Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Guitarist Manolo de Huelva

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

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

Flamenco Guitarist Mario Escudero Speaks – Interview by Francisco Vallecillo – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  I’m credited with transcribing and translating this interview that Francisco Vallecillo conducted with Mario Escudero in Seville in 1984, so it must have happened.

Vallecillo published “Flamenco” magazine in the early seventies, out Spain’s North African colony of Ceuta where it seems he’d been ordered or urged or strongly suggested to live because of his dangerous anti-Fascist sentiments.  He was very supportive of my early efforts to learn about and pontificate about flamenco, and ran some of my articles.  He was the key person in starting the CAF — now the CADF or Centro Andaluz para la Documentación de Flamenco, the main archive for the art, in Jerez.

And Mario was Mario — our own beloved and accessible generous genius who made us all feel special and happy; if only we’d been able to do the same for him…

Historic interview: 
“Mario Escudero – With the Bienal as Backdrop”

by Francisco de la Brecha [Francisco Vallecillo's nom de plume], 
originally published in Sevilla Flamenca No.8 [1984?] — evidently rerun in 1992

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your opinion of Carmen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have no doubt that there is. This concert guitar, whatever clothes it may wear, today represents a kind of music that is unique in the world, and people are enthusiastic in their admiration of flamenco guitar.

Why shouldn’t concert guitar have a place in Spain? One thing is certain: Outside Spain it’s valued more highly than in, and followed by multitudes of fans. But it’s gaining ground here, gaining strength, and with  good reason, because it’s a genuinely Spanish art, just as Spanish as the instrument upon which it is played.

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

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

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

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

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

End of interview by Francisco Vallecillo.

Translator’s note:  You’re welcome, Paco.  Thanks. And thank you, Mario, for everything you gave to your admirers and your art.

January 28, 2014   2 Comments

Flamenco Guitarist Manolo de Huelva on Flamenco – article in Guitar Review by Virginia de Zayas – Part 1

Note by Brook Zern:  A few weeks ago, I added Part Three of Virginia de Zayas’s very long article to this blog.  It was preceded by my combination introduction, explanation and warning about the article, which I’m inserting again right here:

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 third and final part, from issue 47 dated Spring 1980.  The others will appear soon 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 but often valuable 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 transmission 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.

That was my introduction to Part Three.  For this Part One, let me simply reemphasize that we are entering Mrs. De Zayas’s world, which to a large extent reflects Manolo de Huelva’s views – views formed in the early part of the Twentieth Century.  So when Mrs. De Zayas uses the term “modern school of flamenco”, for example, she is talking about flamenco that was becoming outmoded sixty years ago – well before the radical changes wrought by the great guitarist Paco de Lucia and the great singer Camarón de la Isla changed the art forever, and nearly eradicated the once-immutable sound of flamenco as it had been for several generations.

I happen to believe that flamenco didn’t emerge suddenly as a completely new kind of music – instead, I think some of the key primordial song styles were forged over time, possibly more than a century, within the confines of certain Gypsy families.  If they were not precisely described in books or newspaper reports, that doesn’t mean they did not exist; it is possible that they were not bandied about in public in an era when royal decrees made it legal to kill Gypsies.

But while these songs – notably the few so-called cante jondo or deep song forms – may have a lengthy history, there is no reason to believe Mrs. De Zayas’s romantic notion that anything resembling flamenco existed back when the Romans did indeed bring dancers from Cádiz to the empire’s capital around the time of Christ.

Clearly, some of the views here are those of Mrs. de Zayas – Manolo de Huelva probably didn’t talk about ancient musical modes, or Arabic zejels, or things that may have happened in Roman times.  But it’s not too hard to separate the her views and theories from his ideas and recollections.

The idea that the polo is the oldest flamenco song – as Manolo was told by the oldest flamenco people he knew – was accepted seventy years ago, but is no longer fashionable.  The polo is now viewed as a sort of one-off – not as the progenitor of the solea.  Likewise, the caña (the “mother of the soleá”, as the polo was called “the father of the soleá”), is now considered “autoctonous”, a word that implies little relation to other styles.

Her remarks about the flamenco scale seem very informative.  She focuses on what I consider the most important distinction between flamenco music and our familiar Western music – that it is properly viewed as drawing its power from a scale that descends toward the tonic, instead of one that rises.  This reversal of a scale’s direction and the different aesthetic that results from an incessant “downwardness” is the key to understanding the pull, the gravitas, the attraction that characterizes the entire art.  Our major scale inherently goes up – C D E F G A B C.  Their scale doesn’t use the white notes of the piano from C to shining C — instead, it uses the white notes from E to E.  But it is best conceived as going down — E, D, C, B, A, G, F, E.  The importance of the descending nature of the scale is underlined by the so-called Andalusian Cadence — when E is the tonic note or root note or chord, the descent is A minor, G major (or G7), F major and E major.  (It’s interesting to note that the tonic E chord has a G sharp note within it — though the G sharp is not part of the scale itself, except as an accidental.)

(What about their happy music, like the alegrias (the word itself means happiness)?  Easy, it’s not in the modal scale or natural (Phrygian) mode that defines flamenco, but rather in our own major key.)

Also note, at the end, Manolo de Huelva’s insistence that the most flamenco guitar falsetas are the “más monótonas“.  It seems that the word here doesn’t mean monotonous in the usual English sense, though it’s related; it means that they are mono-tonal; they have a limited range, they aren’t “fancy”, and they don’t use complex chordal conceptions.  This aesthetic may be the one that attracts some people to the music of Diego del Gastor, who also relied on thumb-driven playing.  Many of them seem “all alike”, but the subtle distinctions are a key to their brilliance.

The article is followed by a three-page transcription of the polo sevillano by Virginia de Zayas — a guitar introduction and then the vocal line over the guitar accompaniment chords; I hope to put it onto this website soon.  (For anyone with a guitar, the characteristic “chorus” for the sing is identifiable as a chordal rise and fall: E F G F E).

My interjected comments are in brackets — the parentheses are Mrs. De Zayas’s.

Here is Part One:

Although flamenco is the traditional music of Andalusia, southern Spain, a deep fascination for flamenco – guitar, songs, and dance – has increased the popularity of its rhythms and harmonies throughout the world.  Flamenco was a success as far back as two thousand years ago, when dancers were brought from Cádiz to ancient Rome.

I shall write of the origin of the oldest flamenco songs, the derivation of the flamenco scale, flamenco’s traditional rhythms and their possible sources; in other words, the origin of the modern school of flamenco guitar music.

Polos, Caña, soleares, bulerias, siguiriyas, martinetes, and Cádiz dancing songs [i.e., the alegrías family] are all considered to be pure flamenco.  I use the word flamenco to designate the music and the people who perform it.

The word flamenco means Flemish.  Flanders, now northern Belgium, was the birthplace, in1500, of the future Emperor Charles V, who was also king of Spain.  When the young king arrived in Spain he was accompanied by many Flemings, including Flemish singers from his chapel.  Carlos Almendros has settled the much discussed question of why flamenco singers are called flamenco by finding early 16t century Spanish music in which the words flamenco and first flamenco – placed at the beginning of the staff – means cantor or singer. (Flamenco magazine, July 1975, p. 39.)

While in France, during the Spanish Civil War, I met a number of the best flamenco performers.  I was full of admiration for them, for their artistic perfection and precision.  The one I found most interesting, because his answers to my questions were so clear (perhaps because  he himself has asked questions all his life) was the flamenco guitarist Manuel Gomez, “Manolo de Huelva.”

Donn E. Pohren, author of “The Art of Flamenco”, writes in his book “Lives and Legends of Flamenco” (1964, p. 278):  “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?… Andrés Segovia became so inspired, in fact, that he devoted the major part of a thesis to Manolo de Huelva…When he [Manolo] becomes inspired his playing drives aficionados to near-frenzy, striking the deepest human chords with overwhelmingly direct force.”  Speaking of Manolo’s “blindingly fast and accurate thumb,” Pohren continues, “his manipulations of the compás (rhythms) are fabulous… Manolo’s left hand has been marveled at by Segovia… He [Manolo] is flamenco’s most original and prolific creator.”

Manolo de Huelva was born in 1892 in the ancient mining town of Rio Tinto, near the Atlantic port of Huelva, Andalusia.  Besides a brief apprenticeship with him in 1937-38 and during my intermittent trips to Spain between 1953 and 1958, I have been studying with him continuously since early 1966.  Little by little, I have found Manolo to be a walking encyclopedia who knows not only all the authentic flamenco songs but also, the traditional guitar music.

As with folk traditions everywhere, in Andalusia information is passed on by word of mouth.  Books and articles have been written about flamenco singers or the lyrics of flamenco songs, rather than about flamenco music itself.  My husband and I taped and bought records by the best singers of the 1953-1966 period,  I have transcribed many of these tapes as well as several pre-war records, and have then sung these versions to Manolo’s accompaniment.  But it was only by coming back again and again to details that I discovered the older versions, the ancient tradition.

Traditional rules become clear by studying the details which influence the artist’s performance; details such as whether the guitarist had strong fingernails, or whether the sound made by his nails was clear enough so that he would not have to resort to less flamenco substitutes.  Furthermore, by transcribing guitar accompaniments and then singing the lyrics, I could see how the singer matches the song to the guitar accompaniment.  This was made especially clear to me, because I was working with such a precise player as Manolo.

The Polos

I asked Manolo which are the oldest flamenco songs.  He told me, “The polos are the oldest songs.  All the old men said this when I was young.  I heard it first from the oldest singer I have known, Antonio Silva “El Portugués,” a Spaniard from the province of Seville, though Silva is a Portuguese name.  I met him in Huelva, where I had just finished learning to be a tailor.  My father brought him to the house, and Antonio came with his guitar.  That was when I first heard the polos.

“When I arrived in Seville in 1910, and became a professional guitarist, there were three Sevillian singers from the Triana district, and they sang the polos.  There names were Pepe Villalba, Fernando el Herrero (the blacksmith), and Rafael Pareja – none of them Gypsies.  The people who listened to them would ask for the polos.  Others who sang the polos were Antonio Chacón and Diego Antúnez, a Gypsy singer from Sanlúcar de Barrameda.  By playing for these older men, I learned how to accompany these cantes (songs) with their exacting rhythm.  But after about 1920, the new generation of singers no longer sang the polos: they turned to different cantes.

Origin of the Oldest Songs

What about the origins of the polo?  Although there are no written records about flamenco music before 1830, oral tradition tells us that the three oldest singers whose names are still remembered lived at the end of the 18th century.  We can learn much about the origin of the oldest songs by examining the literary and musical structure of the polos as they exist today and comparing them to the structure of a popular song which existed in Andalusia in the 8th century (and probably even earlier).

As far back as the ninth century, the Arabs in Spain wrote books of songs which, as they acknowledged, had a popular Andalusian origin.  These songs were called zajal in Arabic (zejel in Spanish), a word meaning “to raise the voice” (as in song).  (Baron Rodolph d’Erlanger, La Musique Arabe, 6 vols., Paris, 1936-1959.)  The Arabs wrote their songs in Arabic, while the Andalusians sang theirs in Romance (ancient Spanish), occasionally using Arab words.

The zejel is generally begun with two lines of verse which state the theme or subject of the whole poem.  These two introductory lines are called markaz in Aarabic – and the literal translation of this word into Spanish is poloMarkaz and polo mean center or pivot, as “pole” does in English.

