Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Singer Pastora Pavón “La Niña de los Peines”

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

Encyclopedia of the Cantes Mineros [Flamenco songs from the mining regions of Eastern Spain] – by Juan Vergillos – translated by Brook Zern

Encyclopedia of the Cantes Mineros [Flamenco songs from the mining regions of Eastern Spain] – by Juan Vergillos – translated by Brook Zern

From “VaivenesFlamencos.com – “A Magazine of Flamenco Today”, by Juan Vergillos, winner of the Premio Nacional de Flamencología.

Translator’s note: The so-called “cantes mineros” are an important family of flamenco forms, and they can be especially confusing for us outsiders.

Structurally, they are derived from the ubiquitous fandangos. Perhaps the oldest versions of fandangos in flamenco are the rhythmic forms, notably the fandangos de Huelva, the fandangos de Lucena and the verdiales. Each sung verse consists of six melodic lines – but only five lines of text, because one line of text is repeated. (Usually it’s the first line, which is repeated as the third line.)

While most flamenco songs work in an unusual (for us) mode, usually called the Phrygian, the sung and/or danced fandangos initially seem to work in our familiar major key – the first line going from G7 to C, second line going from C to F, third line going from F to C, fourth line going from C to G7, fifth line going from G7 to C — but there’s a catch. At the end, during the sixth line, the song exits the major-key format and slips back down into the exotic (for us) Phrygian. implicitly passing from A minor to G to F before coming to rest on the tonic E.

[Note that these chords do not dictate any required pitch or register to the song -- the use of the capo in flamenco guitar means that its pitch can be raised arbitrarily in half-tone intervals to match the vocal range of any singer. Also, the guitarist may choose to use a tonic chord of A instead if E -- while the intervals between the chords remain unchanged.]

At the end of the 1800’s, those bouncy fandangos were slowed down and the rhythm was abandoned so they became more serious-sounding – the Spanish say they were “aggrandized”, which sounds right. These forms included the malagueñas, the granainas – and the cantes de Levante, a sprawling and confusing family that includes the tarantas, the cartageneras, the mineras and more.

While the malagueñas work in a tonality rooted in the familiar guitar chord of E major as described above, the granainas are based on the guitar chord of B major (an A major chord barred on the second fret). The cantes de Levante are traditionally based on the guitar chord of F sharp major – an E chord barred on the second fret, but with the two highest strings, B and E, played unbarred, resulting in a disturbing, “darkling” and mysterious sound.

It’s worth noting that while flamenco is an Andalusian art, these Levante forms are from Spain’s East Coast above the southernmost region of Andalusia. But again, they are based on musical conceptions that are firmly “andaluz”.

Enough background – here is Juan Vergillos’ report on a new CD by the singer Jeromo Segura titled La Voz de la Mina: Antologia de los Cantes Mineras de La Union, and a new book, Cantes de las Minas, by Jose Luís Navarro García, with valuable insight into this often confusing musical realm.

Singer Jeromo Segura, from the province of Huelva, was fascinated in 2013 by the cantes de las minas, a fascination that led to his winning the [very prestigious] Lampara Minera at the International Concurso of the Cantes de las Minas in that same year. For his second CD, he has chosen songs exclusively from that category.

Seguro has made an authentic encyclopedia of mining styles, demonstrating his love for these unique forms using his sweet, intimate voice that is rich in feeling and precise. He uses today’s terms for the songs – terms often derived from the rules of the contest he won. Thus the so-called taranto, a name that was never applied to a flamenco style until 1957 when the singer Fosforito used the term on his first record for what had previously been called the minera. The “murciana de Manuel Vallejo” which that Seville singer called “cante de Levante” on a 1923 record but that today, evidently because of the record collector Yerga Lancharro is called the murciana. Seguro includes one of these, with the verse that Vallejo used back then.

The book by Navarro Garcia is a reedition of the 1989 version, giving biographies of the great creators and historic interpreters of the genre, from the more or less mythical like Pedro el Morato and La Gabriela to those who have made recordings and whose biographies are well established such as Antonio Chacón and El Cojo de Malaga. Thus, the different cante minero styles, tarantas, cartageneras, levanticas, murcianas, etc., are presented with the biographical data of their creators. The history of the cantes mineros, their interpreters and festivals and contests, notable La Union, stops in 1989. There is a chapter dedicated to the start of the mining industry in Jaén, Murcia and Almería. The first edition of this book generated new investigations about the genre, among them one by José Francisco Ortega who wrote the booklet that accompanies the CD by Jeromo Segura.

To that list, I’d like to add one done two years ago by Rafael Chaves Arcos: both books have contributed enormously to our understanding of the songs and singers of these forms. Research his advanced a lot but we should underline the pioneering text of Navarro García’s “Cantes de las Minas”. For many years it was the key reference work in the field.

The crucial “matrix” style of the cantes mineros is the taranta, perhaps from the town of Linares: That’s the view of Rafael Chavez and José Manuel Gamboa among other researchers of these forms. All of the other styles are modalities or variants of the tarantas, and within the tarantas we find great melodic variety, with some of those variants given their own denominations. Moreover, all of them without exception are accompanied on guitar by the style used today for the tarantas [i.e., using the tonic chord shape of the partly-unbarred F sharp. On his CD, Segura offers two tarantas styles – that of La Gabriela, probably the basis of the mineras, and that of Fernando de Triana. The first, perhaps composed in the [late] Nineteenth Century, was first recorded in 1908 by the Seville singer Manuel Escacena, and memorable versions have come from the voices of Seville’s La Niña de los Peines, Jaén’s La Rubia de las Perlas, or La Unión’s Emilia Benito. The taranta of Fernando el de Triana, whose authorship is not in doubt today, was recorded by El Cojo de Málaga and La Niña de los Peines, who was the first to record it.

Many who haven’t heard early recordings will be surprised by La Niña de los Peines’ mastery of the cantes mineros. But she, born Pastora Pavón, was a master in all songs, and many served as reference points for other singers in her era and afterwards. Segura’s versions are sentimental, intimate, sweet and also academic.

Regarding the cartagenera, Rafael Chaves believes that the one called “cartagenera grande” on Segura’s disc is melodically linked to the malagueña while that of Antonio Chacón would be reasonable views as a “taranta cartagenera”. In any case. Both are accompanied today in the tarantas style, as are the rest of the cantes mineros. And both were recorded in his day by Chacón who is, logically, the man responsible for the reference versions of these two cantes.

For the minera, the star style of the Festival de La Unión, Segura offers seven versions, although all share a single melodic base. It is traditionally associated with El Rojo el Alpargatero, though it bears the imprint of Antonio Piñana. Pencho Cros and Encarnación Fernandez. On this record, Segura offers one by Piñana, four by Cros and two by Fernández.

The levantica and the murciana, like the minera, are tarantas with a single, specific melody. Both are linked to the singer El Cojo de Malaga, whose verse Segura sings in his murciana, a song that at one time was labeled by singer Gabriel Moreno as “taranta de Linares”. The levantica follows the model of Encarnación Fernández, using a well-known verse that Ginés Jorquera composed for that singer from La Union who was born in Torrevieja, according to Ortega’s album notes.

The taranto, as we’ve noted, was known in Chacón’s time as the minera, a name that at that time covered different cantes but today is linked to only one style as analyzed above. On the record, Segura follows the model imposed by the Jerez singer Manuel Torre in the 1920’s when, the term taranto was never used.

The so-called “cantes de la madrugá” [early morning songs] are another variation on that same model, and owe their name to the Jaén singer Rafael Romero. Segura provides two examples, both with verses recorded by Romero. Finally, he offers three verses of the mythic fandango minero of Pencho Cros.

End of article.

In doing research for the exhibit “100 Years of Flamenco in New York” that was presented at the Lincoln Center branch of the New York Public Library, I noticed that a very famous dancer who appeared in the Big Apple well before 1900 was named Carmencita Dauset — more accurately, Grau Dauset. She was actually filmed in the Thomas Edison’s studios, and seems to have been the first dancer ever filmed. The name Grau rang a bell — because the legendary pioneer singer and creative giant of the cantes de las minas, called “El Rojo el Alpargatero”, was born Antonio Grau Mora. Sure enough, he was her brother — and he sang flamenco during her successful run in New York.

Yes. Incredibly, at least to me, a great flamenco singer was appearing in the U.S. in that era. It would be two generations and many decades before another great flamenco singer would again grace our shores. It would’ve been nice if Edison had recorded El Rojo — his agents were recording flamenco singers in Spain back then — but no such luck. There are no recordings of Antonio Grau “El Rojo el Alpargatero”.

Final note: The form called the taranto is often defined as simply a melodic variant of the free-rhythm tarantas — where the free rhythm has triple time or 3/4 feel when it acquires any feel of a steady beat.

But for flamenco dancers and singers who work with them, taranto means something else: It is a version of the song that is instead done in a strong duple rhythm, our familiar 4/4 or perhaps 2/4 time. The even rhythm makes it danceable. It was a big hit for the then-young singer Fosforito around 1956 or so. A bunch of us aficionados are busily trying to pin down the artist and the definitive date for the first rendition of that rhythmic taranto, with its very different feel, but no luck so far.

Brook Zern

March 6, 2015   No Comments

A truly historic 6-CD recording plus DVD finally reveals the art of the guitar genius Manolo de Huelva (plus film of dancers La Argentinita and Pilar López)

Manolo de Huelva may have been the greatest flamenco guitarist of all time.

Okay, okay — we all know that title belongs to Paco de Lucía for perfecting the pre-existing virtuoso tradition around 1970 with stunning imagination and unprecedented technique, and then reconceiving the guitar concert with a jazzier ensemble sound for a broader audience. And the runner-up would be Ramón Montoya, the giant who around 1900 turned an inchoate mixture of styles and ideas into a coherent art form worthy of the name. And third place would go to Sabicas, for being the greatest flamenco virtuoso for a half-century before Paco dethroned him.  And if none of those perfectionists were the best exponents of raw power and funky punch — by one measure the central challenge of great flamenco guitar — the title would default to Melchor de Marchena, the preferred accompanist for the greatest singers in flamenco’s recorded history, or to Juan Habichuela who around 1970 took over Melchor’s role as the best backup man.  Or to the endlessly inventive Niño Ricardo, the main influence on Paco de Lucía and most other flamenco players in Spain.

Manolo de Huelva?  Well, he was determined to become the most revered flamenco player in Spain — and that’s what he did.  Between 1920 and 1975, if you mentioned his name in Spain, you would get no response.  Unless you happened to be talking to the artists at the absolute pinnacle of the tradition, the people who knew more than anyone else.  They had heard him, and that was all it took.  They spoke of him with awe, and of his playing as a thing apart and above.

Others just didn’t know, and that was how Manolo de Huelva wanted it.  He was determined to conceal his art from others, particularly other guitarists, and he did this with stunning success.  Only on rare occasions did he give other players a glimpse of his majestic accompaniment and musical creativity.

In 1963, after an astounding night of flamenco in the legendary Zambra (or was it the Villa Rosa?) in Madrid, I was generously invited to go see Manolo accompany some of that venue’s great singers, including Pepe de la Matrona.  As I was getting into one of the taxis, a guy asked to look at my hands.  He noticed my right-hand nails were longer than my left, and said I wasn’t allowed to join the group.  I started to argue, and said — not in jest — that I’d bite the long nails off.  He looked at my left hand fingertips, saw the tell-tale calluses that only come from serious practicing, and told me to scram.  He said that Manolo often inspected strangers’ hands, and might refuse to play at all if he suspected a guitarist was in or outside the roadside Venta Manzanilla where he reigned supreme.  I was just a kid, and couldn’t have retained thirty seconds of his music if he’d wanted me to, but I was still frozen out.

Ever since, I have been dreaming and scheming, hoping to hear Manolo playing at his best — as did my friend Don Pohren, the leading foreign authority on flamenco, who realized that he would never hear anyone better.  (Don also shared my admiration for the guitarist Diego del Gastor, who unlike Manolo refused to make any commercial recordings but generously allowed us devotees to make hundreds of hours of tape recordings of his solos and accompaniment.)

