Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco in Seville

The Comeback Kid at 53 — Flamenco Guitarist Rafael Riqueni Retakes Seville by Storm. Article in ABC de Sevilla of November 21, 2015 by Alberto García Reyes.

The November 21st ABC de Sevilla carried this knockout story by Alberto García Reyes. (The amazing personal context and this translator’s comments appear as a coda):

Headline: Rafael Riqueni — Kiss the Hands. The genius from Triana ascends to the throne of the flamenco guitar with a concert in Seville that will loom large in the history of the genre.

Body copy: I’m going to the park to pick roses – blue ones, white ones, ones with no color at all – to put into the hands of Rafael Riqueni. The new god of the guitar. On Saturday in the Teatro de la Maestranza he claimed the throne. He wrote the best chapter of flamenco guitar playing so far in this century. At a moment when the guitar was lost, without direction, Rafael returned to take the empty seat and show the new direction of the art.

What Riqueni has done marks a turning point – a before and after. I do not exaggerate. He has lifted Andalucia’s classic music to its pinnacle with “Parque de María Luisa”, a work that is probably the finest ever composed and dedicated to Seville. What’s more, it marks Riqueni’s finest moment of musical mastery in his career. With his hands flying like the pigeons in the Plaza of America. There we heard that tremolo, seeking petals and lifting up a historic olé. Unanimous. From the Estanque de los Lotos – the lottery stand where Riqueni hid as a child – to the major-key tangos of Monte Gururgú, it was clear that the creations of this Triana artist marked a revolution.

In terms of harmony, this genius “ha armado una diablura” [pulled off a prank? Did something unexpected?]. But nothing is gratuitous. Everything aims to tell a story. It’s a sound track. The bulerías from his youthful days as a “rockero”. The trinos [trills]. The whisper of water in the Fountain of the Frogs. The jota with a muñeira and chotis [formal non-flamenco musical forms] for the Plaza de España. And his santo y seña [password, countersign] when he ended that Madrid-themed piece, saying “But hey, I’m from Seville, right?” Rafael Riqueni is the pride of our region. An unprecedented creator who submerges all his avant-garde sensibility within the tradition.

Three solo pieces. The taranta. The rondeña done for his friend Benamargo. And to top it off, the soleá. I swear on my conscience the I have never, ever seen the soleá played like this. And so, when he ended his derroche [outpouring] with the tangos atarantados, and with the fandangos of his old maestro de fatigas (master/teacher in suffering), Niño Miguel [a great guitarist who was plagued by mental illness until his death], and with his bulerías for Lole and [the late] Manuel, I went to the park to pick those roses, enough to cover him completely in blossoms. Because Riqueni is not a guitarist. He is the guitar itself. Please – if you see him in the street, kiss his hands.

End of article. The original is found at http://sevilla.abc.es/cultura/sevi-rafael-riqueni-besamanos-201511220022_noticia.html


Translator’s note: Whoa. Whew. Even allowing for the usual localist chauvinism, this is a bold claim.

The open and aching question of who, if anyone, could ever truly assume guitar supremacy in the wake of the incomparable Paco de Lucía has been in the wind for decades and has only intensified since his lamented abrupt disappearance. The rightful heirs seemed to be the now-elders: Tomatito, Vicente Amigo and Gerardo Núñez. After that, there was a parade of younger phenomena – kids who made the formerly utterly impossible seem not just plausible but routine, even inevitable.

As for Rafael Riqueni who may have been a contender a few decades ago – well, it was known that he’d had personal difficulties but was coming back strong and might once again become a figura.

Then, last July 12th, this headline appeared in this same paper:

“The Guitarist Rafael Riqueni Goes to Prison to Serve a 14-Month Sentence”

And the same reporter, Alberto García Reyes, wrote that Riqueni was jailed for a “crime of aggression” committed in 2010, a period when the artist was in the crisis stage of his illness, bipolar disorder. The article said that he was compelled to serve the sentence because the charge was not a first offense, adding that he had in fact been treated successfully for the last two years, though he had confronted many difficult situations during his long career. Nonetheless, it was noted, he was currently “in his artistic splendor” and had won an honorary prize at the Seville Biennal for his career as one of the most important guitarists in flamenco history. He had planned to record a new disc, “Parque de María Luisa”, and also play a farruca for the brilliant dancer Farruquito.

