Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco History

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

The Musical Genesis of Flamenco – Book by Guillermo Castro Buendía – Comments by Brook Zern

A new book by Guillermo Castro Buendía reflects the new thinking about flamenco’s history, development and perhaps its essential nature. It is titled “Genesis Musical del Flamenco”, and it’s an impressive contribution to the study of flamenco. I’m not on board with much of the new scholarship, or at least of some of its conclusions, (In my day, we didn’t need no stinkin’ scholarship — we drew our rigorous conclusions from, like, the vibe we got, man.) The book is analyzed in a blog entry by one of the defenders of the revised view, Paco Vargas.

In his introductory comments, Sr. Vargas offers the expected ridicule of the traditional view (“Those people obsess over how many fighting cocks the [great Gypsy singer] Manuel Torre had”), and he pays the requisite obeisance to “the great Faustino Núñez”, the diligent researcher and intellectual leader of their merry band. Skipping to the end, one finds a summation of the most important conclusions of Sr. Castro Buendía’s book:

- Flamenco music derives from Spain’s the varied and mixed musical tradition, and the sources are the following folkloric forms: fandangos, jotas, seguidillas, romances [ballads] and work songs. Forms that were widespread across the entire nation, and that during the Nineteenth Century – not before – were transformed by Spanish musicians (singers and guitarists) into the first flamenco songs. That is to say – in contradiction of the [fictitious] “Great Flamenco Novel” these songs did not materialize out of nothing in some mysterious way, but are the product of an artistic mutation of certain folkloric styles – not yet flamenco – that already existed.

- The most remote musical antecedents of flamenco are found in the music of the Sixteenth Century with the pasacalles, romanescas and folías); in the Seventeenth Century with the jácaras; and in the Eighteenth Century with guitar music, the most important being the special finger-strumming technique called rasgueado that would become the most important precedent in the development of flamenco guitar. That is to say, we’re talking about “musical precedents” and not flamenco forms or songs; thus, the beginning of flamenco will not be found in prehistory, antiquity or middle age. We insist instead: The mid-Nineteenth Century,

- The Arab musical heritage is unclear and still to be determined. Though historical logic dictates that it must have had its quota of influence upon the formation of flamenco song, that data we have now would tend to discredit it [discartarla] as the base or seed of flamenco.

- The Gypsy people did not bring any music to Spain, and so we must forget the theory of Indian music as an origin of flamenco. The expressive forms and musical elements traditionally associated with the Gypsies – sometimes as a racial thing – were already, like it or not, found in Spain’s popular and folkloric music before their arrival on the Iberian Peninsula. Those were: The Phrygian mode; hoarse, rough voices [“voces afillás”; the mixed binary/ternary rhythm pattern [hemiola or amalgamated compás]; intense expressive pathos; and melismatic singing.

- A deep relationship is noted between flamenco music and the musical styles that came to Spain from the Americas, most notably the zarabandas, chaconas, carios and, most signiciantly, the FANDANGOS, Attention! Not the singable fandangos we know today, but some instrumental and danceable forms that we’ll now discuss

- The influence of black music that arrived directly from Africa is indisputable, The black slaves brought to Spain rhythns, dances and musical styles that were important to the formation of flamenco music,

- Regarding the relationship between academic/formal music with flamenco, Guillermo believes that the infkuence was from esta hacia aquella, and not the other way around, as current thinking in flamencology. Nonetheless, it’s clear that flamenco guitarists assimilated and adapted many techniques of classical guitar such as arpeggio, tremolo, etc,

Summing up, dear readers, this book knocks down many of the myths of the “Great Flamenco Novel”, opening up an indispensable new horizon for properly understanding this art that we all love.

End of excerpt. The original is found at:


Translator’s note: While I’m on the other side of the fence, I have no trouble with a lot of those conclusions and some other points used by the serial debunkers of the old thinking. Skipping around a bit:

I agree with the idea that it’s dicey to claim Arabic music as the seed of flamenco, though there were certainly traces of that seven-century occupation that remained in Andalusia’s musical substrate.

Too many of us Western types, including Spaniards, seem to feel that all other non-Western forms sound the same. Jewish people tell me flamenco singing sounds exactly like their music, people from Pakistan and India tell me the same thing. And sometimes they write books allegedly proving their theories.

I agree with many of the non-Arab influences cited above, both Spanish and European. But the crucial element in flamenco song, to my ears and most others, is that it is non-Western.

Okay — wait. Flamenco song is many things. Some of the more than sixty forms sound one way, some sound very different. The sevillanas are catchy, and I could sing them if I could sing. They, and a lot of other flamenco songs, use the “follow the bouncing ball” approach, where each syllable is a beat/note (unless it’s held for two or more beats/notes.)

(Faustino Núñez, the authority cited above, uses the terrific term “cante silábico” or “syllabic singing” for this common approach that we’re all so used to.)

Equally important: the notes that are sung would be found, or implicit, in the chords that musical Westerners (except a few of us ungifted unfortunates) could readily select for proper accompaniment. In other words, our music is harmony-based, whether or not someone is playing the chords.

The other kind, non-Western, derives its direction from melody alone. It uses a line that rises from the tonic or root note, meanders around for a while without being glued to a clunky rhythm and without committing to an exact pitch for each nominal note, and ultimately descends back to the root.

Obvious examples would be the soleares, siguiriyas and martinetes. These are the flamenco songs that drive normal people to distraction or drive them away. (Inevitable intermission talk: “Why is that horrid man shouting and screaming while the pretty lady is trying to dance?”)


January 22, 2017   No Comments

Encyclopedia of the Cantes Mineros [Flamenco songs from the mining regions of Eastern Spain] – by Juan Vergillos – translated by Brook Zern

Encyclopedia of the Cantes Mineros [Flamenco songs from the mining regions of Eastern Spain] – by Juan Vergillos – translated by Brook Zern

From “VaivenesFlamencos.com – “A Magazine of Flamenco Today”, by Juan Vergillos, winner of the Premio Nacional de Flamencología.

Translator’s note: The so-called “cantes mineros” are an important family of flamenco forms, and they can be especially confusing for us outsiders.

Structurally, they are derived from the ubiquitous fandangos. Perhaps the oldest versions of fandangos in flamenco are the rhythmic forms, notably the fandangos de Huelva, the fandangos de Lucena and the verdiales. Each sung verse consists of six melodic lines – but only five lines of text, because one line of text is repeated. (Usually it’s the first line, which is repeated as the third line.)

While most flamenco songs work in an unusual (for us) mode, usually called the Phrygian, the sung and/or danced fandangos initially seem to work in our familiar major key – the first line going from G7 to C, second line going from C to F, third line going from F to C, fourth line going from C to G7, fifth line going from G7 to C — but there’s a catch. At the end, during the sixth line, the song exits the major-key format and slips back down into the exotic (for us) Phrygian. implicitly passing from A minor to G to F before coming to rest on the tonic E.

[Note that these chords do not dictate any required pitch or register to the song -- the use of the capo in flamenco guitar means that its pitch can be raised arbitrarily in half-tone intervals to match the vocal range of any singer. Also, the guitarist may choose to use a tonic chord of A instead if E -- while the intervals between the chords remain unchanged.]

At the end of the 1800’s, those bouncy fandangos were slowed down and the rhythm was abandoned so they became more serious-sounding – the Spanish say they were “aggrandized”, which sounds right. These forms included the malagueñas, the granainas – and the cantes de Levante, a sprawling and confusing family that includes the tarantas, the cartageneras, the mineras and more.

While the malagueñas work in a tonality rooted in the familiar guitar chord of E major as described above, the granainas are based on the guitar chord of B major (an A major chord barred on the second fret). The cantes de Levante are traditionally based on the guitar chord of F sharp major – an E chord barred on the second fret, but with the two highest strings, B and E, played unbarred, resulting in a disturbing, “darkling” and mysterious sound.

It’s worth noting that while flamenco is an Andalusian art, these Levante forms are from Spain’s East Coast above the southernmost region of Andalusia. But again, they are based on musical conceptions that are firmly “andaluz”.

Enough background – here is Juan Vergillos’ report on a new CD by the singer Jeromo Segura titled La Voz de la Mina: Antologia de los Cantes Mineras de La Union, and a new book, Cantes de las Minas, by Jose Luís Navarro García, with valuable insight into this often confusing musical realm.

Singer Jeromo Segura, from the province of Huelva, was fascinated in 2013 by the cantes de las minas, a fascination that led to his winning the [very prestigious] Lampara Minera at the International Concurso of the Cantes de las Minas in that same year. For his second CD, he has chosen songs exclusively from that category.

Seguro has made an authentic encyclopedia of mining styles, demonstrating his love for these unique forms using his sweet, intimate voice that is rich in feeling and precise. He uses today’s terms for the songs – terms often derived from the rules of the contest he won. Thus the so-called taranto, a name that was never applied to a flamenco style until 1957 when the singer Fosforito used the term on his first record for what had previously been called the minera. The “murciana de Manuel Vallejo” which that Seville singer called “cante de Levante” on a 1923 record but that today, evidently because of the record collector Yerga Lancharro is called the murciana. Seguro includes one of these, with the verse that Vallejo used back then.

