Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Guitarist Vicente Amigo

Flamenco Guitarist Vicente Amigo – a Stark Raving Review by Alberto García Reyes – translated by Brook Zern

From ABCdeSevilla, September 17, 2016, comes this report from the Bienal de Sevilla, the major Andalusian flamenco festival.

Vicente Amigo, the Messiah of the Guitar

The brilliant guitarist makes history with a memorable concert that marks a before and after

By Alberto García Reyes

Once upon a time there was a guitarist who came down from the sky. A hero with fingernails of velvet, born to caress the monument of Andalusian sound. His name was Vicente. Vicente Amigo. And they tell of the legend who arrived in Seville after the reign of Paco de Lucia, and without saying a word, without even tuning up his guitar, sat down and made history with his rendering of the soleá. A soleá dredged up from the richest seam of a mine known only to the angels in paradise.

He began with a piece from the mining district of Spain’s southeast, steeped in the essence of the great guitarist Niño Ricardo, sounding both megalithic and avant-garde. He weaved a thousand melodic variations of immense profundity. Without technical excess or technical deficiency. Launching a duel between perfection and emotion. Playing like a whirlwind, not intending to please us, but to inflict pain.

Once upon a time there was a king who asked for no realm beyond the deep well of his guitar. A protoman chosen for the succession. A deity who played the flamenco tangos for the dance of his cousin Antonio. Inventing new harmonies to bring new green shoots to olive groves a thousand years old. A captain of a paper boat who slowed the pulse of his bulerías to oil the tips of his fingers with a distinctive, slow sound, like the procession of the toreros in Seville’s Maestranza bullring. The helmsman of some tanguillos that seemed to loose falcons from his hands, but were never a vehicle for virtuosity.

Once upon a time there was a guitarist who played far above our possibilities. A supergifted technician who never made us notice that virtue, but only of his artistic creativity, his ability to move the listener. This was his secret. That he was not a slave to the guitar, not a servant of its demands, but a transmitter of emotion. And the road toward the heart has risks that do not come from the faculties of execution. Because the guitar does not have strings, it has bars. And the Prisoner Number One in the jail of guitar playing was born in Guadalcanal, Cordoba. Once there was a simple crazy man who pressed the tuning pegs of the siguiriyas, playing up the neck in the fourth position without using a capo. Changing the pasa to flamenco without rising from the round yellow table upon which he wrapped up the history of this art.

Once upon a time the inheritor of the throne of guitar, in a shared reign with Rafael Riqueni, seated on a golden chair and embracing the rosewood symbol of the south, which is the cross carried by the martyrs of guitar playing when they want to shout out that those six strigs are the sum total of who we are. Vicente sometimes struck the guitar with too much power, but he was in Seville proclaiming the advent of his monarchy. And in festive full sail he stopped at the Callejón de Agua, again in the soleá. In the key of the mysterious taranta. A sublime madness. Una excelsa barbaridad. One must be very pure to play in this key without it sounding like the flamenco from the eastern mining districts. This was the secret: to create something totally new without it being noticed.

Once upon a time there was a sublime creator who tried to pass through here unperceived. I’m sorry, Amigo, but excess humility is only worthwhile behind the guitar. On the other side, we saw everything. In the Biennal de Sevilla. Dancing in celeric phrasing, encircling the electrical bulerías that El Choro dnced in accents that must be sought two hundred meters deep in the earth, where the soleá apolá as once sung by Camarón sends down its roots, with its echoes of the hollow sound of the great singer Niño Gloria, but above all, of the singer Rafael de Utrera.

Once upon a time there was a man who came to Seville and wrote his name in the register of the unique, ofthe singular. If sometimes I forget myself, go ahead and mock me. I feel I have not been worthy of witnessing the definitive ascension of Vicente Amigo to the Olympus of flamenco. And I swear on my guts that I saw the new Messiah playing with the firmament in his hands. His destination unto death. Al que va a dirigir esta hasta que se muera. A un cristo que busca con la mirada su sitio en cada latigazo. A Christ who seeks with his glance his site in every lash of the whip. El cielo. Heaven itself.

