Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Videos

“Rito y Geografía del Flamenco” — Notes on the 1996 first commercial release

The following describes the great flamenco documentary series “Rito y Geografía de Flamenco” when most of the films were released in a commercial videocassette version by Alga Editores in Spain in 1996. It was a poor version — the images were often fuzzy, and an accompanying hardcover book used many of those images with weak text. A quarter of the original 100 programs were not included. A later release on DVD’s was far superior, with exellent images and excellent booklets of additional commentary by the key man on the project, José María Velásquez and English subtitles — though that version, too, omitted a batch of programs, most relatively weak but some quite good. (Five years earlier, I had managed to rescue and purchase the first copies of these and other films from the series; I had hoped this first commercial version from Alga would add valuable documentation and sharper images, but no such luck.

Here’s that earlier description, headlined “A Collection of Incunables” — while it logically means “indispensables” or somesuch, I can’t find a fitting translation — maybe the word exists in English as well, but I’ve never heard it:

“A collection of ‘incunables’ in images that depict unforgettable scenes of flamenco song, showing the greatest artists of the past and the present. 26 videocassettes (VHS) with more than 38 hours of material and a sumptuous book of 272 pages containing more than 100 photographs of the people and places appearing in the series, with text by eminent present-day flamencologists, historians, anthropologists and musicians.

Enjoy the experience of these unrepeatable images of the great masters, many of them now gone, both professional and aficionados, who knew how to maintain the purest essences of flamenco cante: See Antonio Mairena, Caracol, Beni de Cadiz, Pericon de Cadiz, Pepe de la Matrona, Joselero de Moron, El Gallina (Rafael Romero), El Perrate, La Piriñaca, El Borrico, Pepe Marchena, Camarón, etc.

“Rito y Geografia del Cante” was created between March of 1971 and October of 1973. 100 programs were made and shown. The team visited 28 locales in Andalucia, Salamanca, Barcelona, Extremadura, Toledo, Murcia and Portugal. They filmed 186 singers, 13 folklore groups, 47 guitarists, 313 palmeros (supporting hand-clappers), dancers and aficionados. There are 117 interviews and get-togethers with flamencologists, musicians, historians, anthropologists and noted aficionados. We are pleased to present the fruit of this search and investigation.”

This was followed by two brief descriptive essays which I’m translating (from a crummy fax, so my general ignorance is occasionally compounded by illegibility):

1. “Criteria for this Edition of Rito y Geografia del Cante.”

“Today, 25 years after the initial broadcasts by Television Espanola of the ‘Rito y Geografia del Cante’ series, some things remain the same in the world of flamenco while others have changed. The best of the new developments is perhaps the wide promulgation of flamenco — a notion touched upon in the programs, and now confirmed to an astonishing degree. The worst, at least from the orthodox point of view, and from the standpoint of the splendid “oldness” (vejez) that distinguishes the series, may be certain present-day mixings and fusions (mestizajes) that don’t make much sense.

Since the films were made, we have seen the disappearance of Camarón, who in the series represented a new and unorthodox approach to the cante; and we’ve seen Enrique Morente — who is asked where he thinks the modernizing movement might take flamenco — do a recent recording of poems by Leonard Cohen while joined by a rock group, without abandoning flamenco. José Menese, another young renovationist of that earlier time, has remained faithful to the roots (“Firme me mantengo” — “I stand firm”, as one of his songs says), and it is through him that we know the political verses of his mentor José Moreno Galván, with their strong social content, which were so avidly listened to during Spain’s transition to democracy.

This documentary series, despite the subsequent appearance of new interpreters and the loss of a large part of those who are shown, or despite the evolution of some of these depicted artists to enter the realm of “new flamenco”, has not aged a bit. On the contrary, like fine wine, it has turned into something special, almost venerable — a relic, an “incunable” (priceless document? Unique object? The word “incunabula” refers to manuscripts created before the age of moveable type…)

Nonetheless, in the intervening time, some of the interpreters originally included, either because they were valued more highly than warranted or because they played a particular role in the original criteria for selection, have been eliminated, since their art would not say very much to a young aficionado today. Those eliminated are not mythical singers of the past, nor have they confirmed themselves as myths of today as did Morente, Camarón or Menese. Nor are they fundamental representatives of a particular geographic or family school of flamenco. Their inclusion would only have expanded this edition unneccessarily, and perhaps disoriented the new aficionado.

