-sightedness and expressive wisdom.  Each of his cantes constitutes a supreme lesson in sobriety, in pathos, in the exact measuring of the compás, and in emotive tension.  No one today cvould give us more direct and precise human and artistic data than that which was offered to us by this faultless heir of the most illustrious branch of the Gypsy creators of Alcalá — that of the “houses” of the Talegas and the Paulas.  His cante is the expression of his life.  When the day comes that he can no longer sing, a whole important chapter of the history of flamenco will have been closed.

Juan Talega accompanied us to Mairena del Alcor.  With us, too, was Tomás Torre, the son of Manuel, whose cantes we had already taped; the guitarist Eduardo de la Malena; and José María Velazquez, an intelligent flamenco chronicler.  We met in a kind of small club, empty at the time, after having managed to avoid the influx of friends, aficionados and the merely curious.  Antonio Mairena had found his brother Francisco [sometimes known as Curro Mairena] — who, though hardly more than anonymous, is a good cantaor of soleares and siguiriyas, as is Manolo, the youngest of the three brothers.  We could not include either Antonio or Manolo in this archive, because of pre-existing exclusive recording contracts.  Francisco is a mature gentleman, of graceful Gypsy-Andalusian stance, very influenced by the serious and uncompromising flamenco approach of his brother Antonio.  His cantes have a great deal of spontaneous personal fervor and some glimpses of extraneous influence, but they are always true.  Francisco sings only for his friends (and only occasionally), and he especially welcomed this opportunity.

The fiesta in the small club of Mairena was long and fruitful, and continued in a venta close to Alcalá de Guadaira on the way back to Sevilla.  Most of these recordings had considerable documentary interest for us, as well as an irreplaceable expressive value.  The simple fact of having gathered the cantes of Juan Talega presupposes — as with some other admirable cases of older cantaores who contributed to this project — the fertile and definitive fixing and preservation of a whole extraordinary range of flamenco creations.

End of Part 6

Here is Part 7 of the booklet that accompanied the field-recorded Archivo del Cante Flamenco, released in 1968.  Incidentally, from this point on I don’t have the issues of Jaleo that carried Brad Blanchard’s 1981 translation — so there will be bunches of those bobbles, bloopers and blunders that so indelibly mark my unaided efforts.  In fact, this part begins by describing the target town as “humilde y recoleto, como agazapado en algun recodo de sus inmensas extensiones de dehesas y monocultivos”, whatever that means…

PART VII – PUEBLA DE CAZALLA

Puebla de Cazalla is a humble pueblo, seemingly squatting on some bend in this immense region of pastures and crop-fields.  Rising above an ancient Roman town, the present-day hamlet really doesn’t date back much past the Eighteenth Century.  Its personality links it directly to the many schemes directed at the intractable agrarian problems of Andalucia.  It seems to be humiliated by the surrounding labyrinths that lend it a part of its borrowed richness.  Many of its inhabitants — called “moriscos“, which would seem to deserve explanation — have left.  It’s the usual story in these poor, workaday sites.  Most of them have gone to work in Germany and, more recently, they’ve gone to work on Ibiza as construction workers despite their inexperience in this field.  Francisco Moreno Galván — in our view, the person who has most intensely grasped the historical truth of the cante — served as our guide to the social reality and the flamenco climate of this town and, later, of Morón.

Puebla de Cazalla has been the cradle of some good anonymous singers.  A few years ago, Alvarez Triguero died here — the great conserver of one of the most interesting blends of flamenco with liturgical music of Byzantine origin.  We are referring to the “pregones sagrados” or sacred announcement-cries, a variant of the primitive tonás that were sung for ages (though no longer) in La Puebla’s parish church on the morning of Holy Thursday.  The “pregón” — we prefer the term “toná litúrgica” — is a song of very special expressive force, sober and solemn as few others are, and posing serious interpretive difficulties.  After Alvarez Triguero, nobody here dared to attempt it in public.  The tradition is being lost.  We were particularly interesting in finding someone who would at least attempt to recreate the noble grandeur of these dazzling “pregones“.  After much coming and going, we found a worker named Montesino, from a family of good flamenco aficionados called the “Lobos”.  Montesino has rarely sung, even in private fiestas.  He refused to agree to our pleas, while we drank in a tavern.  The “pregón“, like the saeta of la Puebla — another obvious descendant of the old d___ – demands faculties and a tonal command of exceptional strength.  Montesino didn’t think he had them, and also said that he hadn’t sung for quite a while.  Only his good will led him to record for the archive, after our friendly, good-faith explanations and reassurances.

