Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Cante Jondo

“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

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

Flamenco Singer Manolo Caracol speaks – 1970 Interview by Paco Almazán – translated with comments by Brook Zern

Translator’s introduction: This blog’s many interviews with great flamenco artists of the past are important. They can also be surprisingly relevant, shedding new light on contemporary arguments and issues. They let serious English-speaking aficionados understand the thoughts and feelings of those who shaped the history of the art.

As an example: No singer in my lifetime has been greater than Manolo Caracol. None came from a more illustrious artistic lineage, or more completely embodied the entire known history of the art. None were as prodigious — winning a historic contest at about twelve years old. And I think no recording reveals the emotional power of flamenco song as well as Caracol’s double-LP “Una Historia de Cante Flamenco”, on which he is magnificently accompanied by the guitarist Melchor de Marchena.

This interview by Paco Almazán from Triunfo magazine of August 8, 1970, goes to the very heart of the art. It served as a response to an earlier interview in that publication where Antonio Mairena, the leading singer of that time, had challenged the greatness of the other Gypsy giant, Manolo Caracol. Caracol would die not long after this interview appeared.

The interview can be found in the blog of Andrés Raya Saro called Flamenco en mi Memoria, at this url: http://memoriaflamenca.blogspot.com/2017/01/las-entrevistas-de-paco-almazan-ii.html?spref=fb

(My attempted clarifications appear in brackets.)

Sr. Almazán writes: Manolo Caracol started by weighing in on the casas cantaores – [the few crucial families who were immensely important in the early development of the art.] He claims that in reality, his family is the one and only real deal when it comes to bloodlines or heritage:

Manolo Caracol: The house of the Ortegas [Manolo Caracol is the professional name for Manuel Ortega] is actually the only one we know of. In the rest, there were one or two singers, but not a whole branch of them. I know of no other, because the house of Alcalá [a town that produced notable singers] is not a single family. Los Torres [the family of Manuel Torre, who remains the supreme paradigm of male Gypsy artistry] have produced some artists, and so have the the Pavóns [the family of the La Niña de los Peines, the maximum female Gypsy singer, and her brother Tomás Pavón, one of the four or five most revered male singers]. Pastora, Tomás and Arturo – three siblings, and that’s it. My great grandfather, [the legendary singer] Curro Dulce, who was my father’s grandfather; and on my mother’s side, [the legendary singer] El Planeta who was the inventor of the [important early song] polo, and was the world’s first flamenco singer. Or who created the polo, because I believe that flamenco songs are not made. Furniture is made, clothing is made, but flamenco songs are created. El Planeta was older than El Fillo, and from there on, and the Ortegas emanate from them. El Fillo was an Ortega, and was the first “cantaor” [singer] who was “largo”— who had an extensive repertoire. A great cantaor, a grandiose cantaor – that was El Fillo, and he was from Triana. Before me there were several cantaores. Now, in the Twentieth Century the most famous – well, I think that was me, and for that reason I say that even children know me and me biography. But I’d like to talk about today’s problems.

Interviewer’s note by Paco Almazán: Remember Caracol’s beginnings, after being one of the winners of the 1922 Concurso de Cante Jondo of Granada – he says “when I won the prize” [a stunning achievement for a twelve-year-old boy]. He traveled to Madrid and triumphed on the terrace of the Calderón Theater, reaffirming that Madrid plaza’s importance.

Interviewer: But Manolo, everyone accuses you of just that. Of having taken the cante into theaters, degrading the purity of flamenco! Don’t think that everyone thought it was a good idea!

M.C. It’s not a good idea? Well, what’s good? If right now the inventor of penicillin, Doctor Fleming, hadn’t shared it with the world, the sick would not have been cured. If I don’t take flamenco song to the people who might like it, and understand it, or at least welcome it. You can sing with an orchestra, or with a bagpipe – with anything! Bagpipes, violins, flutes…the man who has real art, real personality, and is a creator in cante gitano… You have my zambras [his rendition of sentimental popular songs with a flamenco aire, which had enormous sales], and my cantes [flamenco songs, which had more limited sales], all with roots of pure flamenco song, not fixed in a cosa pasajera!…But if this business of pure song [cante puro] has become popular now, starting about ten years ago, when the flamencologists decided to speak of flamenco and the purity of flamenco! Es un cuento! It’s a story! [A fairy tale]. This business of the purity of flamenco is a story! Singing flamenco and speaking of whether it’s pure flamenco…and they chew on the idea, and they talk, and talk [a clear reference to Antonio Mairena]. That’s not flamenco singing! That’s a guy giving a sermon. Cante flamenco and cante puro – not even the singer knows what’s what. He’s a cantaor who has been born to sing above him. The rest are just copying. That’s why today there is no creation, when before there was creation.

Paco Almazan’s note: How happy Caracol must have been after these statements! He goes on and on, and when Almazán asks him which artists he liked most or influenced him as a youngster, he gives us this gift:

M.C. There were different aspects. Who moved me the most, whose singing reached me most deeply – that was Manuel Torre. Who was most pleasing to listen to – that was Antonio Chacón. Tomás Pavón was pleasing, and also reached me. And another great artist, La Niña de los Peines [Pastora Pavón, sister of Tomás], the greatest cantaora [female singer] that was ever born. She was a singer who had everything, had altos and bajos [high and low registers]. And any singer who doesn’t have a good low register is worthless. There are many singers from that era who sing de cabeza [using headtones? In a studied way?], sing songs that never existed and that they couldn’t have known, and who call them cantes de Alcalá, or cantes del patatero [songs of the potato seller?] or of Juan Perico. [This again refers to Antonio Mairena, who probably invented certain styles of important song forms and attributed them to other, perhaps fictional, artists.] That’s worthless! It’s as if we dijeramos un aperitivo [served an aperitif?] to cante flamenco. Sing – sing and create – take command the way a great torero does, improvising. That’s real singing!

There are fewer real singers today. Today, as far as I know, among the younger singers I like Camarón [who would become a revolutionary and the most important singer of his generation], and among the veterans I like Pepe Marchena, a creator in his own style [the established master of a pleasing style of singing, with clear tone and a strong vibrato]. Juanito Valderrama [another pleasing singer, in the “cante bonito” or “pretty song” style] is an extraordinary artist [both Marchena and Valderrama, like Chacón before them, were non-Gypsy artists who represented a cultural counterbalance to the great Gypsy artists like Caracol; Caracol himself shows appreciation for both camps, when many others were partisans of one side or the other.] Valderrama doesn’t really reach me, but he’s a great artist and I like listening to him nonetheless. Those girls from Utrera [Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera] are true cantaoras, and a lot of admired artists today are copying them. The places with the best singing are Triana, Jerez and Cádiz. In Alcalá what there are is bizcotelas. That’s what you’ll find in Alcalá, bizcotelas and dust for the alberos of bullrings. Among the guitarists, there’s Sabicas and this boy [este muchacho] Paco de Lucía, who plays very well, although not on the level of the maestro [Sabicas]. And Mario Escudero, who has come here from America. And among the Gypsy players [in addition to the Gypsy artists Sabicas and Escudero] we have Melchor de Marchena, Niño Ricardo, and that other guy, Habichuela [presumably the great accompanist Juan Habichuela]. Manolo de Huelva is retired now, but is a phenomenon, although he’s eighty. [Many people who saw this guitarist at work say no one was better, or as good.] And in dance, after Carmen Amaya, from this period I don’t know anyone among the dancers, neither in this era nor before [delante de] Carmen Amaya. I don’t know anyone.

Paco Almazán writes: The interview is long. Almost at the end, the newspaperman asks if flamenco loses something with the new verses that some younger singers are using.

M.C. Hombre, if the verses come from the sentiment of the song and the person who’s singing, and if they’re good… You can’t sing a martinete [a tragic deep song form] and tell about a little birdie singing in its nest. Now, anything that touches on pena [grief, misery], of love, of the blacksmith’s forge – all that is worthwhile.

Then the final question:

Paco Almazán:. Can you put the word “airplane” [modern, unpoetic, unexpected and possibly inappropriate to some] into a cante?

M.C. It’s all according to what’s being sung, and how. You can put it into a bulerías [a lighter form], “Ay! I went in an airplane, I went to Havana…” and there you have it. They can create precious new verses as good as the old ones, with more profundity and more poetry.

Comment by Andrés Raya: Remember that in its day, this interview, as well as the earlier one with Mairena, generated a lot of response among the flamenco aficionados of Madrid, giving rise to long arguments and heated discussions. Even beyond Madrid. In its Letters toe the Editor section, Triunfo published letters from many provinces. I’ve got copies of many, and may rescue them from the telerañas.

A press comment [about the Cordoba contest] confirms what Caracol says here. It’s from ABC of Madrid, dated August 9, 1922, and already the Caracol child is named “the king of cante jondo”.

Translator’s comment: Interesting indeed that Caracol singles out Camarón — who would become the ultimate rule breaker — as the most important young singer.

At the time of this interview, aficionados were choosing sides. Manolo Caracol had incredible emotive power, but he broke certain rules — as evidenced by his insistence that flamenco could be sung to bagpipes or anything else. (Today, that inclusive view dominates flamenco to the extent that a flamenco record featuring just a singer and an accompanying guitarist, once the norm, is almost unheard of.) He owned the genre called zambras [not to be confused with the zambras performed mostly in the caves of Granada, that are rhythmic Arabic-sounding songs and dances.]

The opposing view was embodied by Antonio Mairena, who obeyed (and invented) rules — to the extent that if he created a new approach to a known style, he might attribute it to some shadowy name from history to give it validity. Mairena rarely projected the emotional power of Caracol — he was almost scholarly in his renditions, giving what critics sometimes called “a magisterial lesson” in flamenco singing, rather than jumping in headfirst and just letting it all hang out. (In private, though, he could be pretty damn convincing.)

I tend to believe that early flamenco song had a gestation period, a “hermetic” stage when generations of Gypsy families forged the beginnings of the deep-song forms (tonás/martinetes, siguiriyas and soleares, which deal with Gypsy concerns from a Gypsy perspective) outside of public view due to the intense persecution of Gypsies in that era.