Manolo made a batch of 78′s before 1950, accompanying some noted singers, but it was clear that he was concealing his real art.  In the mid-seventies, I went to the Seville home of Virginia de Zayas, an American woman whose Spanish husband, Marius, had recorded the Ramón Montoya’s historic Paris sessions around 1937.  Manolo lived in her house, and she agreed to write about the man and his art for Guitar Review, the elegant New York publication of which I was the Flamenco Editor.  (You can find those three long articles in this blog by searching for “Zayas”.)  She also told me that she would arrange for me to meet Manolo the next time I was in Spain, and possibly be allowed to transcribe some of his variations or falsetas — in any event, Manolo died before that could happen.  (A double LP was later issued by de Zayas, one with Ramón’s old material and the other with some confusing snippets of Manolo de Huelva’s playing that failed to do justice to his art.)

This blog also contains a Guitar Review interview with Andrés Segovia, who — contrary to prevailing opinion — had enormous respect for what he called “true flamenco”, citing the art’s greatest female singer, La Niña de los Peines, and its greatest male singer (okay, male Gypsy singer), Manuel Torre, and heaping high praise on just one guitarist — yes, Manolo de Huelva.

Years ago, I gave up hope of ever hearing the man at his best, or learning his crucial music beyond the few fragments that were allegedly from his hand.

Earlier today, I got an email from my friend Estela Zatania, author and critic for deflamenco.com, relaying news from the noted French authority Pierre LeFranc that the important Spanish label Pasarela had published a massive 6-CD set-plus-DVD titled “Manolo de Huelva acompaña…”

And the singers he backs are formidable.  The great surprise is a batch of stuff by Aurelio de Cádiz, whose first recordings with Ramón Montoya date back to the twenties or thereabouts.  (I inherited some of those 78′s from my father, who also taught me my first flamenco licks.)   These “new” songs are a priceless addition to Aurelio’s sparsely-documented art — he always promised to make a worthy anthology but never did.  (A translation of a long interview of Aurelio appears in this blog — search for the author’s name Climent.) Other singers include Luís Caballero, an elegant singer who worked as a bellhop in the Hotel Alfonso XIII, which recently reclaimed its stature as the city’s best.  La Pompi, an important early singer and sister of the great Niño Gloria, is heard, as is the still-admired but otherwise unrecorded Rafael Pareja; finally, there’s the very significant Pepe de la Matrona with his immense knowledge — an early inspiration for Enrique Morente who as a very young artist appeared along with Pepe at La Zambra.

As for the DVD, it finally brings to light a film I’d seen long, long ago at the Museum of Modern Art and have been trying to find ever since. It shows Manolo de Huelva — or rather, it shows glimpses of his hands as he remains in shadow — as he accompanies the legendary dancers La Argentinita and Pilar López. (I actually saw it once again, at the Andalusian Center for Flamenco Documentation — then the CAF, now the CADF — around the corner from my apartment in Jerez. I even managed to sneakily record the soundtrack on my iTunes player (I had a separate mike for it). But now here it is, glorious picture and all — a true treasure for dance historians and all lovers of flamenco dance.

Decades ago, after hearing a theorbo or vihuela concert by de Zayas’s son Rodrigo, I approached him to plead and whimper that he had a duty to reveal Manolo’s music — something I had also done to Pepe Romero, the flamenco and classical guitarist whose family was evidently close to Manolo, also to no apparent avail.

Or so I thought.  Today the often fractious flamenco community is forever indebted (I presume) to Rodrigo de Zayas and that eminent family, which must be the source of those recordings that span a period from about 1940 to the mid-seventies.

Before I list the contents, let me add more backup to the claims about this man. And if a rave from Spain’s greatest classical guitarist isn’t enough, how about a rave from her greatest poet?

In his wonderful 1964 book “Lives and Legends of Flamenco” Don Pohren quoted Federico García Lorca’s appraisal of Manolo in “Obras Completas”:

“The guitar, in the cante jondo, must limit itself to keeping the rhythm and following the singer; the guitar is a base for the voice, and must be strictly subjected to the will of the singer.

“But as the personality of the guitarist is often as strong as that of the cantaor, the guitarist must also sing, and thus falsetas are born (the commentaries of the strings), when sincere of extraordinary beauty, but in many cases false, foolish and full of pretentious prettiness when expressed by one of those virtuosos…

“The falseta is now traditional, and some guitarists, like the magnificent Niño de Huelva, let themselves be swept along by the voice of their surging blood, but without for a moment leaving the pure line or, although they are maximum virtuosos, displaying their virtuosity.”

Thanks, Federico. As for Pohren’s personal opinion — and he had heard Manolo in top form — here’s his opening salvo:

“How does one begin to talk of the wondrous Manolo de Huelva? Perhaps by stating that he has quietly, semi-secretly, reigned as flamenco’s supreme guitarist for half a century? Or by stating that in the eyes of many knowledgeable aficionados and artists he has been the outstanding flamenco guitarist of all times? Truthfully, a separate volume, accompanied by tapes or records demonstrating Manolo’s evolution as a guitarist, which could only be played by Manolo himself, would be perhaps the only way to begin giving Manolo his due. This, I fear, cannot be accomplished; Manolo himself has seen to this by his elaborate, unbending covertness, his lifelong refusal to play anything that he considered to be of true value in the presence of any type of machine, often including the human.”

Pohren continues:

“Manolo especially dislikes playing when other guitarists are present. How many professional guitarists have actually heard Manolo cut loose? Very, very few, but those who have consider the occasion as having been sacred. Andrés Segovia has, and has called Manolo the greatest living flamenco guitarist. Segovia became so inspired, in fact, that he devoted a major part of a thesis to Manolo de Huelva. Melchor de Marchena has, and proclaims Manolo the greatest guitarist he has ever heard, This covers some ground, including Ramón Montoya, Javier Molina, today’s virtuosos and Melchor himself. Many singers and aficionados have, and they unanimously agree that in the accompaniment of the cante, and in the transmission of pure flamenco expression, Manolo is far off by himself.

“Just what makes Manolo’s playing so exceptional? To start with, he has the best thumb and left hand in the business. He is flamenco’s most original a prolific creator. He has a vast knowledge of flamenco in general and the cante in particular, which causes his toque to be unceasingly knowledgeable and flamenco. He is blessed with the same genius and duende that separated Manuel Torre from the pack; as was the case with Torre, when Manolo de Huelva becomes inspired he drives aficionados to near-frenzy, striking the deepest human chords with overwhelmingly direct force.

“As is so rarely the case, Manolo’s playing, when he is truly fired up, is truly spontaneous; he plays from the heart, not the head. His toque is full of surprises, of the unexpected. His manipulations of the compás are fabulous, his lightning starts and stops at once profound and delightful. His is a guitarist (this is important) impossible to anticipate – his genius flows so spontaneously that often not even Manolo knows what is coming next…

“By the time he reached his twenties, his toque was mentioned with awe in the flamenco world. He had everything: a naturally flawless compás that was equaled by no one, a driving, extremely flamenco way of playing, great duende, and the sixth sense that permitted him to anticipate the singers, without which an accompanist is lost. Cantaores began calling Manolo first, before Javier or Ramón or any of the others. Soon Manolo was known as the top man…

“Sabicas once invited him to join in a record of guitar duets. Manolo felt highly insulted, firstly because Sabicas should consider himself in the same class, and secondly that he should be propositioned to play such nonsense as guitar duets, On the other hand, upon asking Manolo whom he liked best of the modern guitar virtuosos, he instantly replied that Sabicas has the best compás in the business (next to his own). This is as far as he would commit himself.

“Technically, Manolo relies on his blindingly fast and accurate thumb and left hand for most of the astounding effects he achieves. His entire right-hand technique is subordinate to his thumb: that is to say, his right hand is held in such a a posture as to give he thumb complete freedom of movement. When he wishes, his picado is unexcelled and his arpeggios are sound, though he uses them sparingly. Little is known of his tremolo, as he holds this flowery technique in great contempt.

“The Gypsies like to believe that flamenco surges exclusively through their veins. It is impossible to explain that environment is what counts (were it not, someone would long ago have begun selling pints of Gypsy blood to payo [non-Gypsy] aspirants.)…Generally speaking, Manolo is above being included in the eternal rivalry. Knowledgeable Gypsies and non-Gypsies alike hold him supreme.”

End of Pohren’s appraisal. And now, without further ado, here’s what you’ll find in this new revelation. And no, I haven’t heard it yet — but I’ve ordered it. I know it may be just another perversely elaborate tease, where this strange man again conceals his true art.

But I prefer to believe that we will hear the real Manolo de Huelva — finally, and at long, long. last.

Note from a few days later: But wait!! I suspected there might be some glitches or problems with this project, but assumed it would be with Manolo’s customary refusal to reveal his best playing. Instead, the first problems are with the attributions of songs to singers. According to the expert Antonio Barberán, there are only a few songs by the great Aurelio (though some are very important). Some stuff attributed to him is by Manuel Centeno, another noted singer, while he may not do any of the many saetas or sevillanas attributed to him. (It had surprised me that Aurelio would record these songs — the sevillanas seems too trivial, and the religious saetas just don’t seem to be his thing.) So ignore those glitches — I’ll fix the notes when the experts have had their say. Here are those problematic attributions, most correct but many just plain wrong:

Note from a few weeks later: But wait!!! I have received my copy and changed the entries below to reflect my notions of who is singing — followed by the original attributions in brackets and quotation marks. Fire fights have broken out on some insider websites such as Puente Genil con el Flamenco, but the dust is settling.

Here is the latest version — a few more attributions might be revised in the future. And again: minor glitches aside, this is a wonderful contribution to the world’s treasury of flamenco, made possible thanks to Sr. de Zayas and the de Zayas family.

CD 1:

Siguiriyas “Mi ropa tengo en venta”
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  4:29

Bulerias “Cuando me daba” (truncada) 0:47
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  4:29

Bulerías “Cuando me daba” (entera) 3:45
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  3:45

Bulerías “A mi me duele”
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  1:52

Bulerías “A mi me sigue”
La Gitanilla con Manolo de Huelva  2:01

Bulerías “Que cosita mas rara”
La Gitanilla con Manolo de Huelva  2:55

Bulerías
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra; La Gitanilla, palmas  1:29

Siguiriyas falseta  0:37
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Malagueñas “Que te quise y que te quiero”  2:12
Manuel Centeno con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Que te pueda perdonar”  2:42
Manuel Centeno con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “A que tanto me consientes”  4:53
Manuel Centeno con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá  3:53
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

La Caña  3:22
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Soleá  3:58
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

CD 2

Malagueñas “Más bien te agradecería” 7”14 [empieza con afinación de guitarra]
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “A veces me ponía”  2:56
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Allí fueron mis quebrantos”  3:28
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Tarantas “Viva Madrid que es la corte”  6:36
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Alegrías “A mí que me importa”  5:32
Luís Caballero [?] con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Hay pérdidas que son ganancias” 7:40
Luís Caballero [?] con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Morena tienes la cara”  8:13
Luís Caballero [?] con Manolo de Huelva

CD 3

Alegrías “Ya te llaman la buena moza”  4:29
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “Llévame pronto su puerta”  3:56
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “En el patrocinio”  1:56
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “La que me lavó el pañuelo”  1:41
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Con paso firme”  1:41
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “Al cielo que es mi morada” (a duo)
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Silencio, pueblo cristiano”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “Ay, sereno!”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Dios te salve, María”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Bien sabe Dios que lo hiciera”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “No vale tanto martirio”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Ni que a la puerta te asomes”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Pare mío esclareció”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Y a visitarte he venío”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Bulerías “A mí no me hables”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “La torrente”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Solea “A Dios le pido clemencia
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Tangos “De cal y canto y arena”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Solea “Las campanas del olvío”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Tangos “Yo te tengo que querer”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Sevillanas “Seré por verte”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Sevillanas “Es tanto lo que te quiero”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Sevillanas “Mi moreno me engañó”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Tanguillos “Yo tengo una bicicleta”
Aurelio de Cádiz [?] con Manolo de Huelva

