Writings and essays about flamenco

Category — Flamenco Singer Manuel Agujetas

Flamenco Singer Agujetas Speaks – Interview by Paco Sánchez Múgica – translated with comments by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:

Manuel Agujetas died a year ago. Shortly before, a Jerez publication called Voz Jonda ran an interview by Paco Sánchez Múgica titled “Agujetas, the man and the myth: “Flamenco is a lie”.

I’ve translated it here, starting with a few personal comments in italics:

The lion in winter? Portrait of the artist as an old man?
And is that a trace of mellow we see in this portrait of Agujetas?

Note: I got a kick out of seeing that Manuel still got a kick out of the Village Voice article I wrote when he showed up at the Sangria restaurant in 1976.

An ironic note: The actual headline of the article was: “Duende on Hudson Street — A Flamenco Master Sings for his Supper”. Well, I have too much invested in the mythology of “duende” and “black sounds” to take Agujetas seriously when he says in this interview that duende “is all a lie”.

Hey, Who ya gonna believe – me, or the man who held the patent on it and insisted it doesn’t exist?

Manuel’s memories of the time we spent in New York and Madrid were always sharper than mine – there was a formidable mind behind the forbidding persona he usually projected, and it shines through in this interview.

Incidentally, I had always felt grumpy that I’d never been invited to the endless round of private juergas which I assumed were the major part of Agujetas’ artistic life, as they were with all the other legendary singers he names. Now I learn from this interview that there were no such sessions — he had no interest in singing in private. It makes me feel better about the nights when he tolerated my nervous efforts to accompany his songs – a mismatch for the ages, but at least I wasn’t keeping him from lighting up all those amazing intimate fiestas and jam sessions that haunted my imagination. (He could be very hard on guitarists, even very good ones, who took up too much sonic space. Contrariwise, he seemed to appreciate my fearful approach and almost inaudible volume levels, which covered a multitude of sins — mine, not his.)

Okay, okay, here’s the interview:

A warm autumn afternoon. A narrow secondary road. Like an asphalt line traced with charcoal and marked with country houses. The sun is weak at five o’clock. The municipal terminal of the town of Chipiona, on the northeast coast of the province of Cadiz. “In Jerez they say I was born in Jerez; and in Rota, that I was born in Rota. I grew up in those two places,” says Manuel de los Santos Pastor. But there’s no birth certificate. “Do you need one to know how old a man is? There’s a monument to me in Rota and now they’re making another one in Jerez,” Agujetas says. There’s a feline aspect, but he’s engaged in friendly conversation with a neighbor who sometimes sometimes rests to listen to him. Manuel touches his right leg; the circulation isn’t very good lately. “The doctor tells me I have to walk.” Agujetas – how ironic – has even tried acupuncture [ironic because his name refers to the word for needle]. “But it’s useless, it’s a lie. They put in the needle [la aguja] and it doesn’t hurt.” He rubs his leg. “It burns here.” Walking has become a routine, walking through the farmland and going back home. He invites us to accompany him and gets into the car. We arrive at “Los Milagros” [The Miracles – his house.] “Here I come with my guards,” he jokes to his wife Kanako when we go in. As Luís Clemente would say, “With Agujetas anything is always possible.”

Two stories and a large garden, all modest. Two goats graze quietly on the lawn, near the well, and cats of different sizes and colors appear and vanish. Light pants, a black shirt and a colorful shirt unusual for a man of at least 75. Or three years older than that. He doesn’t know exactly where he was born, and doesn’t know when. “Que mas da la edad de un hombre”, after proclaiming that “love doesn’t understand languages”. He says those words, in his wise and cultured illiteracy. [“en su sabio y culto anaflfabetismo”]. And he urges us, “Speak, speak, ask whatever you want.” Now we start to talk to the man. Suddenly, Agujetas stops being Agujetas and changes into a man who is miles away from his own legend. Agujetas, as we’ve already said, is Manuel de los Santos Pastor. The self-proclaimed “king of cante Gitano [Gypsy flamenco song]. An endangered species. The last dinosaur of song with no concessions. Paleolithic. Contradictory. Controversial. A Gypsy, an estirpe, 100% pure crystal, as Walter White might say, Incorruptible. Uncontaminated and uncontaminatable. Aspero en el trato, huraño. But oat this time, no trace of the personality, just the person.