Well, it’s one thing to get out of prison, but quite another to suddenly take over the vacant throne of the forever-unapproachable Paco de Lucía. But it’s nice to see Rafael Riqueni’s life story go from heartbreaking to heartwarming. And who knows? Maybe this event was as momentous as the reporter insists.

Brook Zern
Flamencoexperience.com
brookzern@gmail.com

P.S. Additional reviews, all extremely enthusiastic, appear at:

http://www.deflamenco.com/revista/resenas-actuaciones/rafael-riqueni-parque-de-maria-luisa-1.html

http://www.revistalaflamenca.com/rafael-riqueni-parque-de-maria-luisa-teatro-de-la-maestranza/

And a revealing pre-concert interview appears at:

http://sevilla.abc.es/sevilla/sevi-rafael-riqueni-cuando-dejo-pasar-fatigas-hora-feliz-201511180735_noticia.html

November 22, 2015   6 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 Guitarist Mario Escudero Speaks – Interview by Francisco Vallecillo – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  I’m credited with transcribing and translating this interview that Francisco Vallecillo conducted with Mario Escudero in Seville in 1984, so it must have happened.

Vallecillo published “Flamenco” magazine in the early seventies, out Spain’s North African colony of Ceuta where it seems he’d been ordered or urged or strongly suggested to live because of his dangerous anti-Fascist sentiments.  He was very supportive of my early efforts to learn about and pontificate about flamenco, and ran some of my articles.  He was the key person in starting the CAF — now the CADF or Centro Andaluz para la Documentación de Flamenco, the main archive for the art, in Jerez.

And Mario was Mario — our own beloved and accessible generous genius who made us all feel special and happy; if only we’d been able to do the same for him…

Historic interview: 
“Mario Escudero – With the Bienal as Backdrop”

by Francisco de la Brecha [Francisco Vallecillo's nom de plume], 
originally published in Sevilla Flamenca No.8 [1984?] — evidently rerun in 1992

“I want flamenco fans to know who 
I am, starting with Andalusia”

Mario Escudero was born in Alicante in 1928. As a child he was taken to Madrid where he spent most of his youth. He was presented in public for the first time in France by Maurice Chevalier at the age of nine.  Then dancer Vicente Escudero presented him in the Teatro Español in 1944 together with Ramón Montoya in a program of traditional flamenco that included singer Jacinto Almadén. For a long time, he studied  with Ramón Montoya and Niño Ricardo. His career started out in intimate juergas and on the “Opera Flamenca” stages, traveling throughout Spain with artists such as Tomás Pavón, La Niña de los Peines, José Cepero, Antonio Mairena, Juanito Mojama, El Sevillano, Canalejas, Pepe de la Matrona, Pericón de Cádiz and an endless list of other major singers of the era. He has also recorded duo guitar arrangements with Sabicas.

Before he was 25, he had traveled widely as first guitarist with Vicente Escudero, Carmen Amaya and Rosario and Antonio. After his trip to the U.S. with Vicente Escudero, he found a lot of interest in the flamenco guitar in that country and decided to emancipate himself from flamenco troupes and try to establish the flamenco guitar as a solo instrument in concert halls.

In 1956 he began his career as a concert player after long musical study in New York, Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Los Angeles, continuing the studies he had begun with Daniel Fortea in Madrid. When he gave his first concert in Carnegie Hall it was a complete success. Since that auspicious beginning he has recorded more than 30 LPs and played in many Hollywood movies including “Cafe Cantante” with Imperio Argentina, “Brindis a Manolete” and “Jalisco Canta en Sevilla” with Jorge Negrete and Carmen Sevilla. He continues to give concerts around the world, and has just enojoyed another success in New York’s Town Hall.

