Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Guitarist Manolo Sanlucar

Flamenco Forms – The Rondeña – From José Manuel Gamboa’s book “Una Historia del Flamenco” – translated with comments by Brook Zern

The Rondeña: Flamenco Authority J.M. Gamboa’s take on the rondeña

The rondeña is a remarkable and haunting piece from the flamenco guitar repertoire, the only flamenco guitar piece without an associated song — though there is a sung rondeña that can be accompanied on guitar. Here’s a description of the rondeña from the excellent book “Una Historia del Flamenco” by José Manuel Gamboa:

“We know the rondeña of [the noted Spanish classical guitarist Julian] Arcas. We know that [the great classical guitarist] Francisco Tarrega, his disciple, interpreted works of the master, and that Miguel Borrull Sr. [a famed early flamenco guitarist] was an indirect student of Tarrega. It is only logical to suppose that it was Borrull who brought the rondeña to Madrid, home of the young Ramón Montoya [considered the father of the developed flamenco guitar, and often called the creator of the solo guitar version of the rondeña].

This was confirmed by [the important flamenco singer] Pepe de la Matrona who said, “The first person to play the rondeña was Borrull Sr. This refers to the guitar solo, with its distinctive altered tuning, that Montoya improved and and introduced to a wide audience, since Borrull’s flamenco activity was limited to the usual resources of the instrument, namely strumming [rasgueado] and plucking with the thumb [pulgar]. The rondeña used a lot of that. Moreover, in Borrull’s era no guitarist had decided to record concert pieces of this nature. That’s how Borrull’s rondeña passed into history through the hands of Ramón Montoya. In any case, we still don’t know who wrote down the scordatura applied to that concert version of the rondeña, since we don’t find it among the works published by the maestros cultos [the cultured masters of the classical instrument]. Was it a Borrull’s concept? What we do find, already in Arcas’s written works, is the concept. It’s reasonable to suppose that Tarrega and others had the word…not to mention Rafael Marín [another noted transcriber of early flamenco guitar pieces]. That talented individual writes – and publishes as early as 1902! – flamenco works of enormous complexity for the time, where all kinds of techniques are used, the full range of the guitar fingerboard is employed, and there aare even scordaturas, as the were called.

What is clear is that Ramón Montoya – and through him other great players like Niño Ricardo, Sabicas, Paco de Lucía, Manolo Sanlúcar and Victor Monge “Serranito” – are the inheritors of Julián Arcas and Francisco Tarrega, each adding to the collective wisdom found in the piece. And there you have it, in its significant sense.

If we have traido a colación the concert version of the rondeña – the sung version is one of the oldest known forms in the flamenco genre – the dates don’t correspond because the instrumental version has the characteristics of the version of the fandango sung in the Eastern regions of Spain which gave birth to the form called the tarantos. Let’s look at the relationship.

Ramón Montoya “sings” with his guitar – he plays a melody that, not long afterwards, the [legendary dancer] Carmen Amaya would sing in her productions and would record with the nephew of Ramon, [the great virtuoso] Sabicas [not actually a nephew of Ramón Montoya – that position was occupied by Carlos Montoya, who became the most famous flamenco concert guitarist]. Carmen recorded it with two verses, “Dame veneno” and “Abre, que soy el Moreno”. At the end, she bursts into her energetic footwork. Sabicas accompanies her in the key used for mineras. And it’s titled rondeñas. The comediógrafo [what’s that?] Alfredo Mañas, believing that this was just a labeling error and it should have been titled tarantos [a term that would subsequently be used for a rhythmic, danceable version of the free-rhythm tarantas], told Carmen as much. She answered tajante that there was absolutely no mistake, ant that this was indeed the rondeña, now and forever [de toda la vida – all her life].”

End of section. Thanks to José Manuel Gamboa for this insight, for his book, and for the hours we have spent in conversation at El Colmao in Jerez.

At a recent New York conference dedicated to the many forms of the fandango — the rondeña is one such form, as are the granainas, the malagueñas, the tarantas, the mineras and several other song and guitar styles — I attended one session which presented a very early version of the rondeña as it was played before 1850 by the Granada guitarist Francisco Murciano and transcribed by the noted Russian composer Glinka. It was fascinating, and to my surprise it sounded a lot like one of the fandango forms as played on guitar decades later.

A lot of today’s experts insist there was no such thing as flamenco — not guitar, not dance and not flamenco song — until after 1850 when flamenco burst upon the scene in some Andalusian cities and also in Madrid.

I can’t understand why, if the guitar music of the flamenco form called the rondeña existed before 1850, today’s authorities insist flamenco didn’t exist until after 1850.