CD 4

Bulerías “Al campo me voy a vivir”  3:52
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Que no me mande cartas”  9:18
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Que tenga mi cuerpo”  5:43
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Contemplarme a mi mare, que no llore más”  8:12
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá con Polo “Eres el Diablo”  5:36
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Cuando yo esperaba” 3:17
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Porque faltó el cimiento”  3:22
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Que te salvó la vida”  4:05
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá con Polo “Eres el Diablo”  6:18
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Como hiciste tú conmigo”  1:39
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

CD 5

Solea “En feria de Ronda”  12:06
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Que bonita era”  4:55
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Redoblaron”  2:48
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Ventanas a la calle”  8:21
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Tangos “Estabas cuando te vi”  6:58
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Peteneras “Compañera de mi alma”  9:52
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “A la Virgen de Regla”  6:45
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

CD 6

Soleá “La Babilonia” 1:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá Petenera  1:29
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá Apolá  2:16
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Polo Natural  2:22
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Le dijo el tiempo el querer”  1:54
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “A una montaña”  1:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Una rosa que fue mía”  1:34
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

El Polo de Tobalo  2:30
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Solea “No todavía” 1:20
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Los pájaros son clarines”  1:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Toquen a rebato las campanas del olvío”  1:53
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Con mirarte solamente, comprenderás que te quiero”  2:14
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

La Caña  4:14
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Siguiriyas “Mi ropa tengo en venta 2:42
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Macho de la Serrana 3:20
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Bulerías “Cante corto de Jerez” 2:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Siguiriyas “Mi ropa tengo en venta 2:42
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Macho de la Serrana 3:20
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Bulerías “Cante corto de Jerez” 2:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

DVD

Sevillanas – introducción
Argentinita y Pilar López, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Bulerías
Argentinita, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Sevillanas
Argentinita y Pilar López, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Tangos de Cadiz “Dos Tangos de Cadiz”
Argentinita, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

“Canción” [?] “Hermanito de mi corazón” o “Tango del escribano”
“Cádiz, tacita de plata, es un verdadero encanto”
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra [?]

Alegrías – alternando ralentí sincronizado
Argentinita, baile. Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Siguiriyas
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, con palmas y pitos

La Caña “A mí me pueden mandar”
Argentinita, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Here’s the Pasarela url with buying info:

http://tiendadiscograficapasarela.com/shop/article_CMF5-501/MANOLO-DE-HUELVA-ACOMPAÑA.html?pse=apq

Brook Zern

January 5, 2015   5 Comments

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

From El País of June 15, 2014 

Three Roads to Purity in Flamenco Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, yeah — the interview:

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

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

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

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

Q:  For the worse?

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

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

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

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

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

Rancapino:  And you can stop counting right there.

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

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

Q:  How are these various schools differentiated?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:  Although the royals are no longer our fathers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:  Do your kids have jobs?

Rancapino:  Fat chance!  [?]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:  And is it the same?

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

Q:  You must have learned some Japanese…

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

Fernando de la Morena:  Musho tomate.

Rancapino:  With potatoes!  [Laughter].

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

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

– BZ

 

 

 

 

June 16, 2014   2 Comments

Niña de los Peines Interview – Observations

The interview with the young Niña de los Peines, translated here last month, didn’t need my usual grandstanding, but there is so much behind her words and her silence and her mother’s desperate need to reveal and conceal.

She was evidently already a million-dollar property; her mother sees her as a vast income-producing asset.  But she is also a woman — a girl — in a man’s world and in a society so sexist that the concept couldn’t even exist.

Women in flamenco in the very early 1900′s were inevitably linked to a world of illicit behaviors and prostitution.  Some managed to finesse the issue.  But one wrong step could destroy a reputation.

Her mother says she didn’t want her daughter to sing for a living, “but necessity dictates.”  She refuses to let her daughter freely chose stories of her life to recount.

The interviewer says: “I look at the poor creature with a certain sadness.  Submissive, nearly speechless, such a good daughter, virtually erasing herself [que se anula], deferring to her mother in everything.”

Her mother insists and insists that her daughter is upright and moral.  The interviewer asks about her, what, “picaresque” verses.  He’s clearly referring to the trademark Tango that actually gave her her professional name.  “Comb yourself with my combs.  They’re made of sugar.  Anyone who uses my combs will lick his fingers when he’s done.”

She says “now I don’t even remember it.”  She is lying to defuse a potential PR problem, no doubt at her mother’s direction.

“No.  My daughter is very moral,” says the mother.  “When she enters a theater, women are in the audience, and everyone wears nice clothes and hats [todo el público se ve lleno de sombreretes].”

There’s a wonderful story, probably false, about the other one of the two greatest women in flamenco.  When I was young, I heard that Carmen Amaya danced with her own frenetic glory as lifesaving therapy — the exertion and perspiration eliminated toxins that her failing kidney’s could handle.

Here’s the echo from Pastora’s prior generation:

“It seems that this woman would drown herself in passion if it didn’t come out in her songs; it crushes her, having so much raw soul.”

He continues:  “After this, she falls back into silence.  Silent, she has a look of ecstasy, as if she waits to sing during the hours when she can’t.  It’s as if she takes inspiration from the time that passes silently around her.  In that silence and the solitude of those hours, she saves the voice that will later be bestowed on listeners.  She cultivates her savage wildness, she draws inspiration for her instinct, in that soul in which no disturbance, no lesson can intervene; but which must be left to propagate in solitude, responding to that Spanish, Gypsy and flamenco name Pastora, which has also been attached to the name “Imperio” [Pastora Imperio was a great figure in Spanish dance and reciting], because it has something imperial about it, something perfect, rotund, like a miracle of expression and passion, shattering and profound.”

God, I love these crazy, unverifiable, luminous, telegraphic, hyperbolic stories.  In fact, I feel kind of sorry for the new scholars who black them out with their magic markers in order to seek higher truth.

Brook Zern

February 5, 2014   No Comments

La Niña de los Peines (Almost) Speaks – Interview with the young star and her voluble mom – Translation by Brook Zern

Interview with the young La Niña de los Peines

Translator’s Note:  There is plenty of debate about who is the finest cantaor (male singer) in the history of flamenco.  There is no debate whatsoever about who was the finest cantaora.  Her name was Pastora Pavón, and she was called “La Niña de los Peines.”

About ten years ago, I found an old, photocopied article, probably from one of the “Anuarios Flamencos” published annually that compiled articles about flamenco as well as listing the dates of the next year’s flamenco events.  It was titled “Interview with La Niña de los Peines”.  At the end, it says it is from the book “Confesiones de Artistas” by Carmen de Burgos “Colombine”, and that it was submitted by Isaac Lopez Cuadra.

We’re clearly dealing with the young Pastora Pavón, probably still in her teens.  But she was already the greatest cantaora that flamenco would ever see.

The language was problematic for me, but here’s an attempt at translation:

“Like the beauty of the Japanese, where Venus has oblique eyes, a snub nose and prominent cheekbones, there are other standards of beauty beyond the most evident.  La Niña de los Peines is very dark, snub-nosed, with a big mouth and large eyes.  She seems almost impudently youthful [de una juventud desgarrada], an effect deepened by the ardor of her song.  Her eyebrows give her a serious air.  In the tablado [flamenco club], seated on a chair like a reigning queen, letting the guitarist provide the tones for her entry into the song, La Niña de los Peines seems imposing , and the little taps of her feet that accompany the guitar are eloquent and imperious, “tin-tipitín, tipitín”.

She looks deeply into the room, as if staring into a vacuum, crazed with pain or love, thinking of something else, some gravely serious thing that grips the heart.  The introductory solos of the accompanying guitar are long.  And she, realizing her own importance, lets everyone wait, and wait, until at last the first cry of her song erupts into the air.  It’s a shout, a howl [un alarido], lacerating and tearing and wrenching, almost pure rythym, but bearing a profound cadence that gives it order and harmony in a way that no one else can approach.  And so we realize that this savage cry, seemingly unplanned and unguided [desacertado] yet utterly sincere, is a necessary component of the beauty of her singing, giving it the touching emotion of living flesh and blood.

This is the marvel that is revealed when La Niña de los Peines is singing.  This is the true flamenco — a desperate, hopeless call, coarse and unpolished, cut, spontaneous, reaching unheard-of heights; the brusque closing, the stupendous extension, all converted into a song that is like a nail driven home [un canto de clavijas apretadas], precisely measured and admirably enlaced with its own music.

Nothing is more serious than the cante flamenco of La Niña de los Peines, and at the same time nothing is more engaging and charming [gracioso] as when she salts a verse with her vocal “triquitraques” that dance among the words, or wraps up a verse with a seemingly arbitrary flourish, forgetting herself and making fun of her pain and grief – which only serves to make it more bitter.  She is playing with her own sadness, using the astounding juggling [“malabarismo”] of her voice, always full of a bloody sensibility.

I can never forget how I saw La Niña de los Peines sing; like liturgy; straight and proud, blinking her eyes, like stars that twinkle nervously some nights, her mouth open, blackly open, and twisted, to give all of her voice, breathing sharply to inhale the air that her song requires.  La Niña de los Peines represents, in contrast to academic song, the freedom of true song, constantly surprising us with unexpected turns of voice and melody, with unfathomable depths of soul, with mysterious echoes and unsettling combinations of cadences that are both bitter and sweet.

Motivated by curiosity and the urge to see more closely this woman who is the genuine representative of the soul of Andalusia, this elegiac and mournful, passionate soul – consumed in its own passion – I went to speak with La Niña de los Peines, to hear her speak as I heard her sing, as if I wished to see her complete within me.

I found myself in a room in an inn, where two women live in the kind of disorder that is expected in artists; a single large bed, in which La Niña de los Peines and her mother both slept.  It evoked the sadness of most such rooms, where nothing is permanent and everything is strange or unfamiliar to everyone, with the sterile coldness of an asylum, or a side room of a café where everyone is a transient.

The mother received me; typically Gypsy, pretty, motherly, with an insinuating and meddling air.

“My daughter is asleep”, she said.  “The poor thing is tired.  This afternoon, I had to miss a bullfight to wait for you, but you were late.”

She went to the bed and called:  “Pastora, Pastora…”

The young girl was sleeping in her clothes, covered with a big red bedspread; she started to get up.  I stopped her.

“Let’s speak like this,” I said.  “It’s more intimate.  Please speak to me like you speak to your friends.”

Pastora smiled, a somewhat ingenuous smile, rather sad; and she leaned back, her hair spilling over her face, with a distant gaze that is characteristic of her.

At each question, she smiled and said little or nothing, answering only in monosyllables; her mother, on the other hand, came over and told me everything.

“Are you Andalusian?”

She nodded yes, while her eyes seemed to look out at Andalusia.

“From Seville itself”, said her mother, “And raised in one of the most typically Andalusian [castizos] neighborhoods of all until she was eleven years old, when we came to Madrid to see one of her aunts.”

“When did you start to sing?” I said, hoping that the girl would answer.

“From the beginning”, said the mother.  “Everyone told me, ‘you have a treasure in this voice’, but I said, ‘Jesus and Mary, have my daughter sing for a living?’ But necessity dictates, and now you see.  She started then, in that trip to Madrid, at eleven years old.”

“Where?”

“In the Café del Brillante, on Montera Street, and then everywhere.”

“Have you been to other countries?”

She nodded yes.

“You bet!”, said her mother.  “To Paris and Berlin, and to Santander and San Sebastian in the north.”

Pastora spoke: “I went to cut gramophone records, but I’ve never worked outside of Spain”, she said.

Her voice is full, musical, agreeable, with that charming Andalusian accent that can’t be represented in writing, where words elongate or shrink or smooth out on the lips.

“We’re always traveling”, says the mother.  “And thanks be to God, nothing bad has happened to us.  We’re afraid to go to America, because coming back across the Straits of Gibraltar from [the Spanish colony of] Melilla we almost drowned, and I’m afraid of the sea.”