Caracol, who ought to know a lot better than I do, says that his great-grandfathers [Curro Dulce, El Planeta] were not just the first known flamenco singers but the first flamenco singers, period: they invented the whole genre. (It’s hard to defend the idea of this “hidden period”, especially since the “proof” is that it by its very nature it would be completely undocumented anywhere. (I’m not so sure that these alleged hidden sessions would have been reported in the Seville Gazette when they were essentially illegal and dangerous.)

For that matter, Caracol, like most authorities today, views the idea of “pure flamenco” as absurd or meaningless, while I kind of like the notion. I never liked the gifted singers like Pepe Marchena and Juanito Valderrama who specialized in the cante bonito or “pretty song”, now back in vogue, while Caracol always admired them.

Oh, well. It’s still a privilege to hear from the man best qualified to talk about flamenco history, and that’s why these interviews are so valuable.


January 27, 2017   1 Comment

Flamenco Singer Agujetas Speaks – Interview by Paco Sánchez Múgica – translated with comments by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:

Manuel Agujetas died a year ago. Shortly before, a Jerez publication called Voz Jonda ran an interview by Paco Sánchez Múgica titled “Agujetas, the man and the myth: “Flamenco is a lie”.

I’ve translated it here, starting with a few personal comments in italics:

The lion in winter? Portrait of the artist as an old man?
And is that a trace of mellow we see in this portrait of Agujetas?

Note: I got a kick out of seeing that Manuel still got a kick out of the Village Voice article I wrote when he showed up at the Sangria restaurant in 1976.

An ironic note: The actual headline of the article was: “Duende on Hudson Street — A Flamenco Master Sings for his Supper”. Well, I have too much invested in the mythology of “duende” and “black sounds” to take Agujetas seriously when he says in this interview that duende “is all a lie”.

Hey, Who ya gonna believe – me, or the man who held the patent on it and insisted it doesn’t exist?

Manuel’s memories of the time we spent in New York and Madrid were always sharper than mine – there was a formidable mind behind the forbidding persona he usually projected, and it shines through in this interview.

Incidentally, I had always felt grumpy that I’d never been invited to the endless round of private juergas which I assumed were the major part of Agujetas’ artistic life, as they were with all the other legendary singers he names. Now I learn from this interview that there were no such sessions — he had no interest in singing in private. It makes me feel better about the nights when he tolerated my nervous efforts to accompany his songs – a mismatch for the ages, but at least I wasn’t keeping him from lighting up all those amazing intimate fiestas and jam sessions that haunted my imagination. (He could be very hard on guitarists, even very good ones, who took up too much sonic space. Contrariwise, he seemed to appreciate my fearful approach and almost inaudible volume levels, which covered a multitude of sins — mine, not his.)

Okay, okay, here’s the interview:

A warm autumn afternoon. A narrow secondary road. Like an asphalt line traced with charcoal and marked with country houses. The sun is weak at five o’clock. The municipal terminal of the town of Chipiona, on the northeast coast of the province of Cadiz. “In Jerez they say I was born in Jerez; and in Rota, that I was born in Rota. I grew up in those two places,” says Manuel de los Santos Pastor. But there’s no birth certificate. “Do you need one to know how old a man is? There’s a monument to me in Rota and now they’re making another one in Jerez,” Agujetas says. There’s a feline aspect, but he’s engaged in friendly conversation with a neighbor who sometimes sometimes rests to listen to him. Manuel touches his right leg; the circulation isn’t very good lately. “The doctor tells me I have to walk.” Agujetas – how ironic – has even tried acupuncture [ironic because his name refers to the word for needle]. “But it’s useless, it’s a lie. They put in the needle [la aguja] and it doesn’t hurt.” He rubs his leg. “It burns here.” Walking has become a routine, walking through the farmland and going back home. He invites us to accompany him and gets into the car. We arrive at “Los Milagros” [The Miracles – his house.] “Here I come with my guards,” he jokes to his wife Kanako when we go in. As Luís Clemente would say, “With Agujetas anything is always possible.”

Two stories and a large garden, all modest. Two goats graze quietly on the lawn, near the well, and cats of different sizes and colors appear and vanish. Light pants, a black shirt and a colorful shirt unusual for a man of at least 75. Or three years older than that. He doesn’t know exactly where he was born, and doesn’t know when. “Que mas da la edad de un hombre”, after proclaiming that “love doesn’t understand languages”. He says those words, in his wise and cultured illiteracy. [“en su sabio y culto anaflfabetismo”]. And he urges us, “Speak, speak, ask whatever you want.” Now we start to talk to the man. Suddenly, Agujetas stops being Agujetas and changes into a man who is miles away from his own legend. Agujetas, as we’ve already said, is Manuel de los Santos Pastor. The self-proclaimed “king of cante Gitano [Gypsy flamenco song]. An endangered species. The last dinosaur of song with no concessions. Paleolithic. Contradictory. Controversial. A Gypsy, an estirpe, 100% pure crystal, as Walter White might say, Incorruptible. Uncontaminated and uncontaminatable. Aspero en el trato, huraño. But oat this time, no trace of the personality, just the person.

There’s none of the usual reticience [sequedad] with the media. Not a trace of the arisca and irritable public personality he tries to project. Here, he attends to us entranable. Between affable smiles he speaks of one of the goats, as if to break the ice: I bought her very young, now she’s pregnant – I have to distract myself with something. Like her (he indicates Kanako) with her cats…” In front of the photos, he says, “I’m not dressed as an artist here. Well, we’re out in the country, right? I’m a little sick, though I’m not one of those who have those veins in their legs.” He goes through a doorway, and shows us a relic that he made with his own hands and that hangs on his porch, almost like a little sanctuary: a strange crucifix, “more than 40 years old. I’m friends with all the abstract painters,” he says. “This (pointing at the Christ) I made with a file that was in my kitchen. But I castigate myself. I caught pneumonia 40 years ago; when I recovered, they told me “Ya te ha quitado el arresto, recogelo. Ouka Leele me daba 80.000 duros [400,000 pesetas] for the Christ.”

[The interviewer writes]: Let’s begin. Manuel, for those who may not know you… But he suddenly interrupts the question: “Who doesn’t know me? Name somebody” (he laughs). We correct ourselves: How do you spend your days here? “I’m not here often, I’m rarely here. I’m always going to France or to Japan… They say there’s flamenco in Japan but that’s a lie – there are a few poor back-up artists [“artistas de cuadro”] who don’t have anything else to do so they go to Japan. To sing there you have to go to a bar, where they put up a little portable stage floor and they dance and play the guitar. But people go there to give classes, usually female dancers. When I go to see my mother-in-law, I rent a theater to appear in. It costs me a million [yen?] and I make two million. And I earn two million here in Spain, so why do I have to go over there?” But even so, he travels a lot. “Yes, I travel – who in Spain will pay anything? And even less in profit. Here you can call up a little peña [flamenco association], and they pay 200 or 300 [euros] — nothing.”

Tell us about purity [pureza] – your purity. Where it comes from? “I haven’t lived purity, and I was the last to emerge [Yo no he vivido la pureza, yo fue el último que salió.] When I showed up, El Chocolate [the great Gypsy singer] had been around for thirty years. Terremoto [the great Gypsy singer], thirty years. La Paquera [the great Gypsy singer], forty years. Mairena [the great Gypsy singer, older than the others who were not much older than Agujetas]…I was the last to come forth. I emerged one year after Camarón [the great Gypsy singer, much younger than Agujetas]… But since I’ve been fighting for flamenco puro, joé! [joder, the strongest expletive in English but much milder in Spanish]. I mark the end all those who did classic flamenco. Everything is being lost. Everything is modern. I never stopped singing and singing, and now everyone wants flamenco puro.”

Is it really appreciated enough? “Andalucía doesn’t stand up for flamenco, or for any music at all, because Andalucía is [musically] illiterate. I sing in France and nobody says a word. Nobody. When I get up, the chillíos, look…Because they’re people who know about music. But here? It’s not that they are disrespectful, it’s that they just don’t know. And in Jerez? In Jerez they all think they know about flamenco, but when they go to hear it they’re all talking and eating sunflower seeds. Because they think they know, but they know nothing. Nothing about singing or dancing.”

But Manuel, not even the good aficionados? “Well yes, those who really like it, yes. Those who really like it.”

Well then, Manuel, just in case there’s a remote possibility that someone has never heard of you, that you are, in the words of Manuel Torre [the greatest Gypsy singer], the last [of the artists who can generate the fabled] black sounds [soníos negros].”

“Don’t say that. It’s a good thing that Antoñito [Manuel's son] isn’t here, si no te pega. I don’t tell you anything. That kid wants people to tell him he’s better than his father, understand? A man of nearly fifty. Kid, that’s when you’ll hear it. He left here in tears. He was getting over a drug habit little be little, and they’re starting to call him to sing, three or four places. Now that he’s getting cured, I tell him, ‘Antonio, not like that.’ And sometimes he leaves crying. Where will someone tell him your father is here.’

Can flamenco song be taught? “Nobody can teach you that. The one who teaches him when he’s here is me. But my father [the great singer Agujetas el Viejo] never taught anyone anything, Nobody. Nooo. My father was working at the forge. I put the iron in the right place. My older brother placed the coal. And my father sang when he was resting. Because the notion of a blacksmith singing at the forge is a lie, a myth, because you can’t sing a martinete [a very difficult flamenco song] while you’re working. How can you sing a verse – you’d have to stop swinging the hammer [martillo]. Get the idea? It’s all a lie. It’s a lie told by people to fool other people. Why? Then my father would do two songs, resting and singing. Or he was in a corral at a friend’s house. Or on Sunday he’d sing a few songs for friends. And we’d listen. Don’t think that my father would say ‘this goes like this, and that goes like that’. Que va! [That’s nuts.]

Besides arte jondo [deep flamenco song], do you listen to other music?”

I never listen to any flamenco. Not by anyone. Ever since my father died, I don’t listen any more. I keep the record here, the one I made, and that’s it. But I don’t listen to my father’s singing – I have to be very good… to listen to it. Because when our family dies, let them be quiet and not bother That’s what they have to do. Then, everything is a lie. Flamenco is a lie and the books about it are a lie. There has never been more of a singer than Juan Talega [a great Gypsy singer] in the epoch I knew. I met him a few days before he died. I met La Niña de los Peines [the greatest female Gypsy singer] and she died a few days later. I didn’t know any of the other old masters. And I knew Antonio Mairena.