Translator’s note: The original is at:

http://sevilla.abc.es/cultura/sevi-vicente-amigo-mesias-guitarra-201609172228_noticia.html

Holy cow. It’s interesting that this hyperventilated consecration of Vicente Amigo simply confirms what most observers have suspected for at least two decades: That with due respect to the wondrous Tomatito, who took over Paco de Lucía’s role as accompanist-in-chief for the legendary Camarón, and to the amazing Gerardo Nuñez, it was Vicente Amigo — and not someone who arose later among the incredible crop of younger guitarists — who was indeed the Anointed One in terms of the contemporary guitar itself.

(Am I the last player around who still uses the original E A D G B E guitar tuning? And is it my imagination, or is it actually starting to sound novel and exotic?)

BZ

February 15, 2017   1 Comment

Flamenco Guitarist Vicente Amigo Speaks – Interview by V.M.Niño – Translated with comments by Brook Zern

Vicente Amigo:  “I don’t like to call something flamenco when it isn’t”

The musician will perform with the Sinfónica de Castilla y León in a program based on “Marinero en tierra”

From El Norte de Castilla, by V.M. Niño

A Cordoban born in Seville and formed in the school of Paco de Lucía, Vicente Amigo (1967) speaks through his guitar of voyages, of the fields, of emotions and of poetry.  And with that last element, he’ll be coming to the Miguel Delibes Auditorium to play the verses of [the great Spanish poet] Rafael Albertí in a concert directed by Joan Albert Amargós with the collaboration of Gustavo Martín Garzo.  It will be the writer from Valledolid (vallisoletano) who gives voice to the words of “Marinero en tierra.”

“De mi corazón al aire” [“From my heart to the wind”] was the guitarist’s first record,  which was met with a deluge of prizes.  A year later he debuted with the Sinfonica de Cuba the program we will hear in Valladolid.

Q:  You first played this concert 21 years ago,  What does Albertí have for you that makes you return periodically to him and the music that inspired you.

A:  I’ve always thought that music and poetry have a close relationship.  Giving order to the notes, and to the verses, are much the same thing.  And a identify closely with the poets, with all the artists who seek beauty.

Q:  Did you orchestrate this, and how does one go from composing for the guitar to envisioning the musical parts for each member of an orchestra?

A:  No, it was orchestrated by [the Cuban composer, conductor and guitarist] Leo Brouwer and he created a magnificent work..  An instrumental disc is more complicated, precisely because you don’t want to be boring and it’s a way of avoiding that problem.  I think that when making a recording, when making art, you are looking within yourself to give something to the listener, so it will be understood.  And if it’s not understood…you’ll find out pretty quickly (laughs).  This is the mystic aspect, but playing  and composing is a matter of hard work.  It’s work.  But I give a lot of weight to that mystical aspect, at the moment of perceiving the art.

Q.  Have your worked often with Joan Albert Amargós, the arrange who seems to work especially well with flamenco musicians?

A:  Yes.  In 2005, in the record “Un momento en el sonido”  I think that in his very manner of being, Joan Albert works well with everyone.  He’s a truly great person and of course a great musician.  I always want to work with him.

Q:  When a musician expressed himself through the greatness and the limitations of a single instrument, what about the rest of the group – are the there to complement the soloist, traveling companions, scenery?

A:  For all of us guitarists, it’s a favorite torment.  The guitar gives huge satisfaction to those who love it, but you also have some very good ataduras [connections beyond it?]  I’m  not a man who’s glued to the guitar, I like to enjoy a lot of things and then capture it all on my guitar, which the medium through which I express myself best, but…look, I try to create art, not just guitar music.

Q:  An alumnus of Paco de :Lucía, you’ve worked with Camarón, José Mercé, Enrique Morente…How do you view the generation that has followed these masters?