The book by Navarro Garcia is a reedition of the 1989 version, giving biographies of the great creators and historic interpreters of the genre, from the more or less mythical like Pedro el Morato and La Gabriela to those who have made recordings and whose biographies are well established such as Antonio Chacón and El Cojo de Malaga. Thus, the different cante minero styles, tarantas, cartageneras, levanticas, murcianas, etc., are presented with the biographical data of their creators. The history of the cantes mineros, their interpreters and festivals and contests, notable La Union, stops in 1989. There is a chapter dedicated to the start of the mining industry in Jaén, Murcia and Almería. The first edition of this book generated new investigations about the genre, among them one by José Francisco Ortega who wrote the booklet that accompanies the CD by Jeromo Segura.

To that list, I’d like to add one done two years ago by Rafael Chaves Arcos: both books have contributed enormously to our understanding of the songs and singers of these forms. Research his advanced a lot but we should underline the pioneering text of Navarro García’s “Cantes de las Minas”. For many years it was the key reference work in the field.

The crucial “matrix” style of the cantes mineros is the taranta, perhaps from the town of Linares: That’s the view of Rafael Chavez and José Manuel Gamboa among other researchers of these forms. All of the other styles are modalities or variants of the tarantas, and within the tarantas we find great melodic variety, with some of those variants given their own denominations. Moreover, all of them without exception are accompanied on guitar by the style used today for the tarantas [i.e., using the tonic chord shape of the partly-unbarred F sharp. On his CD, Segura offers two tarantas styles – that of La Gabriela, probably the basis of the mineras, and that of Fernando de Triana. The first, perhaps composed in the [late] Nineteenth Century, was first recorded in 1908 by the Seville singer Manuel Escacena, and memorable versions have come from the voices of Seville’s La Niña de los Peines, Jaén’s La Rubia de las Perlas, or La Unión’s Emilia Benito. The taranta of Fernando el de Triana, whose authorship is not in doubt today, was recorded by El Cojo de Málaga and La Niña de los Peines, who was the first to record it.

Many who haven’t heard early recordings will be surprised by La Niña de los Peines’ mastery of the cantes mineros. But she, born Pastora Pavón, was a master in all songs, and many served as reference points for other singers in her era and afterwards. Segura’s versions are sentimental, intimate, sweet and also academic.

Regarding the cartagenera, Rafael Chaves believes that the one called “cartagenera grande” on Segura’s disc is melodically linked to the malagueña while that of Antonio Chacón would be reasonable views as a “taranta cartagenera”. In any case. Both are accompanied today in the tarantas style, as are the rest of the cantes mineros. And both were recorded in his day by Chacón who is, logically, the man responsible for the reference versions of these two cantes.

For the minera, the star style of the Festival de La Unión, Segura offers seven versions, although all share a single melodic base. It is traditionally associated with El Rojo el Alpargatero, though it bears the imprint of Antonio Piñana. Pencho Cros and Encarnación Fernandez. On this record, Segura offers one by Piñana, four by Cros and two by Fernández.

The levantica and the murciana, like the minera, are tarantas with a single, specific melody. Both are linked to the singer El Cojo de Malaga, whose verse Segura sings in his murciana, a song that at one time was labeled by singer Gabriel Moreno as “taranta de Linares”. The levantica follows the model of Encarnación Fernández, using a well-known verse that Ginés Jorquera composed for that singer from La Union who was born in Torrevieja, according to Ortega’s album notes.

The taranto, as we’ve noted, was known in Chacón’s time as the minera, a name that at that time covered different cantes but today is linked to only one style as analyzed above. On the record, Segura follows the model imposed by the Jerez singer Manuel Torre in the 1920’s when, the term taranto was never used.

The so-called “cantes de la madrugá” [early morning songs] are another variation on that same model, and owe their name to the Jaén singer Rafael Romero. Segura provides two examples, both with verses recorded by Romero. Finally, he offers three verses of the mythic fandango minero of Pencho Cros.

End of article.

In doing research for the exhibit “100 Years of Flamenco in New York” that was presented at the Lincoln Center branch of the New York Public Library, I noticed that a very famous dancer who appeared in the Big Apple well before 1900 was named Carmencita Dauset — more accurately, Grau Dauset. She was actually filmed in the Thomas Edison’s studios, and seems to have been the first dancer ever filmed. The name Grau rang a bell — because the legendary pioneer singer and creative giant of the cantes de las minas, called “El Rojo el Alpargatero”, was born Antonio Grau Mora. Sure enough, he was her brother — and he sang flamenco during her successful run in New York.

Yes. Incredibly, at least to me, a great flamenco singer was appearing in the U.S. in that era. It would be two generations and many decades before another great flamenco singer would again grace our shores. It would’ve been nice if Edison had recorded El Rojo — his agents were recording flamenco singers in Spain back then — but no such luck. There are no recordings of Antonio Grau “El Rojo el Alpargatero”.

Final note: The form called the taranto is often defined as simply a melodic variant of the free-rhythm tarantas — where the free rhythm has triple time or 3/4 feel when it acquires any feel of a steady beat.

But for flamenco dancers and singers who work with them, taranto means something else: It is a version of the song that is instead done in a strong duple rhythm, our familiar 4/4 or perhaps 2/4 time. The even rhythm makes it danceable. It was a big hit for the then-young singer Fosforito around 1956 or so. A bunch of us aficionados are busily trying to pin down the artist and the definitive date for the first rendition of that rhythmic taranto, with its very different feel, but no luck so far.

Brook Zern

March 6, 2015   No Comments

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

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

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

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


Faustino Nüñez writes: 

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

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

(Some things never change.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of blog entry by Faustino Nüñez.

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


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

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

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

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

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


March 19, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Guitarist Manolo de Huelva on Flamenco – article in Guitar Review by Virginia de Zayas – Part 2

Note by Brook Zern:  In the mid-1970’s in Seville, I contacted Virginia de Zayas, in whose large house the legendary and secretive flamenco guitarist Manolo de Huelva was living.  I knew that her husband Marius had arranged for the historic 1936 Paris recording session that documented the solo art of the great Ramón Montoya, and hoped to somehow obtain recordings or written versions of Manolo de Huelva’s playing.

I was the Flamenco Editor of Guitar Review magazine, an elegant and authoritative publication dedicated primarily to the classical guitar — Andrés Segovia was the Chairman of the Advisory Board and was a regular visitor to the offices, and I arranged for his only interview about flamenco to run in the magazine.

Ms. [somehow, "Madame" seems more appropriate] de Zayas was interested in explaining Manolo de Huelva’s views and telling his stories, and offered to write an article for the magazine.  I agreed, and the long article appeared in three parts spread over time.  This is the second part, from issue 45 dated Spring 1979.  The first and third parts have already appeared in this blog.

At one point in our conversations, I reluctantly corrected Ms. de Zayas on a point of fact, despite her vastly greater knowledge.  She may have known that I was right, but she said something interesting.  ”Mr. Zern, please do not correct me on flamenco matters.  When I talk to you, I am speaking as Manolo de Huelva — that is, I am repeating what he has told me over the years.  That is my value — that I can speak for him.  It really doesn’t matter so much whether what I say is correct or incorrect; what matters is that it is what Manolo de Huelva thinks.”

Well, she had me there.  I actually had to agree — because I desperately wanted to know what he thought, and not what Ms. de Zayas felt at the moment.

And for that same reason, this is an important article and I want to bring it to the attention of the few people — mostly Spanish authorities — who will be interested in these old stories and arcane information, assuming someone is motivated to translate this.

Everyone else is excused — but hey, if you’re serious about flamenco, you just might find something illuminating here.

Remember — this article takes us into the heart of flamenco creation, as witnessed by one of the greatest guitarists in the history of the art.  It comes from a now distant past, where seventh chords were considered far-out and radical innovations.  It is source material for any advanced course in flamenco history and aesthetics.  And while many authorities today cast aspersions on the worth of unprovable and malleable recollections, and while the exact words may not be Manolo’s, it is yet another example of the value of oral history in understanding flamenco, or any subject that involves human beings.

But I never got to hear Manolo de Huelva, or obtain recordings of his playing at its best. Shortly before he died, Mrs. de Zayas invited me to visit in hopes that he might give me something, but it was too late.  He was determined to keep his music from being learned by other players, and regrettably, he succeeded.  He is heard as the accompanist to some noted singers on numerous old 78’s, often reissued in new formats; but as he said, he never revealed the amazing abilities that made him the favorite player of countless great artists and knowledgeable aficionados of his era.  Ms. de Zayas later released a double LP which contained, in addition to excellent material by Ramón Montoya, some cuts that once again failed to reveal Manolo de Huelva’s true genius.

Foiled again.  Here’s the article:


by Virginia de Zayas


Except for alegrías and some bulerías which are played and sung in our major scale with tonic and dominant chords, the song or guitar piece does not modulate to their modes.  The harmony of the flamenco scale is different, primarily because it is a descending, not an ascending, scale.  Therefore, the harmony points are reversed.  The note which leads the ear to expect a progression down to the final E is the F, reinforced by harmonization on that note.  This is the tonal  center of gravity, and is essential for the cadences.  The upper E, the beginning of the scale, is where melodies and falsetas often start.  The traditional simple harmony uses only the notes of the mode, except for the G sharp in the final chord.  All chords, except that on the dominant A, are obliged to be major.  The dominant A chord, of course, is obliged to be minor.