That’s a brief biography of Mario Escudero, with whom we spent some time listening to his opinions, refreshing some old memories and exploring his profound artistic sensibility. This last item is not difficult, for Mario is an open person, expressive and sincere, even brave in his judgments although he seems rather shy. In our extensive chat one April morning we touched upon some topics that might interest the readers of Sevilla Flamenca in relation to the personality of this maestro of the flamenco guitar…

Mario, we’d like to follow the course of your professional life through the key people you’ve accompanied in your long and brilliant career. We remember meeting you many years ago in Madrid, when you were a kid who had already earned fame as a revolutionary player, in the area of the Plaza Santa Ana and Plaza del Angel, near that legendary flamenco “university” that was called Villa Rosa, around Calle Principe, Echegaray, and Victoria. One afternoon you introduced us to an unforgettable master of Gypsy dance, Francisco Ruíz, whose artistic name was Paco Laberinto. You were accompanying the [flamenco and popular singer] El Principe Gitano, who aspired to be a bullfighter, no less. Going back to that era, let’s talk about Vicente Escudero. Don’t you think his fame was greater than was warranted by the reality of his dancing, in which there were some marked deficiencies?

The passage of time and my good memories of Vicente prevent me from openly pursuing the thread you’ve started here. Yes, in fact, perhaps you’re not far from the truth here. But he had a distinctive line and a very personal style, and he was enthralled by the dance and by gypsies. Vicente Escudero was the first to dance siguiriyas. I started out calling him “Señor Escudero” and he vehemently corrected me. “No, I’m not Señor Escudero to you — I’m Tio Vicente [Uncle Vicente]”, and that’s what I ended up calling him.

Your opinion of Carmen?

What can I tell you about Carmen Amaya that hasn’t already been said? She was the greatest living genius of dance, the eternal and inextinguishable flame, she represented the glory of pure inspiration, because  she never danced anything the same way twice. Her successes were enormous and knew no frontiers. She danced for Toscanini and for Franklin Roosevelt.”

You played with Ramón Montoya and Niño Ricardo. To what extent were these men the roots of flamenco playing. And can you compare them?

Ramón was a great innovator of the flamenco guitar; Ricardo, who followed this same line, came later. With Ramón one must also talk of Jerez guitarist Javier Molina, another innovator. And with Ricardo, one  must think along the different lines, but always innovative, of Manolo el de Huelva. The very personal style – and so clearly Andalusian, if one can say that – of Ricardo was extremely important. That was also true of the man from Huelva. But Ramón and Javier were the real pioneers in the innovation and perfection of flamenco guitar playing. All of them brought a great deal to the huge process of seeking new forms and to the evolution of the guitar: the evolution of playing toward what I call the three A’s: Aggressive, Accelerated, Arrogant.

You’ve accompanied such exalted singers as Pastora Pavón “La Niña de los Peines”, her brother Tomás Pavón, Antonio Mairena, Juanito Mojama. Who had the most meaning to you when you get right down to it?

All of them. To make a comparison between these colossi would be sheer vanity on my part. There is no way to select a favorite. But the deepest and most indelible memories I have are of Tía Pastora [Pavón]: sweet and not cloying…a thousand years could pass, and there will never appear another singer like her.”

What about your compadre, “El Nino de las Habicas” [the Kid of the Beans, Sabicas, who loved his "habas" as a child], Agustín Castellón, do you think he has influenced your playing?”

Of course! He had a great influence on me, and in fact the guitar in general owes this genius from Navarre a wealth of contributions and new ideas.”

Do you think there’s room in Spain for the concert flamenco guitar, for this spruced-up style whose rise you have contributed to?

I have no doubt that there is. This concert guitar, whatever clothes it may wear, today represents a kind of music that is unique in the world, and people are enthusiastic in their admiration of flamenco guitar.

Why shouldn’t concert guitar have a place in Spain? One thing is certain: Outside Spain it’s valued more highly than in, and followed by multitudes of fans. But it’s gaining ground here, gaining strength, and with  good reason, because it’s a genuinely Spanish art, just as Spanish as the instrument upon which it is played.