A:  The guitar is in a great phase.  There are a lot of terrific talents out there today.  They have interesting things to say; we can’t say that they all have the best technique, but each of them has something special.  “En la viña de señor hay de todo” [In the vineyard of the Lord, there is everything] There are great instrumentalists, great artists, it’s a brilliant moment for guitar.  Today’s players are prepared to hit the heights in all circumstances.  Flamenco today has lot of music, it’s bringing a lot of music, and it’s letting people from all musical cultures come together.  And that’s not because it’s an exotic style of music but because it sounds like true, real music to people.

Q:  In flamenco, what does the word fusion tell you”

A:  My music is a sort of fusion without labels… because that’s my way of being, of living.  I go outside and find interesting thing from different places, in different styles and in very different people.  That’s the way my music is.  What’s very true is that I don’t like to call something flamenco when it isn’t.  But it’s also true that there are things in my music that are very flamenco and other things that aren’t.  And I don’t have to put any barriers on my imagination.

Q:  Records, Grammys, other prizes – can you rest on those laurels or does the road beckon?

A:  The stage is where I find my inspiration, it’s where I connect with the public and receive the most important criticism in the form of applause, or its absence.

Q:  You’ve been in South America, Japan, Cordoba, Seville – how is your art received outside of Spain?  Do they experience it as flamenco?

A:  Flamenco – I don’t know.  But my music – it would be unfair if I didn’t give the same importance to every town where I play.  I think music is something that can connect with the hearts of everyone.  The guitar is a universal instrument and flamenco is a style that is becoming universal right now.  I’m fighting to have my music, which is flamenco, recognized as exactly that: as universal…Although there’s a part of my music that I don’t know ho to define, nor do I want to put labels on everything.  What I’m doing is fighting and carrying my music with dignity; and what I see is my music , whether it’s played in France or Japan, transmits what I’m doing.

Q:  Is poetry what inspires you, and what are you reading today?

A:  Everything interests me.  But I don’t have time to read as much as I’d like, or to listen to everything I’d want to, or see all the films, or play all the guitar I’d like to.  As for reading, I just finished a book called “La Cara Oculta” [“The Hidden Face”].

End of interview.  The article is found at:  http://www.elnortedecastilla.es/20131226/cultura/vicente-amigo-gusta-llamar-201312262053.html

Translator’s comments:  An eloquent call for artistic freedom from an always-brilliant musician and a sometimes-flamenco guitarist — but with the welcome caveat that it’s incorrect to call things flamenco when they just plain aren’t.

The astonishing breadth of Vicente Amigo’s interests and talent made him one of the few great flamenco guitarists of the first post-Paco generation.  And made it inevitable that he would do what virtually no pre-Paco guitarist could have done, as he leaned into the new realms of  jazz and poetry, and saw new possibilities in music theory and the guitar.

His innovative guitar tunings were a second revolution in flamenco, and a huge frustration for us confused, feeble, amateur would-be imitators until some savant finally took pity on us and taught us how to retune as Vicente did.

We diligently tracked down a Japanese videotape of Vicente Amigo, because it apparently had his baffling newfangled alegrías on it.

But we weren’t prepared for the new world of flamenco marketing for the music video generation.  The music faded in, and there he was — Vicente Amigo, naked to the waist, barefoot, looking just stunning on an alabaster steed, riding bareback on a golden shore, his own beautiful black mane and the horse’s white one undulating in unison in the wind as he rode effortlessly through the breaking ocean waves.

Well, maybe that was what a gazillion women and numerous men had been hoping to see, but we just wanted to watch his sexy fingers play the goddam notes…

At least that’s the way I remember it, but then I only watched it once before selling it to a lady who made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.  As for those fingers, no wonder he could play rings around everyone up till then:  They were four times as long and three times as slender as mine, never mind the stubby bratwursts that that classical guy, Andrés Whatsisname, and that flamenco guy Sabicas, called fingers.

Some guys have all the luck.  (Woddya mean, “skill”?)

Brook Zern

January 3, 2014   No Comments