(I believe in the comical theory that flamenco had a gestation period, and that some of the songs that were until recently attributed in large measure to the Gypsies of Spain were being developed and performed below the radar for decades. This is called the “hermetic period”, and is ridiculed in decent company. (Maybe it’s because the “proof” is that there are no records and thus no proof that there was such a period. On the other hand, if there were such proof, it wouldn’t have been a hermetic period, right?)
Brook Zern

January 28, 2017   No Comments

Flamenco Guitar Maestro Manolo Sanlúcar Leaves The Stage – Translation and comments by Brook Zern

A translation from the excellent Spanish-language publication AireFlamenco.com of several months ago, and some comments:

Without prior notice, the mythic flamenco guitarist Manolo Sanlúcar decided to leave the stage, announcing his retirement on Saturday, July 27, in the last minutes of the concert he gave at the Cuevas de Nerja in the province of Malaga.

“I am leaving the guitar today; I wanted to take my leave before an Andalusian public and I’m doing it today.  I am proud and satisfied to do it here, in Malaga.”  Those were the words of Manolo Sanlúcar at the moment that is now part of the history of flamenco.  Around midnight, after his final interpretation his work “Medea’”, accompanied by the Provincial Symphonic Orchestra of Malaga directed by Carlo Palleschi.

The retirement from the stage was announced a few weeks before his seventieth birthday, after almost six decades of discovering new possibilities for the flamenco guitar including “Medea”, “Solea”, “La Gallarda” and others.  Manolo, the artist from a family of bakers whose godmother was the immortal singer Pastora Pavón “La Niña de los Peines”, leaves behind one of the most admirable artistic trajectories in the history of flamenco.

End of story.

Translator’s note:  Manolo Sanlúcar was, and still is, a creative genius, a glorious master of the fiendishly difficult technical and interpretive challenges of the flamenco guitar, and a sensitive, thoughtful man.  He emerged in the late sixties as the likely leader of his profession.  It was his fate, however, to be a contemporary of Paco de Lucía, who soon eclipsed all other virtuosos and visionaries, Manolo included.  As a soloist Manolo followed his own path, which was evolutionary while Paco’s was revolutionary.  Throughout their careers, no one revered Paco de Lucía more than the great Manolo Sanlúcar, and I believe Paco had enormous admiration for Manolo as well.

After a few terrific solo LP’s, the young Manolo took on a historic self-imposed challenge.  Over several years, he made three albums portentously titled “Mundo y Formas de la Guitarra Flamenca”, a reference/homage to a crucial book about flamenco song co-authored by the great singer Antonio Mairena.

Heard by themselves, they were exquisite and impressive works.  But heard in the context of the Early Lucian Era, they were essentially state-of-the-art restatements of an existing flamenco guitar tradition.  They lacked the daring and the amazing drama that was evident on Paco’s first few records and would continue for decades.

In the mid-seventies, I spent time with Sanlúcar in New York, where I introduced him at one of the many notable debut concerts sponsored by Juan Orozco’s Aranjuez Guitar String Company.  He seemed serious and introspective, an impression confirmed by his two interesting autobiographical books (including descriptions of his stays in New York and a certain Ruth, a woman who meant a lot to him.)

I asked him how he got so good.  He waggled his index and middle fingers very fast,  the crucial flamenco picado technique, and said, “Do this two hours every morning, with your coffee.  Then get to work on making music all day.”  (Heck, I knew that.  I’d been hoping for a shortcut, and besides, I don’t drink coffee..

About ten years ago, at an early edition of the New York Flamenco Festival, I translated his comments for a Master Class.  He was preoccupied with some new musical theories, and to the extent that I could follow his explanation I reluctantly concluded that it didn’t seem convincing.   More recently, I’ve met him many times in Jerez and environs, and he seems to have reached the same conclusion – he’s working on a new and no doubt improved version, perhaps as part of a monumental new work that is anxiously awaited in flamenco circles.  It could be an anthology incorporating CD’s that feature his collaborations with many other outstanding artists, recorded specifically for the project.

(He flinches a bit when I approach him, because he knows I will ask him again to please record or notate all the flamenco music he learned from Javier Molina, the most important guitarist in the early history of Jerez flamenco.  Javier lived until 1956 but incredibly was never recorded, with the exception of two measly records (four cuts) where he accompanied a singer.  On the plus side, the singer was by many measures the greatest in the history of flamenco:  Manuel Torre.  Today, Sanlúcar may be the last hope for properly attributing and conserving Javier Molina’s historic guitar legacy.)