You were in New York in February, and in April you’ll go back to play concerts in many states of the union. Are you thinking of establishing yourself definitively in Seville?

I sure am! What happens is that sometimes man proposes, and circumstance disposes. I have many obligations that must be met. But my decision to reside in Seville is definitive. I want flamenco fans to know who  I am, starting with Andalusia. I’d like to do some teaching here, and I wish to live, be and work in Spain, because one’s homeland, that homing instinct, it’s very strong…

Our mutual friend, Brook Zern, said in The New York Times of February 3rd that you are not only a guitar virtuoso, but also one of the players who has most significantly extended the style and range of flamenco music, and who had great influence on the most popular of Spain’s younger guitarists, Paco de Lucía, who included your composition “Impetu” on his first album. What do you think of the fabulous Paco de Lucía?

For me, he is a remarkably complete artist, with enormous personality and individuality, who follows the path laid out by Niño Ricardo better than anyone else and who has discovered a way to create an inimitable and unmatched personal style or “aire”; fabulous; imitated by many, equaled by no one.

Sincere thanks to Brook Zern for the transcription and translation of this interview.

End of interview by Francisco Vallecillo.

Translator’s note:  You’re welcome, Paco.  Thanks. And thank you, Mario, for everything you gave to your admirers and your art.

January 28, 2014   2 Comments

Important 1883 Description of Flamenco From U.S. Book “Spanish Vistas” (with exact dance description) – Comments by Brook Zern


I found an 1883 book that describes flamenco as seen by an American traveler in Spain.  Passages touch on the song, and also describe in detail a dance performance in Malaga some time prior to the publication date.  The book is called “Spanish Vistas”, by George Parsons Lathrop, published by Harper & Brothers, Frankln Square (Philadelphia?), 1883.  It’s nicely illustrated by Charles S. Reinhart.

While suited to armchair travelers, the book is also aimed squarely at potential American tourists, with sections in the back on safe travel (bandits had recently been subdued by the Guardia Civil) and other handy hints.  It’s also gracefully written and sharply observed.  The intro (which mentions a book by John Hay from a few years earlier, called “Castillian Days”) describes a meeting with a Spaniard who, learning the author was not an Englishman but a North American, exclaimed happily “You are for the Spanish Republic (a Republican), then!”  The author says he then asked the Spaniard: “How many Spaniards are in that party?”

“Party,” the Spaniard cried.  “Listen: in Spain there is a separate political party for every man.”  After a slight pause he added, bitterly, “Sometimes, two!”

Anyway, the section on Seville shows that the author is conversant with music.  A description of the Thursday-morning fair still rings true.  He writes:

“With very early morning begins the deep clank of bells, under the chins of asses that go the rounds to deliver domestic milk from their own udders.  There is no end of noise.  Even in the elegant dining-room where we ate, lottery-dealers would howl at us through the barred windows, or a donkey outside would rasp our ears with his intolerable braying.  Then the street cries are incessant.  At night the crowds chafe and jabber till the latest hours, and after eleven the watchmen begin their drawl of unearthly sadness…until, somewhere about dawn, you drop perspiring into an oppressively tropical dream-land, with the sereno’s last cry ringing in your ears:  “Hail, Mary, most pure!  Three o’clock has struck.”  This is the weird tune to which he chants it.  (Then the book shows a well-rendered melodic line, done in common time, revealing an aptitude for writing relatively straightforward if unusual music; but, predictably, the author never attempts to render flamenco song in notation.)

The text continues:

“An Enlish lady, conversing with a Sevillan gentleman who had been making some rather tall statements, asked him:  “Are you telling me the truth?”

“Madam,” he replied gravely, but with a twinkle in his eye, “I am an Andalusian!”  At which the surrounding listeners, his fellow-countryment, broke into an appreciative laugh.

