Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Singer El Planeta

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

Early Press Coverage of Flamenco in Madrid of the 1850’s – from the blog of Faustino Núñez – translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  Faustino Núñez is probably the most important flamenco expert in Spain.  He is a diligent researcher who has unearthed countless old archival and press mentions of flamenco and of “preflamenco” or “protofamenco” – early songs and dances that may be precursors of actual flamenco.

His fascinating blog, called “El Afinador de Noticias”, offers hundreds of them.  Here are segments from the entry of June 25th, 2011, titled “Flamenco Music, Madrid, 1853 and 1854″.  The original entry is seen at:


Faustino Nüñez writes: 

We head this entry with a press clip from March 31, 1854, headlined “Musica Flamenca” that reads:

“In some cafés it has become the fashion to entertain the public with Andalusian singers (“cantares andaluces”) instead of pianists.  It’s a new fruit that’s growing in the establishments of montañeses [people from the mountain regions] , and that’s drawing the attention of the Madrid public, which distracts itself by listening to the lamentations, sighs and tender “playeras” that are intoned by the gente flamenco – the flamenco people – who by means of interminable kyries [referring to a section of the Mass] and the “ayes” that shake  [levantan] the banquettes and make the women who come to hear them pirrarse de amor [crazy with love].”

(Some things never change.)

This flavorsome entry is an early reference.  It has substance [“Tiene miga”].  The establishments of the montañeses from Andalucía are appearing again as places where a good part of flamenco music took shape [gestated].

The item appeared a year before the arrival in Madrid of the most important figures in the flamenco of Andalucía.  It was brought to light by the Dutch investigator Arie C. Sneeuw in an article published in the flamenco magazine “El Candil” under the title “Some new data for the history of flamenco”.  That information was published later in a small book titled “Flamenco en el Madrid del XIX”, Virgilio Márquez editor, Cordoba, 1989.

I’ve put the originals here, from the Madrid daily La Nación, though many know them from other sources, due to the interest they have generated in the blog.  I recommend reading them for what they reveal about this “new music”, as it was called, that was replacing pianists in the cafés.    They appear in this order:  Gacetilla (“Little Gazette”) of February 18, 1853.  The next day the writer, Eduardo Velaz de Medrano, gave further comments about the flamenco fiestas celebrated in the salon of Vensano.  The reporter places the event on the 24th.  José Blas Vega [the late, great Madrid flamenco expert] brings us another report titles “Concierto Gitanesco” from February 19th in La Nación.

“Flamenco Music:  The Andalusian cantores who shined in the concerts in the salons of Señor Vensano over the last few nights, and whom we described in this column, appeared again on Sunday in a private home, in the presence of noted artists of the Italian theater, once more making an excellent impression.

There’s such a vogue for these “flamencos” that now an impresario has launched a campaign to take advantage of such a good occasion.  The talk is of nothing less than the coming arrival of El Planeta and María la Borrico, celebrities who are well known in Seville’s barrio de Triana.   The plan is to bring back the good times of the Café de Malta, and to that end we’ll see extensive changes in one of Madrid’s cafés that, due to its central location next to the Principe Theater, offers clear advantages over all the other cafés.  Once the singers have been installed there, it only remains to bring back the classic pomadas (commonly called sorbets) of Señor Romo, celebrated among all the dessert shops past and future, not just for their proverbial cleanliness but also for their special gracia (charm) in providing the most capricious varieties of sorbets (commonly called pomadas), served by his white hand that passes again and again over the confectionery choices before placing them in the cup.  What hands they are!

We don’t know if the impresario’s plans will be realized, and if we’ll indeed have Gypsy concerts [“conciertos de gitanos”] in the Café del Principe, with the corresponding “juegos de manos” ["hand games?"] as in earlier times, but we can be sure that we’ve seen the flamencos “muy metidos en harina”  ["deep in the flour?"] with the most influential parroquianos [parishioners – i.e. regulars?] of the establishment.”

Flamenco has been frequently denostado [translator's note: I don't know if this word means denigrated or avidly followed] by “good” Andalusian society, used as a pastime and almost never appreciated for its artistic quality.  The references we have from, say, 1853, La Nación of Cadiz mention the successes of the proto-dancers Josefa Vargas and Concha Ruíz, who arrived from Madrid to delight the people of Cadiz with their singular dances; El Comercio (see this blog) speaks of the tenor Buenaventura Belart singing in “El majo de rumbo” the caña, the malagueña, the “soledad” [soleá?] etc. and  triumphs of the guitarist Trinidad Huertas.

[A source refers to]… a spectacle of flamenco music, not the music of Tinctoris or [Josquin] Deprez (masters of polyphonic music from Flanders) [that word in Spanish is “flamenco”] but that of [the early flamenco singers] Juan de Dios, Santa María, Villegas, Farfán or Luís Alonso (also announced were El Planeta and María la Borrica).  A jewel of flamencology that we owe to Señor Sneeuw and reproduce here due to its great importance in the science of flamenco.  For more on this subject, see the indispensable monograph by Jose Blas Vega, “Los cafés cantantes de Madrid”, pages 39 to 46 and the entire book).

Those flamenco artists created the basis of Madrid’s flamenco, a court that would later be headed by Antonio Chacón, Manolo Caracol and Enrique Morente.  If only Madrid’s flamenco lineup today could boast of artists like these….

End of blog entry by Faustino Nüñez.

Translator’s note:  In the mid-1990’s I translated the above-cited article by Arie C. Sneeuw for this blog.  It appears as one of the first entries at:


It’s interesting that in these earliest clear descriptions of flamenco events, someone is already nostalgic for the good old days:  ”The plan is to bring back the good times of the Café de Malta…”  (It’s not clear that this refers to prior flamenco performances; I doubt it.)

Recently in my blog I translated an extensive study by Manuel Bohórquez who seems to have shown with old documents that El Planeta, the formerly mysterious early Gypsy singer who had always been presumed to epitomize the art of Triana, was in fact born in Cadiz and evidently chose to live most of his life in Malaga.  (He is described in an early written account, “Un baile en Triana”.)

(I believe there was a subtle subtext — that while El Planeta was undeniably a Gypsy, the Gypsy neighborhood of Triana (across the river from Seville) was not as important in the creation of flamenco as had been assumed; and that Cádiz, sometimes seen as secondary in the generation of heavy-duty allegedly Gypsy songs, and Malaga, not even associated with heavy-duty profound songs, were more important and more welcoming than the Gypsyphile authorities had insisted.  That’s despite the fact that  those cities were not as Gypsy as was the barrio of Triana.)

Well, a passage above shows the deep link between El Planeta and Triana:  ”The talk is of nothing less than the coming arrival of El Planeta and María la Borrico, celebrities who are well known in Seville’s barrio de Triana.”

Faustino Núñez does not allow the word “Gypsy” — he calls it “the G-word” — in his extensive and highly influential discussions and textbooks about flamenco and its origins.  But when  crucial early events like those above are described by writers as “conciertos de gitanos”, for example, he does not omit the otherwise inadmissible word.  He also may permit the use of Gypsy names that are given to versions of certain songs crucial “deep” songs — e.g., the siguiriyas del Planeta —  and are far more common that names of evidently non-Gypsy creators — e.g., the siguiriyas de Silverio [Franconetti].


March 19, 2014   No Comments

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