He is a brilliant musician, as is evident from his great orchestrated 1988 record titled “Tauromagia” which uses the bullfight as a source of inspiration.   More advanced and less accessible to me was his extraordinary collaboration in 2000 with the superb singer Carmen Linares on “Locura de Brisa y Tino”, which was performed in New York to considerable acclaim.  It is based on six poems by Federico García Lorca.  I found it baffling – it seemed to use scales that I’d never heard in flamenco, or anywhere else for that matter.

Manolo Sanlúcar’s crowning glory was Spain’s Premio Nacional de Música for the year 2000– not just the national prize for flamenco, but the treasured award for music itself.

Adiós, maestro; don’t be a stranger to your art and your admirers.

Brook Zern

January 23, 2014   4 Comments

“Rito y Geografía de la Guitarra Flamenca” Series – Program notes by Norberto Torres

The flamenco guitar expert Norberto Torres Cortés wrote the following detailed comments describing the six programs in the”Rito y Geografia de la Guitarra Flamenca”.  That was the guitar-focused series that was intended to complement the great “Rito y Geografia del Cante Flamenco” series, using much of the guitar-centered stuff from that show and also  lots of other material from Spanish Television’s archives.  It enumerates the pieces and then offers savvy critiques.  A useful resource for serious seekers of great guitar in what  is now called the old style.  It’s based on the Alga Editores version of VCR cassettes, which was badly done; it was supplanted by the better-made Television Española cassettes.  Now I hope it’s available on TVE DVD’s.

(No, it isn’t a fun read.  It isn’t really a read at all.  But I include lots of specialized and dry material like this in my Flamenco Experience blog because it becomes searchable-outable; that makes it far more useful for researchers and dedicated aficionados than if it were left in one of those old inert, non-interactive, carbon-based soft-drive devices — what were they called? — oh, yeah: books.)

And as always:  Chances are that the performances cited here have all migrated to YouTube — enter the name of the artist and the flamenco form, and there he’ll be, for your viewing pleasure.

This translation isn’t mine — I found it somewhere on the web, already translated [into English, I presume] by the outstanding French expert Pierre Lefranc.


by Norberto Torres Cortés

The year 2000 opens with an event for years undreamed of by guitar players, aficionados, and music lovers in general: the release in the form of videos of most of the archives of Spanish Television (Televisión Española) concerning flamenco guitar.

They range from the year 1964 with Niño Ricardo, Ricardo Modrego, and a then 16-year old Paco de Lucía, to Tomatito at his most gypsy in the 1979 record La Leyenda del Tiempo.  In between they include Serranito, Manolo Sanlúcar, Enrique de Melchor, Pepe Habichuela, Diego Carrasco, Paco Cepero, Andrés Batista, Pedro Bacán, Paco de Lucía and Camarón in 1972, together with those classically-oriented: Melchor de Marchena, Diego del Gastor, Manuel Morao, Pedro Peña, Felix de Utrera, Manolo el Sevillano, and… Sabicas “live” in one of the last concerts he gave. Thus a total of 16 years of flamenco guitar are made available visually.

The period 1964-1979 was an extraordinary one for flamenco, owing to the coexistence of tradition and a rising new generation, then innovative, now classical, which was establishing the foundations of today’s toque (style of playing). If we add to this the interviews and commentaries made in those days, mainly by José María Velázquez and Fernando Quiñones, we can evaluate the undreamed of magnitude of what is being offered to us by Alga Editores.

Although, unavoidably, most of the images are in black and white, and the sound is of a less high quality than it would be today, one can submit that this is an added merit: it brings us in contact with the authenticity of a period in which the detestable “play-back” was not yet a standard technique.


NIÑO RICARDO, PACO DE LUCÍA:  “Poema de la Guitarra”, from the program FLAMENCO, Antología de Cante y Baile Andaluces — includes “Sevilla es mi tierra” (Soleá) by Manuel Serrapi Sánchez ‘Niño Ricardo’ (Sevilla, 1904-72); guajira flamenca by Paco de Lucía and Ricardo Modrego; and views of Paco de Lucía practicing in a barber’s shop.

PACO DE LUCÍA: from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante — includes an interview of Francisco Sánchez Gómez ‘Paco de Lucía’ (born Algeciras, 1947), and shows him playing Tarantas, Bulerías, and accompanying his brother Pepe de Lucía; Camarón playing Bulerías; Paco practicing; Ramón de Algeciras and Paco de Lucía fine-tuning a Bulerías falseta (variation), playing Soleares, and Rumbas with Carlos Rebato as a second guitar.

