Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Guitarist Diego del Gastor

Flamenco Guitarist Diego del Gastor – A loving, over-the-top 2008 appraisal by Luís Soler Guevara – translated by Brook Zern

This is a translation of a talk given by Luís Soler Guevara in 2008 to mark the centenary of the birth of Diego del Gastor. Señor Soler is a highly respected flamenco expert whom I knew in Málaga. He clearly loved Diego, as did many others who spent time with him in his home town of Morón de la Frontera. Soler wears his heart on his sleeve here, and one might wonder if his adoration has clouded his judgement or his normally sound critical faculties. (Fortunately, I never lost my objectivity in this matter, although for years I assumed the Flamenco Society of San Diego was a religious organization. Still, I have always maintained strict objectivity regarding Diegod.)

It’s nice to see Sr. Soler’s recognition of my dear friends Steve Kahn and Estela Zatania, and queridos amigos Bill Davidson and the late Don Pohren, who was the first and finest of the American flamencologists. Apologies for some likely mistranslations:

Mi Abrazo a Diego del Gastor — My Embrace ot Diego del Gastor

Flamenco aficionados, those of us who dedicate ourselves to investigating, studying, writing – in other words, to inventing a history of the art – fall short with respect to the guitar. We can reflect upon aspects of the guitarist, or sketch his profile as a person, and possibly situate the guitarist’s position in the history of the art, abandoning ourselves to his capacity to generate deep emotions. It’s this latter aspect that is reflected in the title of this article: My embrace for Diego del Gastor.

Diego has evoked so many perceptions among writers, poets and aficionados the I find it very deifficult to say anything new about him; and since I’m not a musician, the task is even more daunting. Still, the evocative aura of this great guitarist is so extraordinarily rich that these times come to consecrate his expressive capacity, even for those who may not know music but feel touched by his magic.

So let these words serve as a prologue to the marvelous sound that Diego, more than anyone else, institutionalized as the toque de Morón – the Morón guitar style. For that reason, I’ll try to say something about a man who, beyond Andalucía, sowed a unique approach to making the guitar make music.

His name was as singular as his playing. Before him, I know of no other guitarist with his name. It’s as if the history of flamenco reserved it especially for him. It’s enough to say those five letters for everyone to know who we’re talking about; even when a guitarist plays his signature variations or falsetas we can’t help noticing who his name, escapes like a sussuro: A whisper that, beyond admiration, conveys adoration of his music.

Diego didn’t seek interviews, but he didn’t avoid them either, in one, done for Spanish National Television, he said that his baptism lasted for five days. Five letters that on that occasion were given to him as a name. Five letters, like the five continents to which his magical sounds eventually expanded. Five letters that can define and describe his artistic personality.

D Duende
I Impresionante
E Especial
G Grande
O Original

Diego had lots of duende, his playing was impressive, his personage was special and his art was grand and original.

Diego was not a virtuos of the guitar; nonetheless he had many virtues. Among them, the one that stands out to me is the virtue of making us fall in love. In love with his profound and majestic toque festero – the lighter styles that were the pulse of so many fiestas or flamenco jam sessions. Diego’s guitar exists in the realm of the sacred.

His art, though born in this world, belongs to the sacred. He created his music as oysters create their own beautiful works: some irritating agent, though barely noticed, slowly, without any hurry, but inexorably. His dream, a living legend from an earlier time that refuses to die with the dawn of a new millennium, remains vital, and stands out in the desert of phantasms that arise in the flamenco galaxy of opportunism and glitz.

For Diego, flamenco was never just a spectacle or a commodity; when this happens, it is actually devalued. For Diego, flamenco is a culture steeped in centuries. It is a way of thinking and feeling while confronting life. A way of expressing one’s totality of life experiences and of communicating them to others through a lyrical art.

I’d like to pursue this intimate concept of flamenco whose greatest power is the most authentic expression of lives and traditions through music. I’d like to keep hauling this cart full of diverse passions that awaken and feed this Andalusian culture. I want to continue embracing Diego del Gastor – his wizardry and his imperishable enchantment. His unique way of feeling flamenco. I want to follow this flag, although I don’t like the abanderados.

I don’t want to become distracted by criticizing the consumerism that devours so many musics that flow from the heart of human beings. Still, I’ll say, paraphrasing a poem by Georges Brassens: “People don’t like it when someone has his own faith.” That’s an issue I don’t want to get into right now, one that generates attitudes and actions with respect to how one also understands flamenco.

Diego is more essence (fondo) than form. I love that essence and the ethic of things, more than their forms and aesthetics. But I can’t ignore the latter. Perhaps for this reason, those words, although situated on the border of passion, do not imply the abandonment of the merely rational.

While other Diego de Gastors may keep arising in this Andalusian landscape, my heart will keep navigating toward the paths that seek the road leading to the majestic in the art of flamenco. His providential figure, more than a song to life, was a song to love, a challenge to the impossible, a challenge to what we call art, and despite the fact that my soul is aflame, I will continue to embrace that sound.

Diego del Gastor was also Diego of Arriate, Diego de Ronda, Diego de Moron, de Utrera – Diego of a thousand different flamenco geographies, because he came from all of them. All those places where in a night of profound emotions we would discover his musical talent and his deeply personal way of caressing the guitar.

Diego, despite the fact that he rarely left his home – when he did, Utrera and the countryside were his preferred pilgrimages – generated afición in hundreds of people who, even if they were born abroad, decided to live their lives enveloped in this culture. In this – more than a task, a devotional sense of a sensibility that was so impressive – I believe he was unsurpassed. For him, it was all just natural. He was a teacher of many who never asked to be his students. Those who would be inculcated and impregnated with the simple maxim: There is no better university than life itself. And in this, Diego had the real doctorate.

Diego has been a great ambassador, especially in the U.S.: Surprisingly, he was almost as well known in California as in Andalucía. People of note in worlds as diverse as Bergamín, García Ulecia, Don Pohren, Steve Kahn, Roger Klein, William Davidson, Estela Zatania, etc., discovered the warmth of a man whose spell would captivate them forever.

It all happened without Diego traveling to the other stages of the world that are so crucial to the reputation and projection of so many other artists. For this reason, the singularity and the figure of Diego del Gastor in the flamenco world can not only be found in his artistic qualities, but also in his role as the ambassador of a unique and very intimate concept of flamenco.

