Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Guitarist Paco de Lucia

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 Guitarist Mario Escudero Speaks – 1984 Interview with Francisco Vallecillo – Translated with comments by Brook Zern

“Mario Escudero – With the Bienal as Backdrop” by Francisco de la Brecha [Francisco Vallecillo] — originally published in Sevilla Flamenca No.8 [1984?]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Your opinion of Carmen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: I have no doubt that there is. This concert guitar, whatever clothes it may wear, today represents a kind of music that is unique in the world, and people are enthusiastic in their admiration of flamenco guitar. Why shouldn’t concert guitar have a place in Spain? One thing is certain: Outside Spain it’s valued more highly than in, and followed by multitudes of fans. But it’s gaining ground here, gaining strength, and with good reason, because it’s a genuinely Spanish art, just as Spanish as the instrument upon which it is played.

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

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

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

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

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

Translator’s note. Thanks to Francisco Vallecillo for interviewing my friend Mario after he had gone to live in Sevilla.

I loved Mario — you had to get on line, because so many others did, too. Around this time, I ran into him on my way to my hotel on Calle Sierpes, and he insisted I instead stay at his apartment in the Heliopolis section of the city. (We spent many hours wandering the streets, unsuccessfully looking for the jewelry shop where he had left his diamond ring to be cleaned.)

Years later, in the nineties, he was often at the American Institute of Guitar on 56th Street in New York, where I spent my inexcusably extended lunch hours while allegedly working at Time Incorporated. His compañero Sabicas often joined him there. It was pure joy to share his time, his opinions and his memories.

Not long ago, after I had published yet another article waving the flag for the idea that Spain’s Gypsies are now being shortchanged by contemporary scholars (some of whom call me a racist for stressing the importance of the gitano contribution to flamenco) I received a note from Anita Ramos, Mario’s wife.

She wrote: “Brook — As Sabicas and Mario Escudero both said of you ‘Brook es un payo muy gitano.’ (“Brook is a very Gypsy non-Gypsy.” I don’t know if that contradicted or supported my thesis, but I consider it a very high compliment indeed.

(Vallecillo, incidentally, is still villified for his stance on the issue decades after his demise. He was not only a gitanista, but a devout mairenista — a follower of the great Gypsy singer Antonio Mairena, who insisted that there was something called “razón incorporea” or incorporeal reason — an inherited quintessence of something-or-other that gave them the ability to transcend normal expressive barriers in their flamenco artistry. The term seems idiotic, and the whole notion is beyond problematic — it’s hard enough being suspected of gitanista leanings without seeking a pseudoscientific justification for the failing.)


January 22, 2017   No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brook Zern

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



And a revealing pre-concert interview appears at:


November 22, 2015   6 Comments

“I Can’t Get Paco Out of My Mind” – Interview with writer and biographer Juan José Téllez by Tamara García – translated with comments by Brook Zern

Today’s Diario de Sevilla has an interview by Tamara García with the writer, author and journalist Juan José Téllez who wrote the terrific “Paco de Lucía en Vivo”. It begins with a quote: “I can’t get him out of my head” and the subhead says: “The author from Algeciras writes of the life of his most universal paisano, in “Paco de Lucía, El Hijo de la Portuguesa” (“Paco de Lucía, the Son of the Portuguese Woman”), published by Planeta on the first anniversary of his death. Here’s the story:

“Paco de Lucía is a personality who was interpreted by Francisco Sánchez for 66 years. And this book recounts the dialogue between the person and the personality; it’s an adventure story, a story of overcoming obstacles, because for me Francisco Sánchez is one of those Charles Dickens characters who emerge from a tough neighborhood to achieve their dream. The son of the Portuguese woman accomplished this through the guitar which, in a certain way, formed part of his body; one didn’t know where the wood ended and the melody began, but both elements were of flesh and blood, fiercely human. “ Those words of Juan José Téllez, written on a page or spoken in conversation, fill all the space, both physical and that space, as dark as it is light, that gives us form from within. In “El Hijo de la Portuguesa” we find Francisco Sánchez, but also, in the cinema of the author, we find Téllez in all his aspects.. The reporter, the poet, the novelist…With his camera, which is his gaze from the corner that directs our own focus.

Q; When you knew Paco, was there still an aspect of “the son of the Portuguese woman”?

A: Well, let me take advantage of that question to debunk the notion I’ve seen in recent media reports, the idea that I was an intimate friend of Paco de Lucía. I don’t see myself as his intimate friend, or even a distant friend, because I think Paco had very few intimate friends. He had friends that accompanied him all his life like Carlos Rebato and José Luis Marín, and others who were with him quite early like his compadre Victoriano Mera, but I wasn’t part of that intimate group as some have supposed, I had the privilege of looking at him and his work sporadically for more than 30 years, conducting numerous interviews and drawing near to his circles. With all those connections [matices], I think Francisco Sánchez retained [pervivia], right up to his death, the picardîa [picaresque, roguish aspect] of his early childhood.

The last time I saw him was in Fez [Morroco] , at the flamenco music festival in June of 2003; I could recognize the “hijo de la portuguesa” and also the Paco who messaged me on the eve of his death and told me that in Cuba he had found fascinating things, like a society that had no parabolic antennas and where the children had to play in the streets, and never had to leave. The deep country for a poet is infancy and childhood and Paco, who had the aspect of a poet, for all his life sought a return to that early childhood in the Algeciras neighborhood of Bajadilla.

Q: Early childhood as a paradise lost, Because there’s a passage in your book where after a juerga [flamenco session] they take him to Algeciras and he doesn’t seem to recognize it.

A: That’s because Paco’s mythical Algeciras, like mine, has disappeared. As Romero Peche said in the solapa [jacket] of one of his books, “Born in the vanished city of Algeciras”. The demographic growth has meant the urbanistic destruction of Algeciras, which is situatied in one of the most beautiful natural parajes of Andalucía. Paco was a son of that mythic Algeciras, that of his formative years, wrapped around the port and the Plaza Alta with its light and shade.

Q: In your book, isn’t there a certain tone of mutual reproach in the relationship of Paco and Algeciras?

A: Well, I think Algeciras is a very complicated city because, like all intense [apasionadas] cities, there’s a certain disconnect between the important people whom they’ve engendered, like José Luis Cano, the oldest and best critic of [Spain’s literary “generation of 1927”], or the philosopher Adolfo Sánchez Vázquez, or Paco himself. There are people there who still ask, “But what has Paco de Lucía ever done for Algeciras?” And there’s a certain perception – and Paco was aware of this – that such people must become philanthropists who build hospitals and fund schools. But Paco titled many of his compositions with names of key places in the city and that, in my view, showed his real feelings and preferences [querencia]. Anyway, if it’s true that Paco reproached the city for its lack of interest in the music and for what he had done…I was at a concert there in the bullring in 1980, a spectacular concert attended by less than a thousand people and for which the admission was [only] 100 pesetas [little more than a dollar]. Also, in the pregón [announcement] of the annual fair there was a technical error and it sounded terrible… But that’s all in the past. Algeciras reconciled with Paco a long time ago, naming a roundabout for him in a new neighborhood, the statue [of Paco?] in/of Nacho Falgueras [?], and honored him as a Favorite Son; and at Paco’s insistence, it was in Algeciras where, the University of Cádiz named him Doctor Honoris Causa, [a doctorate that meant a great deal to Paco, who had very little formal education].

Q: From all the ways of approaching a life, you begin the book by noting the very real possibility that Paco might never have been born, because in 1936 his father was arrested. Is that deliberate?

A: Absolutely. Paco could have been a collateral victim of the barbarism and terror that followed the Fascist coup d’etat of 1936. Not just Paco, but his brothers Ramón de Algeciras and Pepe de Lucía as well as Antonio, would never have been born if his mother Luzia, her daughter María in her arms, had not gone to military barracks and headquarters begging for the life of her captured husband and if she hadn’t gotten the help of that friend. But I want to be honest with readers, and don’t forget the story that María Sánchez told me – that Luzia had tried but failed to abort Paco. Fortunately, I don’t hae the same feelings about women’s right to abortion as about the funestas consequences of a dictatorship, whatever its ideology. Ah! There’s also an intent, because it strikes me as so poetic, to point out the fact that the military quarters where Paco’s father was held will soon become the seat of the Paco de Lucía Conservatory of Music, a fact that hasn’t been recognized by anyone.

Q: Paco and Camarón – how much is true, how much is false in everything that’s been said about this situation?