2. “A Collection of ‘Incunables’”

“Rito y Geografia del Cante”, broadcast by TVE between 1971 and 1973, is considered by all specialists, and is recognized in the histories of flamenco, as the finest program ever produced for television. In a run covering approximately two years, under the direction of Mario Gómez and with the collaboration and evaluative judgments of the most prestigious flamencologists, the weekly series travelled all of flamenco territory, including the very guts of Andalucia where, over the years, this art — local and universal at the same time — was developed.

The series offered testimony from old singers, many of them anonymous, others celebrated. It was a true blessing, because it was launched at a time when the great flamenco neighborhoods or breeding areas (Triana, Cadiz, Jerez and its Barrio de Santiago) were starting to lose their traditional and Gypsy ways of life due to the changes Spain had started to see in the 1960′s, and due to the influence of new communcations media, changing customs, etc. These documentaries, then, arrived in time to miraculously save the memory of a life already in large part irrevocably lost.

The filming, always guided by intelligent curiosity and by the commentary of José María Velásquez, or through the introduction of expert specialists, traversed all the last locales in which flamenco was being “made”: taverns, family homes, colmaos, and ventas. And it collected the final artistic testimonies of many singers who would be dead shortly afterward — in some cases, even before their particular programs were aired. That was the case with Juan Talega and Manolo Caracol, among others.

But today, 25 years after their broadcast, a large number of those protagonists are no longer with us. We can no longer capture the image of Tia Anica La Piriñaca, El Beni de Cadiz, Diego el del Gastor, Antonio Piñana (padre), Eleuterio — to name just some of those who are gone, but leave their myths behind, and whose images return to us now in these videos, as they sing or speak of their cante.

Thus it is possible today to see Antonio Mairena dancing por bulerias; or Tía Anica giving her advice to some youngsters (who were none other than Manuel Sordera and “that ‘Camirón’, or whatever he’s called…”); or to see Juan Talega in a fight to the death with the form called the toná, perhaps the last one he would sing in his lifetime; or Tomás Torre, speaking about his father Manuel; or Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera in a fiesta at home, or praying to the Virgin; or the Perrates, uncle and mother of Juan El Lebrijano.

And, also, a young and “parlanchin” (?) Camarón de la Isla; young José Menese in his home town of La Puebla de Cazalla or getting his professional start in Madrid; and a five-year-old La Macanita, singing and dancing for Paula; and Remedios Amaya, barely an adolescent at the time. And, too, monographic (single-topic) episodes dedicated to major thematic issues, such as the relation of Falla and Lorca to flamenco; or the festivales; or women in the realm of cante; or the guitar; or the role of the Gypsies within the art; etc.

With this series, you are presented with a true collection of “incunables” — a true history of images of the old and pure (rancia) mystery of flamenco. The films reveal a history that can never be repeated, and that today is lost forever.

Paco González
Editor

End of material on the series.

I think the general descriptions are pretty good, and while I’d argue about the omission of any material, I think the Alga folks made a defensible choice — some of the omitted programs were very weak, and seemed like filler.

(As for the alleged artist called Eleuterio — never heard of the guy, and would bet he never existed, at least by that name.)

Brook Zern

March 1, 2017   No Comments

Manuel Agujetas leaves his soul in La Guarida del Angel – article by Juan Garrido in Diario de Jerez – translated with comments by Brook Zern (and a radio program about the event)

In the Diario de Jerez of March 2, Juan Garrido wrote:

Manuel Agujetas leaves his soul in La Guarida del Angel

A recital that lasted more than two hours. Styles of soleares and siguiriyas that are no longer heard. A Gypsy who is the exception to the rule.

The truths he possesses cannot be better transmitted. A true privilege for aficionados who came from around the world, from Japan, Barcelona, Huelva and Malaga.