PEPE MARTÍNEZ: interview of José Martínez León ‘Pepe Martínez’ (Sevilla, 1923-84), who is then seen playing a Granaína, interpreting the choros “Xodó da Bahiana” by the Brasilian composer Dilermando Reis, giving guitar classes, and playing a Colombianas, a Zapateado, and a Guajiras in D major with the sixth string in D.


A moving recording of Niño Ricardo in Soleáres, and the earliest images of Paco de Lucía, at sixteen, already preparing his future records with Ricardo Mondrego, with a stunning Guajira in which one can already find one of the variations of his famous “Guajira de Lucía”.  Also, from the Flamenco program of Spanish Television, images shot in 1964 under the guidance of Antonio Sánchez Pecino, the father of Paco de Lucía.  It may be owing to this that Paco is particularly prominent in the series (we even see him dressed up as a barber in a barber’s shop, practicing Tarantos), and we believe that his guitar can also be heard in the video’s opening, in nothing less than Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D flat (BMW 565).

The program dedicated to Paco de Lucía comes from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante, shot between 1971 and 1973, and it can be dated 1972.  We hear him in Taranta variations found in his records Fantasía (1969), La Fabulosa Guitarra de Paco de Lucía (1967), a forerunner of Fuente y Caudal (1973), and other pieces then still unpublished; he also plays Bulería variations from ”El Tempul”, “Plazuela”, and “Punta del Faro”, and accompanies Pepe de Lucía in the grip of duende (flamenco exaltation); we see him at home in his pajamas, in a practice session with Camarón, working alone on the Taranta and accompanying Pepe de Lucía “Fuente y Caudal”, and fine-tuning with his brothers Pepe de Lucía and Ramón a Bulería variation found in one of the early records of Camarón.

The series continues with the Soleares “Cuando canta el gallo” and the Zapateado from the record El Duende de Paco de Lucía, and it ends with a Rumba halfway between the “Rumba Improvisada” from the 1971 record Recital and “Entre Dos Aguas” from Fuente y Caudal (1973) which belies the legend of this famous piece having been improvised and shows that all that Paco de Lucía recorded was the outcome of earlier maturations.

Another pleasant surprise in this video n° 1 is the possibility of listening to Pepe Martínez, a great concert-oriented flamenco guitarist as was Ramón Montoya, and now unjustly neglected. The interviews enable us to evaluate the impact of Pepe Martínez in London and the eminent role that he played in spreading the knowledge of flamenco in Great Britain. All this is a delight for the lovers of the classical toque, and the Colombiana and the Guajira in D major offer a particular homage to Sabicas.


MELCHOR DE MARCHENA: from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante; Melchor Jiménez Torres ‘Melchor de Marchena’ (Marchena, 1907 – Madrid, 1980) is shown with his family in Marchena, playing Seguiriyas, being interviewed, accompanying Manolo Caracol and Beni de Cádiz in Fandangos, playing Tanguillos de Cádiz; then his son Enrique plays Soleares and Melchor concludes them with a variation of his own.

ENRIQUE DE MELCHOR: from the program Flamenco, in color, presented by Fernando Quiñones — Enrique Jiménez Ramírez ‘Enrique de Melchor’ (b. Marchena 1950) with Luis (bass), Pedro (flute), Josele (flamenco guitar), Martín (bongos), playing Colombianas, in an interview, playing Bulerias in the tonality of Tarantos, and playing Rondeñas.

From another and earlier program, also presented by Fernando Quiñones, we hear José Cobos and Paco Heredia (guitars); then follow an interview, a Serranas, and Rondeñas with the same Cobos and Heredia.


These are historic and moving images of the toque and speech of Melchor de Marchena, one of the greatest of all accompanists for singers and the one preferred by La Niña de Los Peines, Manolo Caracol, Antonio Mairena, etc., to name just a few of those he accompanied.  The video concludes with two programs devoted to Melchor’s son Enrique de Melchor.  They can be dated 1974 and 1977 (for the one in color); they are from the time of the launching of Enrique’s concert career, and we see him interpret various pieces of his first record as a soloist, La Guitarra Flamenca de Enrique de Melchor (1977).


PACO CEPERO: From the program Flamenco presented by Fernando Quiñones – Francisco López Cepero García ‘Paco Cepero’ (b. Jerez 1932) plays “Gaditana” (a Jaleo) with La Polilla de Madrid, Lolita Baena and Carmen Heredia (palmas), then is interviewed, then plays Tarantas and Tarantos, Tientos and Tangos, a Farruca, “Amuleto” (a Rumba), and Bulerías.