In la Puebla de Cazalla, as in many other sites, the presumptive singers of real interest are either increasingly scarce or no longer live in the pueblo.  The flamenco heritage simply runs out, or is diluted, under pressure from other necessities or attractions.  We heard about a Gypsy named Rafael, who was known as a singer of soleares and a festero — a fiesta-type singer — but he had left for Marchena, weeded out by circumstance.  The only great singer living in la Puebla — who is also one of the two or three finest representatives of the latest generation – is José Menese, whom we would record in Madrid where he has lived for two or three years.

Montesino el Lobo is a humble, quiet man, thin as a vine.  He speaks of his knowledge of the “pregón” and of the saeta of la Puebla as if recalling a forgotten story that still lies dormant in certain realms of the popular memory.  He learned them as a child, although he thinks it would be useless to try and reproduce its full expressive scope.  How could he sing in the church, before the townspeople, after the death of Alvaro Triguero?  Montesino el Lobo is a faithful aficionado of flamenco, but he doesn’t really grasp some of its most basic contingencies.  He only knows the genuine local tradition of this immediate region.  He says there were four “pregones” — of Judas, of Pilate, of the Garden, and of the Angel.  We suspect that these examples of liturgical songs were actually nothing but regional versions — non-Gypsy versions — of the antique group of songs known as tonás.  Each “pregón” consists of perhaps fifty verses, and is rendered during Holy Week, demanding  a huge effort that is compounded by the extreme difficulty of the cante.  Montesino el Lobo — a “morisco” of la Puebla and perhaps by descent as well, given the link between the Moors and the Gypsies — interpreted a fragment of the “pregón” of Pilate and a local saeta.  Despite his evident lack of experience, both examples seem to conform beautifully to the objectives of the archive.

PART VIII – MORON DE LA FRONTERA

From Puebla de Cazalla to Morón de la Frontera, it’s just a few scenic kilometers over a terrible road.  Morón is a lofty and prosperous town, dominated by the Moorish castle of that name, beneath which sprout humble houses and some grand mansions.  Like Alcalá, Jerez and Utrera — and like Sevilla’s barrio de Triana — Morón is one of the indisputable cradles of the cante.  As one example, remember that around 1850 Diego Bermudez “El Tenazas” was born here — an exceptional singer of soleá [and winner of the 1922 Concurso de Cante Jondo of Granada]; and here, too, Silverio Franconetti, born in Sevilla in 1831, lived most of his life.  This singer, of enormous personality, who emigrated for a while to Argentina and who returned to his homeland bearing a new expressive register to introduce a new social dimension of the cante.  Silverio was the first to try and place flamenco within the reach of a broad public, partly freeing it from its legendary minoritory roots.  Silverio was not Gypsy, and neither was his cante: but if something was lost in its concealed racial naturalness, something else was gained in accessibility and wide diffusion.  This contribution to determining the future of the cante was Silverio’s major legacy.  The old musical survivals among Gypsy families, the hidden transmission of styles, the deep ritual of some forms of expression that rarely went beyond their racial boundaries — all became fair game, to be presented as a public spectacle.  The drama of a subjugated people was now offered, with complex moral and material implications, in a public representation. From that point, we entered the diffuse but fertile epoch of the Cafes Cantantes.  Silverio himself owned one in Sevilla, where one could see the most famous singers of the second half the the Nineteenth Century.