The markaz or polo (also called estribillo in Spanish) was followed by four-line stanzas which comment on the subject as stated in the two-line polo.  These stanzas are called machos (males) by the flamencos; perhaps as one of a pair, at a stage when each polo had one macho.  The markaz or polo was sung by the principal singer with the other singers, and. at times, even members of the audience joined in.  The markaz (polo) was repeated in chorus after every macho stanza.  In the Arabian zejel, the rhyme of the markaz was repeated in the last line of all the stanzas.

Polo is now a flamenco word used to describe the ancient zejel.  Although we do not know when it was first used, the word or its equivalent may be assumed to have existed before the Arabs came to Spain.  The zejel runs throughout early Spanish literature; its “polo” (center, pivot or theme) was usually composed of two lines.  A beautiful example of the two-line Spanish refrain (or estribillo) as it was used in the 16th century has been published by Rodrigo de Zayas [son of Mrs. de Zayas] in Guitar Review 38 (1973), En la Fuente del Rosel (At the Rosebush Fountain).

According to Rodrigo de Zayas, the zejel is still sung in Arabic-speaking countries, and may be heard any day on the Damascus radio. This is not surprising, because since the eighth century Arab singers frequently traveled from Cordoba in Andalusia to Damascus in Syria, to Baghdad in Iraq.  Because the zejel was a poem written to be sung, European musicians soon popularized it as quickly through Europe.

The mixed Spanish and Arab population in Andalusia is reflected in the following excerpt of an Andalusian zejel which combines Romance and Arabic words.  The Romance, or Spanish words, are italicized:

Ya, Mutarnani Salbato,

Tu’n hazin tu’n penato

tara al-yaumaa wastato

Lam taduq fih geir luqema

(Oh, my crazy Salvado, you are sad, you suffer, you will see the day wasted without tasting more than a little.)

One Arabic writer of the 11th century has described this mixture of poplar Arabic and Romance as being: “the aroma of the zejel, its salt, its sugar, and its musk”  The zejel became a literary form in Arabic, and the great 11the century Cordoban philosopher Aben Hazem wrote: “Among the excellent qualities of the Spaniards… was their invention of the zejel. (Ramón Menéndez Pidal)

Although the zejel (and the polo) are originally of Spanish influence, many have been preserved in books by the Arabs since the 9th century.  The influence of native Andalusian music has been underestimated: the native population clung to its own traditions, in spite of the arrival of the Arabs.

There are two polos still known:  the Sevillian polo and the polo of Tobalo.  The songs appeared before the 19th century, although the date is not known,  Following is an example of the way the Sevillian polo is sung when it is performed:

Ere el demonio, romera, que

Que me viene a tentá


No soy el demonio ni el diablo, que

Que soy tu mujé naturá


(You are the demon, traveler, who comes to tempt me.  I am not the demon or the devil, I am your true wife).  This dialogue is the culminating stanza of the Romance del Conde del Sol, the “Ballad of the Count of Sol.”  As in the old English ballads, the word “ballad,” here, has the meaning given in Grove’s Dictionary:  “a piece of narrative verse written in stanzas and occasionally followed by an envoi or moral.”

The above romance or ballad was printed in 1847 by S. Estébanez Calderón.  It tells of the Count going off to fight in the war with Portugal, leaving his very young wife with her father.  After fifteen years, she follows him and finds him on the day he is to marry another woman.  She puts on her velvet gown and goes forth to ask him for alms.  Needless to say, the ballad ends happily for her.

Estébanez Calderón wrote his article about a night in Triana, Seville, spent listening to flamenco music.  He printed the entire ballad and changed the above stanza to read as follows:

Sois aparición, romera,

Que venisme a conturbar?

No soy aparición, Conde,

Que soy tu esposa leal.

(Are you a spirit, traveler, who has come to disturb me?  I am not a spirit, Count, I am your loyal spouse.)

The words “spirit”, “disturb” and “spouse” (aparición, conturbar,  esposa), are probably substitutions, following the 19th century custom of making popular texts more literary.

The polo of Tobalo has several different letras (verses).  The following polo was written by Rafael Pareja, who sang it for my husband and me.  Pareja was a good folk poet, as well as being a singer.

En er queré no hay sabé, que

Compañera mía, lo tengo experimentao


De lo que siempre he juío, que

Compañera mía, un Devé me ha castigao,


(In love there is no wisdom, Wife, I know it from my experience, as I have always thought, Wife, God has punished me).  The fact that the words “que” (that) and “compañera mía” (wife, companion) are obligatory, indicates the traditional origin of this polo.  Devé, or, more correctly, Devel, is the Gypsy word for God, and is close to the ancient Sanskrit word.  The above spelling is taken from a book about Gypsies, written by a college-educated Gypsy, Juan de Diós Ramírez Heredia.  Gypsies who sing flamenco originally came from part of Pakistan, and have a language of their own, akin to Sanskrit, called caló.

The only macho left to us is one belonging to the polo of Tobalo.  As has been said above, the macho must use the main idea expressed in its polo.  For example, a polo whose theme is “God has punished me,” would have the following words for its corresponding macho:

Harza y viva Ronda!

Reina de los cielo,

Un Devé A…un Devé

Me ha castigao…

(Hail and hurrah for Ronda!  Queen of the Heavens, God, A… God has punished me.)  The praise of the Queen of the Heavens (the Virgin Mary) reminds us that the zejel was used for songs written to her during the 12th century, in Castillian, and even in Scottish.  The long vowels are sung to the notes of the modal cadence.  The occasional Gypsy words are, again, a reminder that Arabic and ancient Spanish words were mixed in the same verse,

Today, most people think there is only one polo, because modern singers have not had the opportunity to hear both polos sung correctly.  There is even a record on which parts of the two polos have been combined.  Was this a Gypsy joke originally?

Manolo tells me that the old singers had never heard the polo choruses sung by anyone except the principal singer, singing alone. Yet there must have been a time, long ago, when other singers joined in, because this is the way the choruses were sung in another ancient song related to the polos and still remembered today: the Cante de la Caña.

The Cante de la Caña

El Cante de la Caña (the Song of the Cane) is so called because a cane was used to mark the rhythm of the song.  The people who sang this song usually did not have guitars.  To beat the rhythm they would use a short length of dried bamboo, especially prepared.  The soft center part would be cleaned out and the hollow cane split about two-thirds of its length.  I have seen the tribal Filipinos in the mountains of Luzón use a similar instrument.  Many years ago they made a gift of one to me, and I noticed that the split is not a mere slit:  it must be a little wider so it will give a good sound swhen it is struck against the palm of the hand.

I once saw two performers in a flamenco night club who had heard of the bamboo but evidently did not know how to use it.  They had a piece of green bamboo (still uncured), which was much larger than a hand instrument.  They had it placed vertically, fixed on a stand, and they twirled it with a piece of string or wire – making a humming sound!

Old men told Manolo de Huelva that the correct way to use the cane or bamboo is to strike it against the palm of the hand to keep the rhythm.  These old men also said that they knew the chorus of the Caña had formerly been sung by everyone present – but they themselves had never heard it performed that way.  However, we have verification of the oral tradition which tells of the chorus of the Caña being sung by the whold group in the article by the journalist S. Estébanez Calderón, who heard it performed that way.  He says that the chorus of the Caña was sung by all the singers, to a guitar accompaniment.  He does not mention the bamboo – probably because there was a guitar present, and no canes were used.

The structure of the ancient Caña is a little more complex than that of the polos.  The Caña begins with a melodic phrase sung to the exclamation Ay! – which sets the mode (scale) in which the song is to be sung.  Following the Triana tradition, this is followed by a chorus sung on the vowel “A”, and then the polo, or main theme, is begun.  This structure seems to date back to the time whent the audience ceased to join in the singing of the polo itself, and began, instead, to sing a cadence using only a single vowel sound sung to chords.

A modern variation has developed in which the exclamation Ay! Is sung in the chorus, instead of the vowel “A.”  This custom was begun by Curro Dulce, a Gypsy singer from Cádiz, from whom Ignacio Espleleta, himself a Gypsy from Cádiz, learned it.  La Argentinita learned it from him and popularized it.  It is not correct.

The Caña has no macho.  The famous flamenco singer Antonio Chacón (1869-1929), known especially for his singing of malagueñas (songs from Málaga), used to sing the Cante de la Caña, adding to it at the end, the macho belonging to the polo of Tobalo.  But this was just his own idea, as he admitted to Manolo, who accompanied him in performance.  He did follow the ancient tradition of repeating the subject of the song in the macho.

As far as we know, the polos and the Cantes de la Caña were not danced, because both either discuss a subject or tell a story.  The famous dancer La Argentinita was the first to dance the Caña, followed by here sister, Pilar López.  The Caña has now become a “mummified” relic for night clubs and the stage.  Recently I saw the famous dancer, Antonio [Soler] dance the Caña, turning it into a dramatic and humorous display intended to make people laugh.  For his act, the singer sang only part of the song, to identify it to the public.

The Caña should now be ripe for a serious revival.

Flamenco and the Arabs

In a discussion of the flamenco scale, how this scale is harmonized, and the oldest flamenco rhythms, it will be necessary to refer to Arabian music (since the Arabs occupied Andalusia for eight centuries), as well as to regional songs and dances.

Both flamenco and Arabian music are not folk, but art music.  Andalusians generally sing regional songs, such a fandangos, sevillanas, verdiales (from the mountains above Málaga), and granadinas (from Granada), not flamenco.  In ancient times what is now known as Andalusia was the most civilized region of Spain and must have had its art music.  (See the writings of the Greek geographer Strabo, 2nd century A.D.)  Something of this art music was bound to remain in flamenco music; its scale and rhythmical accentuation did survive in flamenco.

Accentuation of regional songs is the exact opposite of flamenco, although the same scale is used in both.  Flamenco is accentuated on the third beat of a group of notes, while the regional songs are accentuated on the first beat of a group of notes.  Our own music and most Arabian music are both accentuated in a manner similar to that of Andalusian regional music, suggesting that the rhythm of Andalusian regional songs may have been derived from Arabian music, or from music from other regions is Spain.  This is why most Andalusians, when they clap (palmas) for bulerías, start on the wrong beat.

Since flamenco became a public spectacle about one hundred years ago, malagueñas , tarantas, etc., began to enter its repertory, but these additions do not obey the rules of pure flamenco.

It has been suggested that flamenco music was brought to Andalusia with the Arab invasion of 711.  Certain similarities such as rhythmic cadences may have been derived by both Andalusians and Arabs from as far a way as India.  However, rhythmical guitar effects, which (combined with characteristic harmony) constitute the basis of flamenco playing, are more likely to have been developed by guitar players, that is, by Andalusians.  The guitar is basically strummed in chords which give the meter and harmony..  The Arabian lute, on the other hand, is played in single notes with a plectrum (pick), with an occasional octave, fifth or fourth.  It is significant that Spaniards did not adopt the pear-shaped lute [oud] which the Arabs always preferred.  Spaniards continued to cling to their flat-backed guitar, with its own technique.

When we speak of the influence of Arabian music we must remember that before the spread of Islam the Arabs lived in cities like Mecca and Medina as well as in the desert.  Later they conqueres many lands and were brought under the influence of the (late Greek) Byzantine music of Syria, as well as the music of Persia, brought through Iraq, and containing even influences from India.  Such influences could have reached Andalusia through the trade routes, before the Arabs spread out of Arabia.  Thus, we must turn to a period earlier than the Arab invasion of Spain and speak of the principal ancient Greek scale, which is the basis of flamenco.