DIEGO CARRASCO: from the program Flamenco, in color, presented by Fernando Quiñones — Diego Carrasco Fernández ‘Diego Carrasco el Tate’ (b. Jérez 1954) is accompanied by Luis (acoustic Ovation guitar), Miguel Angel (bass), Pedro (flute), Tito and Rafa (flamenco guitars), and Pedro (bongos); they interpret ”Luz de Farola” (Bulerías); he is then interviewed, and sings and plays Bulerías, including “Bulerías del 7″.

ANDRÉS BATISTA: presented by F. Quiñones, who interviews flamenco authority Paco Vallecillo, then Andrés Batista (b. Barcelona 1937) on flamenco in Catalonia; then Andrés Batista plays Granaínas, Guajiras, Bulerías, Danza Mora, Fandangos, and a Zapateado.


Together with the launching of Enrique de Melchor, we witness Paco Cepero’s career as a soloist, and hear him perform various pieces found in his first and only record as a soloist, Amuleto (1977).  Also, the unquiet tocaor and singer Diego Carrasco already proposes, in these late 70’s, a reinterpretation of the Bulerías of his native Santiago district, with influences from Chick Corea’s group “Return to Forever” and a markedly oriental coloring which makes us think of the present group Radio Tarifa, and of the theme “Reino de Silia” by Vicente Amigo in the estribillos (refrains) of the “Bulerías  del 7″ which served as introduction theme for the program Flamenco presented by Fernando Quiñones.

Then Andres Batista, the Gypsy guitar-player from Catalonia, describes the hotbed of flamenco experimentation that was the Catalonia of the 70’s (which explains the present fertility of Catalonian flamenco) and performs six pieces of a classical turn in a modern technique.


PEPE HABICHUELA: introduced by F. Quiñones — José Antonio Carmona Carmona ‘Pepe Habichuela’ (b. Granada 1944) performs Soleares, is interviewed, plays Alegrías in E major, Taranto, Seguiriya, and Tangos with Carlos Carmona ‘Habichuela’ and Benjamín Santiago (guitar players).

From Flamenco (in color), we are given Bulerías with Juan Habichuela ‘hijo’ (guitar), Jaleo in the tonality of a Minera with Juan Habichuela ‘hijo’ (guitar), Guadiana, Chocolatillo, and Ángel (palmas).

VICTOR MONGE ‘SERRANITO’: introduced by F. Quiñones — Victor Monge Serrano ‘Serranito’ (b. Madrid 1942) is heard in a Taranta, Soleáres, an interview, in “Popular Themes” and a Zapateado with Alejandro Winia and Manolo Sison (guitar players).


We are first given a black-and-white Pepe Habichuela at the outset of his career as a soloist at the beginning of the 70’s, with toques still influenced by his brother Juan, Sabicas, and Paco de Lucía, though his special mark already emerges (particularly in Soleáres); then the same Pepe Habichuela in color, at the end of the 70’s, with his personality now better defined and matured, is heard in toques from his first record A Mandelí (1983) and of the record Despegando which he made in 1977 with Enrique Morente.  The second guitar is that of his nephew, then known as Juan Habichuela ‘hijo’, who later became Juan Carmona ‘El Camborio’, and is today the established leader of the Ketama group.

The video ends with fascinating images of the astonishing Serranito, “a guitar-player for guitar-players”, in full possession of his virtuosity: Tarantas and Soleáres played solo, “Popular Themes” which are nothing else than the Tarara on a Tientos rhythm and in E minor, and his famous Zapateado for three guitars, “Punta y Tacón”.


DIEGO DEL GASTOR: from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante — Diego Flores Amaya ‘Diego del Gastor’ (Arriate, Málaga, 1908 – Morón de La Frontera, Sevilla, 1973) is heard in Alegrías, an interview, and Seguiriyas.  He then accompanies por Bulería (in the rhythm of Bulerias) a series of Alboreás sung by Joselero de Morón, and plays Soleares.

TOMATITO: from the program Flamenco in color, presented by F. Quiñones – José Fernández Torres ‘Tomatito’ (born Almería 1958), together with Jorge Pardo (flute), Carlos Benavent (bass), Juan Habichuela ‘hijo’, Rubén Dantas (percussions), Romerito de Algeciras, Guadiana, José Soto ‘Sordera’, Tino de Madrid (palmas), are heard in Bulerías, an interview, in Bulerías in the tonality of a Taranto, and in tangos.

MISCELLANY N°1, WITH MANUEL MORAO, PEDRO BACÁN, PACO DE LUCÍA, MANOLO SANLÚCAR:   Interviews of Rafael del Aguila (Jérez, 1900-76); Manuel Moreno Jiménez ‘Manuel Morao’ (b. Jérez 1929) plays Soleáres; Pedro Peña Fernández ‘Pedro Bacán’ (Lebrija, 1939-1997) plays Tarantas; Paco de Lucía plays Bulerías; the cantaor Juan Peña ‘El Lebrijano’ is interviewed; Manuel Muñoz Alcón ‘Manolo Sanlúcar’ (b. Sanlúcar de Barrameda, 1945) plays Seguiriyas.