His gigs, almost always marked by restricted appearances and hundreds of encounters in the flamenco world of Morón, were shared with the likes of artists like Juan Talega, Manolito de la Maria, Perrate, Joselero, Fernandillo, Curro Mairena, Bernarda de Utrera, Enrique Mendez and just a few others, but above all his muse, Fernanda de Utrera.

The Morón-born historian Juan J. García López offers us this information: “In Japan, his style is pedagogically systematized in conservatories; in New York, there exists a school of guitar that studies his musical forms and artistic modes. That school carries his name: The School of Diego del Gastor.”

Yes, Diego created a school, albeit limited in terms of repertoire, but very distinctive and intensely real and current. His falsetas and variations, somehow terrifying as well as tremendously demanding, constructed and expressed with an enchantment that is deeply profound, have not passed unnoticed for many, including some who may not acknowledge their source. Those who have questioned not the flamenco essence of his art but his framework and technical prowess.

Moreover, what gives value to an artist’s work, regardless of what he creates, is how he does it. Diego, as well as having enormous talent, had an intuition and a special heart that generated music. He captured the essences of old popular and folk songs and choruses, even from classical pieces, where he incorporated those fragments into his repertoire, giving them a rare flamenco aspect. He did his his way – that is, differently from anyone else.

Perhaps his trademarks created a certain envy in other artists, those who fall of their own weight while Diego never chased a professional career or competed with the famous guitarists of his time. He only tried to express himself within his singular sensibility, and at that he succeeded.

We hear his impressive sting in the flamenco form called the soleares, in his interrupted silences in the realm of the siguiriyas, in his musical resolutions based on the malagueñas that Ramón Montoya recorded in 1910 while accompanying the singer Niño de la Isla. And in the arrangements and combinations that he enployed to give a flamenco flair to one of the most beautiful of all classical pieces, Beethoven’s Fur Elise.

Diego put his soul into everything he played. Without soul, art cannot be sublime. Art is a mixture of the expressive qualities of the artist and the domination and knowledge of technique. For that reason, when some aficionados wish to diminish the importance of the Morón style of guitar, they focus o its technical deficiencies, defending the well executed, placing value almost exclusively on technical perfection, and forgetting the essential quality of the elements of flamenco substance that the artist must generate to create truth.

Diego was very delicate. He had, and felt, a profound respect for flamenco. He liked silence and quietude, not the applause of the public or the voices of those whose shouted encouragements were simply showing off, and revealed no understanding of the art’s rhythmic essence; his performances were preceded with enormous elegance, and his mastery of the crucial quality of saber estar – of “knowing how to be” – were almost religious.

For him, that was the rule of conduct to follow when exercising the ritual of flamenco song and guitar. If a fly bothered him, it wasn’t because he was fussy, though in some measure he was, but because of his high regard for the art.

Diego loved the flamenco song so much that at times, he buscaba arropes in the family tradition to interpret some styles of soleares. Among them were those sung by his father, and those that he, along with his brother, the singer Joselero, called “flamenco songs (cantes) of the Sierra de Grazalema”.

Some will know that Grazalema is a town in the province of Cadiz whose mountains surround Arriate, Ronda and El Gastor, where Diego was born, baptized and spent his early years.

He showed those songs to Joselero, and later they entered the repertoire of the great artist Juan Peña el Lebrijano. Diego, aside from being a guitarist, was thus a transmitter of songs.

We can’t be sure, but it seems that those old variants of the soleares, possibly originating in that area, were incorporated into the soleares of Anilla de Ronda, a singer and guitarist, who was related to Diego. Anilla, also surnamed Amaya, and a Gypsy as was Diego, was widely admired as a singer of soleares.

One possible interpretation of all this leads us to say that the songs brought to light by Diego dated back almost a century and a half, and the family tradition brings it to us today.

This is one revelation among hundreds, among thousands of sounds, that leads me to say with some justification that the evolution of time has conserved and polished through the years the manifest grandeur of this musical culture of southern Spain, unprecedented in the history of civilization. Diego Flores Amaya is one more link in a chain whose reach offers us a perspective of centuries.

Photo caption – Diego, with Curro Vera and neighbors from the Barrio de Santa Maria in Morón

Having said this, it seems proper to note that Diego was a great aficionado of flamenco song, a quality that is not often seen among the new figures that have arisen in flamenco guitar, where technique dominates their approach, but where the heart, that motor of deep emotions, remains firmly in second place.

To this last thread, let me offer some reflections that underline the contrast between the guitar of Diego del Gastor and the new conception of flamenco shared by most of the great flamenco guitarists, whose prestige I won’t question, much less criticize.

To illustrate, I will describe some qualities that apply to guitar playing. First, the tendency to accelerate the rhythm. Then the sheer velocity in the production of notes. Today there are excellent guitarists who, in a common phrase, eat up the guitar – but who may not digest or assimilate it. They can play ten notes per second, but are incapable of generating a silence that captivates the soul.

Silences are not the negation of music, but the most exquisite of its contrasts. Music is the organization of elements which expresses the combination of sounds and silences, Silences are the space which fills our sense of reflection. Without those silences there are fewer moments for reflection and that therefore one cannot fully relish the sublime moments in guitar playing. Diego took the distance with respect to that conception or current of understanding the marvelous world of music.

Diego felt the necessity of transmitting his art. For that he had to interpret and above all digest what he wished in order to call forth the rest, In every artist’s mind there is something deeply present: the communication of his world, his work and his art.

To digest and absorb is also to meditate very carefully upon something in order to understand it. No one would drink boiling coffee because, aside from burning you, it would not have real flavor. In other words, the act of drinking coffee requires spaces for reflection in order to appreciate what you’re doing. When we speak of harmonic sounds, and although the human ear, as a receiver of sound, is scientifically prepared to instantaneously connect to its production, its storehouse of associations and its understanding demand a temporal space to enjoy the process.

Taking that theory to extremes: If a guitarist could produce all his sounds at once, we would achieve the complete negation of harmony and of music itself. We could only perceive one single noise.

When the rhythm accelerates, the silences become shorter. Almost imperceptible, one might say. And the less silence, the less sosiego and the fewer reflections. I think it’s fair to say that allowing oneself to be captivated by the notes of a flamenco guitar requires a great calmness. Without that predisposition it’s impossible to perceive all its distinctive aroma.