Because we think of the scale as a minor one (counting from the bottom of the octave), these chords seem to produce a delightful clash with the melody, one of the subtle surprises of flamenco music.

The polos are accompanied by the downward progression A G G E, with passages in C, in voice and guitar.  The C is part of the harmonic structure, appearing in passages in the soleares which are called apoláApolá means “as in a polo”, because of this passage in C.  This does not mean that they should follow a polo, as some have thought.  They should not follow a polo because  the essence of flamenco is contrast.  The soleá apolá is a soleá de cierre; to terminate a group of soleares.  There are four of these left.

Viewed from the perspective of a descending scale, the dominant on A is the important note, the fifth down from the beginning of the scale.  The C is the major third and the G is the sixth.  These notes are the structural notes, with the cadence F E.

Soleares are closely related to the polos, but because their harmonic cadence is a little more complicated it may be that soleares accompaniments as they exist today are later than polo accompaniments.  This is in line with the tradition held by old men in 1910 (the polos are older).  Their cadence is A G C F E.  The G and C occur on beats seven and nine, on the rasgueado, which gives a quick jump from G to C.  This is called el cambio (the change).  The soleá continues on the C chord until the end of the twelve beat measure; then, on beat one of the next vuelta (measure), it changes to the F of the cadence.  Singers not accustomed to singing to guitar accompaniment, as were most Gypsies, and who beat out the rhythm on the table with their knuckles (or use their walking stick, when it was still in fashion), do not know that they must signal the chord change on or before beat six.  If they fail to do so, the rule is that the guitar must wait until beat seven of the following measure of twelve beats, regardless of what the singer chooses to do.  Good guitarists refuse to accompany such a singer because the audience would place the blame on the guitarist.

As heard by the casual listener, counting as he or she would from the bottom of the scale, the harmony notes seem to be on the fourth, A, the third, G, and the sixth, C.  This peculiarity of modal harmonization has led many musicians to have the whole thing upside down because of the “mirror music” effect.  The so-called major third in the E scale leads them to feel that the polos and soleares are “sad songs.”  As one taxi driver told me: “Es que no saben” (They don’t understand).  Actually, polos and soleares are serious songs.  The seriousness of flamenco songs has been impressed upon me by Manolo.  The words are serious.  They are pieces of life.  It is true that some speak of unrequited love, others of the contrary.  Here is a typical one:

Aquello cuatro puntale
que mantiene a Triana
San Jacinto y lo Remedio
La O y Seña Sant’Ana.

(Those four pillars/ which hold up Triana/ San Jacinto and Los Remedios/ the O and Lady Saint Anne”)  Remedios and O are different surnames for the Virgin Mary, while Anne is her mother’s name.  There are four parishes of Triana and this song is sung to a rousing melody.  One could almost say it is a patriotic song,  The people of Seville, where Triana is, are very much attached to their parish church and its feast days.

A typical soleares accompaniment would be the one which goes with the above words:  E major, A minor,  F (CI), E (cadence); then follows A minor, G seventh, C, F (CI), E (cadence.  This last part is repeated.  The changes of chord occur at the beginning of each measure of twelve beats, and at the rasgueado on beats seven and nine.  At the opening of the song of the guitar sounds the E chord, and then changes the chord if necessary.  This is because the guitarist never knows what the singer is going to sing, unless especially told.

Most flamencos do not know our names for musical notes or chords, so a singer will tell a guitarist to play, “por el medio,” in the middle (the chord of A major), or he will say, “por arriba”, upwards (the chord of E major).  These expressions refer to positions on the fingerboard.


The G sharp in the final E chord is used in flamenco music in all E chords, which are never minor.   It is found  in medieval polyphonic music, in Mode III, the (medieval) Phrygian.  “The notes proper to the mode were used, save for this introduction of the major third into the final chord.” (Grove 1954: II, 11).  Did the flamenco guitar take this harmonization from polyphonic practice?  It is significant that the chords used to accompany the flamenco scale are all major except for the one minor chord on the dominant A.  As to the history of flamenco chords, apparently the Spanish guitar has been played in chords, rasgueado (strummed) with the fingernails, since time immemorial.  Ramón Menéndez Pidal (in his Poesía Juglaresca y Juglares, pub. By Espasa-Calpe, 1942) wrote that Spanish guitarists, playing rasgueado, went to the court of the Duke of Normandy, France, in the 14th Century.

The E major chord on the final note of the cadence is called the Picardy Third, or Tierce de Picardie, in French.   (Picardy is in northern France.)  Grove tells us:  The name, the origin of which is obscure, is used for the practice of ending a polyphonic composition in a minor key with a major third above a tonic bass in the final chord.”  It is noteworthy that much printed German organ music of the 15th and 16th centuries consisted of Spanish dances (many specimens may be found in Wilhelm Merian’s Der Tanz in den Deutschen Tablaturbüchern, Breitkopf and Hartel: Leipzig 1927).  This suggests that perhaps ecclesiastical practice was derived from the Spanish guitar chord.  The Church would have taken only the single chord of E major, and did not use major chords on the other minor modes, those which had minor thirds when counted from the lowest note, such as D, A and B.  This is a matter which requires thought and investigation.  We might suppose that the Spanish guitar took this chord from the Church and then applied it  to all their harmony, excluding the A chord, but then we overlook the fact that the flamenco scale is not a minor scale like the Phrygian ecclesiastical mode (which also has its dominant on A and its fundamental on E).  The flamenco scale is a major one, counted from the top, and therefore is properly accompanied in major chords.  Besides, all its chords except for the final one employ the notes of the mode.  In the 16th Century tablature books  religious pieces are given for guitar and vihuela.

In polyphonic music the voice sings the major third in the final chord only.  In flamenco, it is th guitar which has this note, not the voice.  The voice sings G natural with the E major cHord except when a G sharp appears as ;an; ornament in a rising phrase.  There is never an E minor chord.


Both Arabian and Andalusian music, as well as other musical systems, used rhythmical periods of a varying number of beats, and it is worthwhile to ask whether the Andalusians derived theirs from the Arabs.  However, this is scarcely possible because the Arabian rhythms are falling ones, as shown in their treatises on music, and twelve-beat periods, for example, will have the accent on the first beat (R. d’Erlanger: La Musique Arabe, Paris, P. Geuthner, 1959, vo. VI pp 67-74).  The polo-soleares rhythm is a rising rhythm with the accent on each third beat.  The principle is different.  [Note from B. Zern:  most flamencos and experts perceive the polo rhythm the same as the soleares rhythm:  a twelve beat pattern with accents usually on the third, sixth, eighth, tenth and twelfth beats.]

Indeed, as Aben Hazem the Cordovan philosopher said, the zejel, or polo, is of Spanish origin.  It would have been used by the Andalusians before the 9th century, date of the early Arab collections of zejeles.

The Andalusians seem to look for the origins of flamenco among the Arabs and Gypsies because thy are the most recent invaders of their land.  They now think that flamenco was the invention of the Gypsies, disregarding the fact that no Gypsies anywhere else have such a polo rhythm, and that all other Gypsies sing or play the music of the country they live in.

Besides the accent on the third of every three beats, the striking thing about the soleares rhythm is the syncopation accenting every two beats at the end of the twelve-beat period, with guitar rasgueado.  This is not a poetical rhythm, it is rhetorical.  It brings each period to a close with a rhythmical cadence.  The Greeks and Romans punctuated their oratory with such closer spaced feet at the ends of sentences, and the Andalusians, who spoke Latin in the Roman period, went to the great rhetorical schools of Baetica in western Andalusia, the home of flamenco (William J. Entwhistle:  The Spanish Language, London: Faber & Faber 1936, p. 75).  The people heard in their theaters and stadiums public speakers trained in these schools.

The polo-soleares rhythm is therefore a native Andalusian invention of well before the 5th century, applied to guitar music, a native technique.


The siguiriyas rhythm was probably ultimately derived from the Latin popular saturnian meter which would have become popular in Spain in Roman times.  An example of this meter is:

prím(a) incédit Céreris     Prosérpina púer.

This line of verse has the first part with three accents and the second part with two accents.

We still find this division in the following seguidilla:

Tóda vá de vérde
La mí galéra
Tóda vá de vérde
de déntro a fuéra.

Francisco de Salinas, writing in 1577 (De Musica Libri Septem, published in Salamanca) on p. 342 gives the following meter, which may be compared with the saturnian meter given above.  Salinas used a staff of three lines instead of five, and this is a C-clef.

Example to be inserted.  The first bar shows three whole notes between the middle and and lower line.  The second bar shows a whole note on the middle line, followed by a half note on the middle line, followed by a whole note on the lower line, followed by a half note between the middle and the lower line.  The third bar, like the first, shows three whole notes between the middle and lower line.  The fourth and final bar shows a whole note on the middle line, followed by a half note on the middle line, followed by a whole note on the lower line.

Salinas calls it “a very ancient and simple melody” (p. 346).  The first foot is a molossus followed by two trochees, that is to say a rhythm of five beats in two bars.  It was a meter used for singing romances or ballads, such as the Conde Claros (also used for variations played on the vihuela) and the Retrayda está la Infanta.

These two ballads had more syllables than the notes of the basic melody, so the third whole-note was divided into two half-notes, giving an extra note where needed,  When this was done, the molossus became an ionic “a majore” (Salinas, p. 346).  Salinas printed the melody and the words separately and I have joined them.