A: Hombre, I’d say that both of them are steeped in legend, because they are beyond orthodox laws, and each have their own legend. Frankly, I think that only Paco and Camarón know about that relationship. Now, in my view, I think they were blood brothers who had taken an oath of brotherhood in music and in life. They played and enjoyed themselves together, creating new sounds, jumping onto tablados in Germany and sneaking out of Viennese pastry shops without paying, They were two golfos [wise guys, rascals, street urchins] and they were two geniuses and they were two young men in a changing world, and they were two men who decided to hold firm in their friendship, against winds and tides, against family disputes [discrepancias].I think a series of cantamañanas that were intended to defame him, calling him a ratero[thief -- for allegedly claiming copyrights on material that was not entirely his] at Camaron’s funeral, and embittering the mourning period. But the most immoral thing that all this stuff provoked is that you and I are talking about Paco and Camarón in terms of money and not magic – because that’s what their relationship really generated: magic, and emotional climates and melodies that became part of our lives and that will continue to be part of the lives of others.

Q: Why, how, and why this book?

A: I met Paco in 1980 but didn’t interview him until ’82 for Diario 16 – it filled one of those 90-minute cassettes but when I went to transcribe it I’d only recorded ten minutes (laughs). But beside that, I felt privileged. I realized that that conversation, and others that followed, were fuel for more than an interview and from that came my book “Paco de Lucia, Portrait of a Family With Guitar” that was presented in Madrid in 1994. I had the good fortune of being presented by [the eminent flamenco authority] Felix Grande, and Paco and [his wife] Casilda Varela on a very special day, Paco’s birthday. From that book my journalistic relationship with Paco gathered steam – he, always very shy and introverted, was taking me into his confidence and granting me many more interviews. In 2003, my book “Paco de Lucía en Vivo’ came out, adding new elements to the situation; and the fact is, I had hoped to close this circle with another book in another twenty years or so, but Paco’s death precipitated everything. I could have just revised that earlier book but I was tempted to try something different, to use a more narrative form, because the life of Paco is the script for a biopic.

Q: That’s when the Americans picked up the story and there was already a film…

A: Several, and some TV series as well. I remember that María Sánchez, Paco’s sister, once told me: “I’ve seen a TV series about the Jackson Five, and I’m thinking, “Wouldn’t a series on the Sánchez family be better than this?”

Q: Will the reader who knows a lot about this find some surprises?

A: I think Paco to a large extent tried to hide himself, and in this book, fortunately, I don’t pretend to tell the whole truth because there are mysterious corners that should be left as they are. This book is an approximation of Paco that isn’t beyond good and bad, done by a writer who sees reality from one corner of the story, with a certain promise, with some beliefs and particular tastes. There are probably episodes that won’t be to everyone’s tastes , but I hope that it would have pleased Paco, though I’ll never know because neither he nor I believed in the afterlife. But Paco was always on my mind and the only emotional respite during the year of mourning was to write this book – and the grief is still with me.

Q: The book has a lot of hemeroteca [material from archives] – how did you confront so much paper?

A: There’s life beyond Google, For example, I had in my hands two jewels, two interviews from the mid-seventies and two very young newspaperwomen, each by his side: Marjuja Torres and Rosa Montero. Reading how these two emerging writers saw Paco was a lot of fun; and so was reading the marvelous chronicles by Angel Casas in “Fotogramas”.

Q: What did you admire most about Paco?

A: His sense if humor. When he filled theaters and was applauded to the skies, he’d walk offstage and say to his compadre Victoriano, “Well, we fooled them again.” That kind of guasa [wising around] was a trademark of his – it came from his mother who loved off-color jokes and the songs of [the pop singer and guitar strummer] Manolo Escobar. I liked something he told me once: He got into a taxi and the driver said, “It is an honor to have you in my taxi, because for me you are the best guitarist there is – after Manolo Escobar and his brother.”

Q: Do you think there were too few authorities at his funeral?

A: His death hit like a bucket of icewater, but among those present were the Prime Ministers of guitar playing, of flamenco song, and of music; the Governing Council of sentimentality and sensibility and art – those were the authorities that Paco preferred. In any case, what should be commemorated is the day of his birth, the good news.

Q: I don’t want to end this interview without asking about the Portuguesa – “who came from the Atlantic coast region but had the character of a Mediterranean mama.”

A: Luzia was a survivor and was the happy note in the drama, Paco and his brothers respected the severity of their father Antonio, but it was their mother quien se regocijaban [who gave them joy].

End of interview. The original can be found at:


Interviewer’s comment: I don’t want to take credit for leading flamenco in general or Paco de Lucía toward the realm of jazz, because a) I never would’ve dreamed it could happen and b) I never really liked the idea, and kind of wondered who was to blame.

But in Juan José Tellez’s superb 2003 book “Paco de Lucia En Vivo”, when he finally leaves the early years of still-familiar flamenco and considers its later evolution, I was embarrassed to find the following passage:

“The first academic researcher ["estudioso"] to analyze the similarities in the cultural derivation of flamenco and jazz, and between the Gypsies of Spain and the blacks in America, was Brook Zern in 1973, who said: ‘It seems obvious that flamenco’s deep song styles owe their existence to the Gypsies, just as the blues were the creation of America’s southern blacks. Both of these alien and dark-skinned peoples constructed a new music of their own, though of course they employed in the task the musical ideas that they found in their adoptive country.’ A parallelism that, in Zern’s judgment, extended even to the commercial adulteration of both of these musical conceptions.”

Well, maybe more delighted than embarrassed, but it did seem strange somehow.

Shortly after Paco’s death last year, I was fortunate to play a role in initiating the effort to have a postage stamp issued honoring his life and his genius. It was the first time I had pulled rank by citing the fact that King Juan Carlos I had knighted me for furthering the understanding of Spanish culture outside of the mother country. The process of issuing a stamp, which normally takes years, was completed within just two months of his death. (Who says it takes forever to get anything done at the Post Office?)

Brook Zern

April 2, 2015   No Comments

Tell Me Again How Fusing Flamenco With Jazz Will Guarantee It New Popularity…

From TheJazzLine.com:, March 11, 2015:

Jazz has become the least popular music genre in the U.S., accounting for just 1.4 percent of all music consumed, and more people are moving away from the genre every year.

Taylor Swift’s new album “1989″ is expected to sell more copies (5.2 million) than all jazz records combined sold in in the past year.

Meanwhile, on the increasingly popular streaming services. jazz accounts for 0.3% of music played.

Hmmm. Let’s consider this astonishing information. Over the last three decades, Paco de Lucía devoted much of his life and his creative genius to creating a viable flamenco/jazz fusion. I didn’t like it much, but then I don’t understand jazz. I am certain he did it because of a personal vision and not for commercial success.

But I also assumed it would open a vast new world of sales possibilities, like hitching flamenco’s wagon to a star. Now the question arises: could flamenco someday outsell actual jazz?

I think José Mercé, probably the greatest living singer of very serious flamenco, has sold more than a million records, mainly because his records mix great flamenco with a pop/flamenco mashup that he loves but that sounds kinda cheesy to me. On a per capita basis, I’d bet that flamenco in Spain outsells jazz in the U.S.

When the initial efforts to fuse jazz and flamenco began in earnest in the eighties, I was unnerved. I thought that jazz, which I considered to be the real world music, could swallow flamenco whole and not even burp.

Well, it has certainly digested a lot of flamenco artists and denatured a lot of the art. But jazz is contracting. Maybe it’s time for flamenco to cut its losses and desert that shrinking ship.

The Jazzline article is at: http://thejazzline.com/news/2015/03/jazz-least-popular-music-genre/

Brook Zern

March 11, 2015   6 Comments

Flamenco Guitarist Diego del Gastor – a 2005 article by Carlos Lencero in La Flamenca magazine – translated with comments by Brook Zern

La Flamenca is a Spanish magazine that’s been around for more than a decade and often has good information. (La Flamenca doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender – there’s at least as much info about flamencos – flamenco men – as about flamencas, or flamenco women.)

Issue number five, from 2005, had an article by Carlos Lencero, part of a series on “Flamenco Antiguo” titled: “Diego del Gastor, 1908-1973.” Here’s a translation:

In the bullfight world, when someone says “Curro”, that says it all. Everyone knows that there’s only one: Curro Romero. And in the world of the flamenco guitar, when someone says “Diego”, nothing more needs to be said. There’s only one: Diego del Gastor.

I’m writing this while looking at his National Identity Card, number 25.256.516. Don Diego Amaya Flores. Born in Ronda, province of Malaga, March 15th, 1908. Son of Juan and Bárbara. Profession: guitarist. Domiciled in Morón de la Frontera, province of Seville. Calle Posito. Issued in Moron de la Frontera. (no date given). Signed (in stylish handwriting(: Diego Amaya.

There are some mistakes in the document. Diego wasn’t born in Ronda, but in an inn in Arriate. He usually said that his mother began giving birth “in a caravan, under the stars”. The mistakes in the document are due to the fact that Diego’s birth was entered in the registry of Ronda, and in that city, at 120 Calle de Sevilla, he was baptized. That celebration lasted five days.