Also those from here in Jerez, who trust him to reveal the most ancestral elements of flamenco culture. The authentic melismas of a past generation reverberate in his songs.

His rendition of the songs of Carapiera or Manuel Torre are chilling, but he is always himself. He isn’t compared to anyone else because his style is strictly his own. It’s unusual to see him in small venues like La Guarido del Angel, where one can appreciate the closeness with a strong man of such character.

The sensations generated were inexplicable, since only those who experienced them could understand it. Domingo Rubichi accompanied him superbly on guitar. Also on view was the dancing of his wife Kanako who revealed her love of true flamenco.

Never glancing at the clock, Agujetas took us into the world of the spoken fandango, unhurried, never rushed. He sipped some tea for his cough, and warmed up for the martinetes.

The aficionados shouted. “The day you’re not around, it’s all over, Manuel.” Then there were some saetas [religious flamenco songs] that you won’t hear, even in dreams, during Holy Week.

When it was over, we returned to reality. The reality of Agujetas as a singer is exceptional. A living soul who continues to head up the Olympus of the Gods of flamenco song. The living history of the cante of Jerez.

End of article. The original is at: http://www.diariodejerez.es/article/xixfestivaldejerez/1974283/manuel/agujetas/se/deja/alma/la/guarida/angel.html

Translator’s note:

What can you say about perfection? A few years ago, the savviest aficionado in Jerez, foreshadowing the cries of today’s crowds, told me “When Agujetas is gone, it’s all over.” Granted, he was a member of the Agujetas clan, as is the guitarist Domingo Rubichi who accompanied him for this show. But that doesn’t mean he was wrong.

I view Agujetas as a throwback to the era when giants walked the earth. You’ll find plenty of entries in this blog that try to sketch the essence of the man, starting with a 1976 article I wrote for the Village Voice. (As a person, it’s an understatement to call him problematic. A lot of people hate him, some for good reasons — he can leave damage in his wake. One recent rave review ended by urging people to boycott all of his appearances and recordings because his behavior and character fell so far short of acceptable.)

One of the many miracles of this man is that he’s still alive, never mind singing so well so far beyond his expected prime

In 1972, I began an obsessive fifteen-year effort to help ensure the preservation of the 100 programs in the now-fabled TV documentary series “Rito y Geografía del Cante Flamenco” — because I was sure that the greatest artists would not be around very long and it was crucial to have all those fabulous films (now happily free on YouTube by searching for “Flamenco” and “Rito” and the name of an artist or style). Agujetas was a particular focus of that struggle, and I was amazed that he was still around when I was finally allowed to repair and buy the films in 1987. I certainly never dreamed that he – virtually alone among the major protagonists — would be alive and kicking today, 43 years after the films were made.

The pendulum of flamenco preferences has swung away from artists we once viewed as purer, deeper and more authentic than their lesser colleagues.

Today, of course, scholars question the very meaning of words like “authentic” or “pure”.

Well, I can’t define purenography, but I know it when I hear it. Heck, I even believe in duende, whatever that is, and I know exactly when, a very few times for a very few minutes in a very good year, it shoves an icy knife into my back.

The songs we hear are a solea that is soon repeated, another solea, and a siguiriyas. Agujeteas is even older than I am, but boy, he can still summon up what an old time blues giant called the “hellhound on my trail.”

Agujetas’s 1972 program on Rito y Geografia is on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xx8IenwJABE

In addition, you can hear several songs from his recent recital by going to the following url and pressing the play button:

http://www.loscaminosdelcante.com/aula-de-flamenco-programa-manuel-agujetas-en-la-guarida-del-angel-jerez/

That url connects you to “Caminos del Cante”, the superb radio program that the Jerez flamenco (and sherry) expert José Maria Castaño has been presenting for many years. It covers all aspects of flamenco, though always from the Jerez perspective — in other words, leaning toward the increasingly unfashionable view that deep is better than shallow and that Gypsy — not as a genetic inheritance but as one way of approaching the problem of flamenco expression — is even better than its marvelous alternative. (It has been my occasional honor to be part of the weekly panel, where I try to get up the nerve to try and say something unstupid.)

Brook Zern

March 2, 2015   No Comments