[Example to be inserted]

The difference between the two melodies is that the second one has an extra short syllable where the first one would have had arrest in performance.  The verbal accents would fall in different places according to the poem.  In the many examples given by Salinas, notes could be added to or subtracted from either end of the meter, presumably to fit the number of syllables.

This basic ballad melody has five beats in two bars just as the siguiriyas rhythm has five beats, as the flamencos count it, divided a little differently, as they start on the second beat of the old meter.  The siguiriyas begins with a spondee, followed by trochees and an extra beat.

The siguiriyas rhythm is:  [half note, half note, bar, half note followed by dot, half note followed by dot, bar, half note]

[Note from B. Zern:  This is a logical rendition of the siguiriyas rhythm which is heard by flamencos as five accented beats as follows:  ONE and TWO and THREE and a FOUR and a FIVE and…]

Salinas tells us (p. 342) that a meter which has the first syllable removed is epiploca (a Greek word), and a meter which has a syllable added is called hypercatalecticum (a Latin word) (p. 344).


In Spain, as among Arabs, before rhythmic periods the basis for music was poetic feet, or rhythmic modes.  These were used by the ancient Greeks as well as by  the later Byzantine Greeks, by the Romans, Arabs and Europeans.  They are still found as late as the 13th century in the manuscript of Montpellier, France.  The rhythmic modes are iambs, trochees, spondees, etc., and the music is glued to the poem, a long syllable having a long note, and a short syllable having  a short note.  There was a break in the music corresponding to the break at the end of the poetic line.  These rules prevented the music form having long, independent phrases.

The Arabian zajal in Andalusia originally had two characteristics:  “An accentuation identical to that of melodic rhythms,” and “The use of … popular language [rather than literary]”  (R. d’Erlanger, La Musique Arabe I, 636).  This musical accentuation was an dis “based on the antithesis of strong accents (Dum) and weak accents (Tak) balanced by silences…  This accentuation is freed from the principle of equivalence in quantity (between the note and the syllable) which is the rule in strictly quantitative classical (Arabic) prosody, which knows only the antithesis of long and short syllables.”  The Dum is a beat which sounds lower in pitch, produced by striking the center of the drum.  The Tak sounds higher and is produced at the rim of the drum.  These are the basic Arabian accents, but there are rhythmic drum sounds with other pitches and functions.  D’Erlanger asks:  “Because isn’t it in Andalusia that was born the art of the Tawsih (the literary form) and the Zajal, this new form of poetry which revolutionized the traditional prosody of the Arabs by giving more freedom to prosodic rhythm by the organization of the poem in stanzas where the (single line) verse plays no more than a secondary role?” (I, 141).

Therefore, we see the Arabs first learned to free their music from poetic feet upon listening to Andalusian popular music and the zejel.  I think that Europe too was freed from the bondage of the rhythmic modes when they first heard the Andalusian music which accompanied this poem made to be sung, a poem organized by accents instead of syllables.  The zejel spread all over Europe, even into Germany, Italy, Scotland and Ireland, where there were songs in praise of the Virgin Mary.  There was much travel and communication in the early middle ages.  In the 13th century the Castillian King Alfonso X, the Wise, himself wrote, or collected a book of songs, Las Cantigas de Santa María, Songs to Holy Mary, many of which are in the zejel form,  Note that in the macho of Tobalo’s polo occurs the phrase “Queen of the Heavens!”  (See Part One, GR 45, page 16.)

The Andalusian zejel, therefore, was measured by the number of accents instead of the number of syllables.  It was the first European musical rhythm in poetry, taking the place eventually of the former prosaic rhythm.  This means that the number of accents are counted, as in English poetry (see the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins), and that there can be more or fewer syllable in a line of verse.  This is akin to our music, in which we count the number of beats and not the length of notes.  This began in the later 11th century, first inspiring the troubadour music of Occitania (Southern France).  The troubadours, too, wrote poems in zejel form; one of the first to write them and compose the music was Guillaume, Duke of Aquitaine.  The rote love songs, descriptive songs, etc., as did the Andalusians.  This was the breakthrough for free, long phrased music in Europe, and it began in Andalusia.

To return to the question of origins, the Dorian-Andalusian scale and the position of its dominant and leading note is the revers of our music.  The ancient Andalusian rhythm is the reverse of our rhythm because in the voice the accent falls basically on every third beat.


The word “guitar” is derived from the Greek “kythara,” as is the shape of the instrument to some degree.  The kythara was a lyre with a sound-box and a fingerboard added to it.  Like the guitar it was flat-backed.  We find guitars represented in Egyptian art of the end of the 2nd millennium B.C. and on Hittite bas-reliefs of the beginning of the 1st millennium B.C.  The Greeks had a tradition attributing the kythara to Asia Minor – the land of the Hittites.  It is very probable that the Greeks brought the guitar with them to Spain, as it was already there when the Arabs and their Berber horsemen invaded the Iberina peninsula in 712 A.D.  (This is by my son Rodrigo de Zayas, who wrote it for the text to go with his LP records to appear in France in 1979.)


Although the flamenco guitar is basically a harmonic-percussion instrument, for introductions and falsetas (variations), punteado (plucked stings) is used with the fingernails.  Traditionally played with the thumb, it is now played by some solo guitarists and others with the classical guitar technique of thumb for the bass notes and fingers on the other strings.  Manolo plays almost everything with his thumb.  He tells me that if one has a precise thumb, and practices, the thumb keeps the rhythm far better and is also steadier for the accents.  It is also the traditional school.

Manolo says, “The contrast between the guitar part and the voice is one of the charms (encanto) of flamenco.”  It may be that centuries ago the Spanish guitar was only played rasgueado and that the introduction of falsetas was influenced by the Arabian lute.  The lute was monadic, with an occasional octave, fifth or fourth, and it was played with a plectrum.   Ziryab, the famous 9th century singer who started his career in Baghdad and ended it in Córdova, played his lute with an eagle’s plume, to the envy of his rivals, for which reason, as well as for the superior thick wood construction of his lute, his colleagues in Baghdad obtained his banishment (R. d”Erlanger, op. cit.).

In the middle ages there were two kinds of guitars played in Castilla, the guitarra castellana (Castilian guitar) which was played rasgueado, and the guitarra morisca (Moorish guitar) which was played punteado.

These punteado guitar parts are variations on a harmonic sequence or set of chords, or rather, the main note of a chord.  Such sequences to be played with variations may be seen in the little book Tratado de Glosas by the Spaniard, Diego Ortíz:  “his famous book of divisions for bass viol and cymbalo, compositions of great beauty, appeared in Rome in 1553 in Spanish and Italian versions” (Grove).

The fingernails are not only used for plucking the strings, but also for the rasgueado (strumming) in its various forms.  The simplest are as follows: there is a single up or down stroke on a beat, and also an up and down stroke on a single beat.  These are often accompanied by the golpe, or nail tap.  The rasgueado proper is played with four c-a-m-i fingernails struck downwards, one after the other on a single beat, followed immediately on the next beat by an up stroke with the index (i), or else, in the cadences, with a down stroke with the thumb.  In polos, soleares and bulerías, it is always played on beats seven, eight, nine and ten.  Soleares and bulerías should begin with six palpis (see below), the traditional rule, and not a confused up and down.

The rasgueado exists to set the rhythm for the listener or performer.  It is also a moment of increased rhythmical tension, and should not be syncopated as is sometimes done now.  The thumb is used for punteado, or for an upstroke, in the termination of a falseta.  The up stroke is called alza púa, púa meaning plectrum.  I have used arrows on the note stems to indicate the direction of the strokes.  The effect of a chord is different if played up or down, because the high notes come first or last.

Just before a cadence, the third beat in the vuelta of twelve beats is often played with a palpi.  The palpi curls the index finger tightly into the thumb hollow, and uncurls it suddenly, striking three or even four or five strings with force, downwards.  If the singer is able to make the proper note and the word stress coincide with this accent, it makes a very flamenco effect, especially if the singer cuts off the sound a brief rest) for a moment after this accent.

The last six beasts of a bulerías vuelta (measure of twelve notes) are played as in soleares, with two rasgueados.  Many modern guitarists in bulerías mistakenly play only the second of these two rasgueados.  Manolo calls this soso (insipid).  This also makes it more difficult for the singer to follow the rhythm.

Andalusians have a preference for periods which can be broken down into triple time.  Even when they begin to dance double time, such as in the farruca, they will soon change to triple time, which seems to offer more scope.

A practiced singer will introduce many slurs and accents, even on sixteenth notes.  In a triplet, all three notes will be slightly accented.

Flamenco guitarists particularly notice the quality of sound given by a player’s nails.  The player uses his nails on the strings and on the tapa (soundboard) of the guitar, on a shield called golpeador (tapping plate).  This shield protects the wood and used to be made of wood or celluloid, now usually of transparent plastic.  Manolo remembers the nails of all the good players he has heard, especially whether they were dull sounding or inaudible, or whether they give a “crystalline” sound.  Although he has never mentioned this to me, his nails have the desired crystalline sound.  Bulerías used to begin with a confused up and down rasgueado before starting the bulerías al golpe, those with two nail taps followed by an up stroke with accent on three strings.  Such bulerías can be heard on most records, the rasgueados coming in the appropriate spot, as in soleares.  It was Manolo who initiated starting to play bulerías al golpe with the nail taps.  No sooner had the record started than the listening guitarists said “él de Huelva’ (he of Huelva)..  It became almost his trademark on the few records he made before the Spanish Civil War.