His father Juan was a trader of livestock [tratante de ganados] and lived in the town of El Gastor. Diego was there until he was nine or ten. The family then moved to Morón where Diego spent his whole life and awaited his death. With elegance. Always with elegance. As the true flamencos live and die. There was always great afición, and good guitar playing, in Morón. Diego surpassed all of them and entered the tremendous realm of myth. Without wishing to. Simply.

A great guitarist, a genius of the instrument, hearing Diego’s name arise in conversation, said, “Oh, yeah – the guy with white hair who makes a lot of mistakes.” But this time it was the genius who was mistaken. He had not understood anything of the man, and he made a mistake.

Much later, after giving his first concert in Seville for ten years, that genius – Paco de Lucia – was in the little town of Umbrete with a group of friends, in the Aljarafe of Seville province. Dieguito de Morón was spending a few days there, and I was with him. I remember Rafael Riqueni there, and Tomatito, and Raimundo Amador – a high-voltage flamenco gathering. A guitar was in a corner of the room.

Paco, the maestro, picked it up and played a little. It seemed no one else dared to follow him – but then Dieguito de Morón picked up the guitar. “I was very afraid, very ashamed,” he told me later. But he played. And at a certain point, Paco liked a falseta and asked Dieguito to repeat it. Then the maestro of Algeciras asked for the guitar and tried to repeat what Dieguito had done. After three or four attempts, Paco returned the guitar and said, “Eso está mu complicao pa mi”. [“That’s very complicated for me”]. I was there, and Dieguito was the preferred nephew of “the guy with the white hair who made a lot of mistakes.” And the falseta that Paco couldn’t put together was by Diego del Gastor. Just an anecdote.

That night Paco electrified the audience at Seville’s Lope de Vega. A monumental concert. A work of genius. I think he’ll remember that concert and that gift of a night he gave us. In his last number, the high string of the guitar broke., and Paco se levantó con genio y con cabreo. The audience, with a long and loud ovation, was saying: “Paco, don’t worry about it. It’s nothing. You can play with just five strings. These are the “cositas buenas” – the good things about Sevilla [and also the title of Paco’s last studio album].

Diego was a guitarist “pa cantar” – for singing, accompanying songs. One of the best accompanists in the art of flamenco. And of course, beyond doubt, the most personal, the one with the most “propio sello”, the most unique “personal stamp” of all.

Of all the great players who honor and give grandeur to the flamenco guitar, I dream of seeing them in a room with singers like Fernanda de Utrera, Perrate, Manolito de la María, Juan Talegas and el Tío Chozas, for example. A big puchero, wine flowing freely, and two days and nights of fiesta. And just one guitar for all of them: Diego’s. As I look at his photo on the Identity Card, I ask myself: Who would put himself in this room with a guitar and stand up to the tirón and the song of those sacred monsters? And I tell myself, right out loud: No one else.

Diego never played for a typical flamenco group in a night club, or gave long formal recitals. But for accompanying singers he was in a class by himself. A real claqueta [rhythm machine, metronome, click-track]. Singers who weren’t up to it, whose timing was shaky and not properly squared away, fled from him like bulls from a picador’s lance. In the bulerías, soleares and siguriyas he partía la pana. The great singer Juan Talega said it was Diego’s love of the song that enabled him to play with such sweet affection, giving the singer space while also setting parameters [obligandole]. The aficionados called his approach “cuerda pelá” – stripped down, peeled down, essential, unfancy, powerful. And the musical idea he had in his head that day – well, he approached it in many different ways, with different essences and distinct variants, during the entire session, He played the bass strings with powerful thumb downstrokes and also with alzapúa, the thumb striking single strings or partial chords upwards and downwards, like an organic pick]. It was enough to drive listeners crazy, some so moved that they tore at their shirts. Fernanda, in frenzied admiration, called out, “Diego – ni Beethoven ni sus muertos!” [very roughly speaking, “You can take Beethoven and his whole damn family…”]

Without a guitar in his hands, he was always a gentleman of the old school. Refined. With an aesthetic sense that almost no one else had in flamenco.

They say that when he died it was noon of the same day that at 3 in the morning he had been playing in the Barrio de Santa María because a neighbor had asked him, ”Diego of my soul, play a little for me.” It was July 7, 1973. Alfonso Fernández Malo wrote a magnificent obituary. The local radio station broadcast his funeral.

Today, more than ever, there is just one style of flamenco guitar that is unique, distinct and different from all the rest. And it has a very simple name. It’s called Diego.

End of article. The original is found at:


Translator’s comments: A pretty good piece, but don’t trust my opinion – I’m one of Diego’s many foreign idolators, though I try to pretend to be rational and even objective about this.

The fact is, you won’t hear much of his style in Andalucía these days, though it pops up now and then, and a handful of players put it right out there with reasonable success. (Come to think of it, you won’t hear much of anyone else’s style either, if it preceded Paco’s personal tsunami.) The other fact is, Paco de Lucía never expressed real admiration for Diego’s playing, though when pressed and when Diego was deceased, he mumbled (okay, he wrote for a book about Diego) something sort of nice about the “few notes” Diego rendered.

(Hey, things got off on the wrong foot. I think that when Paco first got to our West Coast, he was met with a small but vocal group of Dieguistas who wanted him to love and understand the older man’s stripped-down or minimalist musical aesthetic – despite the fact it was virtually the opposite of his own.)

I believe the story about Paco de Lucía a) making a disparaging comment about Diego’s abilities and b) being unable to readily pick up a guitar falseta that presumably incorporated Diego’s singular and contrary approach.

A crucial part of Paco’s mission in life was to bring harmony – Western harmony – into flamenco guitar. He regarded the lack of harmony as a defect, and regarded great players who didn’t try to transform the art as cowardly or inept.

(No, I’m not kidding – he felt that geniuses like Sabicas and his own original hero Niño Ricardo had failed to recognize their duty to fix this broken or deficient tradition, to move it beyond the original vision of Ramón Montoya from a hundred years earlier. For me, the amazing attribute of flamenco music was that it used melody rather than harmony to weave its spell. For Paco de Lucía, that attribute was a handicap. Events proved him right, though not to everyone.

And yes, some of Diego’s nominally simplistic stuff was, or is, fiendishly difficult to get the hang of.)

When I showed up in ’63, already knowing a lot of his material thanks to the kindness of the brilliant American guitarist David Serva and some tapes I’d painfully deciphered, Diego seemed sort of rattled. I guess he wasn’t accustomed to kids who waltzed in and thought they already knew the drill. And I guess I was sort of showing off, though I probably would’ve called it an homage.

Anyway, I sat down and played some of his bulerías for him. He said nothing. The first falseta he showed me was just two measures long (well actually, it started on beat 12 of a measure, went through the next full measure, and ended on beat eight of the following measure, which then had to be filled out to reach beat 12, a rare but not unheard-of structure). But somehow it was also upside down and backward – I spent the whole hour trying to get it right with very sad results. I suspect he chose that riff to put me in my place – nothing else he gave me would ever be quite that baffling.

Only later did I realize that that was the real lesson: Simple is not the same as easy.

The second real lesson was that after you learned his allegedly simple stuff, it didn’t sound right. Not just that it didn’t sound like him – I can live without that magical transference a few of my friends manage – but that it didn’t sound right.

On a good midnight, if I make it through the more difficult machinations of other fine players’ busier, flashier, fancier music, it might sound okay. But at four a.m., I’m likely still trying to get the right sound out of those relatively few notes that Diego worked his witchcraft or wizardry upon.

What else? Well, a lot of singers hated to be accompanied by Diego. Maybe it was because, as the article says, they were not singing quite right. But maybe it was because he was “assertive”, as I like to call it; or “overbearing” as they might have said.

The normal rule is that the singer rules, and the guitarist simply supports him. There’s just one star.

Diego didn’t always seem to understand this, which meant that he could “overbear” some singers and make them miserable. Of course, there were other singers who seemed to love the gloves-off challenge of saying something, getting a strong answer from the guitar, saying something stronger.

It ain’t normal, but I’ve seen it work. (I’ve seen Diego accompany all the great singers mentioned in the article, plus dozens of others. If they were weak or nervous, he usually tried to imitate a normal, self-effacing guitarist. If they were strong artists, all hell could break loose.)

For what it’s worth, Paco de Lucía initially supported his fellow genius Camarón as if the kid somehow needed help (that was billed on the record jackets as “Camarón de la Isla con Paco de Lucía”).