Again we see moving images of the legendary Diego del Gastor shortly before his death, taking a walk in Morón, in a gathering with friends, talking about the toque, interpreting Alegrías, Seguiriyas, and Soleáres solo, and accompanying his cousin Joselero in Bulerías in masterly fashion and with a duende worthy of his legend.

Tomatito, emerging from his recent recording of La Leyenda del Tiempo (1979) with Camarón, interprets various rhythmic pieces with the intensely Gypsy expression which sets him apart from all others, accompanied by a first version of the Paco de Lucía sextet, Juan Carmona the second guitar of the Ketama group, and the palmas of the no less famous celebrities of today: Guadiana, José Soto ‘Sorderita’ (then ‘Sotito de Jérez’) and Tino.

Then follows an interview of Rafael del Aguila, the disciple of Javier Molina and master of the current generation of Jérez guitar-players; Manuel Morao in one of the earliest expressions of that unmistakable Jérez toque; a youthful Pedro Bacán interpreting with great virtuosity one of his earliest Tarantas; Paco de Lucía in Bulerías accompanied by Camarón’s knuckles in a flamenco gathering; Turronero and Paco Cepero; Juan Peña ‘el Lebrijano’, then a youthful upholder of the classical flamenco tradition, expressing his opinion on the toque of the early 70’s; Manolo Sanlúcar playing por Seguiriya his ‘Elegia al Niño Ricardo’, the master who had just died when this recording was made in 1972 (Sanlúcar recorded this piece that same year in vol. 2 of his Mundo y Formas de la Guitarra Flamenca).  These documents form a superb miscellany which illustrates the coexistence of the traditional toque and the renewal then in its early stages.


MISCELLANY N° 2 — WITH MANUEL MORAO, MELCHOR DE MARCHENA, PEDRO PEÑA, PACO DE LUCÍA, DIEGO DEL GASTOR: from the series Rito y Geografía del Cante, with Manuel Morao playing Seguiriyas, Melchor de Marchena playing Tarantos, an interview of Pedro Peña who sings and plays Soleáres, Paco de Lucía playing Rondeñas, and Diego del Gastor playing Bulerías.

MISCELLANY N° 3 — WITH FELIX DE UTRERA, CONDE HERMANOS, MANUEL MORAO, MANOLO SEVILLANO: from the series Flamenco, Antología de Cantes y Bailes Andaluces, Felix de Utrera is heard playing Tientos; comments on the making of guitars in the workshop of the brothers Conde; Manuel Morao plays Seguiriyas; El Calderas de Salamanca (song) and Manolo Sevillano (guitar) are heard in Peteneras, and Juan Cantero (song), Matilde España (dance) and Manolo el Sevillano (guitar) in Tangos.

SABICAS:  a performance in homage to Sabicas, on the occasion of his demise in 1990, with views of his funeral and of Pamplona; Sabicas in Alegrías in A minor and in “Temas del Pueblo”, la Niña de la Puebla, Pepe Montoya ‘Montoyita’, and Laura Toledo evoke Sabicas who plays “La Comparsita” and a Granaína.


The Miscellany which opens this video completes that of the previous one by illustrating several toques by traditionalists and solos by the current renovators, with some curious shots of the guitar-player-cum-singer Pedro Peña Fernández ‘Pedro Peña’ (b. Lebrija, 1939), father of the piano-player Dorantes, brother of the singer Juan Peña ‘El Lebrijano’, and cousin of Pedro Bacán.  Pedro Peña achieves the feat of singing and accompanying himself in Soleares, with his mother La Perrata embroidering on the rhythm with her knuckles.

We also see Paco de Lucía performing his famous Rondeña “Doblan Campanas” from the record El Duende (1972); he concludes it here with the ending of his quote; from earlier Rondeña recorded in La Fabulosa Guitarra (1967) and revealingly includes allusions to the Rondeña “Cueva del Gato” which he recorded four or five years later in Almoraima (1976): one more proof that maturity came to Paco de Lucía before he made records.