The guitarists with dull-sounding or inaudible nails would substitute palpis in bulerías where percussive effects are necessary (an example is Javier Molina).

Guitarists with weak and brittle nails avoid palpis and golpes, and even rasgueado as much as possible. Ramón Montoya had very soft nails, so he would also avoid playing for dancing, except in special cases such as when he accompanied La Argentina in alegrías at the Opera Comique in Paris in 1937.  But instead of beginning this dance with the necessary palpis, Montoya would play quick turns, with the chords.  Also, instead of ending soleares with two palpis, as has always been done to lend finality to the piece, Montoya would play an arpeggio downwards (harp-like effect, played fairly slowly).  That is, toward the upper strings.  The lower strings are “upwards” when viewed from the player’s perspective.  This is called the “modern” way to finish off soleares.  It is quite incorrect because two palpis are indispensable.  It is to be hoped that they will be reintroduced.  Montoya was contracted by a record company during the first part of this century, and he accompanied so many singers that other players imitated him, including his weaknesses.  These peculiarities of his, which destroy the very individual rhythmic effects necessary to the flamenco guitar, may have contributed to influence the present all-pervading arpeggio at the end of every vuelta of soleares throughout the accompaniment.

All of these lacks are increased in prominence when a modern player uses a classical guitar which does not, like the flamenco guitar, have an incisive sound.

In polos, Caña, soleares and bulerías, a good player accompanies some chords or notes with a golpe on the tapa.  This is played, in the first of these three toques (guitar parts) on the third beat with the fourth fingernail, when there is no palpi on the chord.  There are also other golpes, those for bulerías being complex.  Such taps are a continuous accompaniment to good flamenco playing, and the guitarist may choose to put in more or fewer.  Nail-breaking rhythmic effects are understandably avoided by those with weak nails.  It is regrettable that Manolo de Huelva did not make more records, for he is an expert at all these flamenco effects.  It would have counterbalanced the overpowering effect of Ramón Montoya on the record market.

This percussive aspect of the flamenco guitar does not suit those who like their music softly played, nor does it suit guitarists with weak and easily broken nails (the latter should use several coats of transparent nail varnish (sold in the United States under the name “Hard as Nails”).  When heard “live”, the guitar does not seem as loud although played with full sound; but nevertheless modern records record the guitar more softly, subordinating it to the voice.  However, it does not sound this way in Andalusia, except in siguiriyas and regional malagueñas (when correctly played) which are rather soft.

The traditional guitar is played with the thumb and with ligados (ligated [tied] notes).  There are two types of ligated notes: the apagado (stopped with the left hand but not sounded with the right hand) and tirados (with the string pulled with the same left finger that stops the note when it first sounds).  Arpeggios can result in a higher note or a note on another string.  Tirados result only on a lower note.  Tirados are played on the first of a group of two notes, or on the first two of a group of three notes.  An apagado must not begin a group.  By a group I mean the notes on one quarter-note beat.  Ligated note passages can rival in speed the plucked note scales of a virtuoso and have far more gracia (charm) and flamenco flavor.  They are also much easier to play and require little practice compared to classical guitar scales.   The sound of a string plucked, apagado, or tirado, is different and produces three shades of sound.  It results in a contrapeado (syncopation) of sounds which displaces the accent and gives light and shade to true flamenco playing which is absent from the modern school of speed and invariably plucked strings.  A whole piece can be played thus with the left hand only, the right hand not striking a note.  I heard the young and very flamenco Gypsy Sabicas play a spectacular solo thus in 1936, in Madrid.  It is hoped that ligated notes will be revived.

Besides the above mentioned ligados, Manolo told me that the traditional guitar often used campanelas (chimes), and he puts many in his falsetas.  The guitarist must hunt for these.  Campangelas are common in 17th century guitar technique.  See Gaspar Sanz (Guitar Review 40).  They are notes of the same pitch on different strings, and are played consecutively.  The sounds are different due to the varying thicknesses of the strings.  One of Manolo’s best falsetas has repeated campanelas.  One can see that the flamenco guitar did not seek to play for frequently defective microphones in a stadium.  Flamenco is an intimate gathering.


In addition to making the word accent and the guitar accent coincide, it is important that the words be understood  In our music, the first syllable of a word may be sung and the second syllable may occur several notes later,  The flamenco rule is that the words are sung in little groups.  All the syllables of a short phrase in a sentence must be sung together.  One cannot vocalize, “Mary – - – - – sang.”  It must be, “Mary sang – - – - -in the garden.”  This is much easier in Andaluz because all the syllables end in vowels (they drop off Castilian final consonants), so the vocalization is done on this final vowel.  The words must fall on more or less adjacent notes and thus be understandable.  The main verbal accent should generally fall on the rhythmic accent, but not always.  For example, I had set words to a soleá, observing the group rule and the accent rule and following the lead of previous words.  Manolo turned the whole thing upside down.  The song had begun with A B and A D on the second  and third beats, the accent falling on the third beat  He increased the notes to five quarter notes (rest, DDDDC) on the first three beats, and all the strong accents of the first two lines of verse – on the first two vueltas of guitar music – were placed on the weak rhythmic spots and were not accentuated.  The whole is martelé, that is, with all the beats and half beats accentuated.  He did this to the first soleá of Triana, a song he must have heard hundreds of times.  Fifty years ago it was sung as the first of a group, and all the singers would sing it, one after the other, with different words, until they had sung it six to ten times.  In one version, where the verse begins with a strong accent on the first syllable, there are two rests in the music, and the song begins on the third beat, on D.


At the end of a group of soleares, the guitarist will play an extra vuelta (twelve beats), or tow, to ensure that the singer does not prolong his final note beyond the tenth beat.  This means that, unless the guitarist knows his singer’s individual sytle, or the singer knows where to stop, the two do not usually end simultaneously.  In the siguiriyas gitanas, written in alternating 3/4 and 6/8 rhythm, the singer will signal the close with a cadence and a corte (break) of two beats, so they can finish together.  Unlike the polos and the soleares, in the siguiriyas, the guitar usually waits for the singer throughout the song, as in our music.  He waits at the end of the 6/8 bar.  The singer does not follow such a steady beat as in the soleares.

Basically the guitar rhythm in the soleares has ten beats followed by two rests.  When the singer continues to sing, without the corte, the rests are filled by the guitar.  When the tercio (the line of verse) ends, particularly the first one in a song, the corte is usually observed, sometimes by the guitar also, and the two rests are counted to make up the twelve beats.  These two rests are a rhythmical ornamentation, similar to those used in other cyclical music, such as Arabian and Hindu music.  Singers who have no guitar accompaniment, and who beat the rhythm on a table with their knuckles, usually leave out these two silent beats.  They are even omitted by some guitarists, for example, the Gypsy guitarist Manitas de Plata, in his performance of soleares at Carnegie Hall, New York 1967.  This is quite wrong.  Accompanying dance is the best master for the beginning flamenco player.

These two rests are also important to observe when the guitarist plays a cierre (cadence) as an introduction for the singer.  This cierre is called marcar la entrada (signal the entrance).  I have been accompanied in soleares by good guitarists, and although I instructed then beforehand, one of them could not remember to make the corte to let me begin.  So I just sat and waited as he continued playing, until finally it dawned on him.  When we did siguiriyas, I asked him to do the usual two rasgueados to show me when he had finished playing (so I would not disturb his part of the performance).  Although he teaches other guitarists, he was so inflexible in his bad habit that he could not remember to play those rasgueados.  Because he did not give me the entrance signal, I entered at the correct place in the rhythm, without receiving his llamada – something I had heard modern singers do.  I sang five or six siguiriyas, continuing to enter with new estilos (songs) without giving him a chance to display his talent.  He finally seized an opportunity and burst out with some falsetas.  My friends smiled.  I tell this anecdote to illustrate the wisdom of the few old rules.  Guitarists who ignore them have only themselves to blame if the singer does not know exactly when he or she is meant to begin.  Nowadays the singer seldom gets the llamada (entrance).

The other guitarist, who had played for dancers, remembered what  I had asked him to do, but he played a syncopated rasgueado for the siguiriyas entrance.  He did not realize that the rasgueado is played to establish the rhythm, not to disturb the singer.  Although I did not say anything to him, it did prove to me that a singer has to know not only what the guitar should do, but also how to describe it in terms the guitarist will understand – something which requires considerable thought,

It is difficult for the flamenco singer to fit the word accents to the guitar accents, so that both fall on a suitable note,  If he knows the song well, and has learned the sequence of all the notes, the singer will run the notes ahead of the rhythm, or hold them back.  If done in moderation, this is considered acceptable.  But because each melody had a composer who placed the notes within the rhythm as he wished them to be sung, a signer should make an effort to find the best possible versions of each estilo (song).  A very gifted singer is excused if he makes an outstandingly good variation on some estilo, as did Antonio Chacón and the Gypsy, Tomás Pabón.  A singer who can ligar los tercios (join the twelve-beat measures without having to stop to take a breath) is very much admired.

