Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Authority José Manuel Gamboa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 28, 2017   No Comments

Hits and Misses – Flamenco Guitar Hairshake Technique Tips and a Near Miss – by Brook Zern

I posted this to a discussion group in 2001:

Experts, who needs ‘em? I do.

Point 1:  I wasn’t crazy about Paco de Lucia’s version of the Concierto de Aranjuez, but I loved his De Falla album.  That one clearly violated the original score (I think), so it ain’t kosher but it worked for me.

About the Aranjuez video, Richard said “Paco does do the head back, eyes closed, hair shake, so that’s a plus:-)”

Yes.  I’ve been working on that head back, eyes closed, hair shake for a long time.  Just when I got the head back, eyes closed part, I found that I had lost too much hair for a convincing shake.  I blame the intensifying downward curve of my career on this.  (My Tomatito Toupee ® just doesn’t have the same vibrant responsiveness to shaking.)

Point 2:  Did Miles Davis copyright the saeta on Sketches of Spain?  As I recall, the trumpet does an impressively exact rendition of one of the favorite vocal lines for the saeta — the “arrow of song” sung to the massive passing floats with images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary during Holy Week processions.

There weren’t many recordings of saetas at the time — one of the most memorable was on a strange Folkways record titled “Flamenco” — white cover, sketch of a singer in the throes of singing.  A mixed bag of singers, field recorded but mostly forgettable.  The notes said the saeta was sung by a girl, twelve or fourteen.  It sounded terrific, and I wonder if Miles copped it from that disc.

Brook Zern

Okay, a year or two ago I was talking to José Manuel Gamboa, a neat guy who knows all and tells all about flamenco, during an increasingly hazy all-night flamenco session at the Colmao in Jerez.  I mentioned that discographic tidbit in passing, as if it mattered to anyone else on the planet.

His eyes lit up.  ”Jeez, where were you when I needed you?  I’ve been researching a book about flamenco in America, and I spent months trying to track down the source of that trumpet solo.  I finally found it last week.”

It was an honor to have almost been of service to him.

Brook Zern

February 9, 2015   1 Comment

Singer José Valencia and Dancer Pepe Torres at the 2014 Nimes Flamenco Festival – deflamenco.com report by Estela Zatania – translated by Brook Zern

Flamenco’s Geographic and Human “Interior”

Thursday’s flamenco schedule at the Nimes Festival began with a noontime conference by our friend José Manuel Gamboa about France’s contribution to flamenco, a history of French fascination with the art in the Nineteenth Century when it was rejected within Spain.  As Gamboa explained, and as is verified every year in Nimes, those early links have never been broken.

At night in the theater, it was the turn of the best of Morón de la Frontera and Lebrija, two indispensable elements in the flamenco axis centered on Seville, each town with its special and unmistakable perspective.  If the Morón scene was dominated by the relaxed aire of Diego del Gastor’s “cuerda pelá” or stripped-down guitar, Lebrija was propelled by the intensity and urgency of the flamenco of Jerez and Cádiz.  That’s the source of the musical personality of singer José Valencia.  A still-young yet mature singer, who is striving to open a professional path as headline in the art after decades singing as part of the finest dance companies, unwavering in his defense of classic flamenco song.  No ditties, no bouncy pop.  (Ni temitas ni temitas.)

The winner of the Giraldillo al Cante prize at Seville’s last flamenco Bienal as well as on two earlier wins for cante accompaniment of dancers and as the Revelation prize for new talent, he was accompanied by the Malaga guitarist Juan Requena, who received the Giraldillos prize for Song Accompaniment.  With his first recording now two years old, and another in preparation, and with the admiration of his colleagues as well as aficionados, Manuel Valencia is now at his finest professional phase.

His appearance onstage was met with clamorous applause. And soon that big, round and flamenco voice filled the air with cantiñas with the distinctive flavor of Lebrija.  In the soleá, he started well, but suddenly something went wrong with his throat that resisted an easy resolution.   With great musical expertise, Valencia sought out less brilliant tones and less demanding song styles, saving the situation thanks to his knowledge and professionalism.  The free-rhythm malagueñas leading into the rhythmic or abandolao version went well.  In the siguiriyas, the instability of his  throat gave an added touch of warmth to José’s normally Pavarottian singing.  He then decided to take a real chance [cortar por lo sano] with a marathon round of bulerías, out front and alone before the possible danger, with no other accompaniment than the discreet handclaps of Juan Diego Valencia and Manuel Valencia, and the muted knocking of Requena on his guitar.  The singer loosened his necktie and spoke into the mike: “I don’t want to defraud you.  I’m going to die right here!”  He then launched into a series of classic bulerías with great taste and gusto, and some semi-danced touches; even his vocal chords obeyed, and with those bulerías all the rest would have been too much.  Animated, José Valencia rounded off this difficult recital with a martinete in the style of Antonio Mairena.

After a rest, we returned to our seats to receive a outburst of Moronism though the art of Pepe Torres and his group.

Morón de la Frontera has produced a surprising number of dancers, of whom the maximum present-day example is Pepe Torres.  His work is held in high esteem by aficionados because despite his youth, he conserves the art of the older generation, not as a museum-bound relic but by giving new life and validity to the approaches of El Farruco, Rafael el Negro, Pepe Ríos, Paco Valdepeñas, Antonio el Marsellés and even el Gineto de Cádiz, all reflected in his dance.

Pepe, polyfaceted as he is, added the beautiful touch of opening with his rendition of siguiriyas on guitar, an homage to his granduncle Diego del Gastor.  He then danced to the tonás and the siguiriyas, with an interlude for a vocal and guitar rendition of the tarantas.

His danced alegrías is one of the high points of the recital, done to the song of Luís Moneo, Moi de Morón, Guillermo Manzano and David el Galli, and the immense guitars of Paco Iglesias and Antonio Moya.

A solo rendition of the sung tientos tangos, and afterwards the soleá, the form most closely identified with the Morón locale, and a long and tasty finale por bulerías.  Pepe then called José Valencia and his group, and it all ended up in a classical fin de fiesta to the delight of the audience.

End of article by Estela Zatania in deflamenco.com  The original is seen at:

http://www.deflamenco.com/revista/resenas-actuaciones/jose-valencia-pepe-torres-festival-flamenco-de-nimes-2014-1.html#.UtoV1OD0DoB

January 17, 2014   1 Comment