“Tell me some stories about your life,” I asked with the hope of making Pastora speak.

“Nothing, nothing about that”, the mother jumped in.  You want to know the artists she likes best.  Among singers, Antonio Chacón; guitarists, Ramon Montoya and Habichuela…”

“That’s not necessary,” I said.

“You can say that she is very good, very generous.  She could become very rich, and she supports the whole family: sisters, aunts, cousins.  She doesn’t know how much she makes, and it’s her mother who arranges everything.”

I look at the poor creature with a certain sadness.  Submissive, nearly speechless, such a good daughter, virtually erasing herself [que se anula], deferring to her mother in everything.

“What songs do you like most?”

“The songs that she arranges and improvises.”

“Tell me about them”

“Tell her about them”

“Well, there’s the tango:

Diez céntimos le dí a un pobre
Y me bendijo mi madre;
!Que limosna tan chiquita
Pa recompensa tan grande!”

(I gave a dime to a poor man
and he blessed my mother;
What a tiny price
For such a great reward.)

And a malagueña:

Los pícaros tartaneros
Un lunes por la mañana
Los pícaros tartaneros
Les robaron las manzanas
A los pobres arrieros
Que venían de Totana.

(Those sneaky wagoneers,
one Monday morning
those sneaky wagoneers
robbed all the apples
from the poor mule drivers
who were coming from Totana)

A petenera:

Niño que encuero y descalzo,
Vas llorando por la calle;
Ven aca y llora conmigo
Que tampoco tengo madre,
Que la perdí cuando niño.

(Child of the streets
naked and barefoot,
come here and cry with me;
I don’t have a mother either;
I lost her when I was your age.)

Bulerías:

Yo se lo pedi llorando
Al de la Puerta Real
que me quite esta fatiga
tan grande que tengo
que no la puedo aguantar.
Que pena es quererte tanto
y tenerlo que ocultar.
estos si que son quebrantos!

(Weeping, I asked
the Virgin of Puerta Real
to take a way this great weariness I have,
that I cannot endure.
What grief to love you so,
And have to hide it –
What pitiful sorrow.)

Siguiriya:

Padre mio Jesús de Santa María:
Estos pesares que mi cuerpo tiene,
yo le pido a Jesús de Santa María
que estos pezares que mi cuerpo tiene
sean alegría.

(My Father, Jesus of Saint Mary,
these woes that my body has,
I ask Jesus of Saint Mary
to change these sorrows
into joys.)

Taranta:

Corre, ve y dile a mi Gabriela
que voy a las herrerías,
que duerma y not tenga pena,
que vuelva mañana e día
que voy a fabricar canela”

(Run and tell my Gabriela
that I’ve gone to the ironworks,
tell her to sleep and not be fearful,
I’ll be back tomorrow morning,
I’m going to make cinnamon)

Such moving prose.  And one must see how in the delivery and pronunciation there is the measure for elongating the lines to form the song.

“Don’t you sing anything other than flamenco?”

“Nothing else”, says Pastora.   “If I wanted to be a singer of popular songs and cuplé it would be easy, but I don’t want to.  There are no flamenco cantaoras (female singers); there are plenty of pop cupletistas.”

“Don’t you sing in a picaresque – roguish and naughty – way?

“No.  My daughter is very moral,” says the mother.  “When she enters a theater, women are in the audience, and everyone wears nice clothes and hats [todo el publico se ve lleno de sombreretes].”

“Why is she called ‘La Niña de los Peines’”?

“Because of a song she sang when she started.”  [A tango:  “Comb yourself with my combs [peines]; they’re made of sugar; those who comb themselves with my combs will lick their fingers afterwards.]

“And now I don’t even remember it”, says Pastora, adding:  “There’s nothing I like as much as the “castizo”, the typically Andalusian style; I’ll never lose my accent, ever; I like to put on those skirts with polka dots, and a shawl, and that’s it.”

“And that from someone who has nice suits [?] (trajes casi regios), says the mother, “and who in the street looks as elegant as anyone.”

“Every year,” says Pastora, who has now acquired some confidence, “I sing saetas [religious flamenco songs sung as floats of Jesus and Mary pass by during Holy Week] in Seville or Málaga; those two towns and Madrid are my favorites.”

“More than Paris?”

“You bet!”

“Her sweetheart is from Málaga,” says a newcomer to the conversation, a white-haired woman who seems to be Gypsy.”

“Now we’re sad,” says Pastora, “and I’m upset.”

“He’s an Andalusian gentleman [señorito] who wants to marry her,” says the woman.

“Are you going to be married?”

“Whoa!” says the mother.  “What would I do then?”

“Raise your grandchildren, madam”, I say with a laugh.

Then, as if to change the direction of the conversation, La Nina de los Peines recites for me her favorite saeta:

Se enturbieron los cielos,
hubo eclipse extraordinario
le da un desmaya a María
al pie del Monte Calvario
viendo a Jesús en l’agonia.

(The skies grew dark,
the strange eclipse came
only adding to Mary’s grief
at the foot of Calvary
seeing Jesus in agony.)

“All of your coplas [verses] are almost mystical.  Are you devout.”

“Very much so.  I adore the Jesus of the Great Power, and our Father Jesus, and…”

“Are you also superstitious?”

“Yes.  I get scared if I spill ink, or travel on a Tuesday, or…everything…I’m very fearful, but as you see, at the same time, I actually enjoy it when people tell me scary stories, of death and ghosts.”

“And she’s no coward,” says the mother.  “She’ll belt anyone who pushes her too far.  She’s done that often.”

“I find her sad.”

“She’s always like that.”

“Look at this picture,” says the old woman.

I’ve scarcely taken it (a religious picture?) when La Niña de los Peines snatches it away and holds it closely to her, covering it with kisses.  Her look and her attitude have impregnated all the voluptuousness  of her soul, magnified by the song.

It seems that this woman would drown herself in passion if it didn’t come out in her songs; it crushes her, having so much raw soul.

After this, she falls back into silence.  Silent, she has a look of ecstasy, as if she waits to sing during the hours when she can’t.  It’s as if she takes inspiration form the time that passes silently around her.  In that silence and the solitude of those hours, she saves the voice that will later be bestowed on listeners.  She cultivates her savage wildness, she draws inspiration for her instinct, in that soul in which no disturbance, no lesson can intervene; but which must be left to propagate in solitude, responding to that Spanish, Gypsy and flamenco name Pastora, which has also been attached to the name “Imperio” [Pastora Imperio was a great figure in Spanish dance and reciting], because it has something imperial about it, something perfect, rotund, like a miracle of expression and passion, shattering and profound.”

End of article.

Brook Zern

January 10, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Aurelio Sellés (Aurelio de Cadiz) speaks – 1962 interview by Anselmo Gonzalez Climent – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  Aurelio Sellés was the great master of flamenco song from Cádiz — the seaport town renowned for a brighter and happier style of song than Seville or Jerez.  But Aurelio was also a notoriously crusty and cranky guy.   The flamenco magazine Candil reprinted an old interview with him, conducted in 1962 by the pioneering Argentinian flamencologist Anselmo González Climent (who coined the word flamencology as the title of a seminal book, “Flamencologia”).

Here are excerpts from the interview, with comments from Climent and some interjections or clarifications of mine [in brackets]:

Aurelio Sellés: “Juan Talega [the revered deacon of serious flamenco song and a key source for the singer Antonio Mairena] only knows the monotonous song of his uncle Joaquín [el de la Paula, a legendary master and creator of a key soleá form, the soleá de Alcalá].  He’s shameless, sloppy, boring and corto [short, i.e., limited in repertoire].  He’s a hindu [evidently a deprecatory word for Gypsy] whom I can’t stand.  A bad person, a liar, incompetent. I’m tired of the “geniality” [alleged genius] of Gypsies.  It’s Manuel Torre this, and Manuel Torre that, and on and on. [Manuel Torre is universally admired as the greatest Gypsy master of cante jondo, or flamenco deep song, which is attributed to the Gypsies of Andalucía].  In fact, Torre was only good for siguiriyas [the most difficult form of the so-called "deep songs"], and only when he could do it.  In the rest, he just danced around something that he fundamentally didn’t know.

I’ve seen Juan Talega booed by Gypsies.  [Talega's reponse: "Aurelio and all the cante of Cádiz are worthless.  There's no variety, and no personal styles.  It's all a lie."]

Climent, the interviewer, says:  “Aurelio told me to stay away from the Gypsyphiles headed by Ricardo Molina.  So I did, out of respect and docility.  But it put me in a bind.  Ricardo counterattacked, warning me that if I maintained fidelity to the payo [non-Gypsy] faction, our ethnic-preference differences would deepen, and we wouldn’t be able to make common plans for the future.  And in fact, we never again could deal peacefully with the matters that had united us so amiably before…”

Aurelio:  “Don Antonio Chacón [considered the greatest non-Gypsy singer of all time] was the divo mas largo de todos los tiempos — the most complete, masterful singer of all time.  But he adulterated all the songs, to fit them to the tastes of the señoritos (posturing would-be gentlemen).  Because of his voice [in a high register] he couldn’t really do the siguiriyas and soleá.  He got his best songs from Curro Dulce.”

“In Granada, the flamencos are demanding and violent.  They didn’t just boo La Paquera and Terremoto [two gigantic figures of the flamenco song of Jerez] — Terremoto couldn’t vocalize well — they actually threw them out.

Seville?  I don’t know anyplace where the people are more fickle.  I’m outraged that Mairena and Talega dare to talk of a Seville school of singing.  How can you compare that with the roots of Cádiz.  And the Gypsies — if there were more of them, they’d get rid of the payos and all of Andalucia.  The Gypsies are blind about flamenco.  They don’t know a lot of the styles.

Okay, Antonio Mairena knows the song. But he has no gracia [charm, appeal], and doesn’t reach your heart.  His brother Manolo [who unlike Antonio is half non-Gypsy] is better.  Antonio invited me to be on an anthology he directed [Antología del Cante Gitano y Cante Flamenco].  He took away jaleo and palmas, and put the guitarist where we couldn’t hear each other.  I think he did it out of malice.  It hurt my reputation a lot  .

My mother disliked Enrique el Mellizo [the greatest interpreter of Cádiz flamenco song of all time] — said he was dirty and uneducated.  But when he sang, Gypsies would hurl themselves out of windows.  In a way, I admire him more than Chacón.  The first time Manuel Torre heard Mellizo, they had to stop him from jumping out of the window.  [Interviewer's note: It seems that the true measure of the glory of a singer was measured by the quantity of listeners who, possessed, leaped from balconies -- at least during fiestas on the lower floors.  Aurelio assigned this honor to Chacón, Torre, Mellizo, Tomas el Nitri and once to Antonio Mairena.]…

Aurelio:  I put the true cante por alegrías [the most important flamenco song form from Cadiz] in circulation in 1921.  Before that, the best singer of alegrias was Paquirri el Viejo, a disciple of Enrique el Mellizo…

Socially, Pastora Pavón [La Niña de los Peines, the greatest female flamenco singer of all time] was a beast — she deserved no honor for her comportment…

People go to flamenco concursos [contests] because it’s fashionable.  And what’s worse — they dare to give opinions!  I mean, people who still stink of singers like Pepe Marchena [a wildly popular singer of cante bonito, or “pretty” flamenco song] or Antonio Molina [another cante bonito singer] — giving opinions!…

In Córdoba, they think they have good cantes — what a lie!  The songs are twisted, unimportant, and desangelados [de-angelized, lacking in magic].  I only sang there to show them the real cante.