The most fascinating thing about flamenco is the strange scale (mode) with its cadences.  The combination of this scale with our major chords on the guitar produces an unusual clash, because on the beginning chord of a song and to end a cadence, the scale may have a natural note in the voice, while the guitar has a sharp.  This is combined with equally strange rhythms and accentuation, with percussive effects on the guitar.

The Flamenco Scale and the Greek Dorian Scale

Here is a comparison:  Our own scale is a rising one: C D E F G A B C, with the leading note being B, and the important note being G (the fifth above the tonic).    To make the comparison easier, let us transpose this C scale to the key of  E major:  E F# G# A B C# D# E.  Here the leading note is D# rising to the E at the end of the scale.  The important note is B, the dominant, the fifth above the tonic.

The flamenco scale is the opposite: it is a descending one, beginning with the upper E.  The notes are, in descending order, E D C B A G F E.  The leading note is F, which leads down to the E at the bottom.  The important note of this modal scale is A.  The note is a fifth below the top E, contrasting with our own dominant, B, a fifth above the tonic.

This flamenco scale is the same as the ancient Greek Dorian scale, the principal Greek one.  In fact, our scale and the flamenco Dorian scale are as a mirror, in which the functions of the notes are reversed.  Our scale leads upwards, and theirs leads downwards.  The dominant note of the Dorian scale, the A, was called mese (the middle note) by the Greeks.  In the Dorian, as well as the flamenco scale, there is a B flat which is sometimes introduced, producing a heart-rending effect which makes our musicians think the music has modulated.  This is not so, as the guitar proves by continuing with its same harmony.  This B flat was recognized by the ancient Greeks and was introduced into a song in a group of four notes called a “tetrachord symnanon”,.  It is interesting to note that Manolo de Huelva tunes his second string, the B, slightly lower than do classical guitarists.  (This observation was made by Rodrigo de Zayas.)

The practical result for flamenco listeners is that we must learn to think of the music as leaning or falling downwards, instead of reaching upwards.  What seems like a minor scale (the Dorian), with a minor third when counted upwards from the lowest note of the octave, is really a major scale with a major scale when counted downwards from the highest note of the octave.  We may view this scale as minor and sad; but the Greeks, in their treatises, said that theirs was a happy music – just as we may say that our major scale is a cheerful scale.  We must change our thoughts about flamenco music: it runs the gamut from sad to serious to joyous, musically speaking.

The ancient Greek descending scale changed direction during the later Byzantine Greek period with the result that Byzantine scales are rising, beginning on the lower G of a two octave extension.  As the Arabs adopted this rising scale when they came in contact with Byzantine civilization (Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger, op. cit), they cannot have influenced the Andalusian scales and melodies, which take the opposite direction, even though Arabic philosophers bases their musical treatises on the ancient Greek ones.  Early European ecclesiastical scales are also rising, as given by Boethius.

There are many discussions about the practical application of this ancient Greek scale, but in flamenco music we find the same scale, with its downward pull, combined with our major chords with their (to us) upward pull on the guitar.  Flamenco melodies are mostly in conjunct motion.  Singers will fill in the spaces.  The Greek melodies left to us have larger intervals, but these may well have been filled in with ornaments, just as Italian 16th and 17th century melodies were.  This filling in was left to the singers.

The Oldest Flamenco Rhythm

Strange and exciting rhythms are found in flamenco, rhythms which stir up foreigners as well as many Spaniards.  The oldest flamenco rhythm is that of the group which includes polo, Caña, soleares, Cádiz dancing songs [i.e., the alegrías and several related major-key songs], and bulerías.  What makes this rhythm strange to us it that it is “martelé”, French for “hammered.”  Every beat and often half-beats are accentuated, especially in the cadences where the eighth-note accents are multiplied.  Arabian and other oriental music is martelé, as was European music until harmony and bass notes developed.  Then the harmonic accent was placed on the first of any rhythmic group of notes, so the harmonic and rhythmic accents coincided.  The first note of any group came to have  a stronger accent, which is how we usually play music today.

When the guitar plays for this polo-soleares rhythm it continues straight ahead as if for dancing.  Indeed, it was traditionally danced.  The guitar does not wait for the singer; he must fit the melody and accents to the words of the accompaniment.  The measure, also called the rhythmic period or rhythmic cycle [or compás], is a long one compared tour usual shorter measure: it has twelve quarter-note beats.  Orchestral players count our measure of 12/8 in groups of three beats, accentuating slightly on the first of each group of three.  Arabian music also accentuates the first one of almost any group of notes (see examples in R. d”Erlanger, op. cit.).

The polo-soleares rhythm  is composed of twelve quarter-note beats, accentuated thus:  one two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve.  This rhythm is just the contrary of ours (accentuated on the first [of each three].  Again, it is like a mirror with everything reversed.  The verbal accent should generally be placed on these strong beats.  However, the accent on beat nine shifts back to beat eight, probably under the influence of the guitar accentuation, but also to be nearer to the last syllable on beat six (the syllables of a word must not be too far apart).  If the poem [verse] has too many accents or if it sounds awkwardly fitted to the melody under the usual rules, the verbal accent is placed on a weak beat or on the half beats so as not to disturb the rhythm.

[Note:  Guitarists and dancers who learn to count the accentuated beats in a given compás or 12-beat unit almost always stress the third, sixth, eighth, tenth and twelfth beats.  Mrs. de Zayas seems to be thinking in terms of the singer’s concept of the rhythm, and then theorizes that the stress on eight rather than nine results from the guitarist’s influence.  But nowhere does her concept leave room for the stress on beat ten; so from a guitar or dance standpoint at least, it doesn’t make sense.]

The ending of a tercio, or line of verse, on two longer notes (for example after several eighth-notes two quarter-notes will be sung if ther beats are quarter-notes as they are in flamenco) must be an old Spanish tradition.  In 16th century Spanish villancicos [Christmas songs] the verse ends frequently on two half-notes.  This ending is even found in Italy in that period.  The two longer notes, preceded by notes of smaller value, mark a kind of rhythmic cadence.

I may be asked how it is that I know that the measure begins on beat one, whether the first two notes before the accent are not an anacrusis, and why I do not place conventional bar lines before the third beat as in our music.  My answer 1) because this is what the flamencos say, 2) because I know from singing these songs since 1937, 3) because of the syncopations, 4) finally, because this is the way the long measures, rhythmic periods or cycles, are written for oriental music.  I place the bar lines for our convenience (as I might for Palestrina’s music) and they do not imply an accent.  There are dotted bars for this rhythm.  I place an ordinary bar to mark the end of each rhythmic period of twelve beats.  This is the way the flamencos think their music and the way in which the dance steps are arranged.

To perform flamenco music one must learn to feel and think in periods of twelve beats, with their proper accentuation, and not in short measures of two or three beats, as is generally the case in our music.  In bulerías there are passages of six beats, especially desplantes (passages of syncopation).  The guitarist Pedro Elías told me that he has heard measures of three beats inserted,  but I have never seen Manolo do this, and he is a stickler for rules.

When the guitarist plays falsetas, the ligated [hammered on or pulled off by the left hand alone] give light and shade of three strengths.  This gives an effect of syncopation which traditional flamenco elaborated on purpose.  Wen the scale-like passages are all pulsated [played by plucking the strings with the right hand, or picado] these values disappear completely.  All gracia (grace or wit) is lost, and everything takes on a mechanical sound, full of speed to show that the modern flamenco guitarist can play as well as the best classical guitarist.  He especially shows that he can play exercises with the utmost velocity.  He loses sight of the fact that exercise are for the studio, not for the stage. The rejection of true flamenco explains why so many players like well-exercised race horses reach top billing.  They astonish us at the iron willpower shown.  There will always be an audience ready to be astonished, but the few perceptive listeners may have little opportunity to hear true flamenco if it is never played (listen to the excellent Sabicas).

Many passages are evenly stressed, the highest or lowest note standing out.  The tenth beat is particularly accentuated because this is where the base not falls.  It is followed by an arpeggio to the third, second, or first string, in falsetas (variations).

[Note:  Indeed, most compases resolve to the tonic note not on the final or twelfth beat, but on beat ten, with beats eleven and twelve holding that thought by arpeggiating that tonic chord.  Note that for Mrs. de Zayas (and therefore also for Manolo de Huelva), this arpeggiating should not be done following a strummed or rasgueado cycle – instead the tonic chord should be strummed.  Few guitarists insist on that convention today.]

In accompaniments, the guitar particularly accentuates beat three, which is the pivot note on which voice and guitar should coincide.  [Note: In our Western music, the voice and guitar would normally coincide throughout.  It is a baffling peculiarity of flamenco that while the guitarist maintains a steady beat and strong chords, the vocal line frequently seems to become unglued from the strict guitar rhythm – except at certain points, notably including beat three as Mrs. de Zayas states.]  Beats seven, eight, nine and ten are evenly stressed in the rasgueado and balance the accent on beat three, thus providing equilibrium to the rhythm.  Manolo never accentuates beat six, but I noticed that the late Diego del Gastor did.  However, Manolo accentuates beat six as well as the rasgueado when he plays alegrías.  [Note: It may be unusual for a guitarist today  to differentiate between the alegrías and the soleares/caña/polo family since they are often viewed as sharing the same rhythmic pattern.]  Heavy accentuation ir required when playing for dancers.  After listening to Manolo play soleares for me over the last ten years, I would almost venture to say that he puts the four rasgueado stresses in the stellar spot, relating them to beat three.

Beat twelve, while receiving the word accent in this rhythm, is distinguished from beat eleven.  On beat eleven the direction of the stroke is down, toward the upper strings while on beat twelve it is up, towards the lower strings.

A difference may be heard in sound, not in intensity.  Beat twelve is also a principal one of the bulerías, the beat at which the first strong word accdent of the beginning a a bulerías falls; the singer begins the bulerias on beat twelve.

I have heard young boys at their games such as hide-and-seek or hop-scotch in the streets count as follows: one two three four five six seven eight nine ten.  If the count were to be extended to twelve, ten would not be accentuated .  This rhythm has been ingrained in the Sevillian people for centuries.

As can be noted in his records, Tomás Pabón would begin his soleares on the third beat, although of course he knew better than to do this.  Perhaps he was influenced by the siguiriyas gitanas in which the song usually begins on this beat.  Perhaps he thought that this manner of singing soleares was “more Gypsy.”  (Pabón often spelled Pavón.)

Rests are an important part of rhythmic music and should not be forgotten, as they frequently are.  Much use is made of rests in the cycles of Arabian and Hindu music  As in flamenco, half-beats and even quarter-beats are often accentuated.  What is the rasgueado but four equally stressed beasts struck with four fingers down on a quarter-note beat followed by a quarter-note up beat played with a single finger up?  Such rests and stresses are an integral part of the rhythm and sometimes a rhythmic ornament.  In song, the accents are multiplied at the cadences, falling on eighth-notes and ending with two quarter-note stresses.  This seems to be the pattern which soleares follow.  Manolo pointed this out to me, so he is conscious of it..

