Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Authority Manuel Bohórquez

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

Flamenco Expert Manuel Bohórquez Takes On the Seville Bienal – Translated by Brook Zern

From Manuel Bohórquez’s blog “La Gazapera” for today, April 11

Translator’s note:  Here’s how a savvy flamenco authority views the just-announced programming of the 2014 Bienal.  Original url at end…

Seville’s Flamenco Bienal earns the world’s ridicule

The Bienal de Flamenco has made itself ridiculous worldwide, and I don’t know if something will be done about it or not, or if anyone will be compelled to respond.

I’m referring to the fact that the festival is dedicated to Paco de Lucía because he has died, when until now they never dedicated anything to him.  The only relationship between the world’s most important Andalusian guitarist and the world’s most important flamenco festival has always been strictly commercial.  And now, because he has left us, they dedicate to him this latest festival edition that ignores the guitar more than any other, and has less quality than any other.

Could anything be more absurd?  I realize that the death of this genius took the organizers by surprise, as it did all who love his music.  And I realize that the programming was already half closed, with inevitable compromises.  It would have been better to announce that the next edition, for 2016, would revolve around Paco de Lucía’s work, instead of making this bungled arrangement.  Moreover, according to the programming presented so far, there will not be a single night dedicated to the universal artist from Algeciras, except what’s being arranged right now.  I have said before that the Bienal is a dehumanized festival, dedicated to promoting tourism, without personality and without style.  But this year’s version is para mear y no echar gota – just unbelievable, just pathetic.

While there are flamenco festivals worldwide that are growing and showing how it’s done, the Bienal is sinking at an alarming rate, regardless of how many tickets are sold, which seems to be the only important thing.  A quick glance at the program shows that it is done without thought, without any sense of today’s flamenco reality, with the same stuff as always, and again with headliners who are considered necessary.   It even repeats artists who in the past edition pegaron el patinazo [made a blunder], like Carmen Linares.  It seems to have been done to avoid angering anyone, with “world premieres” that will be the same as ever, absolutely descarados [shameless].  Again, it offers a theater to anyone, with all the respect that those who sing or play guitar or dance deserve,  And there are artists who work often because they sell tickets or have good relationships with important people.  However, there are others who don’t get the change.  And all because the programming is based on what’s offered by artist’s agencies.

Programming a festival of this envergadura [dimension, reach]doesn’t mean just accepting proposals, or it shouldn’t be just that.  It should mean creating, proposing, taking charge, using real imagination that offers freshness, new elements, genuine changes.  It means the injustice of dividing flamenco between that which sells and that which doesn’t.  Artists who in festivals abroad are presented in great theaters and treated like great stars are, in the Bienal, presented in inappropriate venues at inappropriate times.  The programming continues with the politicking, without rhyme or reason, just for the sake of making a long Bienal with dozens and dozens of presentations of greater or lesser interest.

Someone may say that there are good artists and that the programming is intended to appeal to all tastes.  Well, in each Bienal the big stars are going to be a factor and things will get repetitive.  But it’s crucial to make room for new voices, new guitarists, new dancers.  Whey aren’t they treated better, given better venues and times?

It’s simply because the stars generate interest and sell tickets, and the rest is just filling, so everyone will leave happy.  Put the commercial above the genuine and, in the end, with some tickets for big spectacles priced beyond the reach of young people or local aficionados in this economic crisis.

Finally, if they’ve asked the artists to reduce their fees to be able to put on this Bienal, there’s something worth noting: That the total cost is 200,000 euros higher than the 2012 edition, while the festival is several days shorter.   Let’s have someone explain this.  If they’ve asked for sacrifice from the regulars, let the stars share the pie.  When all is said and done, it’s pure business.

Amiguismo [“Friendism”], enchufismo {“Connectionism”] and artists who complain in social media

The social media were burning up yesterday over the Bienal, the nonsense about the homage to Paco de Lucia and the complaints of those who were left out of the event. As always.  It’s sad when a dancer as great as Milagros Mengibar, who was also left out of the last two Bienals, says in Facebook that “The Bienal is for the four people who suck the ass of the directors.”  As always, the artists complain only when they’re not invited, and stay quiet when they are.  We don’t say that just about this dancer, but all the others.  And it happens every time.  There is a belief that certain artists work in the Bienal because of their good relationships with the institutions that make up the organization – it’s true, and has always been true.  José Luís Ortiz Nuevo [a former director] had to include certain artists at the orders of the Town Hall, to repay the favors of singers who performed for their election campaign events.   They cite a concert by a famous singer in the Maestranza Theater and was a disaster.  Other artists have complained on the Facebook and Twitter about being omitted, but there are also complaints by aficionados who can’t afford to see certain artists, and others who say the festival is just more of the same.  Despite all this, we will keep working to make the Seville festival bigger and better.

Original is at



April 11, 2014   1 Comment

Flamenco Singer Manuel Vallejo – A 2 1/2 Year Old Recalls a Very Private Last Recital – translated by Brook Zern

Last August, the flamenco expert Manuel Bohórquez wrote an unusual and poignant entry in his excellent blog at http://blogs.elcorreoweb.es/lagazapera/2013/06/27/vallejo-y-el-nino-de-la-casita-de-cristal/

Here’s an approximation of what he said:

“I’ve never told the story I’m recounting today in this blog that already takes more of my time than I’d expected.  But if I have to give my life to stay with you for years, I’ll do that.

When my father died I was just thirty months old.  For some time, he had been in the Seville Central Hospital, but leukemia ended his life when he was just 33.  He died at the end of July, 1960.  By chance, while he was dying I was in the same hospital with anemia that was threatening to send me, too, to the cemetery.

Nonetheless, I withstood the Pale Rider’s charge and while my mother took my father to be buried I was still there, where today stands the Andalusian Parliament in the La Macarena neighborhood.  In the room beside mine, a few days before, they had admitted a true genius of flamenco song, Manuel Vallejo, who my father had admired and whose singing he copied.

While I was still there, on the seventh of August, the singer’s heart gave out.  I didn’t know this story until a few days ago when, as I was listening to a recording of Manuel Vallejo in my house, the woman who brought me into the world saw that I was crying and told it to me.  She told me that my father, on his deathbed, realized that the famous singer was nearby on the same floor.  As best he could, he took my hand and led me to the singer’s room so I might see him.  “I present to you the King of Flamenco Song”, my father said.  I remember nothing of that, of course.  When, a few days after she had buried my father, my mother went to the dispensary, a nun told her that Vallejo had twice visited me in my room, the last time just two days before he died.

And now I know why, when one morning my uncle Antonio played a song of Vallejo’s and showed me a picture of him, I felt an incredibly intense trembling and burst out crying.  I remembered that one night I had dreamed  that the man in that photograph drew near my bed and sang me a beautiful lullaby.  And now I knew it wasn’t a dream at all — that in fact on that evening, the genius of song Manuel Vallejo felt pity for a poor child who had lost his father and who was fighting for his life in a little glass enclosure.

I don’t know if the last part of this story is absolutely true or if it’s just a dream, but I do want to tell about it.  And if perhaps it may not be true. I’m convinced that it deserves to be.  Do you understand that, my friends?”

Thank you for the story, Señor Bohórquez.  There is literal truth, there is indisputable truth, and there is something else that rings even truer.

Brook Zern 

March 27, 2014   1 Comment

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