How were things between you and Mairena? “It was okay [Me llevé bien]…for a few days Because the man fell in love with me [se enamoró de mí]. People said “Agujetas slugged Mairena – you knew about this, right? Agujetas hit him. I didn’t hit anyone. We were at a Flamenco Festival and [the great guitarist] Melchor de Marchena took me out [me sacó]. Curro Mairena [a great singer, the brother of Antonio] was with me. There was the Yunque de Oro [Gold Anvil, an important prize], but we went for the festival, not the prize. For the best singer – and the way I sang, the public was with me, Then the guy gave the prize to aquel que era el que le hacía cara. The guy passed by thirty seats on my side, I was in one, he was in the other. I was put in jail for a half hour, until the festival ended.

Despite the incident, he doesn’t hide his admiration. Antonio was a maestro. True, he was a bit cold. But he was a maestro, man. They shouldn’t tell stories about Antonio. Antonio learned from the four old singers of Jerez. He took old songs, from my grandfather and my grandmother and from Manuel Torre. To know how to sing like Antonio… Maybe he was cold, but he was a maestrazo [a great master]. Don’t say that stuff about the Gypsies – that the Gypsies don’t like them. There are those who don’t even know how to open their mouths, but want to sing stuff by Mairena or me. Let them go where that takes them. People will go to see flamenco knowing that it’s not flamenco.”

Like sand castles erased by the tide, Manuel knocks down the urban legends surrounding serious flamenco. Those that shape the deepest mythology. The mystique about the dark night of the soul, or the dark trunk of the Pharaoh, like the “soníos negros” or black sounds, which [the great poet Rafael] Albertí revealed was nothing more than Federico García Lorca’s obsession with the sound of the sharps or flats on a piano. The black keys, the “black sounds” it seems. Agujetas offers no doubts when he’s asked about the duende, that other great unknown: “It’s a lie…” [Es mentira, es mentira, eso es mentiiiiraaa. Aquí no hay duende ni ná [Here there is no duende or anything]. I don’t know anything about it. Duende is for little kids, the guy who comes to you, the bogeyman [coco]. The same. [Iguaaaa.] I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know what it is. I have no idea.” And a new parenthesis: “And my father, as I’m going to tell you, in that era was a man who had a sweetheart and when he saw that he had two kids, Antoñito and Dolores, me dió por ser artista he set me toward being an artist, po carajo, well, I went to become an artist. Nothing happened here. Now, I sent the money I made to my daughter. I wasn’t here, like all artists. It’s the same with movie actors, they send money to their children and their wife, but if the man goes to America and comes back with nothing, well then, there’s no papa. If he brings money, there’s a papa. Have you heard this? Well, there it is, so you’ll know.”

He revisits his comments on duende: “It’s all a lie. There is no duende, no bogeyman, none of that.” And he says “Cantar [to sing]. There are those who need drugs, wine and the rest. I don’t need anything. I take a little water and I sing. Why should I be ashamed of singing (he laughs) if I live from it.”

Is it also untrue that business of the enormous juerga [flamenco jam session, usually private] that flamencos need in order to be a gusto [in their element, at their peak] and to seek out the real truth of the flamenco song? Haven’t you been in such juergas?

“Never, never, not one, not a single one. No juergas. There you have it. They’re a bunch of frauds. And in their book they say that I’ve been everywhere when I haven’t even left my house. I sing and I sleep. Others keep saying I was with them to god knows where, and I – god knows – I haven’t gone anywhere. Once when I was with this guy’s uncle [he indicates the photographer, alluding to his uncle the painter Paco Toro]. I just took a copita at the Feria and in his house with his wife and kids. Never, with Toro, nothing more. No juerga. What do you think. All the rest just a lie. They also said that Manuel Torre went to bed with his son’s wife. All a lie. Manuel Torre – a man like that going to bed with his son’s wife?”

So much confusion between flamenco and what is not flamenco – true?

“No, none at all. Confusion is what we see in the people who go to see it, those who like what is not flamenco. You can’t have a book about flamenco because it isn’t flamenco or anything like it – it’s just garbage.

And the market for recordings?

“There is no market – it’s over. No company offers flamenco discs. Maybe they put out a record with two or three artists together – but who do they sell them to? To their friends? Before, they’d come to me: ‘Agujetas, we want to make a record. What’s your price?’ Six or seven million [pesetas, maybe $50,000] plus ten percent,’ ‘Okay, let’s do it’ Now? Where can you make a record nowadays? Nobody calls me. One came out where they wanted two songs from me. Two songs. I took whatever it was and that was it. I have my live performances, but those are outside the country. I don’t have a manager because that’s worthless; they call me here at home.”

And even so, Manuel says that he has a Japanese passport and U.S. residence [residencia norteameriana] due to his last two marriages, and has toured the world twice, though never in Australia. “The first time I went to New York, I didn’t go to sing; I went with a gachí [a non-Gypsy woman -- La Tibu or Tibulina, a fine American dancer who died about a decade ago.] I went to a restaurant, and there was flamenquito [a diminutive term meaning “flamenco lite”], performers with Spanish names but who weren’t Spanish, and now they even have bars there. And fijate [get this!] there was a newsstand with a newspaper hanging up, and I saw a picture of me; and I asked the lady to read it to me and she said “The Leading Figure in Spain is now in New York” (he laughs). I have it right here, here’s the paper. I got to know a lot of countries, like I’d been born there. It seemed that way, at least. I told my father that. For me, it’s as if I’d been born in America. And he told me, “It’s because your uncle was there, and he brought back English chickens.”

But he doesn’t travel by plane. “The doctor told me: You have cañas tapás [a medical condition, clearly]. But the doctor wouldn’t operate yet. Now I can’t fly, the blood thing is scary. And now I’m headed to Japan, and it’s going to be a nice voyage. When I finish a gig in Paris and another in Jerez, I’m taking a train to Moscow, and after that, a two-day boat trip to Japan. Two weeks in a train! (He laughs]. One station, another station. But seeing the countryside. It’s scary, you won’t believe it. Those boats are preparaos. The boats float on the water, and if a boat goes down, it goes down.”

With all that traveling, do you want to sing again in Jerez?

“If I don’t feel bad, I’ll sing. If someone makes a stink about it, who cares? I sing well everywhere and that’s it. For the poor guy who doesn’t know, kmaybe he has more responsibilities. But what are they going to say to me? I rehearse every night. Even sleeping. I get up in the morning, I have a headache, but I practice every day. You can’t let this thing stop (he indicates his throat). And often I practice sitting here for an hour or so. Because if you don’t do that, yur voice will close up. The mouth has to be open. If you stop, it closes up and then how can your voice ring out? I don’t have anything written – I start singing a verse and 300 come out. According to what I encounter, with help from above.”

Winding down. Agujetas returns. “Okay, that’s it – your recorder will wear out. And the people will see this interview and say, whoa, look what Agujetas is saying. And you’ve done what no one else has done in your lifetime, with money. I’ve done it for you. (He laughs). You’ll be astounded, the other day a team from Moscow TV was here and I spoke about two words and they give me four thousand dollars. I didn’t do anything, right? That’s good. Nobody has done that – I did it for you because you made me a poster,” he reminds Juan Carlos, whose mural-sized photo of Agujetas was on a wall for weeks at the San Telmo roundabout in Jerez. And he insists: “4000 Euros” I tell him I don’t give credit, that I can’t believe he allowed us to interview him in his own house. So human, so entrañable. So far from the flamenco God that he is for those who love him. And those who hate him.” (He laughs.) You don’t believe it? Noooo – whatever you can believe. You say that Agujetas charged you a lot. Come on, you’ll be late.” “Habeis sacado la entrada ya?” he questions.

And that’s it – punto y final.

End of interview. The original is at http://www.lavozdelsur.es/agujetas-el-flamenco-es-mentira – corrections are always welcome.

The pictures are excellent. The bottom picture links to film of part of the interview.

December 26, 2016   1 Comment

Flamenco Singer Manuel Agujetas – Obituary by Manuel Bohórquez – translated by Brook Zern

Flamenco Song’s Last Cry of Grief

By Manolo Bohorquez

from El Correo de Andalucía, December 25, 2015

A flamenco singer has died. Not just any singer, which would be terrible news. No, one of the greatest masters of Gypsy song (cante gitano). Yes, Gypsy, because that’s what Agujetas always was and always wanted to be. His father, Agujetas el Viejo, was also a singer, a Gypsy from Rota with a sound that came from centuries ago, metallic, dark as a cave, that put you in the last room of the blood. Manuel de los Santos Pastor, or Agujetas, who died this morning in Jerez, was the only one who remained of those Gypsies who took the song from the marrow of his bones, a singer who only had the song, who felt alone since the day he was born and who sang so he would not die of solitude. Unsociable, a strange person among strange people, as were Manuel Torres and Tomás Pavón [perhaps the two greatest male flamenco singers who ever lived]. Manuel Agujetas detested anything that was not the flamenco song or freedom, and who fled from stereotypes or academic schools, from technique, from treatises, from la ojana. He was, in the best sense of the word, a wild animal. Some critics reproached him for being too rough, disordered and anarchic, but he had the gift, that thing that correct and professional singers lack. That they can’t even dream of. You can fake a voice to sing Gypsy flamenco, but Manuel never faked anything. He was the Gypsy voice par excellence, the owner of what Manuel Torres called the duende, the black sounds that captivated the early flamenco expert Demófilo and García Lorcca. A stripped-down cry that could kill you in the fandango of El Carbonerillo, but that when it was applied to [deep song styles like] the siguiriyas or the martinetes, reached a terrible dramatic intensity. No one sounded as Gypsy as Agujetas, with such profundity. No flamenco singer carried his voice to such depths, even though he could be a disaster on a stage, not knowing how to deal with the accompanying guitar and repeating verses and styles to a point of overload. There is no such thing as “Agujeta-ism”, or attempting to copy his inimitable style; but his admirers are found all over the world and have always been faithful to him. A minority, to be sure, but devoted unto death. And they have not claimed official honors for him, as happens with other singers of his generation, They have loved his art and have wanted to experience it, knowing that he was unique and without parallel. Manuel had a charisma that wasn’t for stadiums or big theaters, but for an intimate setting. Someone who has an old LP of Manuel Agujetas feels as if he has a treasure, a relic, something sacred. And someone who heard him on a stage, with that antique aspect, that scar on his face and those sunken eyes, knows that on that day he lived a truly unique moment. Surely this death won’t make headlines or be reported on radio or TV. And what else? Those of us who heard him during an outdoor summer festival in a small town, or a small theater or a flamenco club will never forget it, because in each line, in each of his chilling moments, Manuel nailed to our soul a way of rendering deep song that didn’t die today, with his disappearance, but that died decades ago. It will be a long time before another Gypsy is born, if one is born at all, who has such an ability to wound you with his singing. And when he wounds you fatally, when it kills you, it is a desirable death. The last great pain, the last great grief of song has gone. May he rest in peace.