The last miscellany shows us the “official” guitar-player of Hispavox, Felix García Vizcaíno ‘Felix de Utrera’ (born in the Canaries 1929), playing Tientos, a la Niño Ricardo; it takes us on a visit to the workshop of the Madrid guitar-makers Hermanos Conde, against the musical background of a Zorongo played by Ricardo Modrego; Manuel Morao at his most sublime in Seguiriyas; the toque of Manuel Antilla León ‘Manolo el Sevillano’ (Marchena 1910 – Madrid 1988), accompanying Felix on Peteneras Rafael Salazar Motos ‘Calderas de Salamanca’, and Juan Cantero in Tangos Extremeños danced by Matilde España.

The series could not end better than by rendering homage to Agustín Castellón Campos ‘Sabicas’ (Pamplona 1912 – New York, 18 April 1990) one of the greatest guitarists of all times, with a report on his native town and house, his multitudinous and grief-stricken funeral, an evocation of his friends and admirers like la Niña de la Puebla, Montoyita and Laura Toledo, and various extracts from one of the last concerts Sabicas gave, with his famous Alegrías in A major which incline towards the jota, “Temas del Pueblo”, the popular tune “Los Cuatro Muleros” as arranged by the master, the most famous Río de la Plata tango by M. Rodríguez ‘La Comparsita’, which the Gypsy from Pamplona included in 1969 in his record Tres guitarras tiene Sabicas, and a tremendously modern Granaína.

End of Norberto Torres description of “Rito y Geografia de la Guitarra” Flamenca”.

Gracias, Norberto.  And I can’t help noticing that the  magical keyword for flamenco greatness of expression appears in only one instance, repeated here:  ”Again we see moving images of the legendary Diego del Gastor shortly before his death, taking a walk in Morón, in a gathering with friends, talking about the toque, interpreting Alegrías, Seguiriyas, and Soleáres solo, and accompanying his cousin Joselero in Bulerías in masterly fashion and with a duende worthy of his legend.”

So it ain’t just us gringos.

Brook Zern

January 10, 2014   No Comments

The Mysterious Voice of Flamenco Singer Manuel Agujetas, Explained at Last (Oh Yeah?) – Endless Rumination Number 31 by Brook Zern

Some sounds are especially difficult to analyze.  One might presume, for example, that the baffling way that cats somehow produce purrs would resist surgical investigation.  But here’s a stab at demystifying the incomparable grito or timeless cry of one singer.

In my modest understanding, to borrow a Spanish phrase, Manuel Agujetas is the greatest flamenco singer alive.  He’s an old man now, and can’t reach the heights or depths he once commanded – José Mercé is the go-to guy if you want to see a genius at the top of his game, and if you can deal with the pop music he sings for the second half of his  recitals.

But Manuel Agujetas is utterly unique, and you can see him all over YouTube.  (The black and white stuff is from the very-early-seventies Rito y Geografía de Flamenco series I vowed to get my hands on, and did, though it took fifteen years to buy the first copies.  I was especially determined to get the Agujetas material because he was going to die of the overly flamenco lifestyle pretty soon; if I’d known he was likely to outlive me, I would’ve been less obsessive about it.  He may now be the sole survivor among the scads of so-called “consecrated artists” that infest those fabulous films – now available cheap via the internet in a superb DVD restoration done by the historic project’s guiding light, José María Velásquez Gaztelu).

A terrific aficionado who borrows the nom de video of the immortal singer Manuel Torre has posted a lot of newer videos of Agujetas, along with a series of lengthy and illuminationg comments about the artist and his life.  I’m trying to round them all up for translation .

For now, I’d like to quote part of his comments that accompany the following video:


I’ve selected this part because when you love Manuel’s singing, you get a lot of flak from a lot of people who know a lot.  Not just a lot more than I do, but a lot more than people who know a lot more than I do.

Much of the resentment is personal.  Agujetas is an impossible character.  I’m not talking about the inevitable, sometimes antisocial idiosyncrasies of geniuses in general and flamenco geniuses in particular.  I’m referring in part to his many disgraceful comments about many other artists, or worse yet, about certain groups of people (including mine – anti-semitic would apply, if his disorganized “political” thinking deserved credibility.)

This fault has led one outstanding critic who loves Manuel’s singing to urge everyone to boycott all of his performances and recordings.

I’ve also known people who have been damaged by Manuel’s deliberate actions or thoughtless inaction.  I nonetheless see him sing whenever I can, onstage or in private.  (He’s the only artist I could call a fan of mine – when we were young he showed up in New York, and I wrote a rave 1976 article in the Village Voice that he never forgot.  He always treats me like a long-lost pal, and I don’t have the urge, or maybe the nerve, to remind him he should shape up and be nice to everyone else, too.)

But the informed criticism that bothers me even more states that Manuel Agujetas is a bad flamenco singer.  I’ve learned a lot about the cante after a half-century of trying, but not enough.  For the life of me, I can’t hear it well enough to pinpoint the fine points and say whether a certain phrasing is incorrect, or a mixing of verses is not kosher, or a way of handling pitch is right or wrong.