It is the accent on every beat (martelé) which makes the music sound flamenco.  In the quarter-note passages of soleares, every beat is strongly stressed and must be sung with accuracy and firmness, showing a command of the rhythm.  I am now notating the alegrías of [the great Jerez guitarist] Javier Molina, as played by Manolo de Huelva.  They are in G major, with some falsetas in G minor.  Manolo stresses all the notes between the beats, and some passages are like trumpet calls.  Manolo, who has not specialized in dance music, learned this alegrias of Javier when he was  young, captivated by its beauty.  He played it in the film danced by La Argentinita, screened a number of times at New York’s  Metropolitan Museum and at the Museum of Modern Art in the fifties.  The film was initiated, artistically directed and produced by my husband, Marius de Zayas.  I cut the film because the person whom we engaged to do the cutting could not understand the music.  I had to go to Joinville, near Paris, to the cutting room to go over the film in great detail with the girl who cut negatives, impressing upon her the importance of observing my marks.  It was essential to have the steps of the foot coincided with the musical beat.  The alegrías is the most difficult dance, for man or woman.  I cut this dance once at ordinary speed and then repeated it  with portions in slow motion.  I was able to do this because of the discipline of the periods of twelve beats and the fact that slow motion was four times slower than normal speed.  The film was made in the spring of 1938 and a little later Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire made a film in which they danced dream-like passages in slow motion, but for which the music was specially composed.  We had intended to enter our film in the Cannes festival of 1939, but events [probably WWII] overtook us.

Accidental Notes and Transpositions

In monodic phrases, both in guitar and voice, besides the aforementioned B flat, other accidental notes sometimes occur.  The G, c, and D are often sharp when the phrase is about to rise, becoming natural when it descends.  This is also found in the music of the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe and in the singer’s oral tradition.  The flamencos call thes semi-tones “tonos menores” (minor tones, as opposed to whole or major tones).  These chromatically altered notes may be an influence from our music.  I have noted down an older form of siguiriyas without these sharps and a version with the sharps inserted by Manuel Torre, another great Gypsy singer.  Tomás Pabón was also partial to these sharps.  However, we must not overlook the possibility the the sharps are remnants of the chromatic mode used by the Greeks.

The flamenco guitar is played, with few exceptions, either in E or A.  All the falsetas of Paquirri, the great source of traditional guitar music, were transposed into either key.  The siguiriyas gitanas and the chuflas (bulerías) as well as the cantiñas (alegrías) , and other songs for dancing, are played traditionally in A.  The A major chord sounds its bass note that is the fifthe string, in the rasgureado.  The E chord does not sound its bass note, or sixth string, in the rasgueado, because the thumb is held against that string.  Therefore the guitar sounds quite different in these two tonalities.

The chuflas (bulerías) are rarely played in E because the fingerboard of the guitar does not give much field for the harmonico-rhythmical effects peculiar to that toque (type of rhythm).  Voice and guitar in some bulerías are in our major or minor keys.

The cantiñas (alegrías) are usually in our A major key, accompanied by our dominant and tonic chords.  The change of chords occurs on the seventh beat of a measure of twelve beats (this will be discussed more fully later).  Javier Molina accompanied them in G.  These cantiñas are said to have been brought to Cádiz by Spanish soldiers from the north who came to fight Napoleon’s invasion.  He did not take Cádiz, which is on a narrow peninsula.  These soldiers would have brought the jota of Navarra or Aragón.  The people of Cádiz put these chords to their own polo rhythm and at first these songs were called “jota of Cádiz.”  I have one very old melody which is reminiscent of the jota, but most of the older ones are lost.  People now sing the cantiñas of Enrique el Mellizo.

The Ancient Guitar and Chord Inversions

This brings us to the tuning of the flamenco guitar and its effect on chord inversion.  Rodrigo de Zayas has described guitar tuning in a historical perspective to be published in a future issue of Guitar Review.  I shall confine myself to a supposition of the popular guitar some centuries ago.  To begin with, in the modern guitar the lowest of the six strings gives a bass note to the cadences in E, which ar played with the thumb.  The polo and soleares are played in that key.  The low E string does not always sound because the right thumb is held against the sixth string [i.e., it rests on the sixth string] in rasgueado accompaniment.  It is loosely held and thus thumb and string part company slightly at times.  All six strings sound only in final cadences.  Therefore, the chords are usually inverted, unless an occasional one should be based on E on the fourth string.  The inversion of chords and frequent lack of a bass note is strange until one becomes accustomed to it, but it gives a characteristic flamenco effect and especially suits “mirror music.”  (Also, chords are often incomplete and these are especially appreciated.)

On an ancient guitar with the lower string A, if it were played in A, the above would be true, but if it were played in E the effect would be even stranger.  Inverted chords, lacking a bass note, were probably characteristic of the popular guitar since ancient times.  One thinks of Rodrigo de Zayas’ description (in Guitar Review 40) of some of Gaspar Sanz’ chords.  Ambiguity alternating and contrasting with clear cadences is the basis of the flamenco guitar.

On Manolo de Huelva’s Playing

If the ancient flamenco guitar had the first as well as the sixth course of strings missing and remained with only the four inner strings, it might possibly account for the way Manolo de Huelva plays almost exclusively on the four center strings of his modern guitar.  The first and sixth strings are rarely used except in the cadences of falsetas and sometimes on the finals of falsetas and, of course, when he uses the bass or treble strings in a falseta intentionally and not mechanically.  He is more inclined to the bass strings, and frequently composes very flamenco repetitious phrases.  Even his falsetas often end on the third or second string rather than the first.  Manolo thinks that playing on the four middle strings is “more flamenco.”  Because he constantly uses the traditional flamenco technique of playing with the thumb, this concentration of playing on these four strings requires a precise and practiced thumb.  In the rasgueados and accompaniments, he stops the high E string from sounding by holding his right fourth finger against it and on the soundboard.  This steadies his hand and permits greater rhythmic exactness.  His four fingers are held straight, with his nails against the tapa (guitar surface), where he has almost made the beginnings of a hole in his practice guitar because his fingers are so much longer than the wooden or plastic guard made for shorter fingers.

Sevillians for whom I have played one of Manolo’s tapes of bulerías notice his general avoidance of the first high string unless he especially wishes it.  They know little of flamenco, but they missed the constant modern sounding of the first string, the high E.

As a youngster, Manolo began by learing traditional flameanco as well as some eighteen classical pieces.  He had speed and, as he is a composer too, played in the style of the modern school.  But he gradually turned more and more to developing the traditional school, with thumb and ligados (ligated notes), leaving aside the contributions from the classical guitar, the arpeggios, scales, and tremolos.  He has a lightning thumb, very long, with a strong nail, and bent backwards.  He said he would not take a million pesetas for his thumb.  He must have practiced a lot to develop such a thumb.  He is particularly outstanding in the siguiriyas, with curious dissonant chords.  In bulerías he has complete control of the very difficult rhythm, upon which he improvises rhythmically and melodically with tremendous variety and inspiration.  Due to his dislike of making records—and because his falsetas are purposely very difficult, beyond the ability of most flamenco guitarists – he has not had much influence on the modern school.

Although it is possible that this technique of the thumb resting on the lowest string was not used in the older flamenco guitar, when we remember that the flamenco guitar is more than anything percussive and rhythmic, it follows that the thumb-resting technique has as its primary purpose the development of steadiness in the rhythm.  One can still see today poor guitarists, accompanying themselves in fandangos and sevillanas (songs of Seville), who use a free sweeping strumming.  This is easier than subjecting the thumb.  Manolo de Huelva says that the rhythm is very much steadier with the thumb resting on the lowest string, and steady rhythm is the most important thing for a flamenco guitarist.   In any event, the thumb technique was used by Paquirri at the end of the 18th century.  Manolo always keeps the rhythm going.  Even if he wants to repeat when practicing a new falseta, he does not simply break off, but ends the vuelta so as to make the periods or cycles continuous.  Then he begins again (these vueltas, or measures, are twelve beats in the soleares).

Manolo thinks ahead as he plays or, perhaps, his hands act with muscular continuity, accustomed as they are to the sequences of positions on the finger board.  His left hand forms the next choir almost before he has left the last one.  He plays with fully formed chords even when only a couple of its notes are pulsated.  When I write down music, he often tells me: “this is the chord,” and I must explain that in our musical notation we only write the notes actually sounded.  Of course, this does not apply very much in his lightning punteado (plucked string) passages [i.e., picado passages].  From his early playing of classical guitar he has retained command of the chords of the upper reaches of the fingerboard, and he is quick to transpose or find the same chord in alternative positions.  He also accentuates strongly, using these accentuated notes upon which to pivot the sequence.  He will tell me: “These accentuated notes, whether in the song or the guitar part, are what gives sense to the phrase… Accents make the music come alive.”  This is true in singing as well, and gradually he has made me accentuate songs more and more strongly.

Manolo also has a showman’s technique of making the end of a phrase very much softer before beginning a brilliant falseta and then attacking it strongly.  Thus for such reasons I imagine that one could break down his playing into sections, divided rather than in a continuous flow as some Wagnerian opera.  Continuous flow is given to flamenco until the end is reached.  One might call it essentially a rhythmical rather than a harmonic music, in this sense.

Cuando má monótonos son las falsetas, más flamencos son,” says Manolo (the most monotonous falsetas are the most flamenco).  “Many times they are almost the same notes but with different values.  These are the enchantments of the flamenco guitar.  This is why musicians have gathered together with flamenco guitarists to find themes for their music.”

To be continued.

End of Part One.  Part Three is already on this blog, and Part Two will be added in the near future.

February 7, 2013   No Comments

Flamenco Guitarist Manolo de Huelva on Flamenco – article in Guitar Review by Virginia de Zayas – Part 3

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 third and final part, from issue 47 dated Spring 1980.  The others will appear soon 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 — I’ll add some comments later on.


by Virginia de Zayas


Formerly, there were no solo guitar players: the only name which is still remembered and mentioned (and this, before the Spanish Civil War) is that of Paco de Lucena (not to be confused with the modern Paco de Lucía).  Paco de Lucena lived at the end of the 19th Century and he was not considered to be an outstanding player.  The following story told about him illustrates one of the rules of flamenco.

Once, while he was accompanying a song for the great singer Silverio [Franconetti], Paco suddenly introduced some fast notes, thus calling attention to himself.  Because of this, he broke the spell cast by the singer, who refused to be accompanied by him after that.  From this, we can see that traditional flamenco is a conversation.  First, the guitar plays, laying the foundation of the rhythm, and doing everything he can to display his talent.  Then the singer has the audience to himself and should not be interrupted or distracted, if he is to convey his song and its meaning.  Then the guitarist is given another chance to show what he can do, in the falsetas, which are played between each song while the singer is resting.  Then the singer is heard again.  They continue to alternate until the singer has exhausted his repertoire, or chooses to stop.

This idea of “conversation” is carried right into the guitar playing, in which the falsetas (variations) are divided into “questions” and “answers”.  The questions are played on the treble strings and the answers on the bass strings; the conversation finally ends on the lower strings.  The songs, too, are divided into a first section, which is sometimes called the question, and the second part, with or without repetition, which is called the answer.  Most modern guitarists do not know about these subtleties of flamenco as they would have before the war.


The oldest flamenco guitarist remembered, whose falsetas and accompaniments were played until recently, is Paquirri, “El Guanté” from Cádiz.  The meaning of his nickname is not known.  He was born around 1780 and he died young, in Madrid.  A woman fell in love with him, but he did not love her, so she avenged herself by poisoning him.  To save the woman, the doctor said that it was an embolism (blood clot).  Paquirri sang, played and danced with equal perfection.  His school of guitar playing was continued faithfully in Cádiz by his followers, notably by Patiño, who was too young to have known Paquirri himself.  At least a generation separated them.  These falsetas are much admired by Andrés Segovia and Antonio Chacón, the famous flamenco singer,  They are beautiful in their simplicity and “llaman al cante”, call for the song, for the singer to start.