Gifted singers will increase the number of notes, singing as many as three to a quarter note in soleares, and occasionally, even four.  In malagueñas, which is a somewhat slower type of song, some singers can fill the whole song with extra notes, singing four to a quarter note, continuously.  Antonio Chacón, for example, did this on a record when he was still fairly young, as did Manuel Centeno on a tape he made for us.  I transcribed these versions and sang them.  They are both the same malagueña by El Canario Chicoo (the Young Canary).  I was more pleased with the original, given to me by Manolo.  It is a beautiful song, with all the feeling expressed by the composer,  True flamenco has few ornaments or extra notes.  Famous singers add far too many notes to display their voices.


A singer will sometimes choose to arrange his words and notes a little differently.  “We do not sing a blueprint each time,” Manolo says.  But the guitar has its rules and the singer should learn them.  The singer must sound the note for the chord change before the guitar can change its harmony.  The clash is a signal to the guitarist to change his chord.  Short clashes are part of the tradition.   They are a kind of harmonic (not rhythmic) appoggiatura.  An absolute rule is that the guitar may change the chord only on certain notes in the rhythm.

An example which is closer to our own music than true flamenco, is the malagueña – a regional song, now part of the “flamenco” repertory.   It is in triple time and is a slow song,  Because the guitarist can only change his chord on the first beat, the singer should change the harmony on the third beat.  The singer can change on the second beat and the guitar on the following first beat.    The singer can even change oon the first beat, but this leaves rather a long clash and the guitar cannot change sooner, as it is already embarked on the first beat.

Polos and soleares change chords on beats one, seven, and nine.  The singer signals the change of harmony of the first six beats of the vuelta (period) of twelve beats, on beats eleven and twelve of the previous vuelta.  The cadences come on beats seven and nine (two rasgueados), so the singer must signal for this on or before beat six.  If the singer makes his change when the guitar is already playing beat seven, the guitar must continue on its course – no matter what the singer chooses to do – until the following vuelta, that is, until it again reaches beat seven.   Star singers with a long fuelle (breath), or with the ability to sing many extra notes with celerity, will lengthen a single vuelta to two vueltas, using the same line of verse.   Occasionally, they will lengthen a single vuelta into three.  The great Gypsy singer, Tomás Pabón, in pre-war records, gives examples of this.

Singers who have la voz dura (an inflexible or difficult voice), are sometimes unable to make their voice obey quick changes without stretching a tercio or verse (one or two vueltas).  Rafael Pareja, who also sang before the war, is an example of this; he was a success because he sang many good songs with much alma (soul)

Formerly, singers woud use few letras (lyrics),  Now they have forgotten so many of the old melodies without  having invented new ones, that, more often than not, they sing the 19th century ones, trying to make up for the narrow scope of the modern repertoire by singing more and more letras to a single melody,

Because it is difficult to fit the words properly to the tune and to the guitar accents – especially because they usually do not understand the principles – they change the notes.  This would seem to be the reason for the present day changes in  the melodies and the lack of observance of the rules; also lack of sufficient study,  The guitarist has to do the best he can for the singer; as a result, there are more and more rehearsals today, something which was formerly unheard of.  Personally, although I may know an estilo (melody) thoroughly, most of the time I am unable to recognize it when the singer is singing.  Manolo, however, with his vast experience, recognizes even the most deformed estilos, and tells me afterwards.

The singer may even insert little runs down to the bass note in places where there is no cierre (cadence), as Tomás Pabón did on one of his records, aided by his vocal facility.  Aurelio de Cádiz also did this in one of his songs.  Manolo used to argue with them about this, but they continued to do so, thus contributing to the breakdown of the rules.  If a singer matches his word accents exactly to the guitar accents, he is said to cantar pegado a la guitarra (sing glued to the guitar).

Nowadays, much of the old tradition has been lost, and singers usually try to start at the beginning of the vuelta, but after that they drift away from it, paying attention only to where they should end.  Singers don’t usually know what the guitar is playing.  Even many good ones before the war did not know that.  This makes listening to flamenco music confusing to those not familiar with it, because they are unable to perceive any clear-cut rhythmic pattern.  Andalusians themselves are confused, and have often said to me (even taxi drivers who listen to flamenco on their car radios): “I cannot explain flamenco, but I can feel it.”

The idea that modern singers drift or “float” on the guitar accompaniment was pointed out to me by Manolo de Huelva, who has been a full time professional accompanist since 1910.  He has always refused to play guitar solos, saying that flamenco music is a “conversation”.;  He has always followed the strict old rules through which a guitarist and a dancer or singer could come together for the first time and go on stage without a rehearsal.  As described above, the signals are primarily rhythmic: the guitar will cortar (cut) for the two beat rest, after a cierre (cadence), to allow the singer to enter.  Or the dancer will give one, two or even three heel taps at the cierre so that the guitarist will know he has finished that section of the dance and wishes to pass to the next section (beats 8, 9, 10).  Or, the singer will say to the guitarist, “en ésta” (in this one), meaning that the next song will be the last of the group.

Before, good singers could martelé and also accentuate along with the guitar, following the Triana tradition, considered to be the oldest.  The influence of four soleares from Alcalá (Seville) began about 1910.  Sung in an even, martelé style, they started a fashion: the word accents of these soleares are usually disregarded; the singers get lost in the rhythm and do not know where to place the word accents.  This has become the modern style of singing, making it even more confusing for the flamenco newcomer.

Over a hundred years ago, one had to cross the river to Triana over a picturesque bridge made of boats strung together, on which planks of wood were placed,  Triana was called “the mother of song,” because the oldest songs were preserved there.  Even the composers’ names are lost to memory.  The  Gypsies lived there until 1941; their forges on San Juan street are now deserted.  They were not professional singers and did not own guitars: several of the best singers lived there and Manolo often went to listen to them and learn their songs,

For centuries, all the bread for Seville was made in Alcalá de Guadaira, and brought on mule back to the city, at dawn.  For this reason, the village was also called Alcalá de los Panaderos (Baker’s Akcalá).  The Gypsy, Joaquín de la Paula, who sang those songs, lived in a cave by the side of the road,  People would drive out to listen to him sing.  The center for flamencos in Seville was the Alameda de Hércules (Hercules’ Promenade).  (See Guitar Review 43 p. 12).  At either end of the Alameda there are two gigantic Roman pillars surmounted by statues.


I want to stress that the two beats at the end of the soleares vuelta (as in the bulerías vuelta, too) are very important to the singer and the guitarist.  Beat eleven should be played with a downward strike, and beat twelve with an upward stroke.  Many modern guitarists in Seville play these last two beats as an arpeggio, which is disturbing to the singer, who no longer knows where he is in the vuelta, especially if he ha trained himself to listen to the guitar.  Of course, he can sing with this intrusion, but it detracts from the singer’s feeling of security, because this arpeggio ends on the highest guitar string, leaving the listener suspended on a single note which calls attention to itself, rather than with a series of solid rhythmical chords.

The only time this final arpeggio is used correctly is at the end of a falseta (variation), never in the accompaniment.  This is a bane which should be abolished; it does not help the singer and it also breaks one of the fundamental flamenco rules, which is that the guitar should not intrude during the song.  Being a triplet followed by a single note, it comes as a surprise in the middle of what should be the rhythmical base of a song.  This arpeggio may partially account for the fact that most modern singers do not sing together or in concert with the rhythm of the guitar.

Manolo tells me that this arpeggio played at the end of every vuelta comes from the increased number f modern solo players, and began to appear about thirty or forty years ago.  A guitar solo does not consist of falsetas alone: it also has interspersed lines of plain chords and rhythms, and these should not end in an arpgeggio.  Because many of these guitarists have not played accompaniments, they have not had to learn the basic rhythm.  They do not know how impotent it is for the singer, or, even, to themselves.


Flamenco songs are divided into three groups: de entrada (to begin), intercalada (intermediary), and de cierre (to close).  If you sing eight songs, particularly soleares and siguiriyas, sing them in that order.  There are very few de entrada songs, but many more of the other two groups.  You alternate the songs from either group.  A principle to follow in choosing songs for a program is contrast,  It is better to group the songs according to their place of origin or their composer.  Sing the low songs first and the ones with higher notes later.  Some people call a siguiriya de cierre, a siguiriya de cambio (change), but this is an error because a siguiriya de cambio is one in our major scale of A: it changes from the flamenco scale to our scale. I have six of these, two sung by Manuel Cagancho himself, a great Trina Gypsy singer.

The curious thing about flamenco music today is that while the guitar music has changed so much, the songs are still the same traditional 19th century songs, performed with very little variation.  Most of the old songs have been lost to the flamenco repertoire.  Consequently, singers will sing a group of four songs of one type, instead of six or more.

One time, a singer who came to my house sang the same estilo eight or more times with different words.  Manolo finally stopped playing when he saw that no more estilos were forthcoming.

End of the second of three parts.  The other parts can be found elsewhere in this blog.

Brook Zern

March 8, 2014   No Comments

Earliest Flamenco Recordings – 1900 and earlier – post by Brook Zern

Date:  Fri, Jan 8, 1999 10:38 AM EDT
From:  Brook Zern
Subj:  The earliest flamenco recordings

Alfonso Eduardo Pérez Orozco’s post of 1/5, which I translated and sent moments ago, mentions flamenco’s great good fortune in being among the very earliest musics recorded by the new-fangled medium of the phonograph.  Apparently, a team of Edison’s associates were sent to Spain, and starting in Seville and Cadiz, they documented flamenco song in the very earliest years of our century.