On their even more fabulous later LP’s Paco instead matched him blow for blow, two young geniuses egging each other on or duking it out with an “Oh, yeah? Well, can you top this?” attitude. Those are the legendary recordings that were billed as “Camarón de la Isla Con La Colaboración Especial de Paco de Lucía” and they really rock.

Always unobtrusively support the singer in his struggle — that’s proper accompaniment. No quarter asked, no quarter given: that’s also proper accompaniment, if the situation is right.

And while we were all bedizened by Paco’s fabulosa guitarra, he later said that in those earlier years, he “ran” — he played faster than was appropriate, just because he could. In fact there is an Andalusian aesthetic, most evident in bullfighting, that values slowness over fastness: In fact, that was the true glory of the aforementioned Curro Romero at his annual three good actuations: He could freeze time in its tracks.

I can’t describe it — but here’s how one writer did just that while portraying one of Curro Romero’s very few predecessor-magicians some eighty years ago in Fiesta, a/k/a Death in the Afternoon:

“Cagancho is a Gypsy, subject to fits of cowardice, altogether without integrity, who violates all the rules, written and unwritten, for the conduct of a matador.”

Hemingway then goes in for the kill, saying Cagancho “can do things which all bullfighters do in a way they have never been done before and sometimes, standing absolutely still and with his feet still, planted as though he were a tree, with all the elegance and grace that Gypsies have and of which all other elegance and grace is just an imitation, moves the cape spread full as the pulling jib of a yacht so slowly that the art of bullfighting, which is only kept from being one of the major arts because it is impermanent, in the arrogant slowness of his veronicas becomes, for the seeming moments that they endure, permanent.”

Okay, Curro Romero wasn’t a Gypsy like Cagancho — but they shared a certain something — they could become enduendado, or duendified, from the word “duende” that can be loosely translated as “ghost” — they became ghostified, perhaps, taken over or becoming possessed by something or someone else. The effect is unforgettable, to put it mildly.

Come to think of it, a lot of fine guitarists are forgotten. Somehow, the ghost of Diego del Gastor refuses to die.

Brook Zern

P.S. The writer describes an evening when Diego kept coming back to the same falseta again and again, as if searching for its essence. Yes. I remember a long night and morning when he was accompanying Fernanda de Utrera. For hours and hours, she sang the relatively few forms of soleá that she owned. For hours and hours, Diego accompanied her with just a few falsetas, most often with a falseta I’d never heard before. There could be no better recipe for boredom. It was one of the most exciting and gripping sessions I’ve ever witnessed.

Fernanda, incidentally, wasn’t always in artistic love with Diego. She sometimes said that her favorite moment was being accompanied by the great Juan Maya “Marote” — a great accompanist who never wanted to play solos. That studio recording is really terrific. As I recall, Marote is capoed up to the sixth or seventh fret, giving an almost alarming edge to his playing (he plays using the chord shapes of E natural, while the normal approach would be to capo to two or three and use the chord shapes of A natural; the sound would not be so intense.)

Fernanda said more than once that “I left my voice in Morón” — a probable complaint about the cost of all those endless (and poorly paid) sessions to her vocal chords; her voice essentially wore out before she herself did. It was a limited instrument, and in fact it was the drama of her struggle with that limitation that gave her such glorious power. The culmination is that poignant moment when she delivers her swan song por soleá in Carlos Saura’s brilliant film “flamenco”, faltering at the end and looking confusedly, if that’s a word, at the witnesses.

Her sister didn’t mince words. In 1984 I asked her what she thought of Diego del Gastor, eleven years dead, and she spat on the floor. Okay, on the dirt at the Seville fair grounds, but you get the idea. Her appearances on the Rito y Geografía films show a tense sort of standoff with Diego — and I gotta admit, maybe a guitarist should back off a bit when push is coming to shove with a very fine singer…

Brook Zern

March 11, 2015   2 Comments

Hits and Misses – Flamenco Guitar Hairshake Technique Tips and a Near Miss – by Brook Zern

I posted this to a discussion group in 2001:

Experts, who needs ‘em? I do.

Point 1:  I wasn’t crazy about Paco de Lucia’s version of the Concierto de Aranjuez, but I loved his De Falla album.  That one clearly violated the original score (I think), so it ain’t kosher but it worked for me.

About the Aranjuez video, Richard said “Paco does do the head back, eyes closed, hair shake, so that’s a plus:-)”

Yes.  I’ve been working on that head back, eyes closed, hair shake for a long time.  Just when I got the head back, eyes closed part, I found that I had lost too much hair for a convincing shake.  I blame the intensifying downward curve of my career on this.  (My Tomatito Toupee ® just doesn’t have the same vibrant responsiveness to shaking.)

Point 2:  Did Miles Davis copyright the saeta on Sketches of Spain?  As I recall, the trumpet does an impressively exact rendition of one of the favorite vocal lines for the saeta — the “arrow of song” sung to the massive passing floats with images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary during Holy Week processions.

There weren’t many recordings of saetas at the time — one of the most memorable was on a strange Folkways record titled “Flamenco” — white cover, sketch of a singer in the throes of singing.  A mixed bag of singers, field recorded but mostly forgettable.  The notes said the saeta was sung by a girl, twelve or fourteen.  It sounded terrific, and I wonder if Miles copped it from that disc.

Brook Zern

Okay, a year or two ago I was talking to José Manuel Gamboa, a neat guy who knows all and tells all about flamenco, during an increasingly hazy all-night flamenco session at the Colmao in Jerez.  I mentioned that discographic tidbit in passing, as if it mattered to anyone else on the planet.

His eyes lit up.  ”Jeez, where were you when I needed you?  I’ve been researching a book about flamenco in America, and I spent months trying to track down the source of that trumpet solo.  I finally found it last week.”

It was an honor to have almost been of service to him.

Brook Zern

February 9, 2015   1 Comment

A truly historic 6-CD recording plus DVD finally reveals the art of the guitar genius Manolo de Huelva (plus film of dancers La Argentinita and Pilar López)

Manolo de Huelva may have been the greatest flamenco guitarist of all time.

Okay, okay — we all know that title belongs to Paco de Lucía for perfecting the pre-existing virtuoso tradition around 1970 with stunning imagination and unprecedented technique, and then reconceiving the guitar concert with a jazzier ensemble sound for a broader audience. And the runner-up would be Ramón Montoya, the giant who around 1900 turned an inchoate mixture of styles and ideas into a coherent art form worthy of the name. And third place would go to Sabicas, for being the greatest flamenco virtuoso for a half-century before Paco dethroned him.  And if none of those perfectionists were the best exponents of raw power and funky punch — by one measure the central challenge of great flamenco guitar — the title would default to Melchor de Marchena, the preferred accompanist for the greatest singers in flamenco’s recorded history, or to Juan Habichuela who around 1970 took over Melchor’s role as the best backup man.  Or to the endlessly inventive Niño Ricardo, the main influence on Paco de Lucía and most other flamenco players in Spain.

Manolo de Huelva?  Well, he was determined to become the most revered flamenco player in Spain — and that’s what he did.  Between 1920 and 1975, if you mentioned his name in Spain, you would get no response.  Unless you happened to be talking to the artists at the absolute pinnacle of the tradition, the people who knew more than anyone else.  They had heard him, and that was all it took.  They spoke of him with awe, and of his playing as a thing apart and above.

Others just didn’t know, and that was how Manolo de Huelva wanted it.  He was determined to conceal his art from others, particularly other guitarists, and he did this with stunning success.  Only on rare occasions did he give other players a glimpse of his majestic accompaniment and musical creativity.

In 1963, after an astounding night of flamenco in the legendary Zambra (or was it the Villa Rosa?) in Madrid, I was generously invited to go see Manolo accompany some of that venue’s great singers, including Pepe de la Matrona.  As I was getting into one of the taxis, a guy asked to look at my hands.  He noticed my right-hand nails were longer than my left, and said I wasn’t allowed to join the group.  I started to argue, and said — not in jest — that I’d bite the long nails off.  He looked at my left hand fingertips, saw the tell-tale calluses that only come from serious practicing, and told me to scram.  He said that Manolo often inspected strangers’ hands, and might refuse to play at all if he suspected a guitarist was in or outside the roadside Venta Manzanilla where he reigned supreme.  I was just a kid, and couldn’t have retained thirty seconds of his music if he’d wanted me to, but I was still frozen out.

Ever since, I have been dreaming and scheming, hoping to hear Manolo playing at his best — as did my friend Don Pohren, the leading foreign authority on flamenco, who realized that he would never hear anyone better.  (Don also shared my admiration for the guitarist Diego del Gastor, who unlike Manolo refused to make any commercial recordings but generously allowed us devotees to make hundreds of hours of tape recordings of his solos and accompaniment.)