Let’s take as an example a sung soleares. The interpretation of the sound does not rise at the peak, but at the conclusion, in the transit toward the end, when the song is reaching its close. Raising the voice is relatively easy. What’s really difficult is maintaining its descending scale, the sostenido (sharp). In those spaces, in those silences, we find the best flavors, the best moments. The guitar also seeks this catharsis. Sustaining a note is much harder than elevating it. And I believe that here we find the world of Diego.

Another current today is the construction of very extended falsetas (guitar variations) together with the singing action: the tendency toward concertism. In this situation the accompanying guitar per se should not take over the mission of the principal subject in a flamenco oration – that is, of the singer – but should instead complement the work of the singer. That’s done by offering dialogues, and indicating paths so the song can be manifested in its fullest dimension.

Photo caption: Steve Kahn and Diego del Gastor in Morón, 1967. Photo by Chris Carnes

The act of singing, or of playing in the guitarist’s case, is necessarily the product of the register of the artist. This register stores a treasury of dialogues that the singer as much as the guitarist transform in establishing through the principal aspect, the song. I say the song, not the singer.

Remember what Fernanda de Utrera said in an interview: “Diego and I were the pair that most perfectly complemented one another (se ha compenetrado] in flamenco. Each of us in love with the art of the other. I was the strings of his guitar, and he was the urgent lament (queja) of my voice.” And she concluded: “No one knew how to draw out what I carry within myself like Diego del Gastor.”

Francisco Ayala also offered a lucid analysis of the figure of Diego, affirming: “The playing of Diego del Gastor contains more soul, more duende, than the playing of any other flamenco guitarist today. Diego doesn’t adhere to the modern trend for speed and for personal showing off (lucimiento), admittedly necessary for those who must compete in today’s commercial atmosphere of flamenco. On the contrary, he tenaciously retains the simplicity of times gone by, before the flamenco guitar was turned into a virtuoso instrument, when it was still fundamentally a genuine and primitive medium for expressing the depth of flamenco.”

In some way, he exaggerates the great aficionado/artist of Morón. Diego is just that way, neither competing nor feeling like a competitor. He just expresses way of being, a form of feeling, of living, a way of making flamenco; his way, neither better nor worse than another way, but different. And that difference, fundamentally, is located in the soul that he puts into everything he plays.

Perhaps this phrase could increase the level of confusion in some not very initiated aficionados, since they may think that every artist puts his soul into whatever he does. That may be true, as certain as the fact that every athlete wants to win, but it’s just as certain that only one person can actually succeed. Allow me this metaphor: This is Diego. From him we see from the beginning the great virtue of falling in love with his art.

Diego’s playing is like a river,: mysterious and enigmatic, such that we will never be able to verify how its waters flow to so many seas and so many oceans.

Also allow me the following reflection: There are some who approach a flower just to see its colors. Others, however, may also appreciate its smell. There are those who approach the sea to look at it and only see its surface. Then there are others who also want to know its depths. Diego is like the flower that only reveals its true profile and its true aroma when we get to the bottom.

At the root of this consideration I ask this question: Why should we stop with the appearances of things, in their forms; why not penetrate right to the essence? Diego’s guitar is like that deep and warm sea whose flavors and pleasures can only be paladear and felt by submerging oneself in its waters, by abandoning oneself to its notes.

My embrace of Diego del Gastor must necessarily take note of these aspects. Now, from the perspecitive of years gone by, though it’s difficult not to submerge oneself in this well where time gives rise to a nostalgia that idealizes those yesterdays, I feel that my heart remembers – perhaps aided by the many celebrations that are marking the centenary of his birth – with more urgency than ever. Diego left us thirty-five years ago. For me, more than an enormous void, he left a world of magias that I have been discovering, slowly, the same way that oysters perform their beautiful work.

My embrace of Diego del Gastor is just one more. One more embrace among the many shared with hundreds of aficionados, whose sensibilities recognize the singular fact of an artist born asido the belly of a guitar, who knew how to use its six strings to evoke emotions that were as fascinating as they were insolitas unexpected.

My embrace of Diego del Gastor is not a farewell but an encounter. A long-lasting encounter with an artist whose greatest treasure was captivating me. Captivating me forever with that extraordinarily rich music extracted from the people, from the essence of centuries past.

My embrace of Diego del Gastor also signifies my most sincere recognition of this Andalusian culture that you have given me. My embrace of Diego is my embrace of an art that sows passions, that spills emotions, and that is the envy of the whole world.

Thank you for your attention.

Conference for the Pablo Olavide University in Carmona, July 3, 2008 by Luís Soler Guevara

Translator’s note: The many flamenco people who never bought Diego’s act will no doubt find this laughable. Well, maybe it’s a bit overwrought, but I think it sheds light on the character and the genuinely mysterious art of Diego del Gastor. It has been my imagined privilege to carry his music in my fingers for more than half a century, and as I struggle to do it justice and recapture his unique air (aire) and his unmistakeable creations, I sometimes think of a line from a flamenco song, probably a malagueña: “Perlas a millares” which must mean “pearls by the thousands.”

Last week in New York, it was my real privilege to reminisce about Diego with one of the few people who actually did capture his essence, the great aficionado and noted photographer Steve Kahn, who created an important show of photographs by himself and others capturing the essence of those years we squandered at the figurative feet of this giant. The original article appears, with photos of Diego, Steve and others, at this url:

http://www.agenda-atalaya.com/mi-abrazo-a-diego-del-gastor/

P.S. I like the notion, mentioned above and widely believed in Spain, that in New York there was/is a school devoted to the preservation of the upkeep and preservation of the guitar style of Diego del Gastor. Of course, there never was such a thing. But for decades I was playing his stuff for any willing or unwilling listeners, usually alone but joined for one recent decade by Steve and then by Ian Banks, another fine interpreter of the style, who is still presenting this living tradition at cafés and other venues in the Big Apple.

Come to think of it, I guess maybe it could be called a school. A bit understaffed, admittedly, but yeah, why not?

To see this man at work, go to YouTube, add “flamenco”, “rito”, “Diego del Gastor” and “English”. Yep, that was the first of the 100 programs in this great Rito y Geografia de Flamenco documentary series that I liberated starting in 1972 (I bought it on 16 mm film), and it made my year; fifteen exhausting years later I finally got the rest. And by the way, when it was time to choose the introductory theme music for every damn episode, from a dozen worthy guitarists who are now legndary, who do you think the team of experts chose to give maximum flamenco-ness to the proceedings. You guessed it.