About 1870-1880 Sevillian guitarists, with an inferior tradition, went to Cádiz to learn this school by listening to Patiño.  They were Juan el Jorobao (The Hunchback) and Maestro Pérez.  This is why the school is called the “school of Patiño”, although Patiño never composed a note.  Patiño also came to play in the new cafés cantantes in Seville, where they had flamenco song and dance.  Manolo [de Huelva, the source for Virginia de Zayas’s information in these articles] often talked with the old men in Cádiz, including “El Pollo” (The Chicken), a contemporary of Patiño’s, whom he was just in time to hear.  Flamencos used to have long conversations about these things, because almost none of them were professionals in the old days and because they had plenty of time to talk.  Afterward, when more flamencos became professionals, they would have to wait in the cafés and taverns until a client came, and during these waits there was much time to talk.  A flamenco’s hours would last until seven or later in the morning, and sometimes for three nights and two days, without sleep.  Formerly they would only drink wine and a little aguardiente (brandy); there is something about flamenco which sustains the participants

The famous Café del Burrero was the first to be remembered in Seville.  El Burrero sold donkeys (burros)  Silverio, the great singer, was associated width this café, both financially and as artistic director.  Here they established the flamenco program, beginning with the lighter malagueñas, sung by La Rubia de Málaga and La Africa, then proceeding to soleares, which are real flamenco and more serious.  Then, after several singers of soleares, the curtain fell and then rose to reveal Salvadorillo, the singer of siguiriyas.  The date of this café, I suppose, might have been around 1875,  Our information about the period comes from the writer, Demófilo [Antonio Machado y Álvarez] who was a friend of Silverio Franconetti’s.  He speaks a lot about Silverio’s desire to make flamenco better known, to bring it out of its hiding places in taverns and at family festivals.  Demófilo was opposed to this, saying that the demands of the public would make flamenco lose its quality.  He was a prophet.  In 1880 Silverio had just closed his café and was opening another.  He used to bring Patiño and the singer [Enrique] El Mellizo (The Twin) from Cádiz and, at times, he himself would sing.  He was called “el rey to los cantaores” (the king of singers).  Of Italian parentage, born in Seville, his family were tailors.  Silverio left this occupation so as to dedicate himself to flamenco.  When flamencos say that this or that song was “of [de] Silverio”, they mean that it was sung by him.  This is a great distinction.

This habit of taking the singer of a song to be its composer has caused great confusion in attributions.  The reason for it is that singers and guitarists, who used to perform above all in private gatherings, would be asked who was the composer of this song or that falseta.  They wanted to give an answer comprehensible to their public, so they would supply names of performers not long dead.  For example, I would ask Manolo de Huelva who composed a falseta, and he would reply “Patiño.”  It took me quite a while to discover that Patiño was not a composer and that he faithfully played the compositions of Paquirri.


Miguel Borrull (father), a Gypsy from the province of Valencia, was the first to introduce dissonances into flamenco music; these were particularly dissonances of the seventh.  However, I must point out that Andalusians had their own type of dissonance which consists of incomplete chords, which are not sevenths, also reversals and repetitions of the same noted at different octaves, the note which is repeated being part of an incomplete chord which sounds clashing, and other such devices.  Alonso (a town in the province of Huelva) has a fandango which is characterized by the incomplete, dissonant sounding chords.  What Borrull introduced, then, were the simplest chords of the seventh from classical music.

The origin of this was a blind Gypsy from either Valencia or Barcelona, named El Sisqué.  He knew a little music.  This was at the end of the 19th century: he had a donkey cart with a pianillo (harmonium) in it and a small boy to lead the donkey.  He would stop before bars and cafés in Barcelona and ply the songs of the eastern coast of Spain, especially tarantas, introducing chords of the seventh.  His also is the innovation of playing the tarantas in F# (previously it was played in G#).  Borrull had opened a café in Barcelona, after a very successful career in Madrid.  El Sisqué would stop before Borrull’s café  and Borrull listened and introduced these two innovations into the flamenco guitar.  He returned at times to Madrid and Seville where the other guitarists copied him.

Borrull was the first Gypsy guitarist of whom we have name and music.  He played in a very authentic flamenco style, and he also composed, with original ideas, but always following the traditional method of playing. He had a fine flamenco thumb, and played with much alma (soul).  Borrull in the north of Spain and Patiño in the south of Spain were the two outstanding guitarists of whom we have record who either introduced innovations or, in Patiño’s case, preserved Paquirri’s school for us.  Flamenco history begins with these three names.


When Manolo was a boy his dream was to go to Seville to hear the two most famous guitarists in Andalusia: Juan Gandulla, “Habichuela” (Stringbean) of Cádiz, and Javier Molina of Jerez.  When Manolo got to Seville, he immediately listened to Gandulla every night, and within a short time had memorized all he played.  Gandulla had learned Paquirri’s falsetas from his master Patiño of Cádiz, whose personal pupil he was.  Paquirri was born about 1780.  Gandulla is thus an important link in the transmission to us of Paquirri’s guitar school, the traditional 19th century school, preserved by the masters of Cádiz.

Gandulla had a marvelous left hand, Manolo tells me, and he played with authentic style and gracia (wit), and much alma (soul).  His right thumbnail was very macho (male) and hard.  He played the authentic pieces of Paquirri in all their beautiful simplicity, serving the music and not trying to put himself forward, or trying to show off on his own account,  Later on he came to play a few chords of the seventh from hearing Javier so much; they often played in the same café.

Javier’s thumb was more precise than Gandulla’s, but he never had his guitar well tuned.  Gandulla’s guitar was perfectly tuned after an instant’s testing.  The four fingernails in both of them were soft and almost inaudible in nail taps, so Javier resorted to many palpis (see above [a prior installment]), in bulerías to compensate.  (A thumbnail can be hard and the four fingernails soft.)

Javier could read music and wrote a book of his life.  After some years in Seville he returned to stay in Jerez.  He extended the use of the seventh chord and a few other dissonances in soleares, siguiriyas, bulerías and alegrías.

Manolo learned these dissonances from listening to Javier, Javier having learned the seventh from Borrull during the last years of the century.  Javier played brilliantly and was a fine composer, with many new ideas and a personal style, but always within the traditional rules.  His falsetas of soleares had a slightly different character from his siguiriyas, whereas Paquirri’s were all fitted to the different rhythms and played in both keys, E and A [Phrygian or Natural].

There is a long guitar introduction with a three note tremolo by Paquirri, but it is exceptional.  It is called Las Cuarenta (The Forty).  But Javier was really the first to play falsetas of more than two vueltas (cycles) [compases].  These long falsetas are properly played only as introductions.  Javier played falsetas of one or two vueltas only, between songs, and this is still the correct way to do it so as not to cool down the singer’s inspiration.  This was an acceptable innovation of Javier’s giving more scope to the guitar.  The point is that although revolutionary from the guitarist’s view, it did not take away from the singer and so obeyed the traditional rule.  It is a good example of a fine innovation.  Would that all innovations were as good and reasonable.


Rafael Marín, born in El Pedroso (Seville province), began the great revolution which made the flamenco guitar the hybrid that it is today.  He first learned flamenco, then the classical guitar and how to write it.  He wrote a method of flamenco guitar music (Madrid, 1902).   Instead of observing the ancient rules, especially those of playing with the thumb and ligados, he introduced arpeggios, scales and four-note tremolos [i.e., thumb note on a low string, followed by index, ring, middle and index on a higher string, or piami – the initial index finger stroke is the innovation], none of which are pure flamenco.  Rafael Marín went to Madrid and it is there that Ramón Montoya [widely seen as the progenitor of the virtuoso flamenco guitar] listened to him.

Ramón Montoya was born near Toledo and belonged to the musical tradition of the Gypsies of Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia.  This is not Andalusian flamenco.  Montoya went to Seville and there learned the traditional school correctly.  He began to study with Pepe “el Rojo” (the Red).  Then he listened to Marín and to Miguel Borrull (father) in Madrid.  He introduced Marín’s effects, and also the four-note tremolo.  But his heart was in the taranta and the rondeña, in which he could lengthen the tercios for more and more notes.  The taranta is originally from Cartagena and is sung by the miners of the hills above, at La Unión.  Montoya learned these songs from his first cousin, Basilio, and he would call them either taranta or minera.  Basilio and Ramón were cattle and horse dealers, an old Gypsy occupation, near Toledo.  The rondeñas he played were simple songs, apparently from the Gypsies of Barcelona.  He gave me two which he used in his compositions.

Montoya’s playing was perfectly even, no part being louder than the other.  He practiced at least four or five hours a day.  He was not interested in rhythm, and because of his weak fingernails he would play delicately but sonorously.  He preferred an arpeggio to a ligado.  Montoya’s mineras record contains the oldest taranta melody, played in G#, the old murcianas key.  His tarantas are in F#.  (* See editor’s note at end of article).}

Montoya had very excellent small hands.  He overflowed with notes, so much so that in the traditional toques (guitar parts), he sometimes played too many notes, and even too many beats.  In Paris in 1936-38 he stayed in the boarding house of another flamenco guitarist, Amalio Cuenca.  When Montoya composed a new falseta he would have to ask Cuenca to beat out the time, and then cut out the extra beats from the rhythm.  They would both laughingly tell us about this, illustrating the process, when they came to stay with us.  Ramón Montoya made some solo records at this time (in 1936), which are known to all guitarists.  They were initiated and financed by my husband Marius de Zayas, the caricaturist and painter, a lifetime lover of flamenco, which he played on the guitar  He was the father of Rodrigo de Zayas, whose writings have appeared in Guitar Review issues 36 and 38.

This is the origin of the modern school of flamenco guitar playing, beginning with Borrull.  Solo playing came into style, and today the flamenco player must rival the classical  guitarist and practice for hours because, now, speed is essential.  Ramón Montoya was ten years older than Manolo de Huelva (born 1892) and Borrull was older than Montoya.


We now turn to two traditions: the spoken, among the flamencos themselves, in which Paquirri and Frasco el Colorado, a Gypsy, are outstanding, and the literary, beginning with Richard Ford essentially.  Ford wrote his guide book for Spain in 1845.  Next comes S. Estéban Calderón, a journalist who happened to attend a flamenco festival in Triana sometime before 1847, at which he heard the singers El Planeta and El Fillo.  Then comes Demófilo (1881).  Since then small books by “flamencologists” have gradually proliferated.  These experts are chiefly interested in poetry and personalities.

[Editor’s note:  Richard Ford (1796-1858) write his Handbook for Travellers in Spain in 18445, and Gatherings from Spain in 1846.  Demófilo was the pseudonym of Antonio Machado y Álvarez (1846-1893) who published his collected and annotated Cantes Flamencos in 1881.  Long out of print, this book has seen two new editions in the 1970’s.]

El Fillo gave his name to a type of voice called afillá. This is a low falsetto voice used by baritones and basses.  For example, our usual falsetto is high, and when the singer goes too low and out of his falsetto range, he will sing with a natural voice.  This was the voice of Antonio Chacón, inappropriate for true flamenco.  Chacón sang malagueñas instead of soleares and siguiriyas.  In the low falsetto the singer, instead of singing in his chest voice, sings with falsetto in his chest range.  When he gets up out of this range, he will sing with a natural voice.  Conversely, when a singer sings with a natural voice and enters his chest range, he or she can sing in falsetto.  The medium range and low voices can have a few low afillá notes.  Pastora Pabón “La Niña de los Peines” (The Girl With the Combs), the great Gypsy singer of the period 1910-1940 who has made many records, is one example.  She made 78 rpm records, some of which have been re-recorded from 78 rpm to LP.  The late Aurelio de Cádiz had these low notes (his last records are not so representative of him), as did the late Perla de Cádiz (the Pearl of Cadiz).  Aurelio’s low notes sounded like a bassoon.  He was half Gypsy and La Perla was Gypsy and was especially good in bulerías.  Manolo says that no women have afillá voices.