Manolo made a batch of 78′s before 1950, accompanying some noted singers, but it was clear that he was concealing his real art.  In the mid-seventies, I went to the Seville home of Virginia de Zayas, an American woman whose Spanish husband, Marius, had recorded the Ramón Montoya’s historic Paris sessions around 1937.  Manolo lived in her house, and she agreed to write about the man and his art for Guitar Review, the elegant New York publication of which I was the Flamenco Editor.  (You can find those three long articles in this blog by searching for “Zayas”.)  She also told me that she would arrange for me to meet Manolo the next time I was in Spain, and possibly be allowed to transcribe some of his variations or falsetas — in any event, Manolo died before that could happen.  (A double LP was later issued by de Zayas, one with Ramón’s old material and the other with some confusing snippets of Manolo de Huelva’s playing that failed to do justice to his art.)

This blog also contains a Guitar Review interview with Andrés Segovia, who — contrary to prevailing opinion — had enormous respect for what he called “true flamenco”, citing the art’s greatest female singer, La Niña de los Peines, and its greatest male singer (okay, male Gypsy singer), Manuel Torre, and heaping high praise on just one guitarist — yes, Manolo de Huelva.

Years ago, I gave up hope of ever hearing the man at his best, or learning his crucial music beyond the few fragments that were allegedly from his hand.

Earlier today, I got an email from my friend Estela Zatania, author and critic for deflamenco.com, relaying news from the noted French authority Pierre LeFranc that the important Spanish label Pasarela had published a massive 6-CD set-plus-DVD titled “Manolo de Huelva acompaña…”

And the singers he backs are formidable.  The great surprise is a batch of stuff by Aurelio de Cádiz, whose first recordings with Ramón Montoya date back to the twenties or thereabouts.  (I inherited some of those 78′s from my father, who also taught me my first flamenco licks.)   These “new” songs are a priceless addition to Aurelio’s sparsely-documented art — he always promised to make a worthy anthology but never did.  (A translation of a long interview of Aurelio appears in this blog — search for the author’s name Climent.) Other singers include Luís Caballero, an elegant singer who worked as a bellhop in the Hotel Alfonso XIII, which recently reclaimed its stature as the city’s best.  La Pompi, an important early singer and sister of the great Niño Gloria, is heard, as is the still-admired but otherwise unrecorded Rafael Pareja; finally, there’s the very significant Pepe de la Matrona with his immense knowledge — an early inspiration for Enrique Morente who as a very young artist appeared along with Pepe at La Zambra.

As for the DVD, it finally brings to light a film I’d seen long, long ago at the Museum of Modern Art and have been trying to find ever since. It shows Manolo de Huelva — or rather, it shows glimpses of his hands as he remains in shadow — as he accompanies the legendary dancers La Argentinita and Pilar López. (I actually saw it once again, at the Andalusian Center for Flamenco Documentation — then the CAF, now the CADF — around the corner from my apartment in Jerez. I even managed to sneakily record the soundtrack on my iTunes player (I had a separate mike for it). But now here it is, glorious picture and all — a true treasure for dance historians and all lovers of flamenco dance.

Decades ago, after hearing a theorbo or vihuela concert by de Zayas’s son Rodrigo, I approached him to plead and whimper that he had a duty to reveal Manolo’s music — something I had also done to Pepe Romero, the flamenco and classical guitarist whose family was evidently close to Manolo, also to no apparent avail.

Or so I thought.  Today the often fractious flamenco community is forever indebted (I presume) to Rodrigo de Zayas and that eminent family, which must be the source of those recordings that span a period from about 1940 to the mid-seventies.

Before I list the contents, let me add more backup to the claims about this man. And if a rave from Spain’s greatest classical guitarist isn’t enough, how about a rave from her greatest poet?

In his wonderful 1964 book “Lives and Legends of Flamenco” Don Pohren quoted Federico García Lorca’s appraisal of Manolo in “Obras Completas”:

“The guitar, in the cante jondo, must limit itself to keeping the rhythm and following the singer; the guitar is a base for the voice, and must be strictly subjected to the will of the singer.

“But as the personality of the guitarist is often as strong as that of the cantaor, the guitarist must also sing, and thus falsetas are born (the commentaries of the strings), when sincere of extraordinary beauty, but in many cases false, foolish and full of pretentious prettiness when expressed by one of those virtuosos…

“The falseta is now traditional, and some guitarists, like the magnificent Niño de Huelva, let themselves be swept along by the voice of their surging blood, but without for a moment leaving the pure line or, although they are maximum virtuosos, displaying their virtuosity.”

Thanks, Federico. As for Pohren’s personal opinion — and he had heard Manolo in top form — here’s his opening salvo:

“How does one begin to talk of the wondrous Manolo de Huelva? Perhaps by stating that he has quietly, semi-secretly, reigned as flamenco’s supreme guitarist for half a century? Or by stating that in the eyes of many knowledgeable aficionados and artists he has been the outstanding flamenco guitarist of all times? Truthfully, a separate volume, accompanied by tapes or records demonstrating Manolo’s evolution as a guitarist, which could only be played by Manolo himself, would be perhaps the only way to begin giving Manolo his due. This, I fear, cannot be accomplished; Manolo himself has seen to this by his elaborate, unbending covertness, his lifelong refusal to play anything that he considered to be of true value in the presence of any type of machine, often including the human.”

Pohren continues:

“Manolo especially dislikes playing when other guitarists are present. How many professional guitarists have actually heard Manolo cut loose? Very, very few, but those who have consider the occasion as having been sacred. Andrés Segovia has, and has called Manolo the greatest living flamenco guitarist. Segovia became so inspired, in fact, that he devoted a major part of a thesis to Manolo de Huelva. Melchor de Marchena has, and proclaims Manolo the greatest guitarist he has ever heard, This covers some ground, including Ramón Montoya, Javier Molina, today’s virtuosos and Melchor himself. Many singers and aficionados have, and they unanimously agree that in the accompaniment of the cante, and in the transmission of pure flamenco expression, Manolo is far off by himself.

“Just what makes Manolo’s playing so exceptional? To start with, he has the best thumb and left hand in the business. He is flamenco’s most original a prolific creator. He has a vast knowledge of flamenco in general and the cante in particular, which causes his toque to be unceasingly knowledgeable and flamenco. He is blessed with the same genius and duende that separated Manuel Torre from the pack; as was the case with Torre, when Manolo de Huelva becomes inspired he drives aficionados to near-frenzy, striking the deepest human chords with overwhelmingly direct force.

“As is so rarely the case, Manolo’s playing, when he is truly fired up, is truly spontaneous; he plays from the heart, not the head. His toque is full of surprises, of the unexpected. His manipulations of the compás are fabulous, his lightning starts and stops at once profound and delightful. His is a guitarist (this is important) impossible to anticipate – his genius flows so spontaneously that often not even Manolo knows what is coming next…

“By the time he reached his twenties, his toque was mentioned with awe in the flamenco world. He had everything: a naturally flawless compás that was equaled by no one, a driving, extremely flamenco way of playing, great duende, and the sixth sense that permitted him to anticipate the singers, without which an accompanist is lost. Cantaores began calling Manolo first, before Javier or Ramón or any of the others. Soon Manolo was known as the top man…

“Sabicas once invited him to join in a record of guitar duets. Manolo felt highly insulted, firstly because Sabicas should consider himself in the same class, and secondly that he should be propositioned to play such nonsense as guitar duets, On the other hand, upon asking Manolo whom he liked best of the modern guitar virtuosos, he instantly replied that Sabicas has the best compás in the business (next to his own). This is as far as he would commit himself.

“Technically, Manolo relies on his blindingly fast and accurate thumb and left hand for most of the astounding effects he achieves. His entire right-hand technique is subordinate to his thumb: that is to say, his right hand is held in such a a posture as to give he thumb complete freedom of movement. When he wishes, his picado is unexcelled and his arpeggios are sound, though he uses them sparingly. Little is known of his tremolo, as he holds this flowery technique in great contempt.

“The Gypsies like to believe that flamenco surges exclusively through their veins. It is impossible to explain that environment is what counts (were it not, someone would long ago have begun selling pints of Gypsy blood to payo [non-Gypsy] aspirants.)…Generally speaking, Manolo is above being included in the eternal rivalry. Knowledgeable Gypsies and non-Gypsies alike hold him supreme.”

End of Pohren’s appraisal. And now, without further ado, here’s what you’ll find in this new revelation. And no, I haven’t heard it yet — but I’ve ordered it. I know it may be just another perversely elaborate tease, where this strange man again conceals his true art.

But I prefer to believe that we will hear the real Manolo de Huelva — finally, and at long, long. last.