Here’s a post I sent a few years ago that bears on this topic:

“The big Diccionario Ilustrado del Flamenco (Cinterco, out of print), under Discografia Flamenca, reprints a wonderful flyer for an event that took place on Thursday, October 11, 1900.  Evidently it was a public playing of gramophone records, on calle Ancha 15  (I’m not sure of the city — maybe Seville? [No, Jerez]).  It cost 10 céntimos to get in and hear 64 sides being played.

Among them:  Soleares, by Mochuelo; Malaguenas, by Sr. Garcia; Guajiras by Mochuelo; Peteneras Nuevas; Tangos Nuevos; Soledades [Soleares] Nuevas; Malaguenas by Mochuelo and some other tasty titles.

Another early but undated flyer lists 5 double-sided discs by Sr. Juan Breba (as Breva was often written); Fandanguillos/Verdiales; Peteneras/Guajiras; Malaguenas/Malaguenas Fandanguillo; Soleares/Soleares; and Soleares/Malaguenas; and 5 others by Sr. (don Antonio) Chacón: Tarantas no.1/Tarantas no. 2; Murcianas no. 3/Malaguenas no. 1; Mineras no. 1/Tango no. 2; and Seguidillas no. 2/Malaguenas no. 3.

The text says that the cylinder system, invented in 1889, arrived in Spain by the end of that century — but was largely supplanted by the single-faced disc in 1905 (so the above double-faced discs would be later).  The first listening session in Spain took place in Seville, in the Fonda Europe, and included flamenco — the martinetes interpreted by La Gitana de Jerez.  A magazine that appeared from 1893 to 1901 mentioned a cylinder by Antonio Chacón in the last issue.  Apparently others had been made by then — including cylinders by Maruja de Triana, El Canario, Cagancho, Revuelta, Casas, Juan Breva, Niño de Cabra, Paco Aguilera (not the guitarist), El Diana, Macaca, Enriqueta La Macaca, Paco el de Montilla, Candelaria Fernandez and El Mochuelo, who in 1901 had a considerable quantity of recordings.  The first discs appeared in 1901-1902 — small, just 18 cm in diameter, single-faced, by El Canario Chico, El Mochuelo, La Rubia, Niño de Cabra, Niño de la Hera, Sebastian Scottta [sic, with all three t's] and others.  Most companies making flamenco discs in Spain were parts of foreign operations (including U.S. and French companies).  The entry goes on at length about later developments, but this should help resolve the first-records issue.

Brook Zern

February 11, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Forms – Tientos

A correspondent asks about the flamenco form called the tientos.  I tend to think of Rafael Romero and Jacinto Almadén for tientos, a form which seems real serious (sometimes deadly serious) but doesn’t seem “jondo” or “deep” — not because I reserve that term a priori for the big 3, but because tientos and other serious cantes don’t seem to have the same approach or the same aesthetic objective.  For me, even the best tientos (or peteneras, or caña, or serrana) just sort of lies there — it may be done well, or badly, or brilliantly, but it doesn’t have the potential to reveal vast layers of deep meaning to me.  I wish I appreciated these forms more.

It’s also worth noting that while there may be several sort-of-different melodic approaches for a singer to choose from in the tientos, it seems there’s really only one tientos; of course, this is quite different from the case of siguiriyas and soleá, which have literally dozens of different manifestations, often bearing the names of individuals or places.  (The tonás/martinetes may have had many distinct variants as well, though most have been lost.)

The big Cinterco Dictionary says the tiento (it insists on the singular, though it says it’s a plural noun) “is a song with three or four 8-syllable lines, usually followed by one or several 3-line estribillos, whose measure is uniform.  It’s a recent song, dating from the beginning of this century — derived from the earlier tango, which has the same compas, though the tientos is slower, more solemn and complex.  It was in Cadiz where it began to be called the “tango tiento“, which means “tango lento” (slow tango); later, in Seville, this term was forgotten, so only the adjective “tiento” remained and the form became a new cante in itself, due to the further slowing of its pace, and evidencing a certain influence from matrixes (matices) of the siguirya and the solea.  It’s a danceable cante, with verses that are customarily sentimental (patética) and sententious.  As a dance, some say it was created by Joaquin El Feo.  It is majestic, sober and dramatic, with a decidedly ritual air.  Oral tradition says (the singer) El Marrurro was one of the first to cut the tientos to this style, after which El Mellizo fixed it in its present form/context.  Molina and Mairena write: “It was Enrique el Mellizo who aggrandized the tango until it became the tientos.  Quinones seconds this, and agrees that (the incomparable Gypsy singer) Manuel Torre was the first “divulgador” (to give it a public profile), as he was announced in his 1902 presentation (theatrical debut?) in Seville as a singer of tangos (i.e., tientos).  But José Blas Vega (one of the dictionary’s two authors) affirms that its first presenter (difusor) was don Antonio Chacón, writing: ‘The tango-tiento de Cadiz, of El Mellizo, is the musical “equilibrio” from which Chacon pulled forth the tientos; he knew the Cadiz school of song, and brought to it his great creative and musical sense, so the tientos of Chacon are impregnated with enormous melodic value.  Chacon may also have heard tientos in Jerez, by Marrurro, whom he knew and admired in his youth.  Those tientos, of Marrurro, have been lost, though (guitarist and cante expert) Perico del Lunar referred to them.  The first reference to tientos appears in 1901, but the name didn’t gain currency until years later.  And although Chacón in his recording of 1909 and 1913 kept using the name tangos, he is credited with spreading the name tientos simply because the public, and aficionados and artists, identified the new modality of tangos lentos or tientos with the style that Chacón — not Manuel Torre and not Pastora Pavón — gave to it in recasting it.  Later, there were written references like this one from 1914: ‘How often I’ve heard people sing the famous tango popularized by Chacón, the Gayarre (who was Gayarre — an opera star?) of flamenco, as in “Qué pájaro será aquel“‘, thus alluding to the famous tientos verse.  Paco Percheles wrote: “Don Antonio Chacón was, contemporaneously with Manuel Torre, the other artificer of the tientos, which he popularized in Madrid, elevating them, as with everything to which he applied his art and his faculties, to a higher level.”  Augusto Butler wrote “Undoubtedly, it was Chacón who gave the form vigor and strength upon adding it to his exhaustive repertoire — and evidently gave it the name tientos.”  But José Blas Vega clarifies “These comments don’t stop us from affirming, in the spirit of truthfulness, that Manuel Torre with this version of tango lento, much more accented by him due to his interpretive tendencies, met with great success in Seville.  From him and from Chacón, Pastora Pavón (Niña de los Peines) got her main influences for tientos.  It’s enough to hear the tientos of Chacón and analyze them through extensive recordings, to appreciate that he has been the modern fundamental fount of this style, in which the tracks of the maestro are perceived directly or indirectly in some 70% of recordings, though time has unfairly obscured his creative and diffusionary labor.”  For some years now, not just in public but in recordings, most interpreters have linked the tientos to the tangos, usually beginning with tientos, given its greater expressivity and possibilities for timing (temple), and ending with tangos, which is easy, since the guitar simply has to lighten/brighten (aligerar) the rhythm.  Other important past interpreters were Tomás Pavón, Aurelio de Cadiz (Sellés), Manolo Vargas, Antonio Mairena, Pepe de la Matrona, Bernardo de los Lobitos, Manolo Caracol and Terremoto.  Today its a common (prodigado) cante with evidences of its Cadiz and Triana sources, as well as the personal touches of its early specialists, which makes it fair to say that in the last 50 years it scarcely shows any evolution (por lo que puede decirse que en los últimos 50 años apenas si se aprecía en los tientos alguna evolución).

End of excerpts from the out-of-print Diccionario Enciclopédico Ilustrado del Flamenco, Cinterco, Madrid, 1988 (which has an aversion to paragraphing).

I disagree with the idea that the tangos and the tientos have essentially the same rhythm.  Speed aside, I know that the tientos has a “dotted” rhythm, which I hear as “and-a-ONE,-and-a-two,-and-a-THREE,-and a four,…” — the same “trick” rhythm that identifies the faster, and major-key, tanguillos and zapateado; the tango, on the other hand, has a flat-footed, 4/4 or even rhythm, “one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and…”, just as boring as, say, the farruca rhythm, and so easy and obvious that even an American (me, anyway) can play it.  (Lately, modern guitarists have jazzed up the tango rhythm a bit by using neat triplet rasgueo — but the basic pulse remains simple.)