So proverbial is the want of veracity, or, to put it more genially, the imagination, of these Southerners.  Their imagination will explain also the vogue of their brief, sometimes pathetic, yet never more than half-expressed, scraps of song, which are sung with so much feeling throughout the kingdom to crude barbaric airs, and loved alike by gentle and simple.  I mean the Peteneras and the Malaguenas.  There are others of the same general kind — usually pitched in a minor key, and interspersed with passionate trills, long quavers, unexpected ups and downs, which it requires no little skill to render.  I have seen gypsy singers grow apoplectic with the long breath and volume of sound which they threw into these eccentric melodies amid thunders of applause.  It is not a high nor a cultivated order of music, but there lurks in it something consonant with the broad, stimulating shine of the sun, the deep red earth, the thick, strange-flavored wine of the Peninsula; its constellated nights, and clear daylight gleamed with flying gold from the winnowing field.  The quirks of the melody are not unlike those of very old English ballads, and some native composer with originality should be able to expand their deep, bold, primitive ululations into richer, lasting forms.  The fantastic picking of the mandurra accompaniment reminds me of Chinese music with which I have been familiar.  Endless preludes and interminable windings-up enclose the minute kernel of actual song; but to both words and music is lent a repressed touching power and suggestiveness by repeating, as is always done, the opening bars and first words at the end, and then breaking off in mid-strain.  For instance:

“All the day I am happy,
but at evening orison
like a millstone grows my heart.
All the day I am happy.”

[Limitless Guitar Solo.]  [sic]

It is like the never-ended strain of Schumann’s “Warum?”  The words are always simple and few — often bald [sic].  One of the most popular pieces amounts simply to this:

“Both Lagartijo and Frascuelo
swordsmen are of quality,
since when the bulls they are slaying –
O damsel of my heart –
they do it with serenity.
Both Lagartijo and Frascuelo
swordsmen are of quality.

But such evident ardor of feeling and such wealth of voice are breathed into these fragments that they become sufficient.  The people supply from their imagination what is barely hinted in the lines.  Under their impassive exteriors they preserve memories, associations, emotions of burning intensity, which throng to aid their enjoyment, as soon as the muffled strings begin to vibrate and syllables of love or sorrow are chanted.  I recalled to a young and pretty Spanish lady one line,

“Pajarito, que te vuelas”.

She flushed, fire came to her eyes, and with clasped hands she murmured, “Oh, what a beautiful song it is!”  Yet it contains only four lines.  Here is a translation:

Bird, little bird that wheelest
through God’s fair worlds in the sky,
say if thou anywhere seest
a being more sad than I.
Bird, little bird that wheelest.

Some of these little compositions are roughly humorous, and others very grotesque, appearing to foreigners empty and ridiculous.

The following one has some of the odd imagery and clever inconsequence of some of our negro improvisations:

“As I was gathering pine-cones
in the sweet pine woods of love,
my heart was cracked by a splinter
that flew from the tree above,
I’m dead: pray for me, sweethearts.”

There was one evening in Granada when we sat in a company of two dozen people, and one after another of the ladies took her turn in singing to the guitar of a little girl, a musical prodigy.  But they were all outdone by Candida, the brisk, naive, handsome serving-girl, who was invited in, but preferred to stand outside the grated window, near the lemon-trees and pomegranates, looking in, with a flower in her hair, and pouring into the room her warm contralto — that voice so common among Spanish peasant-women — which seemed to have absorbed the clear dark of Andalusian nights when the stars glitter like lance-points aimed at the earth.  Through the twanging of the strings we could hear the rush of water that gurgles all about the Alhambra; and, just above the trees that stirred in the perfumed air without, we knew the unsentinelled walls of the ancient fortress were frowning.  The most elaborate piece was one meant to accompany a dance called the Zapateado, or “kick-dance.”  It begins:

“Tie me, with my fiery charger,
to your window’s iron lattice.
Though he break loose, my fiery charger,
me he cannot tear away.”

and then passes into rhyme:

“Much I ask of San Francisco,
much St. Thomas I implore;
but of thee, my little brown girl,
ah, of thee I ask much more!”

The singing went on:

“In Triana there are rogues,
and there are stars in heaven.
Four and one rods away
there lives, there lives a woman.
Flowers there are in gardens,
and beautiful girls in Sevilla.”