“Today, nobody knows how to sing tonas, deblas, martinetes, [three similar forms of unaccompanied deep song sung in a free rhythm], cañas, polos, etc.  The only one with an idea is Manolo Caracol [the fabulous Gypsy singer] despite his famous anthology where he sang bad stuff that was not the true cante.  [The anthology is considered Caracol's masterpiece.]  He has hounded me to show him the key to some styles.  He wanted to record everything I know.  Once he beseiged me, to repeat the tangos de Cádiz as done by my older brother, el “Chele Fateta”  I don’t want to help others rob me; I’m going to write my memoirs, and record an anthology that’s all mine [sadly, Aurelio never recorded a true anthology].  Caracol keeps after me to show him the Cádiz cante, but though I consider him a true phenomenon, I fear him as a person.  With that kind of desperation, he’d take what’s mine and pass it off as his.  I know his caste [i.e., Gypsies, or Caracol's kind of Gypsies].  They’re capable of anything.  The branch that lives in Cádiz have customs to scare anyone.  I heard one, once, singing siguiriyas to someone who had just died….

No aficionado of flamenco can be a bad person.  They’re all good people.  But the flamencos themselves  — they’re crápulas [this is not a compliment, to sat the least]…

The best flamenco guitarist of all time was Rafael de Jerez.  [Could he mean Javier Molina?  Or Rafael de Aguila, a noted disciple of Javier but a lesser artist?]  Others are Manolo de Huelva, who’s still alive but drunk and worn out, and Melchor de Marchena, the greatest one right now.  Perico del Lunar [the revered Jerez guitarist who was behind the monumental 1954 Antologia del Cante Flamenco] is a veteran with too much prestige.  He’s one of the biggest sinverguenzas [shameless frauds] in the business…

When Fosforito [the admired non-Gypsy master who won the important 1956 Cordoba contest] tries to sing the Malagueñas del Mellizo, it’s pathetic.  His bad malagueñas are on a par with Mairena’s bad tanguillos [another Cádiz form].  Fosforito sings with his head.  He’s a good aficionado, but he pontificates a lot and learns little…

Juan el Ollero was a cantaor from Triana who invented the soleá of Córdoba about a century ago.  [This story may be true.  It would mean that the so-called soleá de Córdoba was not the invention of a Cordoban singer, but was imported by a noted non-Gypsy singer from Seville’s Triana district who knew that version.  The two soleares certainly sound similar to one another.]

My older brother lived in Argentina around 1878, and brought back a lot of songs that he expertly crossed with our songs.  He specialized in milongas [an Argentine song borrowed by some flamenco artists, and sometimes even considered a light flamenco song], rematados [ended] por alegrías…”

[Climent begins the second part of this interview by noting Aurelio’s reservations about the material on Antonio Mairena’s very important first LP.  Aurelio says that Mairena’s siguiriyas are barely interesting, particularly the “cambio” of Silverio — the part that changes from the Phrygian mode to the major key – and adds that the soleá of Enrique el Mellizo has merit, but is far from the mark of Enrique.  Regarding the corrido or romance — old Spanish ballads which were conserved only in a few Gypsy families — he allows it to be called authentic.  Aurelio sings “a bajini” (in a whisper) a version that is not as close to the compás of soleá as is Mairena’s.  He recalls hearing in Seville a romance sung to the style of martinete.  He deduces that the traditional form called the romance acquires a distinct flamenco base according to the preferences of each region where it’s sung.

Climent notes that Antonio Mairena often said he didn’t know know how to sing polos, cañas or — with more reason — fandangos.

Aurelio says: “I’ve never in my life heard a complete polo or caña.  And what I do remember of those cantes has nothing at all to do with what is circulating today.  I know and sing some fragments, above all the remate of the soleá apolá [accent on the final “a” of “apolá” — so it would be a soleá that was influenced by the polo, or “apola(da)“, “poloized”.   There’s talk of cañas of Seville, Triana, Cádiz and Los Puertos, and of a singer called Tobalo.  If he was a singer, he wasn’t the only one to give it shape.  There must have been many types or variants of polos.  Today, we hear one that was made fashionable by the dancer Pilar López, who knows how to experiment and invent.  But the blame for the monotony of the form goes to Perico del Lunar [the Jerez guitarist who arranged the influential and venerable and original 1954 Anthology of Cante Flamenco, and who allegedly clued the singers in on the more obscure forms].  Perico, with good or bad faith, has adulterated almost all the old cantes…His anthology is neither authentic nor correct.

Aurelio speaks of the cantiñas [a key Cádiz form, linked to the alegrías] of Fosforito and Mairena:  “This is my turf.  The entendidos [knowledgeable folks] discuss whether or not the cantiñas are independent of the alegrías.  Some say that’s not really the question: They say the cantiñas are not a special cante, but a light way of singing, of “cantiñeando” [singing out], or whatnot.  I assure you that the cantiñas are in fact a special type of alegrías, with a tonal change that isn’t too distinct [poco solido] and that gives the singer a lot of leeway and freedom.

It’s a form that is even lighter [todavia mas aligerada] than the alegrías.  The cantiñas of Fosforito are  loaded with ornamentation [adornos].  Those of Mairena are a mixture of cantes, with the unique trait of ending por romeras, which are also alegrías.  Mairena’s are more from Seville than from Cádiz.  He makes them monotonous, and they seen as repetitive as the sevillanas de baile.

The soleá de Alcalá is a slow, cold, short cante, without the bravura lines [tercios valientes] they give it in my region.  It has art, and balance.  It’s even agreeable.  But it lacks pauses, variety, high lines.  It’s very low-key [muy apagada].  The soleá de Utrera is more defined, it has more content and it even has some similarities with some variants of the soleá de Cádiz.

Climent notes that the Gypsyphile/Mairenista Ricardo Molina gained increasing respect for the non-Gypsy cante of Aurelio.  Climent wondered what had happened to cause the change.  Then one day, Molina said to him “Doesn’t Aurelio seem not quite castellano [payo or gache — i.e., not really non-Gypsy] to you — doesn’t he seem a little Gypsy?  Do you think he could really be a cuarterón [quatroon, in this case a quarter-Gypsy]?.

Aurelio:  “I don’t tolerate crossing the cante [styles].  You should start and end with the same style — of this person or that person.  You have to sing the malagueñas de Mellizo as a single entity, complete.  The same with those of Chacón or la Trini.  I can’t stand singers who start with a verse from Enrique, go to one by Fosforo el Viejo, and rematan [wind up] with La Trini’s.  It’s not right.  I sometimes need four or five coplas in order to get myself properly into the line of, say, Enrique.  Nowadays, nobody takes the trouble.  Let’s not fool ourselves — there’s a lot of ignorance out there.”

Climent:  Another key tenet for Aurelio is the almost sacred obedience to compás — flamenco’s often complex rhythmic system.  Aurelio says “The compás is the fundamental element of the cante.  I can exceed my limits, go crazy at the high point of a remate — but without ever leaving the axis of compás.  Caracol, when he gets carried away [se desordena], also loses [desordena] the compás.  It’s his worst defect, for all the high esteem I have for him.  [This is a common criticism of Caracol, acknowledged even by some admirers].  A singer who doesn’t stick to compás shouldn’t even qualify for a contest.  And certainly the cradle of compás is in Cádiz, above all in the soleá and the bulería.

I can’t sing with just any guitarist.  The tocaor who marks his own compás is a bad player.  He needs to support himself in a mathematical calculation.  And that’s not what it’s about.  The compás is something more subtle and fine than that.  You have to have it by right [de casta].   The best maestros are Manolo de Badajoz, Melchor de Marchena, Sabicas and Paco Aguilera.  Niño Ricardo [a revered and hugely influential guitarist] is incomplete, disordered, abusively personal.  He gets away from the cante and the compás.  With me, at least, we just can’t get it together.  [Again, there is some justification for this claim. Ricardo sometimes went out of compás, considered a sin in other guitarists, possibly because he was attempting very difficult material without correspondingly awesome technique, or maybe because sometimes his imagination just ran away with him.]

Fosforito has good and bad traits.  He interests me, and I voted for him in the 1956 Cordoba contest.  But his soleares are disordered, his siguiriyas indecisive, his alegrías debatable, his cantiñas absurd.  Still, his voice is appropriate to cante grande, and he’ll become one of the greats if he can capitalize on his strengths.

La Fernanda, La Bernarda, La Pepa, all those from Utrera, are Gypsies like you can find in any corner of Andalucía.  [La Fernanda de Utrera is acknowledged as the greatest female singer of soleá of all time, and the greatest cantaora of recent decades.  Her sister Bernarda is a fine singer].  They’ve done well in contests due to lack of competition.  Under the circumstances, they can be good.  The one who impresses me most is Fernanda.  She knows how to fight against her weak vocal faculties.  Among the young people, she was the one who was best in the whole Cordoba contest.”

Climent writes: La Perla de Cadiz [a great cantaora, and an inspiration for Camarón de la Isla] was the only contestant who excited Aurelio.  He convinced two judges, but failed to convince me or Molina.  Aurelio said “Perla as better than any other cantaora in the contest — at least in the cante chico.  As she is from Cádiz, she is a Gypsy with quality.  She’s a professional, born and bred [hecha y derecha].  It was ridiculous not to give her the first prize in the cante chico [lighter flamenco styles].”

Climent: “To Aurelio’s disgust, we only gave La Perla the second and third prizes.   I believe Aurelio was influenced by factors other than the cante itself.  But we all agreed that it was too bad la Perla’s husband didn’t compete, since he showed us privately that he was a magnificent singer and a fine dancer, too.  He was a “gitano fino“, prudent, modest, in his place [sic: “en su lugar“].

Aurelio: “Manolo [Manuel] Torre is the singer I admired most.  For me there have been two principal epochs of cante:  The first, of Paquirri el Guante, Enrique el Mellizo and Tomas el Nitri.  The second, exclusively of Manolo.  As a professional, he was a genius [genial], unique.  As a person, he was simple, “tirado“.  A humble Jerez fisherman, de cortas luces [uneducated, not bright], lacking character.  He was a low Gypsy [gitano barato].  But a friend of mine…”

[Translator's note:  With friends like Aurelio, who needs enemies?]

Aurelio:  The singer called Medina el Viejo was the maestro [teacher] of Niña de los Peines.  He was the best interpreter of peteneras — exactly the one that would make Pastora famous.  He also showed the way with his bulerías, tangos, tanguillos and alegrías.  Pastora specialized in tangos, taking cante chico to the heights.  But in the rest of the styles, her singing was weepy, overly quejado (lamenting), exaggeratedly abultado [inflated], as if to compensate for her lack of domination in songs as costly [demanding] as the [great and crucial] siguiriyas and soleares.”

Climent writes:  “Juan Talega’s countertheory denies any influence of Medina on Pastora.  Talega says “Pastora never suckled from that teta.  Anyone who says different is an ignoramus.  Medina had his style on some cantes, but never had the gracia and essence of Pastora.  He was a lightweight, a divo, a Pepe Marchena [pretty singer] of his era.  He was lucky, and got famous, but he’s worthless next to Pastora.  She got her cante chico, from tangos to bulerías, from Manuel Torre, her only maestro, before developing her own personality.  Manolo Caracol doesn’t agree on this, but he’s wrong.  He’s just jealous and envious of the Pavón family.  Tying Pastora to Medina is a way of taking credit away from her.  Caracol’s a bald-faced liar.  She was a disciple of Arturo Pavón, her older brother.  She is an unequalled singer of festive cante, although she does lament [queja] too much in the cante grande.  She’ll go down in history for her inimitable tangos.”

[Translator's note:  Folks, please forgive the length of this and related posts (which actually omit most of the original material).  For all we can learn by talking among ourselves, the real deal is found in the music and the words of the verses, and in the oral testimony of the artists, whose disagreements and vituperation, like their music, make us all look like amateurs.]

Climent writes:  Aurelio says he admires the singing of Manolo Caracol, and pardons his sins of theatricality, applauding his traditionalist spirit.  “I can’t deny the enchantment of his virile, rajo [rough, raspy] voice.  But I don’t like his anthology.  I don’t know why he elongates the soleá corta [“short soleá“] of Joaquin [de la Paula].  Or why he misses the purity and valentía [boldness, courage] of Enrique el Mellizo’s cante.  And his way of losing the compás when he’s emotional or distracted.