Abrazos a todos, as they say in Spain.

Brook Zern

February 16, 2017   No Comments

Bad Taste in Flamenco Guitar

Correspondent R.W. asks for  examples of bad taste in flamenco guitar, and cites one so egregious that “It would be like playing “Lady Of Spain” as part of a soleares. (Thank God Carlos Montoya never thought of this!)”

I can think of something even tackier, R.W.  How about some tasteless musical vandal playing the entire chorus and verse of “In a Little Spanish Town (‘Twas on a Night Like This)”, in bulerias.

(It took Diego del Gastor two days to teach me how he did this.)

Brook Zern

December 26, 2016   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Joselero de Morón Speaks – 1962 interview – translated with comments by Brook Zern

A 1962 newspaper from the town of Morón de la Frontera carried an interview with the singer Joselero. Here’s the story.

We have before us an artist from Morón de la Frontera: Joselero, Everyone calls him by that name although he is actually Luís Torres Cádiz, names with a pure “calé” [Gypsy] aspect.

Q: Where were you born and why are you called Joselero?

A: I was born in Puebla de Cazalla. But I’ve been in Morón for forty years. My brother was called Joselero [probably a version of José, but an uncommon one] and I inherited the surname. And here you have me, singing since I was eight years old…

Q: How did you win a prize in Jerez?

A: Here it is, the silver catavino [wine pourer], second prize for soleares de Merced la Serneta and eight thousand pesetas [more than a hundred dollars] in hard cash en metálico.

Q: What did you sing to win it?

A: First I got into the finals by singing two siguiriyas. Then in the final I sang a soleares ended with a bulerias.

Q: What are your preferred cantes?

A: All the so-called “cantes buenos”: siguiriyas, soleares, martinetes, deblas [all forms from the so-called cante jondo group, considered especially profound and wrenching] and the malagueñas [a lovely, ornamented evolution of the fandango].

Q: Have you won other prizes?

A: In 1961 at the first Contest run by the Town Hall, also with a siguiriyas.

Q: Have you sung in public [otherwise]?

A: Cante jondo is really more appropriate for private gatherings [reuniones y juergas] I’ve appeared in benefit festivals with Antonio Mairena and Juan Talega [two revered Gypsy singers of the era].

Q: Who are your favorite singers?

A: Those two I just named; as for women, there has never been and will never be born another like Pastora Pavón, “La Niña de los Peines”, the one and only.

Q: Do you make your living as a singer?

A: My trade is vender [selling]. But if I’m offered a chance to sing somewhere, well there I am. I have seven children, all a mis espaldas [on my shoulders]. My specialty is singing for fiestas.

Q: Do you go to many?

A: Well, yes, in Seville with people who understand [entendidos]. Don José Suárez, the late don Gabriel Gallardo, from la Puebla de Cazalla, the previous provincial governor don Antonio Camacho – always accompanied by my brother-in-law Diego del Gastor,

Q: Do you remember some artists from here, from Morón?

A: There’s the Niña de Morón, daughter of Chicorro. Her father sang a lot with me. The live in Seville now. I also remember Quino, may he rest in peache, a great dancer I have a son, Paco Torres “El Adorrano” who won a prize in Cordoba, and a daughter, La Niña Amparo” who performed in [Cortijo] el Guajiro [an important flamenco venue in Seville] – she has a propio sello [her own special stamp] as a singer and dancer but she left the singing business to marry. She could have been a major artist.

Q: You didn’t let her [pursue a flamenco career]?

A: No. Afición for the song is like a poison that gets in your blood and never lets you rest.

Q: Do you prefer the cuadro flamenco situation [a group doing prearranged material in a nightclub setting, with dance as the focus], or a singer working with just a guitarist?

A: Look, flamenco song is above all an art to be listened to. But a cuadro setting when well done can have its merits.

Q: Do you have a project in mind?

A: A trip to Granada, where there’s another contest. I hope I’ll be able to participate. I like Granada a lot because I served there. I spent the war years there and sang a lot to entertain [“distract”] the troops. Then I’d like to visit Madrid, where I haven’t been for a long time.

Reporter: Very good, friend. Lots of luck to you.

End of article. A photo shows Joselero, with lots of hair, showing his trophy to the reporter, M. Naranjo Ríos. The original is at:

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-xlRGV_v57Gw/T9UK_q3knCI/AAAAAAAAFH4/k-v2HMAoMeg/s00/1962+Joselero+entrevista+Arunci.jpg

Translator’s note: In the years when I spent lots of time in Morón – the decade beginning in 1963 – it was Joselero who was the backbone of the countless fiestas where Diego held court. He was a good singer, often a very good singer. I tended to take him for granted, and I wasn’t alone in that regard. The competition was tough: Juan Talega and Manolito de la María and Fernanda de Utrera – three gitanos who have loomed large ever since in flamenco history.

(Manolito was a poor man who lived in a cave in Alcalá de Guadaira, and who along with Talega owned the solea de Alcalá which is one of the core styles of that core form of flamenco. The other core style, of Merced la Serneta, was the personal property of Fernanda.)

But Joselero was – well, if a singer is good enough to take home a silver prize from Jerez, the most chauvinistic city in flamencoland (albeit for good reasons) — well, I never knew that, and I and might’ve been more forthcoming in my admiration for the man. (Jerez also considers itself the spiritual home of the deep and terrifying siguiriyas – and that was precisely what Joselero showed ‘em in qualifying. Wow. He also had a pretty wide repertoire (he was a “long” singer) and stepped up for bulerias, serving meaty stuff to Diego and waiting for the brilliant guitar riposte. Tientos, alegrias, malaguenas, martinetes and a dozen more flamenco forms were at his command. A dynamic duo indeed, Joselero and Diego. And recorded forever for flamenco history, in hundreds of hours of tape recordings, nearly all made by norteamericanos and now seeping onto the internet (see the two recent posts in this blog about tape collections – a total of about a hundred hours right there,

As a person he was absolutely wonderful – warm, welcoming, unpretentious and generous. He was, in return, beloved.

It was nice to see these qualities shimmering through his simple responses to rote questions in this interview.