In Morón, we were particularly interested in one singer — Luis Torres — and one guitarist — Diego el del Gastor.  Luís Torres is a middle-aged Gypsy, from a family that gave flamenco some important artists including Joselero de Morón, from whom Luís inherited both his nickname and his knowledge of the cante.  Diego del Gastor is a guitarist who is little less than legendary.  His fame has filtered into all the realms of flamenco, illuminated with a kind of halo of unique characteristics.  More than a “tocaor” (guitar player) in the normal sense, Diego is a maestro — teacher and master — of guitarists.  His melodic falsetas and variations have become celebrated.  And his creative power, linked to a tumultuous folk intuition and an evident delicacy of obscure origin, is truly admirable.  Diego — an elderly Gypsy with the air of an elderly professor — has rarely left Morón.  He flees from professionalism, and has refused many tempting contracts.  Now he supplements his income by giving guitar classes.

Though mutual friends — Francisco Moreno Galván, Fernando Quiñones, Alberto García Ulecia — we got together with Diego el del Gastor and Luís Torres “Joselero” in a tavern in Morón.  But we could not get the isolation we needed there, so we went to place near the castle where a student of Diego’s had some rooms.  The student, though American by birth, did not work on the nearby U.S. air base.  He only wanted to take guitar classes, and participate in the local goings-on with evident fervor.  It never ceases to astonish, this strange kind of impassioned dedication to flamenco that strikes some foreigners, causing them to leave their normal way of life and come to the most fertile flamenco territory.  This American apprentice guitarist, who barely knew how to speak Spanish, is but one example among many.  He identified with the truth of the cante, and the climate from which it springs.  It almost seemed that he had molded himself to fit the anarchic lifestyle of the Gypies with whom he lived.

The fiesta began late.  Diego played incessantly.  His improvisations, his gorgeous dissonances, reveal an unmistakable personality.  Nonetheless, this is not a Gypsy guitar in the sense of the emphatic bass line and clawing melodic depth usually implied by the term.  Diego’s toque, as we’ve indicated, contains an abundant dose of virtuosity; sometimes, a chord or a refined rhythmic concept lend it a certain classical flavor.  Perhaps Diego is a guitarist who joins an astonishing technique to a majestically authoritative sense of the inspired roots of flamenco — that is, he is cultured thanks to his unique folk/popular intuition.

Luís Torres Joselero interpreted, right through to dawn, a varied array of cantes: siguiriyas, soleares, tangos, cantiñas, alegrías, bulerías and alboreás.  The quality of these different interpretations was highly variable.  Sometimes, his voice got away from him, revealing a disordered storehouse of memories; at other moments, he produced cantes that were rigorously measured and incorruptibly serious.  We think that the most interesting aspect of his contribution was a few of the several soleares that he sang.  Specifically, we’re referring to those he attributed to Juan Amaya, a non-professional Gypsy singer of the beginning of the century, the father of Diego, who was a cattle trader in the Sierra de Ronda.  While these soleares incorporate a distinctive aspect, they may definitively represent what is today considered to be the purest — and lost — nucleus of the old soleares de Triana.

Luís Torres is Diego’s brother-in-law.  These Gypsies from Morón, Osuna, Puebla de Cazalla and Marchena form a tightly closed, characteristic clan.  Within it, traditions are conserved with an obvious accumulation of intensely emotional atavisms.  Luís Torres, for example, said he could not to sing the alboreas under any circumstances — a song customarily viewed by the Gypsies as prohibited outside of their intimate wedding ceremonies — claiming he didn’t know it.  We didn’t want to insist, and it was Diego himself who referred to the custom of secrecy with a dismissively joking annoyance.  This free-spirited confrontation of traditional criteria never ceased to surprise us.  The private code of behavior of the Gypsies, while apparently inflexible, somehow manages to adapt itself to the demands of the specific occasion.   Some Gypsies are proud to have overcome many superstitions or anachronistic cultural dead weights; others defend these as if dealing with a proud and solemn matter of principle.  Luís Torres finally did interpret the alboreás; at least, its most common expressive form, somewhere halfway between the bulerías and the danceable soleá.