Note from a few days later: But wait!! I suspected there might be some glitches or problems with this project, but assumed it would be with Manolo’s customary refusal to reveal his best playing. Instead, the first problems are with the attributions of songs to singers. According to the expert Antonio Barberán, there are only a few songs by the great Aurelio (though some are very important). Some stuff attributed to him is by Manuel Centeno, another noted singer, while he may not do any of the many saetas or sevillanas attributed to him. (It had surprised me that Aurelio would record these songs — the sevillanas seems too trivial, and the religious saetas just don’t seem to be his thing.) So ignore those glitches — I’ll fix the notes when the experts have had their say. Here are those problematic attributions, most correct but many just plain wrong:

Note from a few weeks later: But wait!!! I have received my copy and changed the entries below to reflect my notions of who is singing — followed by the original attributions in brackets and quotation marks. Fire fights have broken out on some insider websites such as Puente Genil con el Flamenco, but the dust is settling.

Here is the latest version — a few more attributions might be revised in the future. And again: minor glitches aside, this is a wonderful contribution to the world’s treasury of flamenco, made possible thanks to Sr. de Zayas and the de Zayas family.

CD 1:

Siguiriyas “Mi ropa tengo en venta”
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  4:29

Bulerias “Cuando me daba” (truncada) 0:47
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  4:29

Bulerías “Cuando me daba” (entera) 3:45
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  3:45

Bulerías “A mi me duele”
Luisa Ramos Antúnez “La Pompi” con Manolo de Huelva  1:52

Bulerías “A mi me sigue”
La Gitanilla con Manolo de Huelva  2:01

Bulerías “Que cosita mas rara”
La Gitanilla con Manolo de Huelva  2:55

Manolo de Huelva, guitarra; La Gitanilla, palmas  1:29

Siguiriyas falseta  0:37
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Malagueñas “Que te quise y que te quiero”  2:12
Manuel Centeno con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Que te pueda perdonar”  2:42
Manuel Centeno con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “A que tanto me consientes”  4:53
Manuel Centeno con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá  3:53
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

La Caña  3:22
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Soleá  3:58
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

CD 2

Malagueñas “Más bien te agradecería” 7”14 [empieza con afinación de guitarra]
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “A veces me ponía”  2:56
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Allí fueron mis quebrantos”  3:28
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Tarantas “Viva Madrid que es la corte”  6:36
Luís Caballero con Manolo de Huelva

Alegrías “A mí que me importa”  5:32
Luís Caballero [?] con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Hay pérdidas que son ganancias” 7:40
Luís Caballero [?] con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Morena tienes la cara”  8:13
Luís Caballero [?] con Manolo de Huelva

CD 3

Alegrías “Ya te llaman la buena moza”  4:29
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “Llévame pronto su puerta”  3:56
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “En el patrocinio”  1:56
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “La que me lavó el pañuelo”  1:41
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Con paso firme”  1:41
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “Al cielo que es mi morada” (a duo)
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Silencio, pueblo cristiano”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Fandangos “Ay, sereno!”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Dios te salve, María”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Bien sabe Dios que lo hiciera”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “No vale tanto martirio”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Ni que a la puerta te asomes”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Saeta “Pare mío esclareció”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Y a visitarte he venío”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Bulerías “A mí no me hables”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “La torrente”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Solea “A Dios le pido clemencia
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Tangos “De cal y canto y arena”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Solea “Las campanas del olvío”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Tangos “Yo te tengo que querer”
Aurelio de Cádiz con Manolo de Huelva

Sevillanas “Seré por verte”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Sevillanas “Es tanto lo que te quiero”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Sevillanas “Mi moreno me engañó”
Unknown ["Aurelio de Cádiz"] con Manolo de Huelva

Tanguillos “Yo tengo una bicicleta”
Aurelio de Cádiz [?] con Manolo de Huelva

CD 4

Bulerías “Al campo me voy a vivir”  3:52
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Que no me mande cartas”  9:18
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Que tenga mi cuerpo”  5:43
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Contemplarme a mi mare, que no llore más”  8:12
Felipe de Triana con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá con Polo “Eres el Diablo”  5:36
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Malagueñas “Cuando yo esperaba” 3:17
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Porque faltó el cimiento”  3:22
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Que te salvó la vida”  4:05
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá con Polo “Eres el Diablo”  6:18
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Como hiciste tú conmigo”  1:39
Rafael Pareja con Manolo de Huelva

CD 5

Solea “En feria de Ronda”  12:06
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Que bonita era”  4:55
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Soleá “Redoblaron”  2:48
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “Ventanas a la calle”  8:21
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Tangos “Estabas cuando te vi”  6:58
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Peteneras “Compañera de mi alma”  9:52
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

Siguiriyas “A la Virgen de Regla”  6:45
Pepe de la Matrona con Manolo de Huelva

CD 6

Soleá “La Babilonia” 1:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá Petenera  1:29
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá Apolá  2:16
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Polo Natural  2:22
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Le dijo el tiempo el querer”  1:54
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “A una montaña”  1:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Una rosa que fue mía”  1:34
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

El Polo de Tobalo  2:30
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Solea “No todavía” 1:20
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Los pájaros son clarines”  1:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Toquen a rebato las campanas del olvío”  1:53
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Soleá “Con mirarte solamente, comprenderás que te quiero”  2:14
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

La Caña  4:14
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Siguiriyas “Mi ropa tengo en venta 2:42
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Macho de la Serrana 3:20
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Bulerías “Cante corto de Jerez” 2:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Siguiriyas “Mi ropa tengo en venta 2:42
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Macho de la Serrana 3:20
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña

Bulerías “Cante corto de Jerez” 2:32
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, anuncia y acompaña


Sevillanas – introducción
Argentinita y Pilar López, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Argentinita, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Argentinita y Pilar López, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Tangos de Cadiz “Dos Tangos de Cadiz”
Argentinita, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

“Canción” [?] “Hermanito de mi corazón” o “Tango del escribano”
“Cádiz, tacita de plata, es un verdadero encanto”
Manolo de Huelva, guitarra [?]

Alegrías – alternando ralentí sincronizado
Argentinita, baile. Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Manolo de Huelva, guitarra, con palmas y pitos

La Caña “A mí me pueden mandar”
Argentinita, baile; Manolo de Huelva, guitarra

Here’s the Pasarela url with buying info:


Brook Zern

January 5, 2015   5 Comments

Spain’s national news agency on Paco de Lucia’s relationship to New York City

On February 26, 2014, soon after the grievous loss of Paco de Lucía, Spain’s official news agency EFE published an article that ran in La Información and many other Spanish-language publications.  It focused on Paco’s connection to New York City.  I was contacted as a source of information.  Here’s my translation of the piece:

New York, a key city in the transformation of Paco de Lucía

New York, Feb 26 (EFE) – The city of New York, with its chrysalis of cultures and the enormous effervescence of the sixties and seventies, was a key factor in the musical evolution of Paco de Lucía from traditional flamenco to the fusion that revolutionized the art.

From his early years, de Lucía repeatedly visited the city starting in the first half of the sixties, and found himself in the confluence of great Spanish guitar masters, as well as the richness of sounds from that era that influenced his evolution, which also became the evolution of flamenco itself.

The late guitarist arrived in the city of skyscrapers at the age of 16 or 17, with a group of musicians and dancers brought by José Greco, a New York dancer of Italian descent who became a flamenco artist and one of the protagonists of flamenco life in the city since the 1940’s.

Greco had appeared in that decade with some great figures like Carmen Amaya, Pilar López and La Argentinita, and for many years brought musicians and promising groups to accompany him in his appearances, among them the dancer El Farruco,

In his second trip to New York with Greco, Paco de Lucía remained extremely promising and he was presented to Agustín Castellón “Sabicas”, a Gypsy guitarist from Pamplona who lived in New York and was considered the world’s greatest flamenco guitarist, according to Brook Zern, the music critic, flamenco expert and former flamenco editor of Guitar Review.

“After Paco played for him, Sabicas realized that he had seen the future,” recalls Zern, and Sabicas told him that he could not keep on playing the way he did, imitating masters like Niño Ricardo.  Instead, he had to find his own path.  “Create your own flamenco”, Sabicas insisted, according to the critic.

In addition to Sabicas, other Spanish guitar masters like Carlos Montoya and Mario Escudero had settled in New York in the 1940’s and 50’s as flamenco guitar soloists, a form of interpretation that had not found acceptance but in New York was becoming increasingly successful.

“In the U.S. we were ready for it – not for the singers, but for the guitarists, much more than in Spain,” recalls Zern.

Paco de Lucía discovered that format, but he also took advantage of his trips to New York to absorb all the musical styles that were permeating the city, from jazz and bossa nova to rock and salsa.

New York was “a bubbling melange of cultural ideas”, where Paco “soaked up  the cultural mix” that is the city.  “He realized, to the dismay of the purists, that the future was in fusion,” Zern adds.