There’s no single mold for the martinetes [early, unaccompanied deep flamenco songs].  Those of Triana are classical, valiente [brave, gutsy], varied.  Those of Cagancho el viejo have no competition.  Those of Seville are more measured, more conservative, with more adornos than pellizcos [chillingly emotional touches].  Those of Los Puertos are the best of all.  They demand flexibility, courage and great depth.  Those of Cádiz are quebrados [uneven, rough] and gracioso, if that’s the word for such a serious cante.  The martinete of Tio Juan Cantoral is the most legendary.  But I prefer those of Los Puertos.

Chacon revived the caracoles [a song sharing the rhythm and major key of the alegrías], from the Goyesca period.  But even with his greatness, I don’t like the song.  The music seems defective, and nobody can stand the words.  ”Curro Cuchares and el Tato together in the Café de la Union” — why, they weren’t even contemporaries.

Juan Talega wants to show that he can sing a lot of siguiriyas.   Some are passable.  But in general, what he’s done is make variations on one siguiriya style — Loco Mateo’s.

There’s a pretty song that’s not given much weight, and is rarely sung well.  It’s a Gypsified style, with the sound of a slow bulería: the alborea [a ceremonial Gypsy wedding song, traditionally reserved for intimate gatherings].  In my youth, it was part of my repertoire.  It’s not easy.  It deserves to return to circulation.

Bulerías is not Juan Talega’s forte.  What he does is a rythmic trick, so he can keep singing soleares though it appears to be bulerias.  I don’t like those absurd and senseless combinations called the solea por bulerias or bulerias por solea.  The two songs [bulerías and soleares] are similar, but the purity of each one should be conserved.

My soleares are a mixture of Los Puertos, Jerez and Cadiz.  I don’t forget those of Frijones — nor does Caracol in his anthology.

I agree (me hago solidario) with (flamencologist) Jose Carlos de Luna when he says that the cante begins in Morón.

[Translator’s note:  This may be an odd geographic theory, or may be an attempt to attribute several great Gypsy song forms like the siguiriyas and soleares to Silverio Franconetti of the town of Morón de la Frontera.  Silverio, a non-Gypsy with an Italian father and a great singer and creator, was the key figure in first commercializing flamenco by creating “cafés cantantes” where a paying public could witness flamenco.]

Aurelio:  I’ll grant that this or that came from Seville, but Seville, in general, is very presumptuous and can’t compare with the solera [this refers to the sun-driven distillation or aging of sherry] of Cádiz.

The jabera is nothing more than a light malagueña.  It’s a malagueña for dancing.

Despite the unjust neglect [olvido] that surrounds her, Carmen Amaya is the most serious [exemplar] of baile flamenco.  With all her extraneous trappings, she never strays from flamenco.  There’s no other bailaora who’s similar to her.  The only other one who’s worthwhile is Pilar López, although at times, as Ricardo Molina correctly says, she is too “intellectual”.

Antonio Chacón was the first singer who tried to sing in Castillian (clear Spanish, rather than the loose and sometimes incomprehensible Andalucian dialect).  He did it to increase his popularity.  He thought that this way his singing would be more “formal”.  The bad thing was that his imitators carried this idea to ridiculous extremes.  Not even Pepe Marchena escaped this influence.

I have sung for the public just three times in my life.  First, with [the great dancer] Pastora Imperio at the beginning of my career.  Then at a public homage for me in Cádiz.  And finally this year in a festival dedicated to Parrilla de Jerez.”   [This would be the father of Manuel Parrilla.]

Climent writes: “Juan Talega thinks that the soleá dance is older than the song itself.  He doesn’t know the origin of the danced soleá — but he insists that the soleá as a song was invented by his uncle, Joaquín el de la Paula.  He goes on to say that the song was born in a little area encompassing Utrera, Alcalá de los Panaderos [Alcalá de Guadaíra], Seville and Triana.

Climent writes:  Ricardo Molina [the flamencologist and acolyte of the great Gypsy singer and gitanista Antonio Mairena], increasingly caught up in his gitanophilia, insists on ascribing Gypsy traits to Aurelio.  He’s sure Aurelio can’t be absolutely payo.  He tries dialectical approaches.  He professes surprise at the idea that Aurelio and his 21 siblings could really have the same father.   And it’s strange, but as if that same suspicion somehow reached his ears, Aurelio tells me that after four years absence in the war of Santo Domingo, his father returned to Cádiz and the first thing he did was go directly to his wife to assure himself of her fidelity.  “From that moment on,” Aurelio says, “that’s when my parents started to have kids one after another.”

Meanwhile, Ricardo Molina is really interested in helping Aurelio record his “flamenco testament”, in Cádiz, away from the intolerable friction with Talega and Mairena, who had made him record for their anthology unrehearsed and who chose the songs for him to sing — many eliminated in the final commercial release.  Ricardo Molina admires and really likes Aurelio — a complete change from his first response at an earlier concurso.  He calls him the most capable and genuine singer of his generation. [i.e., prior to Antonio Mairena's generation].

Aurelio speaks of the non-Gypsy giant Silverio Franconetti: “He was an incomparable siguiriyero, giving that form hierarchy and variety.  His variants and cambios are still done.  Ricardo Molina blathers about his being a disciple or imitator of El Fillo, but he was just as masterful.  I can’t stand Ricardo’s pro-Gypsy enthusiasm.  I admire lots of Gypsy singers.  Manuel Torre was a king, apart.   But all my life, the real singers have been payos [non-Gypsies].  Cante flamenco is a backbone with three names:  Silverio Franconetti, Antonio Chacón and Aurelio Sellés Nondedeu.”

Climent:  “Aurelio’s guasa [difficult attitude, wise-ass or mocking behavior] deserves an article of its own…  He’s a true friend, incorruptible, faithful to the point of partiality..”

Climent writes that the 1962 Cordoba contest was dominated by artists provided by Pulpón, the manager/promoter who had firm control of many flamenco artists.  This upset the Cordobans, and infuriated Aurelio de Cadiz, because Pulpón favored artists from near his Seville power base — including Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera and Juan Talega.  But, Climent says, things worked out pretty well “when La Fernanda, herself alone, justified the entire event.”

Aurelio: “I’m fascinated by the obsessive belief that there exist good soleares de Cordoba.  They have gracia, thanks to their simplicity.  They start without a warm-up temple, and go to the high parts (alturas) like an elevator.  I’m also intrigued by the alegrias de Cordoba.  Very castillian, cansinas [boring, tiring], of little compás, and with poor textual repertoire.  I think they came from a variant of Paquirri’s that were popular here.  I showed this to Ricardo Molina, and he agreed.”

“[Singer] Juanito Varea, from Castellón de la Plana [far north of Andalucia], was the disciple of a Gypsy guitarist called Castellón [probably not a reference to Agustin Castellón, called Sabicas].  He’s got his act together (es muy consolidada) now.  He has a classical flavor, and lots of courage.  There’s a certain leaning toward theatrical cante, above all when he does his famous fandango.  I’d advise him to lose that, and stick to the cante grande [great song, big song — a term that includes the three cante jondo or deep song forms and may go beyond that to include some other serious flamenco songs, e.g., the tarantas or granainas] where he belongs.”

Climent writes: “I noticed that Aurelio stayed near me, and seemed to sing to me.  I asked him about this, and he said “Sure, I do that in every reunion.  I sing for just one person, and forget the rest.  It’s more heartfelt, and comes out a gusto [just right].  The true singer draws inspiration from a friend, and grows.  Even in public, you have to imagine another person — just one person.”

Climent:  “We talked of the silences in the cante.  Aurelio’s are forged with “radicalidad jasperiana (¡dicho a cuenta de sus inefables jitanjaforas!“) [?].  They are more frequent and more believable than those of — we won’t name names.  They are more credible, in general, than those of the Gypsies, which are more aesthetic than metaphysical.  In Aurelio, they conform to a vital imperative.  He is clearly conscious of when this silent break is necessary.  It’s as a culmination of that which is impossible to express.  He says “Even in the alegrías or bulerías, sometimes the mood produces a kind of paralysis.  It must be the emotion.  Who knows?  But I know it when it happens.”

Climent says Aurelio wanted to visit Lucena [near Cordoba].  He didn’t say why.  But there, he sought out the baptismal font where his wife was baptised.  When he found it, he cried like a baby.

Climent:  “Ricardo Molina and Aurelio were devastated when Pepe Pinto kept impeding the efforts to have La Niña de los Peines (his wife) record her discographic testimony.  Ricardo wondered if Pinto was professionally jealous of Pastora.  He even suspected that Pastora “se ha aflojado” (perhaps meaning losing her mental faculties, which may have been the case, though around that time she did one final and fabulous star turn at a festival).  Aurelio, on the other hand, thinks she’s in excellent shape, and thinks Pinto is committing a grave error.”

End of translation.  A lot is being written about flamenco today.  I hope people will give due attention to the actual words of the flamencos themselves, including giants of the art like the irritating and irascible Aurelio Selles.

– Brook Zern   brookzern@gmail.com

October 30, 2011   1 Comment

Flamenco Singer Manuel Oliver speaks – Interview by M. Herrera Rodas – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note: Here is another translation of an interview with a flamenco artist.  In this case, the artist was an important representative of the Triana school of singing — but not the Gypsy side of it.  Instead, he represents the non-Gypsy aspect of flamenco song.  His name is Manuel Oliver, and he was interviewed in a 1986 issue of Sevilla Flamenca by M. Herrera Rodas.

Triana, of course, is just across the Guadalquivir river from Seville.  It’s noted primarily for the Gypsy singers who were there in the early years of flamenco (the Gypsies in particular were largely forced out, relocated to the Poligonos by the 1960′s).  But Triana was also the home base for an interesting nucleus of non-Gypsy singers.  Here’s the story:

[The interviewer writes]:  “If Triana is just a memory, it’s because of a lack of sensibility on the part of many in the government; their thoughtlessness caused an exodus, as we know, and one that cannot be remedied.  But there was one saving grace.  The Hotel de Triana — not an actual  hotel, but a “casa de vecinos” or house for neighbors, built in the first quarter of the Twentieth Century and slated for demolition, was rescued by Mayor Uruñuela.  He in turn was influenced by José Luís Ortiz Nuevo, the key figure behind the Bienal Flamenco de Sevilla, who fought to preserve the place.  Now the Hotel de Triana is a key part of the Bienal — Ortiz Nuevo was married there to Ana María, and Seville has retained a part of itself.

And in the Hotel de Triana, on the second floor, there’s a man who is a living example of the Triana that resisted demolition, and kept singing, and holds a thousand anecdotes.  He is Manuel Oliver Dorado, and he has lived here for 16 years, sharing with his wife Dolores Sánchez a little two-room apartment that holds many memories, and many sorrows.  A grave illness left him very wasted away (mermado), but he has recovered perfectly.  But there was no real recovery from the loss of the couple’s son Antonio five years ago.  They had five children, and now only Felix survives.  But the absence of Antonio still brings tears to the tired eyes of these venerable elders.

A simple homage, rendered on the part of the friends of the Mesón “Las Cigarreras” at exactly the place where (the singer) Antonio el Arenero had his “rincón” or special spot, let us share the memories of Manuel Oliver about Triana from the beginning of our century.  But because his afición for the cante and his love for Triana were so strong, his knowledge of Triana (Seville is right across the river) go back to the last decades of the previous century, because Manuel can also reveal the memories of his late father, of Malino, of all the old folks who were in Triana and who taught Manuel the cante and the life of the pueblo.

Despite his eighty years, Manuel is in fine shape, short and straight, solid and elegantly dressed.  But his lively eyes leave a sense of permanent sadness, of pain not overcome.  There seems to be a grasping of the cante as a means to express his anguish and his sorrows.

We’ve arrived at his hous and are seated at a table for a long chat.  It’s mid-afternoon, and the sun is behind some dark clouds, leaving a chill in the air.

– “I was born on Castilla Street, in a “corral de vecinos“, on October 14, 1906.  I was baptized in Santa Ana, the church where all of Triana’s great artists were baptized — not just singers, but dancers, and the best bullfighters.