One of Luís Torres’ children, named el Andorrano, sang a series of festive bulerías as light came up over the noble hamlet of Morón.  His harsh and impersonal rendition made us suspect that the great lineage of Morón singers, defined by the shadows of Silverio and Tenazas, had been interrupted with the new generation.  El Andorrano expressed his bulerías in a way that seemed artificial and perturbed, as if adapting them to certain strains of modern rhythms.  Although these songs had no place in our archive, other impromptu festive songs performed by unexpected drop-bys might have been deemed worthy, since they perfectly represented the true and intimate way of singing that marks Gypsies who are not cantaores in the exact sense of the word.

PART IX – CASTILLEJA DE LA CUESTA

In one of our many rounds of Sevilla, we approached nearby Castilleja de la Cuesta, just a few steps from Triana.  We were particularly interested in collecting any data about the flamenco scene in this luminous pueblo so near to Sevilla and, at the same time, so distant from it in terms of the history of the cante.  Castilleja resembles Dos Hermanas, and in both towns the houses sticking out of the marshes of the Guadalquivir make for a picturesque stopping-place during the religious procession known as the Romería del Rocío.  And its flamenco habits, due to the sentimental preferences of the locals, belong to the orbit of Huelva.  The proximity of Castilleja to Triana has not had the slightest influence on the making of its music.  Castilleja instead has adapted to the horsemen and the carts of the Rocío, and seems to be enveloped in anticipation of the procession’s typical sevillanas and fandangos de Huelva.

And here we established contact with two young singers of the sevillanas rocieras: Rafael Ruíz and Antonio Romero; and with an old tamborine player: Rafael Jiménez, from Paterna del Campo, which is in the county.  It seemed important in creating this archive that we not suppress this particular variety of flamenco-ized popular folksong.  The sevillanas have evolved very significantly over the years, perhaps driven by their own growing popularity.  That which was originally best viewed as a local derivation — growing in the Andalucía of Sevilla and Huelva — of the ancient seguidillas manchegas from La Mancha, kept branching out toward other modern innovations.  Today, the sevillanas rocieras seem to incorporate much of the choral song of the countryside, while lyrically they draw upon the atmosphere of the marisma, or marshlands — such as some forms of the fandango de Huelva — fitted to the tastes of the listening public.  Nowadays one often hears them sung by two singers, with complementary voices in different registers.  There can be no doubt that this characteristic alone serves to remove the sevillanas — even if their own expressive world of concerns didn’t suffice in this regard — from the pure ambience of flamenco.  Yet this is not to deny that they have worth and flavor of their own.  In their aspect as verses created to accompany the dance that bears their name — whose occasional qualifier “de palillos” or “with castanets” indicates their folkloric countryside origin, far from the realm of flamenco and especially from the influence of the Gypsy — the sevillanas perfectly define the rich repertoire of Andalucía’s popular songbook, which has allowed a certain flamenco influence and which has generated the most enthusiastic and fervent support of the general public.  For the archive, Rafael Ruíz and Antonio Romero sang several sets of sevillanas rocieras accompanied by the guitar of Antonio Maravilla and by the flute and tamborine — so reminiscent of Castille — of Rafael Jiménez.  For these young singers, flamenco has ceased to be a question of esoteric and deep manifestations of intimate expression, and has become a simple matter of using catchy melodies to renew the vitality of an Andalusian custom.