End of article in El Correo de Andalucía of December 25th, 2015. The original is at http://elcorreoweb.es/cultura/el-ultimo-dolor-del-cante-AI1183398, Olé to Manuel Bohórquez, and a final olé to Manuel Agujetas, the greatest singer I ever knew and the greatest singer I ever heard. Please refer to other entries in this blog for more translations and opinion about Manuel Agujetas.

Brook Zern

December 25, 2015   1 Comment

A revised version of the programs in the “Rito y Geografía del Flamenco” film series with images from the 86 currently viewable on YouTube



















Agujetas – Rito – English Subtitles

Amós Rodrígues Rey – Rito – English Subtitles

Antonio Mairena – Rito – English Subtitles

Beni de Cadiz – Rito – English Subtitles

Bernarda de Utrera – Rito – English Subtitles

Cádiz y los Puertos – Rito – English Subtitles

Camarón – Rito – English Subtitles

Cante Flamenco [i.e. Cante No Gitano] con Interpretes Gitanos [?]– Rito – English Subtitles

Cante Gitano con Interpretes No Gitanos [?]- English Subtitles [?]

Cantes Flamencos Importados – Rito – English Subtitles

Cantes Primitivos Sin Guitarra – Rito – English Subtitles

Cantes Procedentes del Folklore – Rito – English Subtitles

Cristobalina Suarez – Rito – English Subtitles

De Despeñaperros para Arriba – Rito – English Subtitles

De Granada a La Union – Rito – English Subtitles

De Ronda a Malaga – Rito – English Subtitles

De Sanlúcar a La Linea – Rito – English Subtitles

Diego del Gastor – Rito – English Subtitles

El Barrio de Santiaago – Rito – English Subtitles

El Chocolate – Rito –English Subtitles

El Lebrijano – Rito – English Subtitles

El Pali (Sevillanas) – Rito – English Subtitles

El Vino y El Flamenco – Rito – English Subtitles

Enrique Morente – Rito – English Subtitles

Evolución del Cante – Rito – English Subtitles

Extremadura y Portugal – Rito – English Subtitles

Fandangos – Rito – English Subtitles [?]

Fandangos de Huelva – Rito – English Subtitles

Fandangos Naturales – Rito – English Subtitles

Fernanda de Utrera – Rito – English Subtitles

Fiesta Gitana [Bulerias] – Rito – English Subtitles

Fiesta Gitana por Bulerias – Rito – English Subtitles

Fiesta Gitana por Tangos – Rito – English Subtitles

Fosforito – Rito – English Subtitles

José Menese – Rito – English Subtitles

La Cantaora – Rito – English Subtitles

La Casa de los Mairena – Rito – English Subtitles

La Familia Pinini – Rito – English Subtitles

La Familia de Los Perrate – Rito – English Subtitles

La Familia de los Torres – Rito – English Subtitles

La Guitarra Flamenca (1) – Rito – English

La Llave de Oro del Cante – Rito – English Subtitles

La Paquera de Jerez – Rito – English Subtitles

La Perrata – Rito – English Subtitles

La Saeta – Rito – English Subtitles

La Serrania – Rito – English Subtitles

Las Tonas – Rito – English Subtitles

Lorca y el Flamenco – Rito – English Subtitles

Málaga y Levante – Rito – English Subtitles

Malagueñas – Rito – English Subtitles

Manolo Caracol (I) – Rito –English Subtitles

Manolo Caracol (II) – Rito – English

Manuel Soto “Sordera” – Rito – English Subtitles

María Vargas – Rito – English Subtitles

Melchor de Marchena – Rito – English Subtitles

Navidad Flamenca – Rito – English Subtitles

Niños Cantaores – Rito – English Subtitles

Oliver de Triana – Rito – English Subtitles

Paco de Lucía – Rito – English Subtitles

Pedro Lavado – Rito – English Subtitles|

Pepe de la Matrona – Rito – English Subtitles

Platero de Alcalá – Rito – English Subtitles

Romances, Tangos y Tientos – Rito – English Subtitles

Siguiriyas I – Rito – English Subtitles

Siguiriyas II – Rito – English Subtitles

Soleares 2 – Rito – English Subtitles

Terremoto – Rito – English Subtitles

Tía Anica la Piriñaca – Rito – English Subtitles

Triana – Rito – English Subtitles

Viejos Cantaores – Rito – English Subtitles


Del café cantante al tablao – Rito – Spanish

Diego Clavel – Rito – Spanish

Difusión del Flamenco – Rito – Spanish

Falla y el Flamenco – Rito – Spanish

Joselero [de Morón] – Rito – Spanish
Part 1:


Part 2:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pu YApYrLY&feature=youtu.be
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watchv=_drflGafmwo&feature=youtu.be
Part 4: – not given on YouTube
Part 5: http://www.youtube.com/watchv=RPxRJVauReM&feature=youtu.be
Note: Since the total time is nearly 50 minutes there must be some duplication between these segments.

Luís Caballero – Rito – Spanish [?]

La Guitarra Flamenca (2) – Rito – Spanish

Los Cabales [Aficionados] – Rito – Spanish

Manuel Torre y Antonio Chacón – Rito – Spanish

Pansequito -Rito – Spanish [?]

Pepe Marchena – Rito – Spanish

Perrate de Utrera – Rito – Spanish

Note: after 38:13 this version cuts to material from the show on Juan el Lebrijano or La Familia Perrate

Pepe Martínez – Rito – Spanish

Rafael Romero – Rito – Spanish

Soleares 1 – Rito – Spanish

Tío Borrico de Jerez – Rito – Spanish
(to 31’ 42” – after the original program ends, this version adds material by Tío Borrico from other programs in the same series)


ANTONIO DE CANILLAS – 27:20 – 87/19/C



FESTIVAL DEL CANTE – 26;30 – 87/11/C


JOSELERO DE MORON – 30:20 – 87/18/C [complete program]

LOS FLAMENCOLOGOS – 28;00 – 87/16/C

PERICON DE CADIZ – 28:36 – 87/21/C

POR SIGUIRIYAS – 26:00 – 87/9/C

POR SOLEA – 24:00 – 87/9/C

CANTE FLAMENCO Note: This may not be missing – it may be the same as the above-mentioned CANTE FLAMENCO GITANO (with English subtitles) — The program evidently features Gypsy singers performing songs that are not seen as Gypsy songs, and may have been also been titled CANTE FLAMENCO CON INTERPRETES GITANOS.




March 28, 2015   No Comments

An Important Collection of Private Flamenco Recordings Brought to Light at Last – How to Hear Them On SoundCloud

In the 1960′s and 70′s a few foreigners, mostly Americans, were so struck by the quality of flamenco in several towns near Seville that they resolved to save those magnificent sounds forever.

They succeeded beyond measure. Today, Spain owes most of its understanding of the music of that time and place to the crucial efforts of people including Chris Carnes, Moreen Carnes, Steve Kahn, Carol Whitney and a few others — some who choose to remain nameless and others to be named later. (I never had a good tape recorder in Spain, but I helped some of those people by buying tape and paying to ship their Uher recorders to Germany for repairs.)

This is very different from commercial or official recordings. This is flamenco “de uso” — as it was used in everyday life, sometimes with the hope that someone would hire the artists for actual money, but usually because the artists loved to make and share this music with their friends and fellow artists. In a world where “pure” is mocked by scholars as meaningless and “authentic” is applied to just about everything anyone wants to sell more of, well, as noted below, this is the real deal.

Yesterday, in response to a post on this blog about Diego del Gastor, I learned that another intrepid gringo had been adding to the historic effort. I remember the name, and here is information from his son-in-law, David Quinn, with explanations in brackets and more comments at the end. You can see his brief note as a reply to the post:

“My wife’s father, David K. Loughran, who died recently, hauled around a reel-to-reel tape machine to Flamenco parties in and around Morón de la Frontera, Spain in 1964 and 1965.

“The musicians he was recording are known as flamenco masters, “mythical figures” of flamenco. The town is the epicenter of Gypsy flamenco. These players were the real deal – actual Gypsies – the real source of this music.

“They include:
Diego del Gastor, La Fernanda de Utrera [one of the greatest singers in flamenco history], Manolito de la Maria [ditto], [the American] Chris Carnes, Fernandillo de Moron, Antonio Amaya Flores “El Mellizo” [the guitarist and older brother of Diego del Gastor] and others.

“There are 46 hours of recordings, made at house parties and in cafés,
some with just the musicians and recorder present, some at crowded fiestas. The quality varies, but considering the circumstances, I think it is remarkable.

“I know there are musicians reading this; if you know someone who might be interested in hearing these please share this post, and/or the link below.
We’re trying to gather as much information as we can, with the goal of a more accurate track list.

“At the very least, they make excellent fiesta music!