For the genealogical record, It is possible that Joselero may someday be remembered as much for being the grandfather of a great dancer as for his own artistry. Pepe Torres, who is headlining around the world and winding up a triumphant U.S. tour, is one of the four or five male dancers I most admire. He sings up a storm when he wants to. And worst of all, he can pick up a guitar and conjure up the ghost of Diego himself, something I hope to do for a few minutes though time is running out after a lifetime of trying…

For a sense of what Morón was sort of like when Diego and Joselero were at the peak of their art, just push this button or live link or whatever it’s called: http://www.flamencoexperience.com/blog/?p=463

And to join the Facebook group for Joselero de Morón and family, go to: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Joselero-de-Moron/1564138743875326?notif_t=fbpage_fan_invite

April 2, 2015   1 Comment

Yet Another Major Collection of Flamenco – Nearly All From Don Pohren’s Finca Espartero

Frontstory: If the 46 hours of great homespun sixties flamenco mentioned yesterday in this blog (at http://soundcloud.com/quinfolk/sets/the-flamenco-tapes-recorded-by-david-k-loughran-1964-1965) isn’t enough for you, here’s a website with another 46 hours worth:

www.flamencogitano.com

No kidding. The casts of the two collections are very similar. The Loughran material may partly predate this batch from the Finca Espartero, Don Pohren’s flamenco dude ranch where anyone could get immersed in heavy-duty music without spending years learning the ropes and paying dues. This Finca material seems to pick up where the ’64-’65 Loughran material leaves off, starting in 1966 and evidently continuing to beyond 1973. Guitarists on each collection include Diego del Gastor and and some of his gifted nephews; shared singers may include the Utrera sisters plus Perrate de Utrera, Joselero, Juan Talega, Curro Mairena, Ansonini, Manolito de la María…

Backstory: A few years ago, I found this flamencogitano.com website and later met and thanked the aficionado who made it. But I’d had the material for several years before that.

When this stuff was recorded I was often in Morón, sometimes living at town’s no-star hotel and sometimes staying at the Finca. I had tried to record some of those sessions with my new-fangled portable Norelco cassette recorder, a high-tech but lo-fi wonder of the era. Fortunately, a dedicated expert with a good open-reel machine did that invaluable work properly. About four decades later, I learned that someone else had obtained those recordings and was selling them as CD’s. I was thrilled to buy the 51 CD’s for five hundred bucks — hey, a bargain at twice the price, though not an ideal situation.

(In 1972 I wrote about the Finca for the New York Times, trying to capture the aura of the era — it’s here at http://www.flamencoexperience.com/blog/?p=463 )

I know there are serious issues surrounding the ownership and distribution of other people’s music in general, and privately-made flamenco recordings in particular. There are too many stories involving distrust, suspicion and anger. But a half-century is a long time to try and suppress great music; a lot of people who would have loved to hear this stuff have died over that period.

It never rains but it pours. Now anyone can listen to this extraordinary music for four days and nights, or even longer if one has to sleep. (And you might have to sleep — it’s an understatement to say that this music is repetitive. While Paco de Lucía often took many years to create enough guitar material for a new LP or work out a new record with Camarón, these recordings involve the same folks doing the same traditional stuff on good nights and bad nights and occasional great nights. Predictably, the sound quality varies from barely mediocre to surprisingly good.)

Note to the visually inclined: As a complement to this audio material from that amazing epoch, go to YouTube and see the scads of half-hour films in the great Rito y Geografía del Flamenco TV series of the early seventies. (I bought the first 16-millimeter film copies of a few programs in 1973, at five hundred bucks a pop, before the network vetoed further transactions. After fifteen years of begging and scheming I was allowed to pay a lot for the transfer of all the programs from film to videotape. I gave the first set to Columbia University, grabbed the second set for myself, and declined the commercial rights. My stash includes some programs that were never marketed in any of the three Spanish editions: not the poorly done Alga Editores cassette version, not the better TVE cassette version, not even the marvelous CD edition in beautiful hardcover booklets with English subtitles, enhanced video and sound and terrific commentary from the guiding light of the project, José María Velázquez-Gaztelu. I suppose my unseen programs should be put up on YouTube if it doesn’t antagonize any human beings or lawyers…)

Brook Zern

March 25, 2015   1 Comment

An Important Collection of Private Flamenco Recordings Brought to Light at Last – How to Hear Them On SoundCloud

In the 1960′s and 70′s a few foreigners, mostly Americans, were so struck by the quality of flamenco in several towns near Seville that they resolved to save those magnificent sounds forever.

They succeeded beyond measure. Today, Spain owes most of its understanding of the music of that time and place to the crucial efforts of people including Chris Carnes, Moreen Carnes, Steve Kahn, Carol Whitney and a few others — some who choose to remain nameless and others to be named later. (I never had a good tape recorder in Spain, but I helped some of those people by buying tape and paying to ship their Uher recorders to Germany for repairs.)

This is very different from commercial or official recordings. This is flamenco “de uso” — as it was used in everyday life, sometimes with the hope that someone would hire the artists for actual money, but usually because the artists loved to make and share this music with their friends and fellow artists. In a world where “pure” is mocked by scholars as meaningless and “authentic” is applied to just about everything anyone wants to sell more of, well, as noted below, this is the real deal.

Yesterday, in response to a post on this blog about Diego del Gastor, I learned that another intrepid gringo had been adding to the historic effort. I remember the name, and here is information from his son-in-law, David Quinn, with explanations in brackets and more comments at the end. You can see his brief note as a reply to the post:

“My wife’s father, David K. Loughran, who died recently, hauled around a reel-to-reel tape machine to Flamenco parties in and around Morón de la Frontera, Spain in 1964 and 1965.

“The musicians he was recording are known as flamenco masters, “mythical figures” of flamenco. The town is the epicenter of Gypsy flamenco. These players were the real deal – actual Gypsies – the real source of this music.

“They include:
Diego del Gastor, La Fernanda de Utrera [one of the greatest singers in flamenco history], Manolito de la Maria [ditto], [the American] Chris Carnes, Fernandillo de Moron, Antonio Amaya Flores “El Mellizo” [the guitarist and older brother of Diego del Gastor] and others.

“There are 46 hours of recordings, made at house parties and in cafés,
some with just the musicians and recorder present, some at crowded fiestas. The quality varies, but considering the circumstances, I think it is remarkable.

“I know there are musicians reading this; if you know someone who might be interested in hearing these please share this post, and/or the link below.
We’re trying to gather as much information as we can, with the goal of a more accurate track list.

“At the very least, they make excellent fiesta music!