The Spanish word “afinación” seems to mean pitch, or accuracy of pitch.  (The 1992 obituaries for Camarón referred almost obsessively to his magnificent “afinación”, and Paco de Lucía always stressed this aspect of Camarón’s greatness.)

Conversely, “desafinación” means going off-pitch.  However, in flamenco that isn’t necessarily seen as a deficiency.

One thing’s sure about Agujetas: his treatment of pitch is unorthodox.  The flamenco expert Estela Zatania has pointed out that he sings sharp – his pitch is often slightly above where it would be in other singers, even those from his own area and (I think) his own family.  I believe this has been confirmed in her contacts with authorities who can make such fine distinctions.

But – and here’s why I’ve started this whole thing – another expert has weighed in, with an even broader perspective on the pitch or tonality of Manuel Agujetas.

Manolo Sanlúcar, who accompanies the old Agujetas on that fantastic YouTube siguiriyas, also accompanied the young Agujetas on some of his first records – including a spectacular two-LP production on which Manuel just sang the two accompanied forms deserving the honorific of Deep Song: the siguiriyas and soleares.   (Good Lord, what a hugely ambitious project for a young singer — but in the case of Agujetas, you got the feeling he could’ve done two more LP’s within those two most difficult and demandng forms.)

Manolo Sanlúcar is not just a master but a student of music.  He knows whatof (is that a word?) he speaks.  And he says this:

“I’ve been asked about the mystery that this man had.  Well, 35 years ago, my wife and I and our little boy in diapers were driving from Madrid back to Sanlúcar.  And do you know what tape we played to calm and relax the kid?  Agujetas.  But how could a child in diapers become so hypnotized listening to that?  How is it possible that this man “desafine” [in the sense of “sings incorrectly or badly”]?  I stopped to analyze this, and discovered that he was not desafinado at all.  In fact, he was singing in a tonal system that existed before the tempered scale [came to dominate western music].  This guy had picked it up from his family and from his own musical world.  It’s just amazing [“Es para volverse loco.”].  This may seem to be desafinación to today’s tempered hearing, but it incorporates a bewitching quality (embrujo) that our tempered scale just doesn’t have.  In the Nineteenth Century, a woman could listen and say, “here comes so-and-so.”  We can’t do that now because we have telephones and we don’t have to work to cultivate that quality.   it was present; but today we have no need for it.

(Okay – that last sentence is a crude approximation or a wild guess:  The actual quote is “En el siglo XIX ponía una mujer la oreja y decía: «Por ahí viene fulano». Ahora no podemos hacer eso porque tenemos teléfonos y no nos tenemos que preocupar de cultivarlo”.  Accurate interpretation of the meaning would be welcome.

I don’t know if Sanlúcar is right or wrong here – but it’s a fascinating theory, that a shockingly ancient-sounding singer is actually revealing a survival of tonality as it existed before that hipster Johann Sebastian Bach wrote The Well-Tempered Clavier:  That instruction book showed the presumptive superiority of adjusting the interval between all notes so that concurrent notes always sounded okay.  But nothing was ever perfect – the tempered scale is, inevitably, a compromise.

Have I mentioned that I have no idea how music works, unlike millions of professionals and fellow amateurs? Yet the mystery of Manuel Agujetas’ searing, frightening and immensely deep sound has fascinated a lot of other people for a long time, and as a reflexive rationalist I’d love to see a logical explanation.  Competing theories and inevitable corrections warmly welcomed.

For what it’s worth, around 2002 I translated Manolo Sanlúcar’s master class for the New York Flamenco Festival.  He presented a complicated, baroque theory about the nature of the flamenco scale that I couldn’t grasp, and he recently recanted that theory for a new one, or so it seems.

Also, a few months ago after a terrific recital, Manolo Sanlúcar announced his retirement.  If Paco de Lucía hadn’t arisen alongside him, Sanlúcar would’ve been flamenco virtuoso número uno for several decades. Instead, he took a brave look around, proclaimed himself Paco’s number one fan, and — perhaps taking a lead from Sabicas’s devoted fan Mario Escudero — carved out a great career of his own.  (Check out Sanlúcar’s album Tauromagia for a broad musical vision and playing that withstands comparison to anything Paco has done.)

As for Agujetas, a phrase I often hear while eavesdropping outside the inner flamenco sanctums or sanctae of Jerez is”When he’s gone, it’s all over.”

Basta ya. (Enough already).

Brook Zern

December 21, 2013   No Comments