“They can be heard at https://soundcloud.com/quinfolk/sets/the-flamenco-tapes-recorded-by-david-k-loughran-1964-1965

“These notes on content are unedited and transcribed From the hand written notes on the reel boxes:

*Reels 1 through 4:
- Diego, solo, December 1964
- Diego, Fernando, Manolito, Jselero, at a juerga at Venta El Calero
- Diego, Fernando & Manolito at a juerga at Club Mercantil
- Diego, Mellizo & Manolito at Diego’s house, a juerga for Pepe Rios

*Reel 4 Side B through Reel 6 Side A
- First juerga in Morón after cante jondo contest in Cordoba, with Diego, Paco del Gastor [the brilliant nephew of Diego], Manolito, Fernando, and Enrique [son of the legendary Joaquin el de la Paula]
- Juan and Dieguito del Gastor [the two other nephews of Diego, both fine guitarists] in Chris’s room at the hospedaje
- Easter Sunday juerga at El Calero with Diego and Manolito
- Andres Cabrera, Vicenta
- Juerga at El Calero

*Reel 6 Side B through Reel 9 Side A
- Antonio Amaya Flores (El Mellizo) at home
- Saetas in Utrera (Hermandad de los gitanos – Semana Santa 1965)
- Saetas at la Campana, Seville, with Lebrijano [a superb singer], Manolo Mairena [an excellent singer, younger brother of the great Antonio Mairena].
- Short Juerga at Casa Pepe with Dieguito del Gastor [now called Dieguito or Diego de Morón], Joselero [Diego del Gastor's brother-in-law, a fine local singer], Fernando [Fernandillo de Morón, a good singer and festero], Bob Haynes [a fine American guitarist], Church [?], etc.
- La Sallago [an excellent singer who sounded terrific until her very recent death], Terremoto [one of the greatest singers in flamenco's history].
- Terremoto, La Paquera [a great Jerez singer]; bautizo [baptism] in lower barrio with Diego, Paco, Perrate[an excellent singer] & La Fernanda
- Juerga at Tailor’s (El Escribano) house with Paco (solo), Diego (solo) & Niño Rosa
- Diego, Manolito and Fernando at Bob Fletcher’s in Seville.

*Reel 9 Side B through Reel 11 Side A
- Diego at Chimenea’s with Pohren
- Paco at Casa Pepe
- Paco – juerga at Pepe Chino’s house with Diego, Nino Rosa, Juan and his padre
- guitar solo by student

*Reel 11 side B through Reel 14 Side A
-Part of Fletcher’s fiesta with Diego, Manolito, Fernando
-Mellizo, solo at hospedaje
-From Pohren’s tapes of Paco, Diego, Juan Talegas, Manolito, Nina de los Peines
-Esteban de Sanlucar, La Perla, Miguel Valencia at Pohren’s club
-Chris and Fernando, and others
-Bautizo at Andre’s and Fernando’s with Diego, Perrate and La Fernanda
-Solo by Diego

*Reel 14 Side B through Reel 17 Side A
-Fiesta, Casa Villa Clara
-Antonio Cruz
-Iglesias and company

*Reel 17 Side B through Reel 19 Side A

*Reel 19 Side B through Reel 22
-Selections from Don Pohren’s collection
-Selections from Don Pohren juergas – Antonio & Paco [Francisco] Mairena, Eduardo de la Malena
-Richardo Pachon [later the producer of Camaron’s historic recordings, Luis Maravilla [possibly the dancer Luisa Maravilla, Pohren's wife]
-Fiesta with Pohren
-Flamenco: Diego del Gastor, La Fernanda de Utrera, Manolito de la Maria, Chris Carnes, Fernandillo de Moron, Don Pohren, David K. Loughran

End of explanations and notations by the son-in-law of recordist David K. Loughran.

Okay. I am grateful to the late David K. Loughran for his selfless dedication, and to his son-in-law Dennis Quinn for allowing — better yet, insisting — that this material finds a deserving audience.

It is often said that Diego del Gastor was an unrecorded guitarist, and in fact he assiduously avoided efforts by Spain’s most prestigious record label — at the time their only other guitarist was a young man named Paco de Lucía — to entice him to record by building a high-tech studio near his home. (Diego just skipped town until they tore it down.)

On the human scale, Diego may have been the most recorded flamenco guitarist in history. I have many hundreds of hours of his playing, both alone and for the singers named above and dozens of others. (And I still don’t have most of the material in the largest stash, recorded by the late Chris Carnes and now residing at the University of Washington where it probably doesn’t get the tiniest fraction of the attention and audience it deserves.)

Not surprisingly, I already have a lot of the same material that Mr. Loughran recorded — clearly from tapes made by Chris and others. But a lot of the other material listed above was originally recorded by Mr. Loughran, and has enormous historical importance. I hope other addicts will join me in the effort to add more detail and information to the sparse notes seen above.

I haven’t listened to the material yet, and rarely use or trust sites that normal humans feel comfortable signing onto. I assume SoundCloud is a logical place to have archived this music, and that it will remain accessible there indefinitely.


Brook Zern

March 24, 2015   2 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:


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

Flamenco Singer José Mercé Speaks – Article from Diario de Jerez by Fran Pereira – translated by Brook Zern

This article from today’s Diario de Jerez is by the admirable Fran Pereira, a Jerez flamenco expert whom I consider a friend.  My own observations follow:

José Mercé, cantaor:  “I’ve never known an era as bad as this one; today the artist has to present himself on his own”

He has just released “Forty Years of Flamenco Song”, a collection tracing his trajectory.  His next project is to record an anthology “that I don’t want to come from any big multinational label”

by Fran Pereira

His words reveal a certain disillusionment about something he has been defending for many years.  In his day he was criticized for deviating from orthodoxy in flamenco, but it was this path, around 1998, that enabled him – as he himself acknowledges – to break with everything and become known as one of the most significant artists of our country.  He has just released a selection of his recordings, this time to retrace his extensive trajectory as a singer and also serve as an appetizer for what will be coming soon, a new record and an anthology for which he asks for support from those institutions that in his view “give more importance to other musical forms than to flamenco.”

Q:  “Forty Years of Flamenco Song” – what is the hidden message behind that title?

A:  A lot, because in fact I’ve been at this for a lot more than forty years.  I recorded my first record for when I was thirteen and with [the flamenco expert] Manuel Ríos Ruíz, but none of that material is included.  It was long ago, and it had a little of everything, from the first recording in the seventies to the latest.  There’s a little of everything, though not all that I would have liked.

Q:  Is it the anthology you’ve always talked about?

A:  No, it’s a collection that the record company wanted to release in time for Christmas, so people could give it as a gift.  They made the selection, and there are some classic numbers and other done after 1998, when I recorded “Del Amanacer” and my career took off [dio un vuelco].  Three CD’s that show the evolution.  But the anthology is another thing entirely.

Q:  Explain that…

A:  Yes.  I am recording the anthology on my own, using my own recipe, and I don’t want it to come from a multinational.  Since I’m doing it myself, I can do it little by little without anyone’s help; I pay for the studio and everything else.   It’s painful that for all our efforts to defend the purity and orthodoxy of flamenco, which is our culture, more importance is given to every other kind of music, whether it’s rock or pop, than to our own flamenco.  With every passing day I’m more confused about why flamenco was declared an Intangible Patrimony of Humanity [by UNESCO], because at the moment of truth our art is abandoned and rejected.

Q:  Returning to the new disc, the only new number is a song you do with [the brilliant guitarist and sometime fusion advocate] Pepe Habichuela.  Any reason for that?

A:  No, it’s a villancico or Christmas carol that’s done by the Gypsies of Madrid; the music is like a jota [a non-flamenco musical style].

Q:  If you look back at those more than forty years dedicated to flamenco, are you satisfied?

A:  Yes, I’m very content with what I’ve done.  Moreover, the hard part – and I’ll return to this topic – is to maintain oneself and I think I’ve known how to do that.  In any case, I still have a lot to do, like the anthology I’ve mentioned and new projects we’re working on that will come out next October and in the spring of 2016.

Q:  A look at your appearances shows you are one of the privileged artists, and you never stop working.  In all of your long career, have you ever seen a time as bad for culture as this one?

A:  Truthfully, no.  Some years ago there was a decline, but it was minimal; this period is the worst I’ve seen.  It’s incomprehensible that the tax on tickets to cultural events has gone up to 21% — the result has been to kill culture, and a nation without culture is a nation without an identity.  Today nobody presents (expone) anything – the artist has to do it all himself and that’s complicated, at least for those who are just starting out; those of us who’ve been around still have to fight, but the younger artists face a complex challenge.

Q:  Some years ago you said you wanted to record with the greatest guitarists.  We will see that happen someday?

A:  Yes.  In fact, in the anthology I mentioned I want to record with the best of them.  Of course, Morao [Moraíto] and Paco de Lucía have left us, though I’ll include at least some recordings with Morao.

Q:  And is there a concrete date when this anthology may see the light?

A:  Right now, there isn’t .  I haven’t designated a time, and keep working on it when I can.  The sad thing is that the institutions don’t offer the help that the project needs – no one has done it since [the great singer] Antonio Mairena.  That’s what hurts me most.  Not even in my own turf, always known as the cradle of flamenco song, has anyone proposed anything to me along these lines, though always, wherever I’ve been in the world, I have carried the flag for Jerez.

Q:  Today, as we enter 2015, making a recording is not the same, right?

A:  Of course not.  The recording industry has changed a lot.  Today anybody can make a record but then hay que plasmarlo en el directo [you have to do it live].  That’s where you find the true artists, because in the recording process, with today’s technologies, you can do anything.

Q:  From your vantage point, how do you view flamenco’s situation in your home territory?

A:  Look, since the barrios [presumably the Gypsy barrios] disappeared, unfortunately no one has appeared.  We need people who break [rompa], who can wound [hiera], with those ecos [flamenco power and resonance] that flamenco always had, but that is now sleeping.  I believe that since the decade of the fifties, no one has come along who can do this.

Q:  And what’s the problem?

A:  Maybe it’s the ozone layer (laughs).  But seriously, pues que se empieza antes por el tejado que por la base [people begin with the roof instead of the foundation].  You have to begin from a firm foundation, lay the cement, and then [only then] let everyone do whatever they want.

Q: Do you think it’s gone forever?

A:  I hope not.  I hope that there will be a return to flamenco’s root, its origins, and that we will reclaim our rightful place.

Q:  Well, at least your team keeps making fans happy.

A:  Yes, Real Madrid is the only thing that functions in this country.