One of my best friends was Antonio Ballesteros, may he rest in peace, who sang soleares and siguiriyas that could make you lose your mind.  Then there was the brother Joaquinito, younger, who also sang.  I heard the father of Arenero…but above all, I listened to my father, who sang very well, and with him and his friends — such as Pepe el de la Matrona, Paco Reyes, el Cartujano and Moralito — I learned my first cantes.  I knew when I’d find them singing, and the ‘bronca‘ — the juerga — lasted until the early morning.  It ended when they’d spent the all the money they had won at cards. This was when I was eight or ten.

I never went to school.  Well, my father got a private teacher who’d teach kids at their homes.  I didn’t go to colegio (primary school) because my father didn’t want us to.  He had goats and a milk stand on Mateos Gago street.  At mid-day, he’d go there.  There was a big colegio there, with a first and second floor.  And one day it collapsed, killing more than two hundred kids.

Incredible!  More than 90 years ago.  And after that, my father said “My kids aren’t going to colegio“.

I was one of seven kids, and my father Manuel was from Castilleja, right beside Triana, but my mother was Trianera, though her father came from Cantillana.  My maternal grandfather was a picador, and worked with famous toreros like Espartero, the Bombitas, Pasadas, El Guerra and others.  My father worked in La Cartuja (presumably the ceramic works at the monastery site that would become Expo ’92) from childhood.  He met my mother there when she was fourteen, and they left to get married when my father became 27.”

The Interviewer writes:  “In its socio-cultural aspect as well, Triana has continued to lose the privileged status it had in the first decade of this century.  Today in Triana, which was the cradle of ceramic-working (alfarería=pottery) there are no longer establishments that make unglazed  (sin vidriar) pieces.  There are, though, a few workshops that survived the crisis that hit the sector after the Seville Exposition of 1929 (and what an opportunity, as 1992 approaches, to support one of the most beautiful crafts in Andalusia’s rich culture), and survived the hardships of the postwar era and the years of emigration and the material decay of Triana.  These workshops that still exist, and other that appear, are starting to dust off ancient models, designs, colors and forms that flourished in the Eighteenth Century and that have their roots in the Arab ceramic workshops that were found in much of Andalusia during the occupation.

We speak of these things with Manuel Oliver, and he notes that it was an Englishman, Don Carlos Pickman, who built the Cartujan monastery of Santa María de las Cuevas, on the banks of the Guadalquivir just north of Triana, in 1841, to make English-style China in Seville.  We ask if La Cartuja has changed much.

–”Ojú! Todo! I went to La Cartuja, to the new factory, with Rafael Belmonte, brother of (the great bullfighter) Juan Belmonte, who was born here on Castilla street.  And it’s almost totally different.  Do you know what it was like to see those women who came to work at La Cartuja, with their mantones (shawls) de Manila and their little handbaskets…Those lovely women, with that grace that they had in Triana… It was the same thing as at the big Tobacco Factory (where the fictional Carmen worked)…  What a time!

Five or six hundred women, working at La Cartuja — it was really somethingto see them go in!

But there was alfarería and cerámica all over Triana.  There was Corbato, now Santa Ana.  And Montalban, who died.  And the workshop of Ramos, Rejano who painted best of all, and Manolito Pestana…

I wasn’t an alfarero, though.  But I had a brick factory on Tejares Street, where I grew up and have lived most of my life.  I’ve worked many jobs, everything I could.  With the goats of my father.  I’d go from here to the Vega de Triana and El Barrero, to the fields of Castilleja to let them graze.

But when I was twelve, my mother got me a job in a carpentry shop, working the saws.  And I stayed there till the war (1936), when they called me up for the cavalry.  And I was so fed up with being shut up in a room and working eight to ten hours every day filing saws and cutting wood without seeing the light or the sky or the fields, that I went off to a tile-works that my  father had.  I’d go for the clay, and do all kinds of work.

Near Cartuja was the venta (roadside inn) called El Vela, and (the legendary Gypsy singers) Manuel Torre and La Niña de los Peines would often go there to sing.  Because Pastora (Pavón — La Niña de los Peines), when she came back from tours, came here to Triana.  My father and mother told me that she came here when she was a little girl, wearing lots of peines (combs) in her hair, which is how she got her name.  She came to the house of Baldomera.  There’d be lots of people from Extremadura and some small towns there, and an uncle of Pastora’s lived at 130 Castilla street, in the Corral de la Higuerita.  She’d come here with her mother.  And at night, she’d go there and sing four tanguitos (a diminutive word for the flamenco tangos) and four (other) things, to earn two pesetas!   Pastora sang the tangos de Triana.  She was the only one left who did the tangos de Triana, because today everybody says ”tangos-tientos” –that’s  a lie!  The tientos never existed — it’s just that the tango has a difficult rhythm (un ritmo difícil); and the singers didn’t know how to enter (start) into it.  The rhythm of Cádiz has never been lost!  The tangos of Cádiz are distinct in their rhythm from those of Triana.  Triana has a rhythm that nobody knows how to get into; Naranjo (Naranjito de Triana?) does an aire de Triana in this…

My early contacts with cante?  I remember hearing cante in public the first time,  when my father took me to the chapel of the Marineros, where the Esperanza is now.  There was a salon de cante there, and someone called El Chato de Madrid was singing a malagueña that drove people wild.  I started singing when I listened to my father.  And the first time I sang in public was when my cousing Antonio “El Penitente” got married in the Corral of Valladares Street.  Everybody sang there.  I sang the fandangos that were so popular in Triana then:

Aunque el rio llegue a Palmay
s’ahoguen los palmeros,
en no ahogandote tu
que s’ahogue el mundo entero.

I also remember that in the baptism of a cousin (prima mia), I heard Currito el de la Geroma sing a soleá that stripped your senses, but he didn’t sing the soleá de Triana — be careful, now! — to sing por Triana, (in the true Triana style), well, there’s a crack in the bridge and you have to cross over it…  Currito sang the Gypsy soleá instead (“el cante gitano por soleá, mas bien!”)

Currito was a singer, but then he got tuberculosis and to earn a living he took up the guitar.  He went to Charco la Pava, on the road to San Juan (de Aznalfarche?) and sought his livelihood.  And my uncle and father let me sing after him, and I did the soleares in my own way, those of Triana, naturally.  And Currito hugged me, and there was a big outburst and hubbub (alboroto).

When I was young I sang with lots of artists.  El Sordillo, Emilio Abadia. I’ll tell you something.  El Sordillo sang very well, but the cante wasn’t his — it was Emilio’s.  Because El Sordillo was from Velez-Malaga, and since he sang very well, he picked up the cantes de Triana here — but he learned them from Emilio Abadia.  And Emilio was a phenomenal singer.  He did the verse that El Zapatero does now:

Coge, Maria, a este niña
y llevatelo a la muralla,
dale un sorbito de teta
veras como te se calle.

Although El Sordillo, because he didn’t have Emilio’s power, did it lower and lo mesia (?) more.  Emilio was the nephew of Fernando el de Triana (a noted Triana singer who wrote one of the first books about flamenco).  Fernando died in Camas (near Triana) because when he retired he started a little tavern there, where I heard him sing a few times.  He sang so well.  I also often heard Pepe el de la Matrona — another genius, though he wasn’t from Triana but from Seville.  His mother came to live in the Corral de los Judiíos, the house here Rafael (Rafael el Negro) and Matilde (Matilde Coral) now have their dance academy.  Pepe Matrona’s mother was contracted by the Ayuntamiento (Municipal hall) to sell food in the Patrocinio…and so she came to live in Triana and Pepe, who was a good aficionado, made himself a singer here, with Fernando, and Vigil, and Ramón el Ollero.

My father said that Ramón el Ollero was the best in Spain for singing the soleá.  His work was making excavations (hoyos=holes; “ollero“=holemaker) in Alfarería Street.  He had phenomenal force as a singer, a very potent voice.  And he’d do the cante ligandolo — singing the lines in one sweep (ligado=tied), de un tirón (all at once).  My father said he would do this entire soleá without drawing a breath:

Capilla del Carmen.
Aunque vayas tu y te metas
en la Capilla del Caren,
tu de mis unas no te escapas.
M’has hecho un agravio mu grande,
aunque tu vayas y te metas
en la Capilla del Carmen.

But just as he’d do that long cante for you, he’d also do a short one (un cantecito corto):

Que me s’importara a mi
qu’haya tan buenos doctores
si me tengo que morir.

(What does it matter to me/ that there are such good doctors/ if I have to die.)

It was from this fountain, and from Enrique Vigil, that Pepe el de la Matrona would drink when he came to Triana.

Ramón also sang siguiriyas to drive you mad (pa rabiar), and for this reason my father said that Ramón had a grandeur (grandeza) in the cante.  And there was El Pancho, and Moralito.  Moralito had a short little cante, that I often sing.  Like this:

(Do you remember back when/ you’d come running to see me/ and now you don’t even know me.)

In this cante, like all those of Triana, the good part (lo bueno) is in the low parts (los bajos).  And those low parts are what El Pancho had.  He would say:

No te compro mas camisas,
yo no visto mas altares
pa que otro diga misa

(I’m not buying you any more shirts;/ I won’t cover any more altars/ so that others can say mass on them.)

Well, although the good part is in the low tones, the truth is that everyone does the cantes in their own way.  El Sordillo did the cantes one way, and Joaquín Castillares, who was the best in Triana for singing El Pancho’s songs, did them another way.  And Emilio Abadia, well I sometimes do the same verses (letras) as Emilio and yet I adapt them to my music, and el Pili did it another way.  And Miguelillo el de la Cerveza…

No, I never knew the Caganchos (a famous Gypsy family of flamencos and bullfighters, of Triana).  Well, I know the father of the bullfighter, who was also named Manuel Cagancho, and was the son of the famous singer Cagancho.  He was the best at singing the Gypsy cantes of Triana.  That’s what my father told me, and so did Vigil, Moralito, Fernando and El Malino.

Malino told me:  “Look, Manuel, everyone is just wrong when it comes to the martinetes.”  El Malino was an old man, and I was just fourteen, but I hung around with all the old folks.  And I went to the house of Quilino, on Calle Pureza, and Malino drank two negros and I had coffee — I’ll soon be eighty-one and I have never taken a drink — well, Malino said that Cagancho’s martinetes were very short, and very pure.  Nowadays, some martinetes are done very long and without flourishes (mu largos y sin florituras).  El Malino said:

Ay, ay, cuando llegó la justicia
y mi casa arregistro
Mi compañero llorando
y yo metío en el colchón.

Then there was Garfias, who sang serranas better than anyone.  He was a night watchman, and he’d sing softly (cantiñeaba), and people would listen at their balconies, because he sang so well.  He did this verse:

De mi serrana
que vale mas la peineta
de mi serrana
que la recua de mulas
de Cantillana.

You have to keep going lower at the end, going lower — and not shouting. And there was the father of Arenero, also called Antonio, who sang mu gracioso por malagueñas, por soleá, por siguiriyas…An extraordinary man.

We went to fiesta and he sang for six days.  And didn’t want anyone else getting into it.  He started out as a sand-carrier for Manolito Malaarma, in el Barranco, with a team of burros. And Domingo el Afarero — the strangest man in the world.  He had an extraordinary voice.  He’s two years older than me, and sings very purely and very well, but he’s very odd (raro) and so it’s hard to hear him sing.

[The interviewer writes:  “Manuel tells more stories of singers, and we gather that Gypsies and payos (non-Gypsies) lived in close contact in a unique and exemplary way (en una convivencia única y exemplar)“]

Oliver:  “There were two “cavas” (areas) in Triana, that of the “civiles“ (non-Gypsies) and that of the Gypsies.  The Cava de los Civiles ran from San Jacinto (bridge) to here, up to Coheteria Street and San Vicente de Padua. That of the gitanos ended at the Camaronero Bridge, at the Calle Betis, where there was a factory.”

Int:  “How was the convivencia (relationship) in Triana among payos and gitanos?”