The full low falsetto was possessed by many singers of the middle of the last century, among whom Silverio Franconetti was outstanding.  Manolo is a minute observer of voices, and he tells me that the last such singer was Diego Antúnez, a Gypsy from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, a great artist whom Manolo often accompanied.  He was old when Manolo was young.

This low falsetto voice must be an old tradition in Spain because the Pope had such Spanish singers brought to Rome to sing polyphonic music in the Sistine Capel.  This is described in an early edition of Grove [Music Dictionary].  When the Pope could no longer obtain singers with low falsetto voices, then began the reign of the castrati, in the 17th century.

In addition to the afillá voice, there are often found hoarse or bad voices.  People who have never heard an afillá voice call hoarse or bad voices afillá, for example the late [Manolo] Caracol.  I have often discussed this with Manolo [de Huelva], and it would seem that the uninitiated call afillá any voice with “mucho alma” (much soul), one which transmits [emotion], as did Caracol.

El Fillo himself was called “pollo ronco” (hoarse chicken) by his girl friend and this may have helped to begin the confusion.  Afillá and hoarse are not synonymous.  Hoarse or bad voices are not an obstacle to flamenco fame provided the singer sings “con alma” (with soul).  But the same singer would acquire far more fame if he had a good voice.

There is also the voice called rajá (rajada in correct Spanish).  Manolo tells me that the old Gypsies in Triana spoke of rajá voices, but he says that the correct word is desgarrada, or desgarrá in Andaluz.  Desgarrada means ripped, torn, broken, while rajá means cracked or rent.  Manolo describes this to me as if he were speaking of a cloth.  The only singer he has known with this kind of voice was Aurelio de Cádiz, who had a very flamenco, sonorous voice with an occasional fluttering, not a vibrato.  However, rajá is another word which seems to be used indiscriminately in describing a voice, often that of a singer with much alma, who transmits.

A touch of rajá was a characteristic of flamenco singing since ancient times and, among the Arabs, something similar was much appreciated.  The clear bel canto voice can be used only in malagueñas, provided it is sung with expression and flamenco style (i.e. martelé).

Since the middle of the 19th century the first to be remembered as singing with a natural voice is Manuel Molina, a Gypsy of Jerez.  He has also left two fine siguiriyas.  The low falsetto voice was thought to be very flamenco and manly, for of course all such singers were men with low voices.  It is very difficult to learn.  Very flamenco effects can be made with the low falsetto part of a voice because it is very flexible, even in women.  For example, the records of La Perla, in bulerías.  The voice also has much fuelle (breath) and is louder than the singers natural voice.

These effects are made with a play with the larynx, high or low.  This brings us to the “lloros de la voz” (sobs in the voice) which a singer will employ when his voice allows him to do so.  The throat must not be tight and the larynx must be lowered suddenly and then immediately raised, much as in yodeling, although less exaggerated.  I have tapes of a very excellent, pure flamenco singer Luisa La Pompi (The Behind), a Gypsy from Jerez.  By playing a 7½ at 3¾ speed, one can hear every detail.  One can also transfer the record to a tape at 7½ speed  and play it at 3¾.  La Pompi introduced many of these lloros, throughout her range, especially on descending conjunct or disjunct notes,  They do not stand out, but are a discrete ornament.  She also uses many slurs, especially in rising pairs of notes.  The slurs appear in fandangos de Huelva as well.


These are the two oldest singers of whom we know something.  The oldest is Paquirri “El Guanté”.  In addition to creating the traditional guitar school he also left three soleares which were still sung by Aurelio de Cádiz.  One is quite exceptional:  “Metío entre cañaberales / lo pájaro son clarine / que cantan al sol que sale.” (Among the canes, the birds are clarions, who sing to the sun which rises.)  This is one of the lovely nature pictures characteristic of the zejel in 9th century Andalusia.

The soleá is unusual today because it covers an extension of nearly two octaves: on octave and a sixth, attacking the upper C on the repetition, falling to establish itself on the lower E.  For this reason, not everyone can sing it. When he sang it for our tape recorder, Aurelio used some of his low falsetto notes to obtain this extension (incidentally, twenty-year-old tapes often spoil and are scarcely “for posterity” unless re-recorded often: the guitar comes out badly, sometimes sounding like a continuous organ tone).

Paquirri composed his grand soleá before leaving Cádiz, where it is traditional.  On his long journey to Madrid he would have passed through Seville and would have heard the singers there, especially Frasco el Colorao (Frank the Redhead).  This may have been about 1820-1830.  My thought is that after hearing Paquirri sing, Frasco composed his soleáCorreo de Vélez, Se cayeron cuatro gota / se mojaron los papele / Te tengo comparaíta / con el correo de Vélez.”  (“The mail from Vélez, four drops fell, and wet the papers.  I compare you to the mail from Vélez”).  It covers an octave and a seventh, and has other similarities.

We can also imagine that Frasco learned from Paquirri something of the condition of flamenco in the south.  Before the introduction of railways, towns had their own songs, as mountain villages still have their own fandango,  There was little interchange until travel became easier in the 19th century.  In Paquirri’s time only Cádiz had any real flamenco tradition, so far as we know, among the towns to the south of Seville.  So Frasco proceeded to action.  He went south to teach flamenco.  The old men of Triana told Manolo that the Gypsies of Jerez, of Puerto de Santa María, and Isla de San Fernando only knew the bulerías.  Frasco taught the Gypsies in those places to sing siguriyas.  So far as we know, the soleares did not catch up with them.  Since Frasco’s trip, a number of very fine siguiriyas have been composed in the south.  The names of the composers are remembered.  The songs of Triana are said to be so old that the composers are forgotten, and the songs are attributed to their singers.  Silverio’s trip in the south would have taken place well after Frasco’s.

I asked Manolo when he had first heard of Frasco.  He said, “As soon as I arrived in Seville I went to the home of the great Gypsy singer Tomás Pabón [Tomás Pavón] and his sister Pastora.  I had met her two years before in Huelva.  They immediately told me about Frasco, and so did other flamencos.  He was the greatest composer and singer they knew of.”


The Gypsies arrived in Spain before 1447, at which time an edict was published against them in Barcelona, where they arrived from France.  Recently Carlos Almendros (in the magazine Flamenco, July 1975, p. 39) discovered another document showing that there were Gypsies already there in 1425.  It has always seemed to me possible that some Gypsies arrived from Egypt (whence their name) through north Africa.  But if any did come from Egypt, they seemingly brought no Egyptian or north African music with them.

Did the Gypsies invent flamenco?  This has been a much-discussed question.  Undoubtedly they contributed greatly to preserving this music: they are composers and have a special genius for performing it.  They are especially gifted for the rhythms, in the way that Blacks are in the New World.  Today they and their admirers often seem to think that they are the almost exclusive progenitors of flamenco.

It is possible that Gypsies did not distort flamenco as much as they did ancient Hungarian melodies, about which Béla Bartok wrote so emphatically, rejecting the unforgettably enchanting Gypsy style with its excessive rubato, strong accentuation and variations on the violin (similar to the variation by Corelli, published by Walsh).

One might hazard the the flamenco Gypsy laments prefer a small extension, such as a fifth or sixth.  The polos, El Cante de la Caña, the serrana and some other old songs do not seem to have as much Gypsy influence as some others.

We have already answered the question of whether the Gypsies or the Arabs originated flamenco by showing that it existed before their arrival in Spain.  The structure of the polo goes back at least to the 8th century, if not earlier, particularly in its simplest form, that is the triple time accentuated on the third beat, which is probably indigenous to Spain, as well as the percussive guitar effects combined with harmony, and the rhetorical rasgueado rhythm.

[*Editor’s note:  The striking effect of Ramón Montoya’s use of the key of C# here is due in part to the intriguing sound of the tonic chord with the first and second strings played open,  Reading upward from the sixth string, the notes of the chord are G#, D#, G#, C, B (open), E (open).  Montoya’s tarantas, played in F#, derive their unique tonal signature in the same way.  The chord (from the sixth string upward) is F#, C#, F#, A#, B (open), E (open).]

End of article.

[The two prior parts of this Guitar Review article by Virginia de Zayas will appear in this blog soon.]

January 12, 2013   1 Comment

Flamenco Singer Aurelio Sellés (Aurelio de Cadiz) speaks – 1962 interview by Anselmo Gonzalez Climent – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  Aurelio Sellés was the great master of flamenco song from Cádiz — the seaport town renowned for a brighter and happier style of song than Seville or Jerez.  But Aurelio was also a notoriously crusty and cranky guy.   The flamenco magazine Candil reprinted an old interview with him, conducted in 1962 by the pioneering Argentinian flamencologist Anselmo González Climent (who coined the word flamencology as the title of a seminal book, “Flamencologia”).

Here are excerpts from the interview, with comments from Climent and some interjections or clarifications of mine [in brackets]:

Aurelio Sellés: “Juan Talega [the revered deacon of serious flamenco song and a key source for the singer Antonio Mairena] only knows the monotonous song of his uncle Joaquín [el de la Paula, a legendary master and creator of a key soleá form, the soleá de Alcalá].  He’s shameless, sloppy, boring and corto [short, i.e., limited in repertoire].  He’s a hindu [evidently a deprecatory word for Gypsy] whom I can’t stand.  A bad person, a liar, incompetent. I’m tired of the “geniality” [alleged genius] of Gypsies.  It’s Manuel Torre this, and Manuel Torre that, and on and on. [Manuel Torre is universally admired as the greatest Gypsy master of cante jondo, or flamenco deep song, which is attributed to the Gypsies of Andalucía].  In fact, Torre was only good for siguiriyas [the most difficult form of the so-called "deep songs"], and only when he could do it.  In the rest, he just danced around something that he fundamentally didn’t know.

I’ve seen Juan Talega booed by Gypsies.  [Talega's reponse: "Aurelio and all the cante of Cádiz are worthless.  There's no variety, and no personal styles.  It's all a lie."]

Climent, the interviewer, says:  “Aurelio told me to stay away from the Gypsyphiles headed by Ricardo Molina.  So I did, out of respect and docility.  But it put me in a bind.  Ricardo counterattacked, warning me that if I maintained fidelity to the payo [non-Gypsy] faction, our ethnic-preference differences would deepen, and we wouldn’t be able to make common plans for the future.  And in fact, we never again could deal peacefully with the matters that had united us so amiably before…”

Aurelio:  “Don Antonio Chacón [considered the greatest non-Gypsy singer of all time] was the divo mas largo de todos los tiempos — the most complete, masterful singer of all time.  But he adulterated all the songs, to fit them to the tastes of the señoritos (posturing would-be gentlemen).  Because of his voice [in a high register] he couldn’t really do the siguiriyas and soleá.  He got his best songs from Curro Dulce.”

“In Granada, the flamencos are demanding and violent.  They didn’t just boo La Paquera and Terremoto [two gigantic figures of the flamenco song of Jerez] — Terremoto couldn’t vocalize well — they actually threw them out.

Seville?  I don’t know anyplace where the people are more fickle.  I’m outraged that Mairena and Talega dare to talk of a Seville school of singing.  How can you compare that with the roots of Cádiz.  And the Gypsies — if there were more of them, they’d get rid of the payos and all of Andalucia.  The Gypsies are blind about flamenco.  They don’t know a lot of the styles.