PART X – ARCOS DE LA FRONTERA

Arcos de la Frontera has an unusual significance in the history of flamenco.  Its geographic situation puts it between the between the expressive intensity found in Jerez or Triana, and the rough, gruff songs of the mountain ranges of the Sierras.  In Arcos was born one of the most vital figures of flamenco, Tomás el Nitri, remembered as a paradigm of creativity.  Little is actually known of his life, though many claim to know something of his cante.  This chapter in the book of flamenco styles — those great singers whose fame has come down to us — can be very tricky and slippery.  How did the tonás and the siguiriyas of these primitive creators of flamenco really sound?  Could they really have been the same as the versions that have come down to us?  Oral transmission is, in this sense, quite confusing and sometimes it hardly offers any guarantee of credibility.  It’s quite possible that this question about the authenticity of these personal creations entails a whole series of re-elaborations and adaptations.  The styles now attributed to singers of long ago could only have been transmitted through others who sang them in their own particular way.  But there is no way to be sure of the accuracy of these versions.  And perhaps it is not worthwhile to try and rigorously attribute to certain individuals something which belongs in it its totality to a specific group within the Gypsy-Andalusian population.  Each singer interprets the flamenco legacy in his or her own way.  Indeed, without the addition of this expressive personality, everything would turn into a mere mummified replica.  The first useful recordings — offering immediate proof — only began in the time of Manuel Torre, Chacon, Juan Breva, Tenazas and El Gloria.  Before the era of recordings, we have nothing but suppositions.

End of translation of notes for the 1968 Archivo Flamenco.

– Brook Zern

November 7, 2011   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Agujetas: 1992 Article by Antonio Delgado – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  Sevilla Flamenca #76 of 1992 carried an article on the extraordinary flamenco singer Manuel Agujetas by Antonio Delgado.

A close look at the two long-established “official” flamenco magazines, Sevilla Flamenca and Candil, reveals a strong current of “mairenismo” — admiration for the late, great Gypsy singer Antonio Mairena which borders on idolatry.

There are reasons for this attitude.  Mairena was undoubtedly the most complete singer of recent times, with a huge repertoire of serious cante.  His vocal faculties were superb. His powerful interpretations are considered definitive — even if he admittedly had to make his own creative guesses about what some nearly forgotten songs had sounded like in their heyday.  In addition, Mairena did more than anyone else to further the “dignification” of flamenco, helping it come out of the shadows (remember, this was originally the disreputable music of a reviled underclass, more at home in the bars, ventas and brothels than in select theaters and municipal festivals.)

Like many aficionados, I found that Mairena’s public performances left me cold, and never tried to hear him in private, as I probably should have.  I’ve subsequently heard tapes and even seen some film which indicates that Mairena, given a comfortable setting, could at least approach the magical realm of what we call, in romantic shorthand, the duende.  But it was not evident in his visage, in his bearing.

So, along with other sycophantic Americans and a number of Spaniards, I gravitated instead toward the more clearly electrifying approach of the Daddies of Duende:  first El Chocolate (and the late Terremoto, whom I rarely saw), and then Agujetas.  (Yes, there were big Mamas too – notably La Pirinaca, and the magnificent La Fernanda de Utrera.)

But here’s a rarity: an article on Agujetas in Sevilla Flamenca, which usually gave short shrift to the more difficult and less dignified singers whose intense and obvious transmission of emotion is, shall we say, resented by the more refined mairenista faction.

Antonio Delgado wrote:

“I have resolved to write something about Agujetas, in view of the short shrift (escasa repercusion) that this excellent singer seems to get in specialized publications, relegating him to the status of an accursed artist.

In fact, there is a minority of aficionados who are enraptured by the black sounds which reside in an unknown dimension of our world, and which this singer has the duende to summon with his cante.

Manuel de los Santos Pastor was born in Rota in 1939, son of the extraordinary non-professional singer Agujetas el Viejo, who was an expert (un fiel transmisor) singer of the cantes of Manuel Torre.  He was part of a great family of Jerez singers, including the Rubichis, the Chalaos, the  Fideitos and the Chaquetas.  He started as a blacksmith, as were most Gypsy singers of the Nineteenth Century, learning the trade while accompanying his father to various locales in Jerez to shoe the horses of the country folk and the rich families.  After recording his first LP [Viejo Cante Jondo] in 1970, he decided to leave the forge to become someone (“para ser gente“) in flamenco.

Angel Alvarez Caballero, the flamencologist, says: “He is one who is ecstatically linked to flamenco (“un ser arrebatadamente entranado con el flamenco“.)  His lean body, almost dry; his antique Gypsy face seemingly askew, with hard features that appear carved.”