In his New York experience, Paco de Lucia “discovered that flamenco’s musical vision was too narrow,” and, for example, lamented that he could not appear accompanied by a flutist or a bassist, in the manner of a jazz ensemble – a vision that would later become reality, Zern says.

Today, a flamenco guitarist can be like the leader of a jazz group.

For example, in 1970 or 1971 – Zern isn’t sure of the precise year – Paco de Lucía appeared in New York’s Spanish Institute, and in the audience was Andy Warhol (accompanied by his courtiers from The Factory), who at the end met with the young flamenco genius – an encounter that evidently left no photographic record since the pictures Zern took did not come out.

The result of this cocktail was that Paco de Lucía “reinvented flamenco in several distinct phases or periods, until he had almost created a new art”, says the critic.  To such a point that Sabicas once told him that when he had given his advice to Paco, he had never dreamed that the young man would take flamenco so far, Zern recalls.

Paco de Lucía expressed this evolution in his famous collaboration of 1980 with two non-flamenco guitarists, the Englishman John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola, from New Jersey.

If the late guitarist fed off of New York musically, the city returned the favor in the form of affection and applause and filled concert venues like the legendary Carnegie Hall, as well as critical raves for his performances.

“The New York public adored him,” and even followed him to restaurants after his shows just to watch him eat, says Zern, for whom the loss of Paco de Lucía was “utterly devastating,” especially since he was “at the pinnacle of his career, despite the fact that he was no longer young.”

(Agencia EFE)

End of article.  One example of the original story is seen at: http://noticias.lainformacion.com/arte-cultura-y-espectaculos/musica/nueva-york-una-ciudad-clave-en-la-transformacion-de-paco-de-lucia_WxsG0XhkGfnuw2dUwVX6S6/


December 29, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Artists Speak – El País Interview with José Menese, Rancapino and Fernando de la Morena by Iker Seisdedos – Translated by Brook Zern

From El País of June 15, 2014 

Three Roads to Purity in Flamenco Song

-  Past, present and future of flamenco, according to Jose Menese, Rancapino and Fernando de la Morena

-  A unique recital will bring the three together in Madrid at the end of June

 Translator’s note:  When I insist that there is a ruling flamenco establishment in Spain, the claim is often questioned by people whom I consider to be part of that informal cabal. 

If there is such a group, its idol is the late Enrique Morente, that brilliant, courageous and iconoclastic Granada singer who first proved he had total command of a vast part of the great flamenco song tradition and then went on to break old rules with new and daring approaches to the art.   

During the recent years I’ve spent mostly in Jerez, I’ve found that bastion of traditional flamenco was not buying Morente’s act.  But it has also been clear that the town’s alternative attitude,  reasonably termed purity or “purism” before those words became epithets, was falling out of favor nearly everywhere else in Spain. 

(A decade ago, I unintentionally antagonized Enrique Morente’s posse during a New York Flamenco Festival by using the word “controversial” in rewriting/translating program notes – it was an urgent last-minute request, as usual, done without any thought of compensation, as always.  The idea that his radical and daring new work, ridiculed and parodied in Jerez, was somehow “controversial” outraged his people, and admittedly it was not in the original text.  Because I had done the work for someone else, I wrote abject apologies to Morente and several others including a leading “critic” and avid booster who clearly felt that Morente was beyond all criticism.  I don’t think my apologies were ever accepted.)

This article puts three traditionalist artists in the spotlight, or on the firing line, as, among other things, they try to explain their resistance to “morentismo” – and the high price they pay for their apostasy. 

José Menese, who appeared in the sixties as a hugely gifted (and non-Gypsy) follower of the great Gypsy singer Antonio Mairena, has been very outspoken in attacking Morente and other artists who are trying to change the essential nature of flamenco song.  He continues to take real heat and suffer heavy career damage without apologizing.

Rancapino, emerging from Cadiz in that same time-frame, is a greatly admired exponent of traditional flamenco song , now recognized as a national treasure – perhaps it helps that he doesn’t usually seek controversy.  He’s a sweet guy, and I was surprised to see him weigh in against the Granada faction.

Fernando de la Morena is an admired figure from Jerez, part of a revered family tradition – an elegant man I’ve been privileged to hear on many public and private occasions.  He bears witness to the suffering brought upon Jerez by wealthy bankers and other un-indicted co-conspirators

Oh, yeah — the interview:

The appointment is in one of those corrales de vecinos or modest courtyarded multiple dwellings in Seville’s Triana district, from which the Gypsies were expelled in the 1950’s.  The participants come from three magical vertices of flamenco’s dramatic ritual:  the Seville countryside, the ports of Cadiz, and Jerez de la Frontera.  José Menese (La Puebla de Cazalla, 1942), Alonso Núñez “Rancapino” (Chiclana, 1945) and his contemporary Fernando de la Morena, born in Jerez’s barrio de Santiago, on June 27th will converge on the Teatro Español during Madrid’s Suma Flamenca Festival to celebrate “50 Years of Cante”, though in fact they have between them more than two centuries of art if we start at their birthdates.  It will be a sensational gala, supported by the Comunidad de Madrid, where each represents his own:  Menese, the torrential song unleashed by Antonio Mairena and that he still follows, affiliated to orthodoxy, immersed in the quarrels between the old and the modern, and also his adherence to the Communist Party.  Rancapino, with his aphonic [Note:  perhaps "tuneless", a word I'd take issue with] way of honoring beauty.  And De la Morena, cantaor de carrera tardía que se bajó del camion de reparto al compás de una bulería perfecta [whose career began late, but was always marked by the rhythm of a his perfect bulerías].

The chat among these legends of flamenco song, well-known elders, begins with the inevitable moments of mourning (for Paco de Lucía, for the writer and critic Felix Grande, for the Jerez singer El Torta and others) and goes on to the woes of aging, noting the effects of their baipá [a Spanish rendition of the English word “bypasses” which is then rendered in parentheses] and other results of a well-lived life, before going on to subjects that are more or less cabales [a word that refers to true understanding in flamenco.]

Q:  How have things changed in flamenco song during the past 50 years?

José Menese:  Very much.  Not just in the song; there have been changed in humanity, in the human, in the essence.

Q:  For the worse?

José Menese:  Not for the better.  Though I’m not saying anything, because when I do, everybody hits me with everything they’ve got.  I’m the most beat-up guy in history.

Q:  I guess you’re saying that because of your last polemic about Enrique Morente, where you said on TV that “No tiene soniquete el muchacho…” [“The guy doesn’t have the right sound, the character one looks for in a singer, and he knew it, he knew how to sing the soleá as God requires.  And then, he turned his back on it [echó mano de esas cosas].”

José Menese:  I know that they were going to give me an homage in Granada, and that’s off because of what I said.  That’s the leche [milk, usually mala leche or “bad milk”, nastiness].  The power of that family… [still very important, largely thanks to the beautiful singing of Enrique's stunning daughter Estrella]…  The other day on Canal Sur TV I met a singer who confessed to me:   “I’m glad you said that – somebody had to say it.”  But I’m the guy who does it and takes the blows.  If you ask me, “For the better?  [A mejor?]  Well, that’s what I wanted, and what Rancapino and Fernando wanted, but that’s not the way it is.

Rancapino:  I hope you’ll all pardon me for saying this:  In Granada, they’ve never sung flamenco well [no se ha cantado nunca bien].

José Menese:  I say that the idiomas [ways of speaking?  languages] are tremendously important.  Córdoba – what has it given to flamenco?  Nothing, but let’s not exaggerate [pero no lo exageres tampoco].  Malaga?  [Just] the malagueña.  Jaén?  I don’t know. They say it gave us the taranta de Linares.  I don’t know if that’s the case, because the miners were going all over the place.  In my 71 years, I’ve realized that flamenco was really developed  in Seville, Jerez, and Cádiz and its nearby ports.

Rancapino:  And you can stop counting right there.

Menese:  Are we lying, primo [cousin] Fernando?

Fernando de la Morena:  The expression is totalitarian, my friend.  [Note: this seems to indicate agreement.]

Q:  How are these various schools differentiated?

Rancapino:  The song is the song, it’s born with someone or it isn’t.  And that can’t be changed.  The fact that some sing with a prettier voice or a hoarser voice, that’s the least of it.

Fernando de la Morena:  I’ve always sung, but I didn’t start it seriously until I had three kids and was working at the Bimbo bread bakery.  I didn’t record until late, until I was 50; I sing for the public now, but I’ve always sung.

Q:  What have you gained, and lost, with the years?

José Menese: Flamenco has arrived where it has arrived, but there it has remained.  It needs a renovation [not with novelties and fusions but rather] in the people who sing and transmit it, so that it really reaches deep within the listener.