“They can be heard at https://soundcloud.com/quinfolk/sets/the-flamenco-tapes-recorded-by-david-k-loughran-1964-1965

“These notes on content are unedited and transcribed From the hand written notes on the reel boxes:

*Reels 1 through 4:
- Diego, solo, December 1964
- Diego, Fernando, Manolito, Jselero, at a juerga at Venta El Calero
- Diego, Fernando & Manolito at a juerga at Club Mercantil
- Diego, Mellizo & Manolito at Diego’s house, a juerga for Pepe Rios

*Reel 4 Side B through Reel 6 Side A
- First juerga in Morón after cante jondo contest in Cordoba, with Diego, Paco del Gastor [the brilliant nephew of Diego], Manolito, Fernando, and Enrique [son of the legendary Joaquin el de la Paula]
- Juan and Dieguito del Gastor [the two other nephews of Diego, both fine guitarists] in Chris’s room at the hospedaje
- Easter Sunday juerga at El Calero with Diego and Manolito
- Andres Cabrera, Vicenta
- Juerga at El Calero

*Reel 6 Side B through Reel 9 Side A
- Antonio Amaya Flores (El Mellizo) at home
- Saetas in Utrera (Hermandad de los gitanos – Semana Santa 1965)
- Saetas at la Campana, Seville, with Lebrijano [a superb singer], Manolo Mairena [an excellent singer, younger brother of the great Antonio Mairena].
- Short Juerga at Casa Pepe with Dieguito del Gastor [now called Dieguito or Diego de Morón], Joselero [Diego del Gastor's brother-in-law, a fine local singer], Fernando [Fernandillo de Morón, a good singer and festero], Bob Haynes [a fine American guitarist], Church [?], etc.
- La Sallago [an excellent singer who sounded terrific until her very recent death], Terremoto [one of the greatest singers in flamenco's history].
- Terremoto, La Paquera [a great Jerez singer]; bautizo [baptism] in lower barrio with Diego, Paco, Perrate[an excellent singer] & La Fernanda
- Juerga at Tailor’s (El Escribano) house with Paco (solo), Diego (solo) & Niño Rosa
- Diego, Manolito and Fernando at Bob Fletcher’s in Seville.

*Reel 9 Side B through Reel 11 Side A
- Diego at Chimenea’s with Pohren
- Paco at Casa Pepe
- Paco – juerga at Pepe Chino’s house with Diego, Nino Rosa, Juan and his padre
- guitar solo by student

*Reel 11 side B through Reel 14 Side A
-Part of Fletcher’s fiesta with Diego, Manolito, Fernando
-Mellizo, solo at hospedaje
-From Pohren’s tapes of Paco, Diego, Juan Talegas, Manolito, Nina de los Peines
-Esteban de Sanlucar, La Perla, Miguel Valencia at Pohren’s club
-Chris and Fernando, and others
-Bautizo at Andre’s and Fernando’s with Diego, Perrate and La Fernanda
-Solo by Diego

*Reel 14 Side B through Reel 17 Side A
-Fiesta, Casa Villa Clara
-Antonio Cruz
-Iglesias and company

*Reel 17 Side B through Reel 19 Side A
-Unidentified

*Reel 19 Side B through Reel 22
-Selections from Don Pohren’s collection
-Selections from Don Pohren juergas – Antonio & Paco [Francisco] Mairena, Eduardo de la Malena
-Richardo Pachon [later the producer of Camaron’s historic recordings, Luis Maravilla [possibly the dancer Luisa Maravilla, Pohren's wife]
-Fiesta with Pohren
-Flamenco: Diego del Gastor, La Fernanda de Utrera, Manolito de la Maria, Chris Carnes, Fernandillo de Moron, Don Pohren, David K. Loughran

End of explanations and notations by the son-in-law of recordist David K. Loughran.

Okay. I am grateful to the late David K. Loughran for his selfless dedication, and to his son-in-law Dennis Quinn for allowing — better yet, insisting — that this material finds a deserving audience.

It is often said that Diego del Gastor was an unrecorded guitarist, and in fact he assiduously avoided efforts by Spain’s most prestigious record label — at the time their only other guitarist was a young man named Paco de Lucía — to entice him to record by building a high-tech studio near his home. (Diego just skipped town until they tore it down.)

On the human scale, Diego may have been the most recorded flamenco guitarist in history. I have many hundreds of hours of his playing, both alone and for the singers named above and dozens of others. (And I still don’t have most of the material in the largest stash, recorded by the late Chris Carnes and now residing at the University of Washington where it probably doesn’t get the tiniest fraction of the attention and audience it deserves.)

Not surprisingly, I already have a lot of the same material that Mr. Loughran recorded — clearly from tapes made by Chris and others. But a lot of the other material listed above was originally recorded by Mr. Loughran, and has enormous historical importance. I hope other addicts will join me in the effort to add more detail and information to the sparse notes seen above.

I haven’t listened to the material yet, and rarely use or trust sites that normal humans feel comfortable signing onto. I assume SoundCloud is a logical place to have archived this music, and that it will remain accessible there indefinitely.

Aproveche.

Brook Zern

March 24, 2015   2 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of article. The original is found at:

http://www.revistalaflamenca.com/inicio/link-verticales/flamenco-antiguo/flamenco-antiguo-diego-del-gastor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brook Zern

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

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

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

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

Brook Zern

March 11, 2015   2 Comments

Flamenco Singer El Chato de la Isla on Guitarist Diego del Gastor – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s Note:  Here’s one of my old posts to an extinct discussion group:  

Date:  Thurs, Apr 2, 1998 12:05 PM EDT
Subj:  Diego evaluated by Chato de la Isla – translating Rafael Moreno

There’s a welcome post from Rafael Moreno, who adds some high-octane fuel to the “Was Diego Any Good?” conflagration with a quote from a book by Salvador Aleu Zuazo about a noted singer titled “El Chato de la Isla, Entre la Vida y el Cante“.  Chato, born in 1926 and noted for his originality within traditional bounds, has made numerous recordings, with accompaniment by the likes of Paco de Lucía and Manolo Sanlucar.  He says:

“And I don’t want to forget a guitarist who made a tremendous impression on me from the first time I heard him:  Diego del Gastor.  He never accompanied me in public, but when I was in Madrid we ended up together in the Venta el Poli on the road to Barcelona, working together for several fiestas (reuniones).

This man was pure glory, pure heaven, in his playing.   What timing, what compás, what a sweet sound.  This was what’s truly called ‘accompaniment for singing’.

