Category — Flamenco Singer Rancapino
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.
June 16, 2014 2 Comments
Flamenco Singer Rancapino and His Son – Review by Manuel Bohórquez – translated with comments by Brook Zern
The excellent flamenco expert and researcher Manuel Bohórquez is a pleasure to hear or to read, though he is a major destroyer of romantic myths that surround the art. I always expect that he’s going to haul off and smite those people who, um, play the race card in flamenco.
I’m referring to a dwindling number of unfashionable people like, um, me, who reluctantly confess to having a strong weakness for flamenco artists of a certain, um, ethnicity, like, – um, not Gypsy blood, of course; and not Gypsy genes, of course, since both words are loaded or downright poisonous.
But maybe it’s allowable to call it what it really is: Gypsy heritage. Phew.
Here’s the March 12, 2014 entry from Bohórquez’s invaluable blog, which he calls La Gazapera (the den, the rabbit warren) and which cites the newspaper El Correo de Andalucía where he wrote, or has written, for many years. It gets down to cases, and it says that there is a Gypsy way of doing flamenco, and that the people who do it best (though not the only people who do it) are Gypsies. The exemplars in this instance are, first, the great singer Rancapino, with his strange voice – or voices, since sometimes he sounds like the nearly mummified Juan Talega and at other times like himself, terrific but not really agreeable; and second, Rancapino’s son, here being offered for public acceptance as a superb artist in his own right.
(As always, of course, you can witness the art of these artists and others discussed in this blog by simply conjuring them up on YouTube:)
Dragging the soul to the chilling realm of pellizcos [gooseflesh, little bites]
Some aficionados continue to believe that what we call a great voice is that of Rafael Farina or Naranjito de Triana, but that’s not the case.
[Rafael Farina was a hugely successful singer of relatively of pop flamenco and undemanding melodramatic fandangos, who sang clearly and with good diction and pleasing melodicism, if that’s a word. Naranjito de Triana, who died in 2002, was a superb singer who sang a wide range of difficult song forms beautifully – both in execution and in overall effect. Naranjito is not a Gypsy; Rafael Farina was a Gypsy]
Another great flamenco voice belonged to Juanito Mojama and it was not a powerful torrent, but a whisper overflowing with Gypsy melismas.
Can we say that the voices of Rancapino and his son, Rancapino hijo, are two great voices? Without a shadow of a doubt, though that may just be my opinion. In the deep flamenco regions of cante jondo or deep song, a voice has to sound good and to transmit. It has to have soul, so much so that it can hurt or wound you, or bewitch you [te embelece. And the two voices we heard last night in Seville’s Teatro Central, Rancapino the elder and the younger, can hurt until it drives you mad [duelen hasta rabiar].
Last night, at least, we felt the agreeable/delightful (placentero) deep pain, two torrents of Gypsy emotion. And I say Gypsy because the two are Gypsies and the cante calé [song of that people] is exactly that: the song of the Gypsies, their unique way of communicating, of giving you chills [de pellizcar], of singing with emotion and with a compás (rhythmic pulse) that is natural in them.
Then we have the gachés [a Gypsy word for non-Gypsies] who sing agitanados [in a Gypsy way], those who want to be more Gypsy than Chorrojumo [this may be a fabricated name for an imaginary super-Gypsy singer, or it could be an obscure yet legendary Gypsy I’ve never heard of], and that’s a whole different story. I have to admit that I left the theater with a pain in my chest that actually frightened me. Maybe I was just predisposed to that reaction – these two singers from the town of Chiclana, that is, from the Cadiz region, just shred my soul [me partieran el alma]. Or maybe my soul was already shredded, I don’t know.
What’s certain is that it’s been a long time since I suffered so much listening to flamenco song – a suffering somewhere between physical pain and emotional pleasure.
The night began with a video in which Rancapino was trying to transmit to his son Alonso the norms of flamenco song, the road to follow. Then, with a sung preamble of various styles of tonás [an early, profound unaccompanied flamenco lament], the two duking it out [mano a mano] the presentation was made. The master had come to present his student, who is simultaneously his own son. Then he left him alone on the stage, with just Antonio Higuero backing him on guitar, to confront the Seville public in a place where the [legendary Gypsy singers] Tomás Pavón [brother of the supreme cantaora La Niña de los Peines] and Pepe Torre [brother of the supreme cantaor Manuel Torre] revealed their Gypsy song with the moon above the Alameda de Hercules song stronghold as witness.
And Rancapino hijo gave us a stupendous recital, with incredible freshness, but at the same time paying homage to [the fabulous Gypsy singer] Manolo Caracol, and to [the great Gypsy singer] Camarón de la Isla, and at times to the noted singer Antonio el de la Carzá. With the right voice [voz justa], in perfect rhythm and always perfectly placed within the song’s framework, Alonso Núñez Fernández revealed the kernel of the malagueñas, alegrías, tientos-tangos, soleares apolás and bulerías, sometimes seated and sometimes standing up, in the manner of Manolo Caracol or his own father, to whom he paid constant homage with things from his repertoire.
To close the night, and with emotion running high in the theatre, out came the master, don Alonso Núñez Núñez, the man from Chiclana, to end up parting our souls. With his destroyed voice, his soleares de Alcalá in the style of Juan Talega shook our guts, sacandolas casi a empujones [?], but marking every measure of the compás with a mastery that seemed uncommon indeed.
The senior Rancapino even dared to try and sing a malagueña de Chacón, “Viva Madrid que es la corte”, in the style of El Canario – not an easy feat when one’s voice isn’t in condition for it. And he sang the plaintive siguiriyas with a dolorous, wracking pain, before ending with the bulerías that call to mind Manolito de la María, a style that no one remembers now. But if that weren’t enough, the two artists then came onstage, where we again marveled at the son’s rendition of some fandangos of Manolo Caracol that simply killed us. A great night of flamenco song, delivered in a way that is leaving us. And it would be a pity if this was the end, because this quality is absolutely essential in understanding the art of Andalucía. And our history.
End of piece by Manuel Bohórquez. The original is found at:
March 12, 2014 1 Comment