Q:  There’s also the Patrimony of Humanity [a recognition granted to flamenco by UNESCO in 2010] that makes it sound like it belongs among the fossils in a museum.

Fernando de la Morena:  Patrimony of Orphanhood, that’s what flamenco really is.

Rancapino:  Olé tú!  [Hooray for you!  You said it!]

José Menese:  It’s a tremendous paradox that just when it’s named a Patrimony of Whatever of Humanity, that’s when singers stray away from everything that’s expected.  What’s wrong?  Well, like with the bullfight where only five or six matadors duelan.  That’s the way it is with flamenco song.  It has to hurt, and if it doesn’t hurt, well, just go to bed, pal.  [Note: Doler means: to cause pain (dolor) or anguish within the witness – this is considered a crucial virtue in the realms of serious flamenco and toreo.  It is also a crucial distinction between these great Spanish arts and virtually all great non-Spanish arts that usually seek to evoke pleasure even in their pathos.  Go figure.]

Rancapino:  It has to hurt, yes!  Pero con faltas de ortografía!  But with a lack of orthography.  [Note: this refers to another requisite quality -- that of being essentially untrained or instinctive; flamenco should not smell of fancy handwriting or high literacy, but should transmit emotion directly.]

José Menese:  There’s an anecdote that García Lorca tells in [his conference of 1933 – (a note inserted in the article itself)] titled Juego y teoria del duende [Interplay and theoretic of the duende].  Once, in a flamenco fiesta in El Cuervo with Pastora Pavón [La Niña de los Peines – that name inserted into the article], Ignacio Sánchez Mejías [a legendary torero] and the sursuncorda [?] of that moment, she was singing passively, transmitting nothing, when a man [Note: Lorca termed him “one of those genies who materialize out of brandy bottles”] yelled “Viva París!”  And she, always proud, was offended [by the implication of glossy, urbane sophistication rather than raw emotion].  She asked for a pelotazo de machaco [a very stiff drink] and then she got into it.  It rips at the vocal cords.  One has to fight with the song, and then the people went crazy, tearing at their clothing.  Flamenco is just that way, like the bullfight and paintings.  And there you have it.

Q:  And what will the real aficionados do when, like the King, these artists abdicate?

José Menese: [laughter].  I’m not going to retire, as long as I’m okay here, knock wood [points to his throat], I’ll stick it out.  I’m a republicano [opposed to royalty].  I remember this by [the late flamenco expert, poet and author] Fernando Quiñones:  “Porque a rey muerto / rey puesto / bien que lo dice el refrán / y es antiguo ya / solo ha conseguido el absurdo criminal / dejar sin padre a esos hijos / y el mundo sigue igual.”  Things will keep on as they are.

Q:  Although the royals are no longer our fathers?

Fernando Moreno:  Let’s trust in the chaval [the kid, the new King, Felipe VI] whom they have prepared for this.  Yo tengo 69 tacos pero aún así, de política, natimistrati.  [I’m 69, but even so, when it comes to politics, I don’t have a clue [?]

Q:  Not even about the economic crisis – how do you see the crisis?

[Laughter]  Jose Menese:  This crisis has overwhelmed everything.  I’m not a pessimist [but...]  Culture is flat on the floor.  The theater no longer exists, classical music no longer exists.  They’re even taking away the bullfight!  What happened the other day, when all three toreros were gored and the fight couldn’t continue – that’s not normal.

Fernando de la Morena:  Y a las pruebas nos remitiéramos en el pretérito que le perteneciere…Olé, que gitano más fino! [?]

Q:  Do you see hope in Podemos [a new political movement/party, [Yes] We Can]?

José Menese:  I was pleased because the kid [party leader Pablo Iglesias] strikes me as marvelous, but we’ll see.  I began as a militant in the Communist Party in 1968 [when the party was banned under the Franco dictatorship].  I’m still affiliated, though the party doesn’t exist today.  The problem is that we’ve lost our ideals.   A ti te cogen fumándote un canuto, como me pasó a mi el otro día no a mí, sino a una persona que iba conmigo, y se arma la de dios es Cristo.  Nonetheless, they rob millions and millions and absolutely nothing happens.

Fernando de la Morena:  And nothing appears – nothing here, nothing there.

Q:  The case of your hometown of Jerez is one of the worst.

Fernando: What my father taught me is that you have to work.  And now you have to be glad to have a job.  But my kids… and everyone’s kids…

Q:  Do your kids have jobs?

Rancapino:  Fat chance!  [?]

Fernando de la Morena:  It’s the same in flamenco.  We’re like El Brene who sang for tapas at restaurants long ago.  They’d say “Brene, sing a little song.”  “Yeah,” he’d say, “As soon as you give me a little tapa of potatoes.”  And here we are again, we’ve returned to the old days [of begging for food]”.

Rancapino:  There’s no afición for flamenco these days.  Before, a singer would start to sing and forty people would stop and crowd around.  Now, if the greatest singer ever, the Monster Number One who for me was Juan Talega, arose from his grave and started to sing – well, no one would care and he’d just have to go back home.  [Note:  One of Rancapino's uncanny gifts is that he could always evoke the spirit of the great and ancient-sounding Juan Talega, even when he was young.]

José Menese:  It’s like what Don Quixote said to Sancho Panza. With your belly full you don’t create much.  Today they learn flamenco in schools, but singers have to be born.  This business of giving singing classes seems horroroso to me.

Q:  How did you learn about the death of Paco de Lucía?

José Menese:  In La Puebla. And I thought of a photo where I’m singing with him.  Testimony of a time of incredible natural richness.

Rancapino:  Afterwards I went to his funeral.  Because Paco liked me a lot, ever since the years when I went with Camarón to Algeciras and then to Madrid with Paco’s father, who made him study so hard.  And I said to his father [Francisco], “Paco, when will you make a record of my singing?”  And he said, “You?  Tú vas a grabar en un queso!”  [You’d record on a wheel of cheese!” [?]  [Laughter]  Camarón and I went everywhere together.  Hasta lo casé con La Chispa.  [I even married him to La Chispa [his wife].  I went to la Linea because I liked one of La Chispa’s sisters.  The whole family really liked me – except the sister.  Ya que no casé yo, casé a Camarón.  Since I didn’t get married, he did.  [?]

Q:  You didn’t stay a bachelor.  Is it true, Rancapino, that Felipe González [Spain’s first Socialist leader, after Franco's death] is the godfather of one of your children?

Rancapino:  Fortunately or unfortunately, yes.  Look, we were at a fiesta in [with?] El Chato in Cadiz.  And in conversation it came out that I had a lot of kids.  And I said, “I’ve got so many kids that one hasn’t even been baptized.  And he said, “I’ll baptize that one.”  I said, “look, the only thing I can give you in exchange is the kid, because I don’t have anything else.”  [Laughter].

Q:  Is flamenco still more appreciated outside of Spain than here at home?

José Menese:  Yes:  They treat us differently than they do here in Andalucía.

Rancapino:  Just yesterday a young Japanese woman came to Chiclana to be with me.  She had to be pretty brave, because I’m no Robert Redford.  [Laughter].  And she started to sing.  And I said, “How can this be?”  Fernando, how she sang the soleá!

Q:  And is it the same?

Rancapino:  “How could it be the same!  Never!  Once I spent six months in Sapporo singing to a young Japanese woman.  Since I couldn’t remember her name, I called her Maruja.  Then she came to Madrid.  And in six months she learned to cook and to dance.  For me to learn that would’ve taken me six years!

Q:  You must have learned some Japanese…

Rancapino:  Sayonara and arigató.  And chotto matte.  That was to ask them to wait a while longer for me.

Fernando de la Morena:  Musho tomate.

Rancapino:  With potatoes!  [Laughter].

End of interview by Iker Seisdedos.  Corrections are always welcome and will be added.  The original is found at:  http://cultura.elpais.com/cultura/2014/06/14/actualidad/1402757369_102448.html

Translator’s coda:  Why do I devote so much time and effort to translating artist interviews, when just being a flamenco aficionado is masochistic enough?  It’s because I like the art and the artists so much that I need to understand what they are saying to outsiders and to each other.  And while I understand Spanish reasonably well, that’s not the same thing as understanding the Andalú dialect of five a.m. as spoken in the darkest bar in deepest Jerez, rendered by a bunch of gravel-voiced, aguardiente-seared, life-long black-tobacco smokers who have just sung their guts out (amid the inevitable excuses of “mu refriao” — I can’t sing, I have a terrible cold), and who are constantly interrupting or shouting at each other.  It’s a luxury to have someone else do all the work of putting that conversation into recognizable Spanish, and just having to fabricate an English approximation.

– BZ





June 16, 2014   2 Comments