I believe that with a guitarist like Diego, it was impossible not to sing well, because the cante came out by itself.  Anyway, things being what they are, it was a long time before we were together again and he accompanied me.  But now it wasn’t the same, because he had lost some of his facility (facultades).  Yet even then, it was like heaven to listen to his toques.  It was as if an angel were playing the guitar.”

Thanks, Rafael.  Whaddya know — yet another singer with an ear for guitar music.  I’d love to know the years of that first and that second encounter.  There are no recordings of the young Diego… 

Brook Zern.

 

May 6, 2014   1 Comment

Diego del Gastor – An Appreciation by Alberto García Ulecia – translated by Brook Zern

 Translator’s note:  This article was recently added to the website or Facebook page ARCHIVOS FLAMENCOMORON [note the run-together second word], which is amassing information, photos and reports about Morón de la Frontera, its history, its flamenco and its people.  Like many entries, this was added by the extraordinary dancer Pepe Torres [who signs on as Pepe Torres Bailaor Torres].  Here it is:

But… what was Diego del Gastor really like?

In his case, it is hard to separate the man from the artist.  He was, above all, profoundly human, and human contradictions were part of him: cordial and warm, yet shy and reserved; complicated yet elemental; intuitive and rational; introverted and sharing; traditional and progressive; funny and melancholy…all these diverse components that revealed his individuality still seemingly live in our air, in his enchanted hands, his mane of a hallucinatory whiteness, his voice of worn anguish, his vertiginous rage against pretense or egotism.

We still sense his warm presence, his sensitive friendship, his tender silence when thinking about a child or looking at flowers… his venerable air of an exiled archangel, with the forehead of a patriarch and the smile of a good child.

There was something of García Lorca in him, thin and tall, with that natural elegance of an impoverished or dethroned king that is sometimes found in men or women of his race.  He was as old as a mountain and as ingenuous as a little child, strong from the austerity of his life and delicate from the sensibility that lent the image of a lily – but an incorruptible, never-fading lily.  And today we feel that Andalusians like him are in good measure the image of Andalusia itself.

Diego withstood in Morón the difficult years of the 40’s, and then entered the 50’s and 60’s.  He never went abroad or joined the flamenco shows and spectacles, he didn’t make any recordings, thanks to his spiritual wealth, his exoticism, his bohemian romanticism and even his foolishness…He survived in Morón through flamenco fiestas among friends and some well-to-do gentlemen, living only through his guitar.

With the slights and snubs and bitterness that he often bore in those decades, especially for a artist like him after those hard tests, Diego retained his elegance of spirit, his peculiar integrity, his dislike of egotism and strictly materialist values.  He seemed to be a disconcerting mixture of pride and humility…

Some said he was crazy, and in some way it was true – according to the standards of the thoughtless or the bourgeois.

Later in his life, times changed and the circumstances of his life improved, to the point that he was welcomed into relatively expansive circles within and beyond Morón, without being corrupted.  He made trips to Ronda and to El Gastor, his places of origin.  It was a time of recognition and prizes, reported by the newspapers and other media.  This state of affairs contributed on the one hand to increased general prestige for flamenco in more or less intellectual circles, and on the other hand to the arrival of a flow of foreigners from many nations, attracted by flamenco song and by the artistic and personal magnetism of the man from El Gastor.  They went to live in Morón and to study guitar with Diego – classes that were usually as unpredictable and fascinating as the maestro himself.    In this sense, it can be said that before Diego attained nationwide renown in Spain he had already earned an international reputation.  Those exotic students of Diego proliferated, but that doesn’t mean he created a true school of guitar playing among those disciples.  The only school that such a personal artist could leave was the imprint he gave to the excellent local guitarist Manolo Morilla, and that represented by his nephews Paco, Juan, Agustín, and the son of Joselero de Morón, Dieguito.

Each have their own artistic approach and sensibility, carrying in their hands and their blood bits of the musical styles and even the duende of the master himself.

Even the unknowing listener will realize that their guitars sound different from all others.

Nonetheless, his creative vein was developed in melodic variations in the styles of soleá, siguiriyas and bulerías, sometimes borrowed by other players…

And nonetheless, beyond the depth, flavor and Gypsy purity of his playing, perhaps the most outstanding aspect of his art was the most non-transferrable: the singular “aire” that permeated all of his playing.  The chilling duende that deepens, capable of crushing the chests of the listeners with moving beauty, and then suddenly relaxing its grip.

When the trance generated by his guitar suddenly appeared, all fell silent and some who were drawn into the realm of this Gypsy were paralyzed, petrified, their faces frozen into a strange expression of sweet, embracing mysticism.

It was as if they had been bewitched by the light of an ancient moon that left in their features an almost pantheistic heritage of who-knows-what vanished race or civilization, an extract of tears from past woes running down their cheeks,

Diego del Gastor resembled no one.

And those who heard him will never forget.

Today, years after his death, the memory of his presence and the magic of his music still light our way and ennoble us, inspiring us, wounding us; it does to our hearts what the wind does to the flowers.

Alberto García Ulecia.

End of translation, made from a problematic handmade Spanish transcription (corrections welcome) seen at:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1440972206139022/1452363348333241/?notif_t=group_activity

 

March 18, 2014   No Comments

Fernando Quiñones on Diego del Gastor (again) – translated by Brook Zern

Thanks to Froilan for submitting a scanned text from an unnamed book written by the noted Cadiz writer Fernando Quiñones.  (Note that Quiñones was widely noted and well regarded as an author, in addition to his well-respected work as a pioneer flamencologist.)

The text dealt with our favorite bugaboo, Diego del Gastor.  Froilan says the scanner made some silly errors.  Worse yet, I have trouble with the wide and subtle vocabulary and have sometimes resorted to guesses or approximations — so my shoddy translation should be even more suspect than usual and corrections will be welcome:

Chapter 49 – Diego del Gastor

“In ’66, trailed by a truck loaded with Catalan technicians, José Manuel Caballero [Bonald] went from the South of Spain on up, recording the memorable “Archivo del Cante Flamenco”, finding things from the most out-of-the-way places.  I accompanied him on two of those field trips.