That’s the end of flamenco references in the Seville section.  The author then moves to Granada.  He writes:

“The gypsies of Granada are disappointing, apart from their peculiar quivering dance, performed by gitanas in all Spanish cities under the name of flamenco.*

[* Footnote:  Fleming, a name commonly applied to Spanish gypsies; whence it has been inferred that the first of them came from the Netherlands.]

Their hill-caves, so operative with one’s curiosity when regarded from across the valley, gape open in such dingy, sour, degraded foulness on a nearer view, that I found no amount of theory would avail to restore their interest.  Yet some of the fortune-telling women are spirited enough, and the inextinguishable Romany spark smoulders in their black eyes.  Perhaps it was an interloping drop of Celtic blood that made one of them say to me, “Señorito, listen.  I will tell you your fortune.  But I speak French — I come from Africa!” And to clinch the matter she added, “You needn’t pay me if every word of the prediction isn’t true!”  Much as I had heard of the Spanish bull, I never knew until then how closely it resembles the Irish breed.

[The famed Spanish artist] Fortuny’s model, Marinero, who lives in a burrow on the Alhambra side, occasionally starts up out of the earth in a superb and expensive costume, due to the dignity of his having been painted by Fortuny.  Dark as a negro, with a degree of luminous brown in his skin, and very handsome, he plants himself immovably in one spot to sell photographs of himself.  His nostrils visibly dilate with pride, but he makes no other bid for custom.  He expands his haughty nose, and you immediately buy a picture.  Velveteen [the author's fellow traveller] chanced upon Marinero’s daughter, and got her to pose.  When he engaged her she was so delighted that she took a rose from her hair and presented it to him, with a charming, unaffected air of gratitude, came an hour before the time, and waited impatiently.  She wore a wine-colored skirt, if I remember, a violet jacked braided with black, and a silk neckerchief of dull purple-pink silk.  But that was not enough: a blue silk kerchief also was wound about her waist, and in among her smooth jet locks she had tucked a vivid scarlet flower.  The result was perfect, for the rich pale-brown of her complexion could harmonize anything; and in Spain, moreover, combinations of color that appear too harsh elsewhere are paled and softened by the overpowering light.”

That’s the end of descriptions of flamenco and Gypsies in Granada.  From there, the author and Velveteen go to Malaga — via Bobadilla, a railhead I remember from the 1960′s.  The next chapter begins:

“A gypsy dance!  What does one naturally imagine it to be like?  For my part, I had expected something wild, free and fantastic; something in harmony with moonlight, the ragged shadows of trees, and the flicker of a rude camp-fire.  Nothing could have been wider of the mark.  The flamenco — that dance of the gypies, in its way as peculiarly Spanish as the church and the bull-ring, and hardly less important — is of Oriental origin, and preserves the impassive quality, the suppressed, tantalized sensuousness belonging to Eastern performances in the saltatory line.  It forms a popular entertainment in the cafés of the lower order throughout the southern provinces, from Madrid all the way around to Valencia, in Sevilla and Malaga, and is gotten up as a select and expensive treat for travellers at Granada.  But we saw it at its best in Malaga.

We were conducted, about eleven o’clock in the evening, to a roomy, rambling, dingy apartment in the crook of an obscure and dirty street, where we found a large number of sailors, peasants and chulos seated drinking at small tables, with a very occasional well-dressed citizen or two here and there.  In one corner was a stage rising to the level of our chins when we were seated, which had two fronts, like the Shakspearian stage in pictures, so that spectators on the side might have a fair chance, and be danced to from time to time.  On this sat about a dozen men and women, the latter quite as much Spanish as gypsy, and some of them dressed partially in tights, with an affectation of sailors or pages’ costume in addition  At Madrid and Sevilla their sisters in the craft wore ordinary feminine dresses, and looked the possessors of more genuine Romany blood.