Q:  Looking at your scheduled appearances and projects, you can’t complain…

A:  No, fortunately I can’t.  I can’t ask more because I have a lot of work, and I’m ending the year with a lot of jaleo [noisy celebration].

End of story — the original is at: http://www.diariodejerez.es/article/jerez/1929404/no/he/conocido/una/epoca/tan/mala/como/esta/ahora/solo/expone/artista.html

Translator’s note:  José Mercé seems to consider himself the last of the truly great flamenco singers – he says that no others have arisen since the 1950’s. when he came along.

He’s right.  At least, that’s one way of expressing my awed admiration for this man’s flamenco singing. Of course, there are dozens of excellent singers of serious flamenco who are younger than he is.  But for me – and apparently for him – the ocean between mere excellence and sheer, magical flamenco magnificence is virtually unbridgeable, and he is alone on the latter shore.

He will be remembered in the same breath as Manuel Agujetas (alive and possibly well, but inevitably past his absolutely fabulous prime), and the vanished El Chocolate, Terremoto, Fernanda de Utrera, and Manolo Caracol as well as the geniuses of prior generations.

In most  Mercé interviews I read (and often translate here), he has a different agenda.  In those, he comes out with both barrels blazing to attack people who, like me but well-known and influential, crankily lament the rise of vaguely flamenco-ish pop fusion.

That kind of music has made Mercé a megastar by Spanish musical standards, and especially by straight flamenco’s feeble-selling  standards.   It’s what he’s referring to when he mentions Del Amanacer, the album that made him a hot seller by including pop-fusion material.

At a New York press conference a decade ago, he insisted that people pay attention to the second half of a next-night concert where he stopped singing glorious flamenco to Moraito’s great guitar and launched into songs like “Mammy Blue” with a bad back-up group.

(To me, that title alone indicates the fundamental misunderstanding of good rock/pop that so often afflicts Spanish artists who wannabe “rockeros” – yet another word that, like the original Spanish term “música ye-ye” somehow reveals their tin-eared miscomprehension of good rock.)

Now he wonders why a multinational won’t give him the money to record the great anthology he envisions.  Well, maybe it’s because he was an important part of a corporate movement to wean people away from real flamenco and into a not-very-good realm of semi-pop.  It led to a guy called Pitingo – a gifted flamenco singer – doing an album called Blueserías that featured his earnest attempt to tackle Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly”.  And to hundreds of other best-selling sellouts, of course.

Of course, I’m thrilled that flamenco’s greatest singer has committed himself to record an anthology of the art’s greatest songs.  I understand his resolve and his need to leave a definitive record of his brilliant voice and the enormous knowledge that comes from the nearly incomparable musical heritage of his family, his grandfather and great-grandfather.

But since he’s not in it for the money, and since these days anyone can make a good recording, I wistfully wonder why he doesn’t just book sixty hours of studio time starting next week, call in the guitarists who would all be honored to join him, and just lay down seventy or eighty tracks of  his many great styles of the siguiriyas, soleares, bulerias, tonás-martinetes, plus any of the other sixty flamenco forms that fit his temperament.

It won’t sell, of course, so just put it up online, as the perfect complement to the many, many superb Mercé recordings we already have.  The perfect gift to flamenco and to posterity.

Thank you in advance, maestro.

Your devoted admirer,

Brook Zern


December 28, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Rancapino and His Son – Review by Manuel Bohórquez – translated with comments by Brook Zern

The excellent flamenco expert and researcher Manuel Bohórquez is a pleasure to hear or to read, though he is a major destroyer of romantic myths that surround the art.  I always expect that he’s going to haul off and smite those people who, um, play the race card in flamenco.

I’m referring to a dwindling number of unfashionable people like, um, me, who reluctantly confess to having a strong weakness for flamenco artists of a certain, um, ethnicity, like, – um, not Gypsy blood, of course; and not Gypsy genes, of course, since both words are loaded or downright poisonous.

But maybe it’s allowable to call it what it really is: Gypsy heritage.  Phew.

Here’s the March 12, 2014 entry from Bohórquez’s invaluable blog, which he calls La Gazapera (the den, the rabbit warren) and which cites the newspaper El Correo de Andalucía where he wrote, or has written, for many years.  It gets down to cases, and it says that there is a Gypsy way of doing flamenco, and that the people who do it best (though not the only people who do it) are Gypsies.  The exemplars in this instance are, first, the great singer Rancapino, with his strange voice – or voices, since sometimes he sounds like the nearly mummified Juan Talega and at other times like himself, terrific but not really agreeable; and second, Rancapino’s son, here being offered for public acceptance as a superb artist in his own right.

(As always, of course, you can witness the art of these artists and others discussed in this blog by simply conjuring them up on YouTube:)

Dragging the soul to the chilling realm of pellizcos [gooseflesh, little bites]

Some aficionados continue to believe that what we call a great voice is that of Rafael Farina or Naranjito de Triana, but that’s not the case.

[Rafael Farina was a hugely successful singer of relatively of pop flamenco and undemanding melodramatic fandangos, who sang clearly and with good diction and pleasing melodicism, if that’s a word.  Naranjito de Triana, who died in 2002, was a superb singer who sang a wide range of difficult song forms beautifully – both in execution and in overall effect. Naranjito is not a Gypsy; Rafael Farina was a Gypsy]

Another great flamenco voice belonged to Juanito Mojama and it was not a powerful torrent, but a whisper overflowing with Gypsy melismas.

Can we say that the voices of Rancapino and his son, Rancapino hijo, are two great voices?  Without a shadow of a doubt, though that may just be my opinion.  In the deep flamenco regions of cante jondo or deep song, a voice has to sound good and to transmit.  It has to have soul, so much so that it can hurt or wound you, or bewitch you [te embelece.  And the two voices we heard last night in Seville’s Teatro Central, Rancapino the elder and the younger, can hurt until it drives you mad [duelen hasta rabiar].

Last night, at least, we felt the agreeable/delightful (placentero) deep pain, two torrents of Gypsy emotion.  And I say Gypsy because the two are Gypsies and the cante calé [song of that people] is exactly that:  the song of the Gypsies, their unique way of communicating, of giving you chills [de pellizcar], of singing with emotion and with a compás (rhythmic pulse) that is natural in them.

Then we have the gachés [a Gypsy word for non-Gypsies] who sing agitanados [in a Gypsy way], those who want to be more Gypsy than Chorrojumo [this may be a fabricated name for an imaginary super-Gypsy singer, or it could be an obscure yet legendary Gypsy I’ve never heard of], and that’s a whole different story.  I have to admit that I left the theater with a pain in my chest that actually frightened me.   Maybe I was just predisposed to that reaction – these two singers from the town of Chiclana, that is, from the Cadiz region, just shred my soul [me partieran el alma].  Or maybe my soul was already shredded, I don’t know.

What’s certain is that it’s been a long time since I suffered so much listening to flamenco song – a suffering somewhere between physical pain and emotional pleasure.

The night began with a video in which Rancapino was trying to transmit to his son Alonso the norms of flamenco song, the road to follow.  Then, with a sung preamble of various styles of tonás [an early, profound unaccompanied flamenco lament], the two duking it out [mano a mano]  the presentation was made.  The master had come to present his student, who is simultaneously his own son.   Then he left him alone on the stage, with just Antonio Higuero backing him on guitar, to confront the Seville public in a place where the [legendary Gypsy singers] Tomás Pavón [brother of the supreme cantaora La Niña de los Peines] and Pepe Torre [brother of the supreme cantaor Manuel Torre] revealed their Gypsy song with the moon above the Alameda de Hercules song stronghold as witness.

And Rancapino hijo gave us a stupendous recital, with incredible freshness, but at the same time paying homage to [the fabulous Gypsy singer] Manolo Caracol, and to [the great Gypsy singer] Camarón de la Isla, and at times to the noted singer Antonio el de la Carzá.  With the right voice [voz justa], in perfect rhythm and always perfectly placed within the song’s framework, Alonso Núñez Fernández revealed the kernel of the malagueñas, alegrías, tientos-tangos, soleares apolás and bulerías, sometimes seated and sometimes standing up, in the manner of Manolo Caracol or his own father, to whom he paid constant homage with things from his repertoire.

To close the night, and with emotion running high in the theatre, out came the master, don Alonso Núñez Núñez, the man from Chiclana, to end up parting our souls.  With his destroyed voice, his soleares de Alcalá in the style of Juan Talega shook our guts, sacandolas casi a empujones [?], but marking every measure of the compás with a mastery that seemed uncommon indeed.

The senior Rancapino even dared to try and sing a malagueña de Chacón, “Viva Madrid que es la corte”, in the style of El Canario – not an easy feat when one’s voice isn’t in condition for it.  And he sang the plaintive siguiriyas with a dolorous, wracking pain, before ending with the bulerías that call to mind Manolito de la María, a style that no one remembers now.  But if that weren’t enough, the two artists then came onstage, where we again marveled at the son’s rendition of some fandangos of Manolo Caracol that simply killed us.  A great night of flamenco song, delivered in a way that is leaving us.  And it would be a pity if this was the end, because this quality is absolutely essential in understanding the art of Andalucía.  And our history.

End of piece by Manuel Bohórquez.  The original is found at:


March 12, 2014   1 Comment

Everything You Didn’t Want to Know About El Planeta, The First Great Singer in Flamenco History – by Manuel Bohórquez – Translated with comments by Brook Zern

Translator’s Note:  Don’t even try to read this.  Admit that you didn’t even know that you didn’t want to know about El Planeta, because you probably never heard of him.  I just thought this should be translated and hung up on the internet for all eternity, or until I forget to pay the bill for my hosting service.

It’s a monument to the divine addiction that flamenco becomes for some aficionados.  A superb writer, author, researcher and flamenco critic, Manuel Bohórquez, subsumed himself into a daunting quest to determine once and for all the identity and the life details of the singer called El Planeta.  El Planeta, along with a singer known as Tío Luís el de la Juliana, was perhaps the earliest noted figure in flamenco song.

And at that dawn of flamenco time, being a singer didn’t mean changing a note of a siguiriyas or a soleares or a caña.  It meant inventing new and distinctive ways to sing those recently crafted forms, or even creating crucial new forms out of whole cloth, or bitter experience.