In Morón de la Frontera, where the plains recall the equestrian shades of the [local] poet Fernando Villalón who combined aspects of bullfighter and bull-breeder (as poet Rafael Albertí portrays him), we arrived at the appointed time.  The first task was to recoup our strength in a bar, with a dish of noodles and a tapa of spinanch with beans…

Our man appeared by the second cup.  The guitarist Diego del Gastor, the pure exponent of a toque (style) that is both personal and classic at the same time, and who afterwards would leave a school rich with falsetas that were as serendipitous in invention as they were undocumented on recordings.

He was well on in years, white-haired, svelte and erect in his black suit, with the bearing of a true gentleman, a quick glint in his eye, a simple and elegantly thoughtful air bespeaking a discreet sensitivity.  Somehow, thanks to something within this Gypsy, we were — improbably enough — reminded of someone as distant from him as anyone could be:  Sir Bertrand Russell, who is also described in the pages of this work.

Among the serious artists sought out for the Archivo recordings, there were many whose bearing and manner fit the popular image of simple, rough-edged and sometimes dissolute folks: La Piriñaca in Jerez, Santiago Donday in Cadiz, [Manuel] El de Angustias in Utrera or, in Alcala de Guadaira, the ineffable Manolito del de María.  But this Diego del Gastor — well, he was something else again.

In this humble social setting, he seemed to shine with a different light.  This man from el Gastor (a tiny town in the mountains behind Cadiz, from which he was taken while still young to Morón de la Frontera) — was he not a gentleman in every sense of the word, possessing a concentrated education and deep knowlege?

My techological illiteracy meant I didn’t know if it were possible to make an important recording outside of a studio in the 1960′s.  What I did know was that very few if any had been made in an alcove off a small bedroom, with the recording engineers on the bed and the cables attached to naked light bulb outlets.

There was no choice but to arrange ourselves against these thin walls — all of us including the director, the artists, assistants, some friends and relatives, the technicians and — inexcusably or inexplicably — a Yankee from the unwanted Morón Air Base with his wife and his friend or paramour in a situation radiating the tension of such triangles.  And so there we were, the whole bunch, in a scene straight out of the Marx Brothers “A Night at the Opera”.

Yet oddly enough, given the level of chaos, the recordings would turn out well, thanks to the great Diego del Gastor and the much less great [“macho menus grande“, (sic) presumably “mucho menos grande“] singer Joselero, the brother-in-law of the maestro and, like him, a Gypsy.

Our initial impression of the music and the character of Diego del Gastor only grew stronger throughout the night — perhaps the only night (and please excuse this unfortunate and egotistical aside) in which I myself sang, after the real task had been completed but while the atmosphere and the wine still pervaded that tight little place.

In truth, one couldn’t really remember what happened, except the look of surprise on the faces, the mottled aspect of Joselero, the taste of the cante, and the intensely concentrated pleasure of Diego del Gastor, who lost his circumspect air at one point and joined me, cheek to jowl, for a few funky bulerias in their own special rhythm.

And that’s the way it was — “resbalaitas” [life's little slips and blunders??]…”

End of translation.

Note that Fernando Quiñones described this same magic night when he wrote an obituary for Diego del Gastor in Blanco y Negro in July of 1973, which appears elsewhere in this blog.  We learn that Quiñones also profiles Bertrand Russell in the same book, which helps explain why the image of the philosopher from Cambridge sprang to his mind when he saw Diego, the philosopher from Life Itself.

Brook Zern

February 11, 2014   No Comments

1999 Post re: Private Flamenco Recordings – Ethics and Issues

Date:  Wed, Mar 24, 1999 12:33 PM ED
From:  Brook Zern
Subj:  Re:  recordings of Diego accompaniment and other stuff

It’s good to see some folks thinking about ways to disseminate recordings of Diego del Gastor’s accompaniment — which is the guitarocentric way of denoting recordings by outstanding singers like La Fernanda de Utrera, Juan Talega, Manolito de la Maria, Joselero, Fernandillo, Perrate and many others including noted professionals and interesting amateurs.

By way of background:  the greatest collection of audiotapes from the Morón/Seville region was made in the decade beginning in the mid-sixties by the talented American guitarist Chris Carnes and his then-wife Moreen, who sang and even made a record (accompanied by the great Melchor de Marchena) under the moniker “María la Marrurra”.   This material was recorded in private sessions or juergas/fiestas, replete with occasional conversations, coughs, motorbike sounds and other marks of authenticity.  Diego was by far the most recorded guitarist in these hundreds of hours of material, but many other notable players are also heard.

The drama of making, preserving and maintaining these tapes is a story in itself.  I’ve had the privilege of hearing some fraction of the material over the years, usually in fourth or fifth-generation copies.  Even then, it can be quite wonderful.  It would be marvelous if a way could be devised to issue this material properly, despite inevitable complications that arise in such efforts.  Naturally, any such effort should compensate the appropriate people for their contributions to making these documents.

Another important potential source of this kind of material is the collection amassed over the years by the local radio station in Morón de la Frontera.  I visited these offices last fall, and was very pleased to learn that they have conserved large amounts of material — largely from public festivals like the famous annual Gazpacho de Morón, which they’d record while broadcasting.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are serious plans afoot for issuing a lot of that material on a series of CD’s, which were being engineered by a local aficionado who is apparently up to the task.  This would constitute a very important documentary resource for flamenco song — and in the process, it would offer a record of the playing of Diego del Gastor and many notable guitarists in public yet relaxed settings.

Of course, there are many other sources of interesting material.  Personally, I suspect that some other radio stations in places like Jerez and Lebrija and Cadiz may be treasure-houses of tapes; I hope someone is looking into this, with an eye toward bringing important material to light.

And of course, there must be many notable collections of tapes in other hands.  The series of 40 CD’s which accompanied the astonishing 5-Volume work published by Tartessos called “Historia del Flamenco” were based (with the exception of the last three which were drawn from old 78 records) on privately-made tapes from Spanish aficionados and flamenco peñas or clubs over the last four decades — and maybe there’s a lot more where that came from.  (The names of the owners of the tapes are given on the CD’s.)

A lotta stuff out there.  Time to start getting it out, before the demise of our century, not to mention some of us and maybe flamenco as we know it, or at least knew it…

Brook Zern

Note from 2014:  The one example I heard from that batch was a circa-1950 first-ever recording of Diego del Gastor, accompanying the most famous singer of that era, Pepe Marchena.  I was despondently unsurprised to learn, years later, that nothing ever came of that great collection of recordings from Radio Morón.  Until I learn otherwise, I consider this as a disgraceful example of cultural vandalism.

February 11, 2014   No Comments