But here, too, the star danseuse, the chief mistress of the art of flamenco, was habited in the voluminous calico skirt which Peninsular propriety prescribes for this particular exhibition, thereby doing all it can to conceal and detract from the amazing skill of muscular movement involved.  A variety of songs and dances with guitar accompaniments, some effecive and others tedious, preceded the gypsy performance.  I think we listened nearly half an hour to certain disconsolate barytone wailings, which were supposed to interpret the loves, anxieties, and other emotions of a contrabandista, or smuggler, hiding from pursuit in the mountains.  Judging from the time at his disposal for this lament, the smuggling business must be sadly on the decline.  The whole entertainment was supervised by a man precisely like all the chiefs of these troupes in Spain.  Ther similarity is astounding; even their features seem even identical: when you have seen one, you have seen all his fellows, and know exactly what they will do.  He may be a little older or younger, a little more gross or less so, but he is always clean-shaven like the other two sacred types — the bull-fighter and the priest — and his face is in every case weakly but good-humoredly sensual.  But what does he do?  Well, nothing.  He is the most important personage on the platform, but he does not contribute to the programme beyond an exclamation of encouragement to the performers at intervals.  He is a Turveydrop in deportment at moments, and always a Crummies in self-esteem [the meaning of these references is unknown to me].  A few highly favored individuals as they come from the café salute him, and receive a condescending nod in return.  Then some friend in the audience sends him up a glass of chamomile wine, or comes close and offers it with his own hand.  The leader invariably makes excuses, and without exception ends by taking the wine, swallowing a portion, and gracefully spitting out the rest at the side of the platform.  He smokes the cigars of admiring acquaintances, and throws the stumps on the stage.  All the while he carries in his hand a smooth, plain walking-stick, with which he thumps time to the music when inclined.

At last the moment for flamenco arrives.  The leader begins to beat monotonously on the boards, just as our Indians do with their tomahawks [sic -- shouldn't it be tom-toms?] to set the rhythm; the guitars strike into their rising and falling melancholy strain.  Two or three women chant a weird song, and all clap their hands in a peculiar measure, now louder, now fainter, and with pauses of varying lengths between the emphatic reports.  The dancer has not yet risen from her seat; she seems to demand encouragement.  The others call out, “Ollé” — a gypsy word for “bravo!” — and smile and nod their heads at her to draw her on.  All this excites in you a livelier curiosity, a sort of suspense.  “What can be coming now?” you ask.  Finally she gets up, smiling half scornfully; a light comes into her eyes; she throws her head back, and her face is suffused with an expression of daring, of energy, and of strange pride.  Perhaps it is only my fancy, but there seems to creep over the woman at that instant a reminiscence of far-off and mysterious things; her face, partially lifted, seems to catch the light of old traditions, and to be imbued with the spirit of something belonging to the past, which she is about to revive.  Her arms are thrown upward, she snaps her fingers, and draws them down slowly close before her face as far as the waist, when, with an easy waving sideward, the “pass” is ended, and the arms go up again to repeat the movement.  Her body too is in motion now, only slightly, with a kind of vibration; and her feet, unseen beneath the flowing skirt, begin an easy, quiet, repressed rhythmical figure.  So she advances, her face always forward, and goes swiftly around a circle, coming back to the point where she began, without appearing to step.  The music goes on steadily, the cries of her companions become more animated, and she continues to execute that queer, aimless, yet dimly beckoning gesture with both arms — never remitting it nor the snapping of her fingers, in fact, until she has finished the whole affair.  Her feet go a little faster; you can hear them tapping the floor as they weave upon it some more complicated measure.  but there is not the slightest approach to a springing tendency.  Her progress is sinuous; she glides and shuffles, her soles quitting the boards as little as possible — something between a clog dance and a walk, perfect in time, with a complexity in the exercise of the feet demanding much skill.  She treats the performance with great dignity; the intensity of her absorbtion invests it with a something [sic] almost solemn.

Forward again!  She gazes intently in front as she proceeds, and again as she floats backward, looking triumphant, perhaps with a spark of latent mischief in her eyes.  She stamps harder upon the floor; the sounds follow like pistol reports.  The regular clack, clack-clack of the smitten hands goes on about her, and the cries of the rest increase in zest and loudness.

“Ollé! ollé!”