How hard was that?  Put it this way:  It’s fair to say that no important flamenco forms have been invented in the past century – not even in recent decades when every innovative artist would give his eye teeth to go down in history as the progenitor of such a monumental creation.

This article is a labor of love devoted to history’s first noted – even “high-profile” for his epoch – flamenco singer, and an homage to flamenco itself.  It is remarkable not because people care, but precisely because hardly anyone cares.

I came to flamenco thinking of El Planeta as a ghost in the fog of time, an unreal being, existing only in passed-down stories.  (The impression was only reinforced by hearing his eerie signature siguiriyas as recorded by Pepe Torre, son of the immortal Gypsy genius Manuel Torre – it seems to come from beyond the grave.)

Imagine my consternation when one of my flamenco friends who takes a less romantic view of the art called me one day.  “Hey,” he said, “guess what I just found in a crumbling newspaper in the Madrid archives.”

“I give up,” I said.

“It’s an ad,” he said, “an ad for a throat gargling product.  It’s an endorsement by a singer, who says he uses it twice a day to keep his voice in great shape.”

I didn’t like where this was going.

“And guess who the product endorser is,” he said gleefully.

“I give up,” I said.

“Well, who is the earliest great flamenco singer, so mysterious his real name is unknown, a guy you assume sang in dank cellars for three initiates after finishing his day job as a galley slave or being a condemned prisoner – the guy who wrote that kvetchy verse asking the moon to free his father from prison, which you imagine him singing outside the jail hoping his father might hear him before being executed…”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “We seem to have a bad connection.”

I hung up.

Here’s the full-on dose of reality-check:

In Search of the Lost “Planeta”

Article from the blog of the noted flamenco expert Manuel Bohórquez [the url is below -- and it also includes more than a hundred comments from dozens of other obviously obsessive-compulsive Spanish flamenco nuts].

The legendary singer and guitarist called El Planeta is considered to be the first great maestro of cante andaluz [Andalusian song, in this case flamenco song], but until now we have only known him by his artistic nickname.  The costumbrista writer [focusing on ethnic and folkloric customs] Serafín Estébanez Calderón (1799-1867) made him known in his celebrated account “Un baile en Triana” (published in El Heraldo in 1842), but gave no biographical information.  Antonio Machado y Álvarez “Demófilo”, in his book “Colección de Cantes Flamencos” (1881) said El Planeta came from Cádiz without providing enough useful data to try to learn more from parish records and crumbling municipal records.  Without knowing his first and last names it was practically impossible to determine where he came from, when he was born, whether he had married and had children, and above all, where and when this historic artist had died.  In an article from a Madrid publication, La Iberia, from May, 1856, about a book by a barber from Seville named Joselito Pantoja, it was reported that he was from Malaga  and that he had composed for Señor Pantoja “a caña and a soleá” [two important flamenco forms].  The words? The music?  It’s quite revealing that El Planeta in that time period should already have had this recognition as a creator.  In another article, this one by the Malaga writer and politician José Carlos de Luna, in the newspaper ABC of April 27, 1962, el Planeta was also identified as being from Malaga and it was claimed that he had paid for the Silver Key of Flamenco Song  [“llave de plata del cante”], given to Tomás “El Nitri” in Malaga’s Café Sin Techo [Open Air Café].  Finally, Rafael Benítez Caballero, author of the work titled “El Barquero de Cantillana” – edited in 1894 – referred to him also as “el Tío Antonio “El Planeta”:  “I passed by a store of montañesas where there was a juelga [usually “juerga” – a flamenco gathering that is comparable to a “jam session”], and among others, I heard Tío Antonio El Planeta sing, and it couldn’t have been better or more charged with feeling [que no cabía más de bien y de sentimiento.]

How could we discover his personal data without knowing his [apellidos – his father’s name and mother’s name]?  There was only one way: by analyzing the birth information of [the great flamenco singer] Manolo Caracol, his great-great grandson, despite the fact that wise and well-informed investigators have always doubted that this genius from Seville’s Lumbreras Street was in fact the great-great grandson of the man called “the King of the Polos” [another important flamenco song form].  The task was not easy, but at some point it would be necessary to embark on the impassioned and burdensome venture of localizing the first documented, influential singer of cante jondo [deep song, the most serious and demanding branch of flamenco song].  If we sought information about the maternal great-great grandfather of Manolo Caracol and found that he was named Antonio and that he was from Cádiz, it was clear that we would be arriving at a good place [buen puerto], and this is indeed what happened.  In the birth records of Manuel Ortega Juárez, Manolo Caracol, I found the names of his grandparents, both from Malaga as would be expected: Gregorio Juárez Monge and Francisca Soto Ramírez.  Localizing them was complicated, but after an arduous investigation in the census or registry [padrón] of Malaga the hoped-for miracle came to pass, and there appeared the records a presumed grandfather of El Planeta, the above-mentioned Gregorio Juárez Monge.

[copy of document captioned “Birth certificate of Gregorio Juárez Monge, grandson of El Planeta and grandfather of Manolo Caracol, Malaga, October 6, 1854,]

On discovering his birth certificate in Malaga I confirmed beyond a doubt that his maternal grandfather was named Antonio and that he was from Cádiz.  We already knew that El Planeta was named Antonio Monge.  The next step was to find details about the mother of Gregorio Juárez, who turned out to be named Dolores Monge Bara – that is, a daughter of El Planeta whom I discovered to have married José Juárez García, 32, of Malaga, in the Parish of San Juan de Malaga  Since they lived on 1 San Juan Street in Malaga, the records from 1852 gave me the second apellido of El Planeta, which was Rivero, and the name and the two apellidos of his wife, María Bara Gallardo, also from Cádiz.  Demófilo was right when he stated the the mythic singer was from the 3000-year-old city of Cádiz.  Joselito Pantoja and José Carlos de Luna weren’t far off, because El Planeta soon left the city of Cádiz after marrying and having his last child, Tomás, to move to Malaga around 1836, where he married off some of his descendants and where he died, quite old for that epoch.

Antonio Monge Rivero “El Planeta” was from Cadiz, where he was born about 1789.  He may have been born on Marzal Street – known today as Vea Murguía – in the old Barrio de San Antonio.  The son of Gregorio Monge and Francisca Rivera, also from Cadiz, he married María Bara Gallardo of Cádiz when both were young.  He had at least seven children in Cádiz between 1810 and 1834 – in birth order, Antonia, Tomasa, Francisco, Dolores, María Dolores, María Magdalena and Tomás.  It’s likely that there were more, and that they died.  In fact, in the Census List of Cádiz the names of the first two children do not appear.

It wouldn’t be very absurd to think that El Planeta was the son of Tío Gregorio who was described in a countryside fiesta by the Cádiz writer José Cadalso in his Cartas Marruecas [Moroccan Letters], in the last third of the Eighteenth Century.  Those letters were first published in the Correo de Madrid in February of 1793 and four years later they appeared in a book published by Sancha.  The military man never saw them published because Cadalso, who was born in Cádiz in 1741, died in 1782.  That writer tells us that this Gregorio was a Gypsy butcher from Cádiz who, moreover, was in jail for stabbing someone during the city’s Fair, which might explain the verse of siguiriyas [a key form of cante jondo or deep song], “para que saque a mi pare, que verlo camelo”  [To take out (set free) my father, whom I wish to see.  [Camelar is a verb in caló, the language of Spain’s gypsies; the Spanish verb would be querer.]  Of course, it’s very difficult to prove that Tío Gregorio would be the father of our singer, although that’s quite possibly the case, because at that time there weren’t many butchers with that name, according to the census of Gypsies of the era.  This matter remains pending for a possible biography of  the artist.

As I’ve indicated, Dolores Monge, one of the daughters of El Planeta, married a man from Malaga named José Juárez García on October 31, 1852.  El Planeta lived then at 1 San Juan Street with his wife and two of their childrend.  His daughter Dolores had one daughter, Antonia Juárez Monge, on August 6, 1853, at 19 Santos Street in Malaga, who was baptized in the Parish of San Juan on August 12 of that same year.  In 1854 he had Gregorio, also at Santos Street, who was married in Malaga to Francisca Soto Ramírez of that same city.  One of their daughters, Dolores Juárez Soto, also of Malaga, first married a man from that city who died from a knife wound  in the city, mediating during a street brawl.  The young widow started a laundry and ironing business in Malaga and there she met Manuel Ortega Fernández “Caracol Viejo” [Caracol the Elder]; with him she gave birth to Manolo Caracol on Lumbreras Street in Seville, on the Alameda [a famed flamenco neighborhood], in July of 1909.  From this we see that Antonio Monge “El Planeta”  was the maternal great grandfather of the Seville singer, as the artist always said, and as he sang to the four winds in this poem of Antonio Murciano of Arcos:

Great-great grandson of El Planeta,

Great grandson de Curro Durse…

Manolo Caracol led me to his great-great grandfather El Planeta, and Planeta, when we followed his descendants in Malaga in an impassioned voyage through time, led us back to the genius from Seville.  It was an investigation that someone had to make someday to clarify something fundamental for the history of flamenco song, although there are those who don’t give any importance to putting flamenco genealogies in order – something that for us is fundamental.

According to the Padrón of Malaga, Antonio El Planeta lived for twenty years in the city of [the great flamenco singer] La Trini, with most of that time spent on the central street of San Juan where the shops were – silversmiths, antique dealers, artisans, printers, etc.  By profession he was a cortador, that is, a butcher or talajero, as they say in Cádiz, surely with his own butcher shop where he employed two of his children, Francisco and Tomás, though the former was also a printer by occupation according to the census of the period.  The artist had to have reached an acceptable economic position, because during some of his years there he had servants, something almost impsosible for a Gypsy family in those times – the mid-Nineteenth Century.  One of those servants was Catalina Liñán of Malaga.

San Juan Street is today one of the most animated in Malaga, ever since it was made a pedestrian way and filled with businesses.  When Planeta lived there with his whole family – wife, children and a few others such as his nephew, the Cadiz singer Lázaro Quitana Monge – it was also an animated street.  In the same house where El Planeta lives was the posada La Corona, where merchants and people of the bohemia of that era lived.  There was also a shop that sold colored glass items for wall-niches, as well as a tavern or two and food stores. It was a centrally-located street, very well situated, near the Alameda and the [principal street] calle Larios, where there were cafés like Don Andrés Ruiz’s Café de la Loba, on the Plaza de la Constitución, one of Malaga’s oldest establishments with the richest flamenco history until it closed on March 31, 1902.