“Superior!  Here we were all equals.  Now my father told me that two verses he knew in the soleá referred to the fact that on one occasion there were also problems.  Like these letras:

En la capilla del Carmen
mataron a Taravita
!Como lloraba su madre!

“In the Chapel of Carmen
they killed Tavarita;
How his mother wept!”

That’s the little story of a very “apañao” (resourceful) young man, who gave orders to everybody and who was killed by a Gypsy who came over the bridge, drunk.  The Chapel of Carmen wasn’t where it is now, but where the big bank is today.  Well, that event made the public rise up.  And that’s seen in this other verse from soleá:

En el barrio de Triana
unos se tiran al rio
y otros llaman la guardia.

(In the barrio of Triana,
some threw themselves in the river,
and others called for the police.)

But we ourselves got along very well.  Like brothers.  The best gitanos in all of Spain are those of Triana.  And the hardest working.  They work mostly in their forges, though they are also butchers (almost all the butchers in the plaza are gitanos), or they were mule-skinners (o pelaban borricos) like Rufino, the father of La Concepción…”

[The interviewer writes]:  We find ourselves lost in a labyrinth of names and dates that Manuel Oliver gives us.  He is a bank of details for a history of his barrio, a Triana that remains to be studied in many of its aspects.  We have to get back to the realm of cante.

Int:  What were the cantes of Triana?

Oliver:  These:  The soleá; the siguiriya of Sr. Manuel Cagancho, which is a short siguiriya; the martinetes and the toná.  The toná almost ties itself to one another (is sung in a run-on way?)  (La toná casi se liga una con la otra).  And the tangos.  And on the stones of Triana a mountain of artists have walked, like Loco Mateo, Manuel Torre, La Rubia, El Canario — they’ve all passed through here.”

Int:  “What’s the right term (for the non-Gypsy soleá of Triana): the soleá alfarera or the soleá del Zurraque?”

Oliver:  “It’s the soleá de Triana.  Because the soleá was sung by alfareros, and also by carpenters and masons — so it should be called the soleá de Triana.”

Int:  “But it’s not the same soleá de Triana as the one the Gypsies do, is it?”

Oliver:  “Of course, the Gypsies do a soleá with more compás (rhythm), but they don’t have the sweet voice (voz dulce) to be able to do the soleá de Triana that we do on this side, because their ecos (sound qualities) are different (distintos).  Look, not even Antonio Mairena could do the songs of this crazy thing that is our soleá!”

Int:  “Hombre!  [Do you know what you're saying??]  Antonio Mairena!”

Oliver:  “No, not even Antonio.  It was because of the eco, the voice, because the soleá de Triana that we do demands a sweeter voice.  Because the voice of the gitano is not like that of the payo.”

Int:  “Let’s leave the abstract for the concrete — you yourself.  What is your cante?”

Oliver:  “I sing a little cante (cantecito) por solea de Ramón (el Ollero) that I heard my father sing.  I also do a cante of La Gómez de Triana, called La Niña de la Gómez, who sang so you lost your senses.  I do six or seven variations of cante por soleá.  Of course, I do them in my own manner, with my music.  The same as Emilio Abadia, for example, who put his thing into his music, well, I’ve put mine.  It’s my music, and my way of vocalizing it.  I adopt it to what I’ve heard.”

Int:  “What is the cante, Manuel?”

Oliver:  Ojú — a poison (un veneno).  And those whom it enters “se vuelve majara“, (are driven mad, go crazy — majara is the caló word for crazy) like me.”

Int:  “Why do you sing?”

Oliver:  “To express feelings.  To express happiness, or sorrow.  Because one can sing from grief.  That’s why the letra says:

!Que culpita tengo yo
que los ojos no me lloren
si me llora el corazon!

“You cannot fault me
if my eyes don’t cry,
if my heart does.”

Int:  “Manuel, is there a special form of being from Triana.  Is there a different philosophy of life?  A feeling of freedom, the fruit of its age and the wisdom of the people, as reflected in the verse of Antonio el Arenero…

Los serenos de Triana
van diciendo por la calle
que duerma el que tenga sueno
que yo no despierto a nadie”.

(The night watchmen of Triana
say in the street,
let anyone who’s tired go to sleep;
I won’t awaken anyone.)

Oliver:  “Yes, it was like that — that’s what the night watchman Garfia sang, the one I mentioned before.  He sang in the streets and everyone listened…”

Int:  “What’s the best place to perform or listen to cante?”

Oliver:  “The best place is a little room with eight or ten friends who know the cante and know how to listen.  That’s where I’m at my best and happiest.”

Int:  “Where do you think the cante is headed?”

Oliver:  “I see it as becoming adulterated and so it seems to be going badly.”

Int: “Who’s adulterating it?”

Oliver:  “Well, almost everyone (Pues, casi tos).  Eighty percent of the artists today, instead of learning to sing, just “pegar voces” (shout).  For that reason, I don’t want to hear anyone sing these days.  Who would I listen to?”

Int:  “To Camarón, for example!”

Oliver:  “A phenomenon, but he still doesn’t know how to sing beside the people I’ve heard.  Because I’ve had the “misfortune” to hear La Moreno, La Cochinita, Piripi, Vallejo, Nino Gloria, his sisters, La Pompi.  All those people who could sing bulerías to drive you wild (pa rabiar).  And La Moreno was better than all of them put together!  In the bulerías por soleá, she was unique.  El Almendro learned from her, the primo hermano (first cousin?) of (the great Gypsy torero) Rafael el Gallo and a banderillero; and when he got drunk, he’d call La Moreno to the fiestas, and then El Caracol (Manolo Caracol) learned from Almendro.  Once, I remember that we went to La Europa, to the (famous flamenco cafe) Siete Puertas, with El Monge, Antoñito Ballesteros, Fernando Bellido…and La Moreno, who lived here, said “Now my children are here.”  There was Tomás (Pavón); Rebollo, Gloria, La Cochinita — Antonio Ballesteros managed the money to invite all those people.”

Int:  “Manuel Torre?”

Oliver:  “A genius.  He sang only when he wanted to.  He was a monster in siguiriyas.”

Int:  “El Gloria?”

Oliver:  “Mucho fuelle (fuelle=bellows) — lots of lung power.  He sang very well por bulerías, and bulerías por soleá.  And he left his mark on the fandango, and por saetas.”

Int:  “Carbonerillo?”

Oliver:  “El Carbonero sang por soleá, very tranquil, very well.  Soleá gitana.”

Int:  “We’ve already spoken of La Moreno.”

Oliver:  “Por fiesta (bulerías), a genius.  And her bulerías por soleá was better than anyone’s.”

Int:  “Vallejo?”

Oliver:  “The best in bulerías, and in granainas

Int:  “Pepe Marchena?”

Oliver:  “Very sweet — exquisite.  And as an artist, the best.  The most decent of all, in the tablaos.”

Int:  “Jose Rebollo?”

Oliver:  “He specialized in the fandangos de Huelva, and I liked him more than anyone in that style. Rangel (Antonio Rengel) did some very valientes (bravura) fandangos.  But Rebollo had an eco that worked perfectly.”

Int:  “Pastora?”

Oliver:  “Another genius.  I already said that she was the only one who could do the tangos de Triana.  Because she grew up here, and like all the girls of that time, like my mother as well, they danced and sang por tangos.  And Pastora was a genius in this.  And in everything she did.  She also did the cantes de columpío that are now called bamberas (swing songs, from the countryside).”

Int:  “Tomás Pavón?”

Oliver:  “Tomás did all the cantes de Triana, very well.  A phenomenon.  The siguiriyas and the soleares gitanas.  He often listened to Ramon el Ollero, and everyone from here.  And his martinetes…  Here people also sang the carceleras, that Colchero sang for me in the days of the first Republic, the martinete por carceleras.  Because the carcelera is a cante like the martinete, but shorter (más corto)…

Me sacaron de la carcel
a caritas destemplas
me llevan de conducción
a bayoneta cala.”

Int:  “Tell us about the dance…”

Oliver.  I had the luck to know Ramírez.  He danced in the Novedades that was in La Campana, by Vallasis.  I went there to see Ramírez, La Malena, La Sorda, La Macarrona…  Ramírez was the dancer who had the finest postura (posture, stance) of all.  From the waist up, his stance was enormous.  His feet (patas) were just right.  Then Niño Bilbao came in, who could smash the boards with his footwork but had no art at all.  To dance properly, you have to do what Rafael el Negro does.  What a stance (Que planta de bailaor!).  And what art in his dancing!  For me, Rafael el Negro is the best dancer that Triana has seen in all its history.

Oh, and I also saw Carmen Amaya.  I’d go see her during a two-month stay when she danced in the Novedades on Trajano street, when she came with her father and her brother.”

Int:  “And the guitar?”

Oliver:  “For guitar, I remember Niño Ricardo who was really a special case (que era un fuera de serie), a phenomenon.  I also knew Borrull, and had the good fortune of having him play for me one night in Triana.  Miguel Borrull was Catalan, but a Gypsy, and he played in such a way…”

Int:  “Manolo de Huelva?”

Oliver:  “Him, too, of course.  The last thing that Manuel recorded, he recorded with me here in Los Remedios, in the house of a woman who was a millionaire [this would be Virginia de Zayas, whose husband Marius recorded Ramón Montoya's solos in Paris in the late 1930's.  Articles by Mrs. de Zayas appear elsewhere in this blog].  And Manuel came to play there every day.  He told me that all the singers had already passed through there.  And he called me, and I sang por soleá.  I remember that I was singing and he stopped me to say “That’s the soleá of La Serneta; where did you learn it?”.  And I said, “Well, right here in Triana”.  I had sung this letra:

Sale el sol cuando es de día
para me sale de noche.
Hasta el sol esta en contra mia.

(The sun comes out in the daytime;
for me, it comes out at night.
Even the sun is against me.)

Anyway, I sang por siguiriyas, por soleá, por martinetes, and then I told him:  “Now I’m going to sing something from your pueblo”.  He told me that to sing (the fandangos de Huelva) properly it had to be properly squared off (cuadrao).  I said I’d do what I could.  And I did the fandangos of Rangel that I loved, and when I finished he said to my cousin, the priest, “Father, this guy even sings the fandangos of my pueblo squared away perfectly.”

Int:  “Ramon Montoya?”

Oliver:  “Another genius.  I heard him several times here in Seville.”

Int:  “Others?”

Oliver:  “Yes, there was another guitarist called Antonio el Correor who had 22 guitars.  He lived on San Eloy, and he was visited by Ricardo, Borrull, Sabicas — and he was the best player!” And on La Alameda there was Eduardo el de la Malena who has the school of Niño Ricardo.  And a player of my age, Manuel Carmona, of Los Palacios, who accompanied me when I made that program for television.  And he’s a very good player. What I like is smoothness (el suavito) in playing, because the cante of Triana is very ligao (linked together) and there can’t be a lot of fanciness (florituras) on the guitar.  Nowadays, all the guitarists want to do is run their hands… and that’s not it!”

[The interviewer writes:]  It is nighttime.  We’ve spent many hours talking, while the recorder has consumed many reels of tape, and we — Paco Celaya and I — have made good use of the coffee that Dolores made for us.  Seated at this table, we have followed Manuel through all of Triana, and many years of experience and living, of people and songs.  We had asked little, but we knew much more about Triana because Manuel Oliver is an experience that never ceases to relate stories.  He is a fount that satiates our thirst to know.

One of the soleá verses he sings seems to fit:

No te mates por saber
que el tiempo te lo dira
que no hay cosa mas bonita
que el saber sin preguntar.

(Don’t kill yourself trying to know –
time will tell you;
there is nothing lovelier
than knowing without asking.)

Thank you, Manuel, for the things we now know about Triana and for the time – the time of your eighty years, and the time of your father’s years before that, and that of all the old people of Triana, reunited in your experience.  Here around this little table you have shown us so much, and your coffee is delicious — your drink of choice for a lifetime.”

End of interview by M. Oliver by M. Herrera Rodas, in Sevilla Flamenca number 46 of December, 1986.

Brook Zern

October 25, 2011   No Comments