“Bravo, my gracious one!”

“Muy bien! muy bien!”

“Hurrah!  Live the queen of the ants [sic]!” shouts the leader.  And the audience roars at his eccentric phrase.

The dancer becomes more impassioned, but in no way more violent.  Her body does not move above the hips.  It is only the legs that twist and turn and bend and stamp, as if one electric shock after another were being sent downward through them.  Every few minutes her activity passes by some scarcely noted gradation into a subtly new phase, but all these phases are bound together by a certain uniformity of restraint and fixed law.  Now she almost comes to a stand-still, and then we notice a quivering, snaky, shuddering motion, beginning at the shoulders and flowing down through her whole body, wave upon wave, the dress drawn tighter with one hand showing that this continues downward to her feet.  Is she a Lamia in the act of undergoing metamorphosis, a serpent, or a woman?  The next moment she is dancing, receding — this time with smiles, and with an indescribable air of invitation in the tossing of her arms.  But the crowning achievement is when the hips begin to sway too, and, while she is going back and forward, execute a rotary movement like that of the bent part of an auger.  In fact, you expect her to bore herself into the floor and disappear.  Than all at once the stamping and clapping and the twanging strings are stopped, as she ceases her formal gyrations: she walks back to her seat like one liberated from a spell, and the whole thing is over.”

Well, that’s all I can find about flamenco and Gypsies in the book “Spanish Vistas”.  The illustration for the last section, incidentally, looks like an engraving, and is signed “G.S. Reinhart — Paris, 82″.  (The author implies that the artist worked from sketches, done by Velveteen.)  It shows five seated people — three women, a male guitarist, and the cane-wielding character described as doing nothing; I wonder if he’s the agent/manager, or could he have been a big-deal singer who didn’t happen to sing that night?  The women, including the one shown dancing, are all in very full dresses with shawls.  The guitarist leans forward, clearly paying attention to the dancer.  The instrument has the pre-Torres shape, the head is scalloped on the sides and the pegs are of wood.  There’s an atmospheric painting behind the stage, and what looks like a footlight up front.

I’m certainly impressed with this author’s descriptive powers.  I think I saw that same dance last month at Symphony Space on Broadway, at the flamenco show.

I won’t start evaluating any historical insights all this might or might not offer.  I’d just note that when I thought everyone agreed flamenco was really pretty old, I remember looking at these passages without much wonderment.  After all, they were — well, hardly contemporary, but written in what I viewed as the latter stage of flamenco development.  Seen in that light, everything seemed logical.

Now, when I am forced to wonder whether flamenco might not have coalesced into a coherent art until the 1850′s or so — I hope that’s a fair paraphrase of the thinking of the postmodernist scholars and some others — I must consider the notion that all this describes an art that was really quite new at the time of writing.

And that doesn’t seem to make much sense to me.  Reading the book, I got the feeling that this art — which the author had seen in so many cities, always with great similarities, and involving so many recognizable forms (the pine-cone verse is associated with the jabera, a sort of proto-malagueña) — had certainly been around for more than one measly generation.  Not as a public spectacle, necessarily — but done in some context where flamenco could develop the many canons and rules that the author refers to here.  If folks really think all that happened in half of a single creative life-span — less than 30 years — then I can hardly apologize for calling the idea “insta-genesis” with all the doubt the term implies.

In any event, I hope others will get something out of these excerpts.

Brook Zern

Note from 2014:  It’s remarkable to think that this chatty and familiar description of touristy flamenco was contemporaneous with Spain’s first serious flamenco book, the crucial 1881 “Cantes Flamencos” by Antonio Machado y Álvarez, which makes the art seem so old and so deadly serious.

Please call this blog entry to the attention of dance scholars, and other researchers or interested people.  I don’t think it’s well known, and I think it’s important.  (Also, please suggest that they read another significant blog entry — this one on the singing —  by seeking the author’s name “Sneeuw”.)

And I hope someone will choreograph a flamenco dance based on the exact description of the one the author saw in Malaga. Thanks.

BZ

January 19, 2014   No Comments

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