[picture of page:  Padrón [official record] of Malaga of 1852.  El Planeta lived on San Juan Street.  He’s the first listed and appears with two of his children.  It’s interesting [curioso] that he is given the honorific of “don”, something quite extraordinary in that era where a Gypsy was concerned.]

According to my data, the artist must have lived in Malaga in the mid-1830’s, after the birth of his last child, Tomás, in Cadiz on September 8, 1834.  He would have taken advantage of the fact that in those years that city became one of the major exporters of iron [hierro] – the singer was an ironworker [herrero], it seems, as well as a butcher – and the fact that the textile business of the Larios family and of the meat markets offered employment opportunities in Malaga.  That was in addition to the seaport, a source of riches, with significant exports of wine and olive oil.  In 1856 the Bank of Malaga was created, which shows that money was flowing in the city and the entire province, something important in the Cadiz singer’s reaching a solid economic status and deciding not to ever return to Cadiz or to emigrate to other cities of Andalusia.    The fact that he lived for so long at the same domicile, 1 San Juan Street, is significant considering that most families changed residences often to recover the deposit money that was required to rent a home.

[picture:  El Planeta (guitar in hand) with [the singer] El Fillo in the famous Fiesta in Triana as described by Serafín Estébanez Calderón.]

As a consequence, it’s more than likely that our protagonist never lived in Triana [Seville’s Gypsy neighborhood], at least in a fixed residence, but went where his services as a singer were requested, as in the instance of the famous fiesta described by Estébanez Calderón on Castilla de Triana Street, as published for the first time in El Heraldo of December 1, 1842.  Five years later, in 1847, the Malaga writer’s famous book appeared.  El Planeta still lived on the central San Juan Street in Malaga.  A year later, in 1848, the Semanario PIntoresco Español published a lovely story about a dance in San Juan de Aznalfarache [a town near Seville] in which El Planeta was called “The King of the Brave [Bravura] Singers”.  That same year he lived in Malaga, in that same house.  Nonetheless, the fiesta described by Estébanez Calderón took place in 1838, when the Malagan author, who used the pseudonym El Solitario, was the governor of Seville.  It’s possible that El Planeta was living in Triana at that time, though this is not documented.  It’s even hinted that he had a son with a woman from Triana, without any basis.  Surely, since he was a moneyed Gypsy of the time with his own lucrative butcher business, he would have moved around a lot in Andalucía and the rest of the country.  Indeed, his arrival in Madrid was announced with a certain interest when he got there with the flamenco singer María La Borrica, the celebrated sister of El Viejo de la Isla [another legendary early singer].  He must have had a certain renown and prestige as a singer, recognized as the maestro [teacher/master] of artists as important as Francisco Ortega El Fillo and the no less celebrated Lázaro Quintana Monge, whom we find living with him in his house in Malaga in 1850, and who was also a cortador by trade.  In summarized accounts, it can now be stated without fear of contradiction that Antonio Monge Rivero El Planeta was the maternal tatarabuelo [great-great-grandfather] of Manolo Caracol and the bisabuelo [great-grandfather] of Caracol’s mother, Dolores Juárez Soto, although this has been put in doubt many times.

In his first years as an artist, he was known simply as Antonio Monge, or Señor Monge.  The use of El Planeta as his artistic surname, would have come much later, and it seems he got the nickname in Malaga for being an aficionado of the stars, according to the conclusions of some flamencologists, although I have another theory that I’ll reveal at the right time.  In fact, one of the his few verses that have survived until now is among the most primitive and beautiful siguiriyas gitanas [Gypsy siguiriyas] that one can hear today:

A la luna le pío,

la del alto cielo,

Como le pío, le pío,

que me saque a mi pare

de donde está metío.

I ask [or beg] the moon,

She [or it] of the high skies.

How I ask, how I ask

that she takes out [frees] my father

from where he’s been put [jailed?].

This beautiful cante has come to us through Pepe Torre, the brother of [the supreme Gypsy singer] Manuel Torre and the grandfather of the present-day singer José el de la Tomasa, who [Pepe Torre] recorded it in the Antología del Cante Flamenco (Columbia, 1960), through the initiative of the [late, great Gypsy singer] Antonio Mairena, who also recorded it as the sigiruiyas of El Planeta, as did the [late, important Gypsy singer] Rafael Romero “El Gallina”.  Notwithstanding, it’s a siguiriyas that has vanished from the repertoire of today’s singers, becoming a relic of extraordinary beauty and enormous musical rarity.

Despite everything that has been uncovered about Antonio Monge Rivero and his family, and being absolutely sure that this man is in fact [the legendary] El Planeta, it’s a bit unnervering, daba cierto miedo [“it gave a certain fear”] to close this investigation without having found anywhere the irrefutable proof that we are dealing with the historical Cádiz artist.  As far as can be known, his name never appears in any periodical along with the nickname.  Following the trail of his son Francisco in the records of Malaga, once the artist himself had died I found the necessary proof,  His son appeared as Francisco Monge Planeta instead of as Francisco Monge Bara, his actual family name.   Since his father had died, the records from 1859 used the father’s nickname instead of his second apellido [family name], perhaps as an homage to his progenitor or because whoever had the task of filling in the page didn’t know his family name but knew the nickname [el apodo familiar].  Or because he simply confused the apodo with the apellido.  After months of work, I was able to state with certainty that the Antonio Monge Rivero who was so intensely scrutinized in records was the celebrated El Planeta, the great Gypsy singer of Cadiz.  Nonetheless, to assure myself even further, in following the records of all his children I found one of his grandchildren [nietos] in Malaga, Tomás, who in the end turned out to be Tomás Monge (a) Planeta as he was often called in the newspapers of 1872 when he worked as a banderillero [one who places barbed sticks into a bull’s back during a bullfight] with the grandchildren of his paisano El Lavi.

[picture:  “Records page in which El Planeta’s son Francisco gives his father’s nickname as his second apellido.  The singer Lázaro Quntana appears as “agregado” [added to the family?].

Nor was it easy for me to find El Planeta’s death certificate.  I followed the Malaga records until his house on San Juan Street was listed as vacant, in 1857.  When he didn’t appear as living with his daughter Dolores, on Santos Street, or with his other daughter, María Magdalena, on Lagunillas Street or Granada Street, it was clear that he had died in 1856.  In fact, Antonio Monge El Planeta died in his same house in Malaga, on San Juan Street, on September 30, 1856, as a result of “cerebral congestion”.  According to the death certificate, the singer was 65 years old and was a “merchante” by trade – that is, a seller/vendor of goods without a fixed store.  Although it’s possible that the word is “marchante”, a synonym for “commerciante” [dealer, businessman].  After reposing in the Parish of San Juan, right beside his house, his body was buried the same day, probably in the Cemetery of San Miguel, where he received a Christian sepulcher, because the certificate of burial found in the Municipal Archives of Malaga, lacks that data.  As he was a person of some importance in Malaga, his burial would have been noted, but the local press of the time made no note of this news that I’ve found.  I suppose that El Planeta, at the age of 70, had been forgotten as a singer, and was dedicated to his business and to enjoying his grandchildren, those of Francisco, Dolores and María Magdalena, because Tomás, who was a “cómico” [comedian] by trade, was still a bachelor in 1863.

[picture:  Original document concerning the burial of el Planeta in the Municipal Archive of Malaga, dated September 30, 1856.  You can’t imagine the emotion I felt when I had this in my hands.]

His children continued as butchers, being cortadores or tablajeros.  This was the business of Manolo Caracol’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother, José Juárez García and Dolores Monge, who lived on Santos Street.  Also Planeta’s daughter Magdelena, who married a man from the town of Jijona in Alicante, Manuel Bretón, soon becoming widowed and alone managing a prosperous butcher shop at 128 Granada Street.  Francisco Monge was also a butcher, and had a number of children, among them Tomás Monge Planeta, a well-known Malagan banderillero, and Francisco Monge El Guarrirro, who married the dancer Rita Ortega Feria, a butcher of jurdó [with money]and lots of gracia [style, flair].  Tomás, the youngest son of El Planeta, remained a bachelor and dedicated himself to comicidad (comedy) as a trade, though he never got very far.

Up to this point, these are the most interesting personal details of Planeta’s agitada [rough, unsettled] and impassioned  life that I’ve been able to find – a man who is so often cited in books and specialized flamenco publications but of whom so little was known.  Now we know who he was and what was involved in his initiation into the flamenco art, in creating and making known his songs and in molding the art of other interpreters who spread his musical legacy when he died, notably El Fillo, Frasco el Colorao, Lázaro Quintana, Paquirri el de Cádiz, Silverio Fanconetti, Tomas El Nitri and many more, making an almost interminable list.

Wherever you may be, Tío Planeta, thanks for everything.  [Tío is a term of respect and affection for an elder – but quite different from the rare honorific “don”, which was applied to El Planeta at least once above; it has only been commonly applied to the immortal and very dignified non-Gypsy singer Antonio Chacón, and more rarely to the great and very dignified Gypsy singer Antonio Mairena.]

I hope you may forgive us for all those forgotten years, that lamentable historic abandonment that I have tried to remedy with humility and much love.  As the saying goes, nunca es tarde si la dicha es buena [better late than never].

[picture:  The Cemetery of San Miguel at the time of Antonio Monge “El Planeta”.  He was buried in niche number 370 of the First Patio, with no more honors than the tears of his own people.]

This investigation has reached its goal thanks to the inestimable help of my wife, María de los Ángeles Ojeda.  Thank you for your many hours of sacrifice at my side, codo con codo [shoulder to shoulder], and putting up with my long and continued absence from home, because I almost had to go and live alone in Malaga to do this research.

Translator’s note:  And thank you, Don Manuel.

Note:  the original is found at:  http://blogs.elcorreoweb.es/lagazapera/2011/02/20/en-busca-de-el-planeta-perdido-2/

January 24, 2014   No Comments