Agujetas, while he has a large repertoire of songs, is outstanding in the hardest genres: the unaccompanied songs such as the martinetes and tonas, and also in the siguiriyas and the soleares.  In addition, he excels in the other Gypsy cantes; and also the fandangos.  He is clearly influenced by the cantes of Manuel Molina, el Marrurro, Mojama, Tio Jose de Paula, and Manuel Torre.

The few who have written about him agree in calling a vital and anarchic singer, steeped in duende, able to unbury and bring into our time the most obscure and darkest ways of expressing the cante of the previous century.  On the jacket of his record “Por Derecho”, producer Pepe Fernandez writes: “It is a shattering cry that comes from a hundred years ago, and which today carries even more force than when it was first generated.  His case is totally original.  At the point when  other singers are silenced by sheer exhaustion of the throat, he is just warming up.  His vocal cords have the resilience of the strings of a guitar in the hands of an expert.  When the two are matched, a combat ensues in which the first to die is the listener, because the chills extend into the deepest reaches of the flamenco soul.”

Fernando Quinones writes:  “It’s an unmistakable sound, wounding and Gypsy.  There is something fabulous in the timbre of his voice — not in the silly way the word is used now, but in the first and literal sense of the word ”fabulous”.  The cante is etched with an acid primitivism by this man, possessor of an antiquity which, together with his physical aspect and behavior, I can only conclude is a survival from another age, a kind of Neanderthal of flamenco…”

Soon after becoming professional, Agujetas received the “Premio Nacional de Cante Manuel Torre” which, together with the “Premio del Cante” awarded to him by the Catedra de Flamencologia de Jerez in 1977, are the highest awards he has received so far.

He began his career in the tablaos of Madrid, in the Cafe de Chinitas, the Club Urbis, the Ateneo and Colegios Mayores, and appearing before various penas (clubs) and in municipal flamenco festivals.  He also sang in many private gatherings, and became the favorite singer of the well-to-do gentlemen of Jerez.  In the mid-seventies, he began what would become a constant of his career, becoming the eternal traveler and going all over the world, with long periods in Japan and Mexico and cities like Paris and New York.  It was that city of skyscrapers where he most often resided while abroad, encountering a legion of followers who did indeed know the value of his art.  During that time, his appearances in Spain were limited to the Festival de la Buleria in his own Jerez, and a few other recitals in Madrid where he also commands a fervent aficion.

Lately, fate has been hard on him.  During a Mexican trip, he was in a traffic accident that incapacitated him for months.  One day in 1987, the SER radio station announced that he was in intensive care.  The poet, flamencologist and director of the “Cuarto de los Cabales” program organized an homage in his native land to help in his recovery; the whole flamenco world attended, and support also came from the penas that carry his name outside of Spain.  All this, combined with the grief caused by the long prison sentence for his son Antonio, made the late 1980′s a time to forget.

Now, however, he is completely reestablished, and we hope that the festivities of ’92 will serve to absolutely confirm his stature.  And that the organizers of Festivals and heads of Penas will remember to include him in their events, where a singer of this kind is best heard and experienced.  And that aficionados themselves will give him the place that is deserved by this undoubted “genio y duende del cante gitano”.

Translator’s comment:  Note the references to Agujetas as embodying the past, as coming from another time.  I felt this palpably, and referred to it in an article I wrote about him.  Off the record, so to speak, when I met him soon after his arrival in New York in 1976, he had evidently caught the eye of a remarkable and discerning downtown woman.  He asked me why she seemed to find him so appealing, and I quoted a line from Bob Dylan’s ironically titled love/hate song titled “She Belongs To Me”: “She’s a hypnotist collector; you are a walking antique.”

(For any Dylanologists out there, yes, this woman did wear a scarab ring, with two tiny diamonds on the setting that held the carved red bug.  And yes, the first line of that verse is:  “She wears an Egyptian ring, that sparkles before she speaks.”

Life is a mystery, as my mother in law always said; or was it “Life is a misery”?

Did I already ask if I was repeating myself?

– Brook Zern

November 7, 2011   No Comments