Okay, Antonio Mairena knows the song. But he has no gracia [charm, appeal], and doesn’t reach your heart.  His brother Manolo [who unlike Antonio is half non-Gypsy] is better.  Antonio invited me to be on an anthology he directed [Antología del Cante Gitano y Cante Flamenco].  He took away jaleo and palmas, and put the guitarist where we couldn’t hear each other.  I think he did it out of malice.  It hurt my reputation a lot  .

My mother disliked Enrique el Mellizo [the greatest interpreter of Cádiz flamenco song of all time] — said he was dirty and uneducated.  But when he sang, Gypsies would hurl themselves out of windows.  In a way, I admire him more than Chacón.  The first time Manuel Torre heard Mellizo, they had to stop him from jumping out of the window.  [Interviewer's note: It seems that the true measure of the glory of a singer was measured by the quantity of listeners who, possessed, leaped from balconies -- at least during fiestas on the lower floors.  Aurelio assigned this honor to Chacón, Torre, Mellizo, Tomas el Nitri and once to Antonio Mairena.]…

Aurelio:  I put the true cante por alegrías [the most important flamenco song form from Cadiz] in circulation in 1921.  Before that, the best singer of alegrias was Paquirri el Viejo, a disciple of Enrique el Mellizo…

Socially, Pastora Pavón [La Niña de los Peines, the greatest female flamenco singer of all time] was a beast — she deserved no honor for her comportment…

People go to flamenco concursos [contests] because it’s fashionable.  And what’s worse — they dare to give opinions!  I mean, people who still stink of singers like Pepe Marchena [a wildly popular singer of cante bonito, or “pretty” flamenco song] or Antonio Molina [another cante bonito singer] — giving opinions!…

In Córdoba, they think they have good cantes — what a lie!  The songs are twisted, unimportant, and desangelados [de-angelized, lacking in magic].  I only sang there to show them the real cante.

“Today, nobody knows how to sing tonas, deblas, martinetes, [three similar forms of unaccompanied deep song sung in a free rhythm], cañas, polos, etc.  The only one with an idea is Manolo Caracol [the fabulous Gypsy singer] despite his famous anthology where he sang bad stuff that was not the true cante.  [The anthology is considered Caracol's masterpiece.]  He has hounded me to show him the key to some styles.  He wanted to record everything I know.  Once he beseiged me, to repeat the tangos de Cádiz as done by my older brother, el “Chele Fateta”  I don’t want to help others rob me; I’m going to write my memoirs, and record an anthology that’s all mine [sadly, Aurelio never recorded a true anthology].  Caracol keeps after me to show him the Cádiz cante, but though I consider him a true phenomenon, I fear him as a person.  With that kind of desperation, he’d take what’s mine and pass it off as his.  I know his caste [i.e., Gypsies, or Caracol's kind of Gypsies].  They’re capable of anything.  The branch that lives in Cádiz have customs to scare anyone.  I heard one, once, singing siguiriyas to someone who had just died….

No aficionado of flamenco can be a bad person.  They’re all good people.  But the flamencos themselves  — they’re crápulas [this is not a compliment, to sat the least]…

The best flamenco guitarist of all time was Rafael de Jerez.  [Could he mean Javier Molina?  Or Rafael de Aguila, a noted disciple of Javier but a lesser artist?]  Others are Manolo de Huelva, who’s still alive but drunk and worn out, and Melchor de Marchena, the greatest one right now.  Perico del Lunar [the revered Jerez guitarist who was behind the monumental 1954 Antologia del Cante Flamenco] is a veteran with too much prestige.  He’s one of the biggest sinverguenzas [shameless frauds] in the business…

When Fosforito [the admired non-Gypsy master who won the important 1956 Cordoba contest] tries to sing the Malagueñas del Mellizo, it’s pathetic.  His bad malagueñas are on a par with Mairena’s bad tanguillos [another Cádiz form].  Fosforito sings with his head.  He’s a good aficionado, but he pontificates a lot and learns little…

Juan el Ollero was a cantaor from Triana who invented the soleá of Córdoba about a century ago.  [This story may be true.  It would mean that the so-called soleá de Córdoba was not the invention of a Cordoban singer, but was imported by a noted non-Gypsy singer from Seville’s Triana district who knew that version.  The two soleares certainly sound similar to one another.]

My older brother lived in Argentina around 1878, and brought back a lot of songs that he expertly crossed with our songs.  He specialized in milongas [an Argentine song borrowed by some flamenco artists, and sometimes even considered a light flamenco song], rematados [ended] por alegrías…”

[Climent begins the second part of this interview by noting Aurelio’s reservations about the material on Antonio Mairena’s very important first LP.  Aurelio says that Mairena’s siguiriyas are barely interesting, particularly the “cambio” of Silverio — the part that changes from the Phrygian mode to the major key – and adds that the soleá of Enrique el Mellizo has merit, but is far from the mark of Enrique.  Regarding the corrido or romance — old Spanish ballads which were conserved only in a few Gypsy families — he allows it to be called authentic.  Aurelio sings “a bajini” (in a whisper) a version that is not as close to the compás of soleá as is Mairena’s.  He recalls hearing in Seville a romance sung to the style of martinete.  He deduces that the traditional form called the romance acquires a distinct flamenco base according to the preferences of each region where it’s sung.

Climent notes that Antonio Mairena often said he didn’t know know how to sing polos, cañas or — with more reason — fandangos.

Aurelio says: “I’ve never in my life heard a complete polo or caña.  And what I do remember of those cantes has nothing at all to do with what is circulating today.  I know and sing some fragments, above all the remate of the soleá apolá [accent on the final “a” of “apolá” — so it would be a soleá that was influenced by the polo, or “apola(da)“, “poloized”.   There’s talk of cañas of Seville, Triana, Cádiz and Los Puertos, and of a singer called Tobalo.  If he was a singer, he wasn’t the only one to give it shape.  There must have been many types or variants of polos.  Today, we hear one that was made fashionable by the dancer Pilar López, who knows how to experiment and invent.  But the blame for the monotony of the form goes to Perico del Lunar [the Jerez guitarist who arranged the influential and venerable and original 1954 Anthology of Cante Flamenco, and who allegedly clued the singers in on the more obscure forms].  Perico, with good or bad faith, has adulterated almost all the old cantes…His anthology is neither authentic nor correct.

Aurelio speaks of the cantiñas [a key Cádiz form, linked to the alegrías] of Fosforito and Mairena:  “This is my turf.  The entendidos [knowledgeable folks] discuss whether or not the cantiñas are independent of the alegrías.  Some say that’s not really the question: They say the cantiñas are not a special cante, but a light way of singing, of “cantiñeando” [singing out], or whatnot.  I assure you that the cantiñas are in fact a special type of alegrías, with a tonal change that isn’t too distinct [poco solido] and that gives the singer a lot of leeway and freedom.

It’s a form that is even lighter [todavia mas aligerada] than the alegrías.  The cantiñas of Fosforito are  loaded with ornamentation [adornos].  Those of Mairena are a mixture of cantes, with the unique trait of ending por romeras, which are also alegrías.  Mairena’s are more from Seville than from Cádiz.  He makes them monotonous, and they seen as repetitive as the sevillanas de baile.

The soleá de Alcalá is a slow, cold, short cante, without the bravura lines [tercios valientes] they give it in my region.  It has art, and balance.  It’s even agreeable.  But it lacks pauses, variety, high lines.  It’s very low-key [muy apagada].  The soleá de Utrera is more defined, it has more content and it even has some similarities with some variants of the soleá de Cádiz.

Climent notes that the Gypsyphile/Mairenista Ricardo Molina gained increasing respect for the non-Gypsy cante of Aurelio.  Climent wondered what had happened to cause the change.  Then one day, Molina said to him “Doesn’t Aurelio seem not quite castellano [payo or gache — i.e., not really non-Gypsy] to you — doesn’t he seem a little Gypsy?  Do you think he could really be a cuarterón [quatroon, in this case a quarter-Gypsy]?.

Aurelio:  “I don’t tolerate crossing the cante [styles].  You should start and end with the same style — of this person or that person.  You have to sing the malagueñas de Mellizo as a single entity, complete.  The same with those of Chacón or la Trini.  I can’t stand singers who start with a verse from Enrique, go to one by Fosforo el Viejo, and rematan [wind up] with La Trini’s.  It’s not right.  I sometimes need four or five coplas in order to get myself properly into the line of, say, Enrique.  Nowadays, nobody takes the trouble.  Let’s not fool ourselves — there’s a lot of ignorance out there.”

Climent:  Another key tenet for Aurelio is the almost sacred obedience to compás — flamenco’s often complex rhythmic system.  Aurelio says “The compás is the fundamental element of the cante.  I can exceed my limits, go crazy at the high point of a remate — but without ever leaving the axis of compás.  Caracol, when he gets carried away [se desordena], also loses [desordena] the compás.  It’s his worst defect, for all the high esteem I have for him.  [This is a common criticism of Caracol, acknowledged even by some admirers].  A singer who doesn’t stick to compás shouldn’t even qualify for a contest.  And certainly the cradle of compás is in Cádiz, above all in the soleá and the bulería.

I can’t sing with just any guitarist.  The tocaor who marks his own compás is a bad player.  He needs to support himself in a mathematical calculation.  And that’s not what it’s about.  The compás is something more subtle and fine than that.  You have to have it by right [de casta].   The best maestros are Manolo de Badajoz, Melchor de Marchena, Sabicas and Paco Aguilera.  Niño Ricardo [a revered and hugely influential guitarist] is incomplete, disordered, abusively personal.  He gets away from the cante and the compás.  With me, at least, we just can’t get it together.  [Again, there is some justification for this claim. Ricardo sometimes went out of compás, considered a sin in other guitarists, possibly because he was attempting very difficult material without correspondingly awesome technique, or maybe because sometimes his imagination just ran away with him.]

Fosforito has good and bad traits.  He interests me, and I voted for him in the 1956 Cordoba contest.  But his soleares are disordered, his siguiriyas indecisive, his alegrías debatable, his cantiñas absurd.  Still, his voice is appropriate to cante grande, and he’ll become one of the greats if he can capitalize on his strengths.

La Fernanda, La Bernarda, La Pepa, all those from Utrera, are Gypsies like you can find in any corner of Andalucía.  [La Fernanda de Utrera is acknowledged as the greatest female singer of soleá of all time, and the greatest cantaora of recent decades.  Her sister Bernarda is a fine singer].  They’ve done well in contests due to lack of competition.  Under the circumstances, they can be good.  The one who impresses me most is Fernanda.  She knows how to fight against her weak vocal faculties.  Among the young people, she was the one who was best in the whole Cordoba contest.”

Climent writes: La Perla de Cadiz [a great cantaora, and an inspiration for Camarón de la Isla] was the only contestant who excited Aurelio.  He convinced two judges, but failed to convince me or Molina.  Aurelio said “Perla as better than any other cantaora in the contest — at least in the cante chico.  As she is from Cádiz, she is a Gypsy with quality.  She’s a professional, born and bred [hecha y derecha].  It was ridiculous not to give her the first prize in the cante chico [lighter flamenco styles].”

Climent: “To Aurelio’s disgust, we only gave La Perla the second and third prizes.   I believe Aurelio was influenced by factors other than the cante itself.  But we all agreed that it was too bad la Perla’s husband didn’t compete, since he showed us privately that he was a magnificent singer and a fine dancer, too.  He was a “gitano fino“, prudent, modest, in his place [sic: “en su lugar“].