Brook Zern

February 5, 2014   No Comments

Un Baile en Malaga – 1838 Account of a Flamenco or Pre-flamenco event – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  This text comes from Alvaro Fuente Espejo’s website “Puente Genil con el Flamenco”, and was possibly provided by the flamenco expert Norberto Torres.  I believe the text author was a Polish diplomat called Count Dembowski.  [My interjections and intended clarifications appear in brackets.]  The website introduction begins:

The following is description of a flamenco gathering – or a pre-flamenco gathering, depending on your point of view – from the same year as the well-known account “Un Baile en Triana” by Estébanez Calderón.   (Little by little, things like this are coming to light…)

In terms of flamenco historiography, the this description of what [flamenco specialist] Eusebio Rioja doesn’t hesitate to call a “juerga flamenca” [the term assumes it is a flamenco “jam session”] occurred in Malaga on November 4th, 1838, the Day of Saint Carlos, and is described by the Polish writer in a letter sent from that city the following day.  It’s worth noting that this is the same year that Serafín Estébanez Calderón, who was the political leader of Seville, described a similar event in his “costumbrista” work [on popular or folk customs] titled “Un Baile en Triana”.

The letter begins with a reference to the musical and improvised activity as it developed within the collective [association] of the blind, one of the few offices that was dedicated to facilitating this group’s journey from marginal life to integration into society:

“Yesterday, early in the morning, the blind came in with a kind of serenade marking Saint Carlos’s day, which is my Patron Saint’s day.  They sang while accompanying themselves with violin, guitar and tambourine [pandereta]…”

What follows is a dance “function”, organized according to the rules of this type of spectacle, half-private and half-public, in which the flamenco genre is in the process of being created [se va a gestar parcialmente]:

“My companions from the house have come to congratulate me [felicitarme], and to reassure them of my respect [deferencia] for Spanish customs while at the same time  satisfying my curiosity, I have arranged a Gypsy zambra [the word refers to an evening of dance, as well as a specific dance form].

The organizer [[procurador], a service-oriented person [persona muy servicial], has offered to seek out the Gypsies, and they, now that the accounts are squared away, have accepted the invitation of the curial as a stroke of good fortune.

At nine in the evening, all were reunited in doña Marquita’s store:  In my role as the patrón of the fiesta, I gave my arm to the two prettiest Gypsies, and all the invited guests followed me into the sala del baile, illuminated mysteriously by an old lamp with three points, hanging down from the ceiling by a rope.  The eight Gypsies, three men and five women, took their seats in the fondo of the room.  Among the women, Rita stood out by the expression on her Moorish physiognomy and the richness of her voluptuous talla [stature], free of any constraints.  A black leather bucle [loop], adorned with a rose, fell from her left sien [temple], and her short indiana [printed calico] skirt left open to view a tiny foot imprisoned in a white leather escarpín [slipper] that would have been the envy of the lovely ladies of Paris, or the beauties of China.

Seated near Rita was the chubby/thickset [gruesa] Juana, her mother, twice as dark [doble de negro] as her, and covered with chains and fine metal cadeneta [chain stitching].  This is a custom among the Gypsies of Malaga, for “imprisoning the devil in his house”, and that belief has enriched the owner of the chestnut stand that she has in the Plaza de la Constitución.

Pepe, the most renowned bailarín [dancer; usually connotes formal dance as opposed to bailaor, flamenco dancer – but this is likely a later distinction] in Malaga, where he lives by making false keys and running a tavern, wore white pantaloons, faja encarnada [red belt], a shirt with an immense chorrera [frill], and an earring hanging from his left ear with a crucecita [little cross?] that reminded me of the Neapolitan “jettatura” [evil eye].

Rita took charge of the guitar, and don Pedro, the elegant cura [priest], began by dancing a fandango with Dolores, a young embroiderer who worked in doña Mariquita’s house.  The pirouettes of my priest did not scandalize us, because you know beyond doubt that the sacerdotes [priests]  are not excluded by law from Spanish dances.  With the arrival of the tenor and the bass [bajo], who had come from the Opera House where they had sung “Semiramis”, the Gypsy songs and dances began.  One of them accompanied the verses of the “playera”, a song beloved by the moradores [denizens] of the beach, by strumming the guitar; the men and the women alternated in the song, marking the compás [rhythm] with handclaps, a curious effect that they call “palmoteos” [sometimes simply palmas].  At times a gitano [male Gypsy] danced with his gitana.

Imagine the pair dancing together, Pepe and Rita face to face, the left arm at the cadera [hip], the right foot recogido [upswept], as they await the end of the verse.  Soon, the agrio [bitter] sound of the castanets overshadows the the handclaps and the music of the guitar; it’s Pepe and Rita, dancing together, each reproducing the same movements of arms, feet and head.  This the the paseo, or the first part of the playera.  Then, when Pepe launches himself toward Rita, she flees from him, inciting him, and when Rita advances, Pepe retreats in turn.  The moment arrives when the Gypsies renew their songs and mix into them exclamations that seem to embriagar embolden the dancers, and – a strange thing – has a similar impact  on the singers and even the spectators themselves.  “Olé jaleo!  “Toss the sugar!”  “Go for it, move it!”  “Muerte!” [“Death!”]  “Alma, Alma” [“Soul, Soul!”]  “Olé, olé, olé”.  Shouts that bubble with ardor and animation in Spanish, and that would only be possible to translate imperfectly if at all into French.

All the spectators enthusiastically repeat  the words; Juana’s strong voice dominates all the rest.  Rita’s movements are bacchanalian  [son de una bacante], her face is that of a pitonisa [fortune teller].  The flashing of her black eyes  seem to follow an invisible god whose influence she is under; her limbs [miembros] all tremble and palpitate with new life.  The Gypsy does full turns, animated with similar furious energy [furor].  In sum, give me words to describe for you the incidents of this impassioned pantomime so full of  passion, gracia, voluptuousness,  Everyone applauds Pepe and Rita who, drawing renewed energy from continuous cups of ponche [strong punch] and anís, danced several times during the night.

After the dinner, a young widow sang an enchanting rendition of the charming [graciosas] songs of “Tripilittrápala”,  the “Panadera” [bread woman] and the “Contrabandista” [smuggler].  We then heard a Gypsy butcher whose father’s girth was such that he was called the Full Moon of Malaga.  Nonetheless, he played the guitar with rare perfection, and despite his clear voice, we couldn’t listen to him because of his horrible pronunciation.   He preceded each vowel with a “v”, to the point that the words of the song emerged from his mouth so disfigured as to be ridiculous.  It was hard to fathom the vanity of that Gypsy.  Knowing that I was a foreigner, he kept interrupting the verse at any point to offer me the guitar and invite me to be heard in turn.  “Now it’s your turn to sing, sir.”  When he sang en falsete [in a falsetto voice], he wiggled and moved his legs like a madman, and invited all those near him with dance steps to render him admiring tributes.

The dancing was still going on when, on hearing the church bell strike six, doña Mariquita, anxious to open her shop, begged us to put an end to the fiesta.” ) Majado, 1986” 91-93).

[End of text]

Note by flamenco authority Norberto Torres:

This text is noteworthy because it took place the same year as the famous Triana dance of Solitario in Seville, but in another region of Andalusia that is perhaps insufficiently studied in flamenco historiography: Malaga, where we find the same sequence of events and participants.

This similarity shows that the appearance of flamenco is not an isolated incident in a specific place, but a social phenomenon that erupts within a determined context.  In both cases, a key factor is the presence of Gypsy men and women, conveniently organized to meet the demand of a public that  consists of outsiders/strangers [forasteros].

In this case, the key person and patron is a Polish aristocrat.  And the person who rounds up the “artists” is no less than the “procurador” of the city itself, in whom we recognize a consummate tejedor de redes clientelistas, [weaver of social networks] while in Seville it had been the local governor Estébanez Calderón who took on the same role.  The “function” or event seems to dilute the social classes, and in this case we see a congregation of “lower class Gypsies”, according to Ford, and members of the aristocracy, the clergy, and the judicial and artistic bourgeoisie,

The guitar is strummed, played by Gypsy men and Gypsy women, which reaffirms that it was part of the musical customs of this collective group.  ‘’Even Dembowsky – the author of the text — gives us a sketch of one of them who was a butcher by trade, but a virtuoso in the execution of his art, playing and singing at the same time [a rarity in flamenco], as did the [recent] guitarist and concert artist Pedro Bacán.  Finally, we can’t overlook the recurrent references to the noisy nature of this occasion, produced primarily by the percussive sounds of the palmas and the castanets.

End of entry

Translator’s note:  The musical form called the playera is sometimes regarded as an older form of the siguiriyas.  The theory is that playera was a shortened term for plañidera — those hired mourners whose job was to plañir, or weep and wail (yes, plaintively) at funerals.  Their lamenting — which would have been unaccompanied, and without a lively rhythm — was linked to the tragic deep song or cante jondo form known as the siguiriyas, which is indeed a tragic lament with a complex, broken rhythm that may be hard to discern.

Well, say goodbye to that theory.  The real-deal siguiriyas was and is so profound and draggy that nobody dared to dance it until Vicente Escudero took it on in the 1930′s or so.  (To his critics, he just said, “I could dance in a church without profaning it.”  For that matter, the often avant-gardist Escudero, who hung out with Dali and the surrealists, apparently also danced flamenco to the sound of a foundry press or a steam drill, so nothing was sacred to him.)

I conclude that the playera was clearly named for the layabouts and lowlifes who hung out on Malaga’s low-rent beaches or playas and might’ve been called playeras, and it was danceable two hundred years ago.  So whatever it was (it might’ve resembled or been another flamenco form), it sure as shootin’ wasn’t an early siguiriyas.

(Who sez I’m not a diligent, rigorous and qualified academic researcher?)

Brook Zern

January 29, 2014   No Comments