Aurelio: “Manolo [Manuel] Torre is the singer I admired most.  For me there have been two principal epochs of cante:  The first, of Paquirri el Guante, Enrique el Mellizo and Tomas el Nitri.  The second, exclusively of Manolo.  As a professional, he was a genius [genial], unique.  As a person, he was simple, “tirado“.  A humble Jerez fisherman, de cortas luces [uneducated, not bright], lacking character.  He was a low Gypsy [gitano barato].  But a friend of mine…”

[Translator's note:  With friends like Aurelio, who needs enemies?]

Aurelio:  The singer called Medina el Viejo was the maestro [teacher] of Niña de los Peines.  He was the best interpreter of peteneras — exactly the one that would make Pastora famous.  He also showed the way with his bulerías, tangos, tanguillos and alegrías.  Pastora specialized in tangos, taking cante chico to the heights.  But in the rest of the styles, her singing was weepy, overly quejado (lamenting), exaggeratedly abultado [inflated], as if to compensate for her lack of domination in songs as costly [demanding] as the [great and crucial] siguiriyas and soleares.”

Climent writes:  “Juan Talega’s countertheory denies any influence of Medina on Pastora.  Talega says “Pastora never suckled from that teta.  Anyone who says different is an ignoramus.  Medina had his style on some cantes, but never had the gracia and essence of Pastora.  He was a lightweight, a divo, a Pepe Marchena [pretty singer] of his era.  He was lucky, and got famous, but he’s worthless next to Pastora.  She got her cante chico, from tangos to bulerías, from Manuel Torre, her only maestro, before developing her own personality.  Manolo Caracol doesn’t agree on this, but he’s wrong.  He’s just jealous and envious of the Pavón family.  Tying Pastora to Medina is a way of taking credit away from her.  Caracol’s a bald-faced liar.  She was a disciple of Arturo Pavón, her older brother.  She is an unequalled singer of festive cante, although she does lament [queja] too much in the cante grande.  She’ll go down in history for her inimitable tangos.”

[Translator's note:  Folks, please forgive the length of this and related posts (which actually omit most of the original material).  For all we can learn by talking among ourselves, the real deal is found in the music and the words of the verses, and in the oral testimony of the artists, whose disagreements and vituperation, like their music, make us all look like amateurs.]

Climent writes:  Aurelio says he admires the singing of Manolo Caracol, and pardons his sins of theatricality, applauding his traditionalist spirit.  “I can’t deny the enchantment of his virile, rajo [rough, raspy] voice.  But I don’t like his anthology.  I don’t know why he elongates the soleá corta [“short soleá“] of Joaquin [de la Paula].  Or why he misses the purity and valentía [boldness, courage] of Enrique el Mellizo’s cante.  And his way of losing the compás when he’s emotional or distracted.

There’s no single mold for the martinetes [early, unaccompanied deep flamenco songs].  Those of Triana are classical, valiente [brave, gutsy], varied.  Those of Cagancho el viejo have no competition.  Those of Seville are more measured, more conservative, with more adornos than pellizcos [chillingly emotional touches].  Those of Los Puertos are the best of all.  They demand flexibility, courage and great depth.  Those of Cádiz are quebrados [uneven, rough] and gracioso, if that’s the word for such a serious cante.  The martinete of Tio Juan Cantoral is the most legendary.  But I prefer those of Los Puertos.

Chacon revived the caracoles [a song sharing the rhythm and major key of the alegrías], from the Goyesca period.  But even with his greatness, I don’t like the song.  The music seems defective, and nobody can stand the words.  ”Curro Cuchares and el Tato together in the Café de la Union” — why, they weren’t even contemporaries.

Juan Talega wants to show that he can sing a lot of siguiriyas.   Some are passable.  But in general, what he’s done is make variations on one siguiriya style — Loco Mateo’s.

There’s a pretty song that’s not given much weight, and is rarely sung well.  It’s a Gypsified style, with the sound of a slow bulería: the alborea [a ceremonial Gypsy wedding song, traditionally reserved for intimate gatherings].  In my youth, it was part of my repertoire.  It’s not easy.  It deserves to return to circulation.

Bulerías is not Juan Talega’s forte.  What he does is a rythmic trick, so he can keep singing soleares though it appears to be bulerias.  I don’t like those absurd and senseless combinations called the solea por bulerias or bulerias por solea.  The two songs [bulerías and soleares] are similar, but the purity of each one should be conserved.

My soleares are a mixture of Los Puertos, Jerez and Cadiz.  I don’t forget those of Frijones — nor does Caracol in his anthology.

I agree (me hago solidario) with (flamencologist) Jose Carlos de Luna when he says that the cante begins in Morón.

[Translator’s note:  This may be an odd geographic theory, or may be an attempt to attribute several great Gypsy song forms like the siguiriyas and soleares to Silverio Franconetti of the town of Morón de la Frontera.  Silverio, a non-Gypsy with an Italian father and a great singer and creator, was the key figure in first commercializing flamenco by creating “cafés cantantes” where a paying public could witness flamenco.]

Aurelio:  I’ll grant that this or that came from Seville, but Seville, in general, is very presumptuous and can’t compare with the solera [this refers to the sun-driven distillation or aging of sherry] of Cádiz.

The jabera is nothing more than a light malagueña.  It’s a malagueña for dancing.

Despite the unjust neglect [olvido] that surrounds her, Carmen Amaya is the most serious [exemplar] of baile flamenco.  With all her extraneous trappings, she never strays from flamenco.  There’s no other bailaora who’s similar to her.  The only other one who’s worthwhile is Pilar López, although at times, as Ricardo Molina correctly says, she is too “intellectual”.

Antonio Chacón was the first singer who tried to sing in Castillian (clear Spanish, rather than the loose and sometimes incomprehensible Andalucian dialect).  He did it to increase his popularity.  He thought that this way his singing would be more “formal”.  The bad thing was that his imitators carried this idea to ridiculous extremes.  Not even Pepe Marchena escaped this influence.

I have sung for the public just three times in my life.  First, with [the great dancer] Pastora Imperio at the beginning of my career.  Then at a public homage for me in Cádiz.  And finally this year in a festival dedicated to Parrilla de Jerez.”   [This would be the father of Manuel Parrilla.]

Climent writes: “Juan Talega thinks that the soleá dance is older than the song itself.  He doesn’t know the origin of the danced soleá — but he insists that the soleá as a song was invented by his uncle, Joaquín el de la Paula.  He goes on to say that the song was born in a little area encompassing Utrera, Alcalá de los Panaderos [Alcalá de Guadaíra], Seville and Triana.

Climent writes:  Ricardo Molina [the flamencologist and acolyte of the great Gypsy singer and gitanista Antonio Mairena], increasingly caught up in his gitanophilia, insists on ascribing Gypsy traits to Aurelio.  He’s sure Aurelio can’t be absolutely payo.  He tries dialectical approaches.  He professes surprise at the idea that Aurelio and his 21 siblings could really have the same father.   And it’s strange, but as if that same suspicion somehow reached his ears, Aurelio tells me that after four years absence in the war of Santo Domingo, his father returned to Cádiz and the first thing he did was go directly to his wife to assure himself of her fidelity.  “From that moment on,” Aurelio says, “that’s when my parents started to have kids one after another.”

Meanwhile, Ricardo Molina is really interested in helping Aurelio record his “flamenco testament”, in Cádiz, away from the intolerable friction with Talega and Mairena, who had made him record for their anthology unrehearsed and who chose the songs for him to sing — many eliminated in the final commercial release.  Ricardo Molina admires and really likes Aurelio — a complete change from his first response at an earlier concurso.  He calls him the most capable and genuine singer of his generation. [i.e., prior to Antonio Mairena's generation].

Aurelio speaks of the non-Gypsy giant Silverio Franconetti: “He was an incomparable siguiriyero, giving that form hierarchy and variety.  His variants and cambios are still done.  Ricardo Molina blathers about his being a disciple or imitator of El Fillo, but he was just as masterful.  I can’t stand Ricardo’s pro-Gypsy enthusiasm.  I admire lots of Gypsy singers.  Manuel Torre was a king, apart.   But all my life, the real singers have been payos [non-Gypsies].  Cante flamenco is a backbone with three names:  Silverio Franconetti, Antonio Chacón and Aurelio Sellés Nondedeu.”

Climent:  “Aurelio’s guasa [difficult attitude, wise-ass or mocking behavior] deserves an article of its own…  He’s a true friend, incorruptible, faithful to the point of partiality..”

Climent writes that the 1962 Cordoba contest was dominated by artists provided by Pulpón, the manager/promoter who had firm control of many flamenco artists.  This upset the Cordobans, and infuriated Aurelio de Cadiz, because Pulpón favored artists from near his Seville power base — including Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera and Juan Talega.  But, Climent says, things worked out pretty well “when La Fernanda, herself alone, justified the entire event.”

Aurelio: “I’m fascinated by the obsessive belief that there exist good soleares de Cordoba.  They have gracia, thanks to their simplicity.  They start without a warm-up temple, and go to the high parts (alturas) like an elevator.  I’m also intrigued by the alegrias de Cordoba.  Very castillian, cansinas [boring, tiring], of little compás, and with poor textual repertoire.  I think they came from a variant of Paquirri’s that were popular here.  I showed this to Ricardo Molina, and he agreed.”

“[Singer] Juanito Varea, from Castellón de la Plana [far north of Andalucia], was the disciple of a Gypsy guitarist called Castellón [probably not a reference to Agustin Castellón, called Sabicas].  He’s got his act together (es muy consolidada) now.  He has a classical flavor, and lots of courage.  There’s a certain leaning toward theatrical cante, above all when he does his famous fandango.  I’d advise him to lose that, and stick to the cante grande [great song, big song — a term that includes the three cante jondo or deep song forms and may go beyond that to include some other serious flamenco songs, e.g., the tarantas or granainas] where he belongs.”

Climent writes: “I noticed that Aurelio stayed near me, and seemed to sing to me.  I asked him about this, and he said “Sure, I do that in every reunion.  I sing for just one person, and forget the rest.  It’s more heartfelt, and comes out a gusto [just right].  The true singer draws inspiration from a friend, and grows.  Even in public, you have to imagine another person — just one person.”

Climent:  “We talked of the silences in the cante.  Aurelio’s are forged with “radicalidad jasperiana (¡dicho a cuenta de sus inefables jitanjaforas!“) [?].  They are more frequent and more believable than those of — we won’t name names.  They are more credible, in general, than those of the Gypsies, which are more aesthetic than metaphysical.  In Aurelio, they conform to a vital imperative.  He is clearly conscious of when this silent break is necessary.  It’s as a culmination of that which is impossible to express.  He says “Even in the alegrías or bulerías, sometimes the mood produces a kind of paralysis.  It must be the emotion.  Who knows?  But I know it when it happens.”

Climent says Aurelio wanted to visit Lucena [near Cordoba].  He didn’t say why.  But there, he sought out the baptismal font where his wife was baptised.  When he found it, he cried like a baby.

Climent:  “Ricardo Molina and Aurelio were devastated when Pepe Pinto kept impeding the efforts to have La Niña de los Peines (his wife) record her discographic testimony.  Ricardo wondered if Pinto was professionally jealous of Pastora.  He even suspected that Pastora “se ha aflojado” (perhaps meaning losing her mental faculties, which may have been the case, though around that time she did one final and fabulous star turn at a festival).  Aurelio, on the other hand, thinks she’s in excellent shape, and thinks Pinto is committing a grave error.”

End of translation.  A lot is being written about flamenco today.  I hope people will give due attention to the actual words of the flamencos themselves, including giants of the art like the irritating and irascible Aurelio Selles.

– Brook Zern   brookzern@gmail.com

October 30, 2011   1 Comment