There’s none of the usual reticience [sequedad] with the media. Not a trace of the arisca and irritable public personality he tries to project. Here, he attends to us entranable. Between affable smiles he speaks of one of the goats, as if to break the ice: I bought her very young, now she’s pregnant – I have to distract myself with something. Like her (he indicates Kanako) with her cats…” In front of the photos, he says, “I’m not dressed as an artist here. Well, we’re out in the country, right? I’m a little sick, though I’m not one of those who have those veins in their legs.” He goes through a doorway, and shows us a relic that he made with his own hands and that hangs on his porch, almost like a little sanctuary: a strange crucifix, “more than 40 years old. I’m friends with all the abstract painters,” he says. “This (pointing at the Christ) I made with a file that was in my kitchen. But I castigate myself. I caught pneumonia 40 years ago; when I recovered, they told me “Ya te ha quitado el arresto, recogelo. Ouka Leele me daba 80.000 duros [400,000 pesetas] for the Christ.”

[The interviewer writes]: Let’s begin. Manuel, for those who may not know you… But he suddenly interrupts the question: “Who doesn’t know me? Name somebody” (he laughs). We correct ourselves: How do you spend your days here? “I’m not here often, I’m rarely here. I’m always going to France or to Japan… They say there’s flamenco in Japan but that’s a lie – there are a few poor back-up artists [“artistas de cuadro”] who don’t have anything else to do so they go to Japan. To sing there you have to go to a bar, where they put up a little portable stage floor and they dance and play the guitar. But people go there to give classes, usually female dancers. When I go to see my mother-in-law, I rent a theater to appear in. It costs me a million [yen?] and I make two million. And I earn two million here in Spain, so why do I have to go over there?” But even so, he travels a lot. “Yes, I travel – who in Spain will pay anything? And even less in profit. Here you can call up a little peña [flamenco association], and they pay 200 or 300 [euros] — nothing.”

Tell us about purity [pureza] – your purity. Where it comes from? “I haven’t lived purity, and I was the last to emerge [Yo no he vivido la pureza, yo fue el último que salió.] When I showed up, El Chocolate [the great Gypsy singer] had been around for thirty years. Terremoto [the great Gypsy singer], thirty years. La Paquera [the great Gypsy singer], forty years. Mairena [the great Gypsy singer, older than the others who were not much older than Agujetas]…I was the last to come forth. I emerged one year after Camarón [the great Gypsy singer, much younger than Agujetas]… But since I’ve been fighting for flamenco puro, joé! [joder, the strongest expletive in English but much milder in Spanish]. I mark the end all those who did classic flamenco. Everything is being lost. Everything is modern. I never stopped singing and singing, and now everyone wants flamenco puro.”

Is it really appreciated enough? “Andalucía doesn’t stand up for flamenco, or for any music at all, because Andalucía is [musically] illiterate. I sing in France and nobody says a word. Nobody. When I get up, the chillíos, look…Because they’re people who know about music. But here? It’s not that they are disrespectful, it’s that they just don’t know. And in Jerez? In Jerez they all think they know about flamenco, but when they go to hear it they’re all talking and eating sunflower seeds. Because they think they know, but they know nothing. Nothing about singing or dancing.”

But Manuel, not even the good aficionados? “Well yes, those who really like it, yes. Those who really like it.”

Well then, Manuel, just in case there’s a remote possibility that someone has never heard of you, that you are, in the words of Manuel Torre [the greatest Gypsy singer], the last [of the artists who can generate the fabled] black sounds [soníos negros].”

“Don’t say that. It’s a good thing that Antoñito [Manuel's son] isn’t here, si no te pega. I don’t tell you anything. That kid wants people to tell him he’s better than his father, understand? A man of nearly fifty. Kid, that’s when you’ll hear it. He left here in tears. He was getting over a drug habit little be little, and they’re starting to call him to sing, three or four places. Now that he’s getting cured, I tell him, ‘Antonio, not like that.’ And sometimes he leaves crying. Where will someone tell him your father is here.’

Can flamenco song be taught? “Nobody can teach you that. The one who teaches him when he’s here is me. But my father [the great singer Agujetas el Viejo] never taught anyone anything, Nobody. Nooo. My father was working at the forge. I put the iron in the right place. My older brother placed the coal. And my father sang when he was resting. Because the notion of a blacksmith singing at the forge is a lie, a myth, because you can’t sing a martinete [a very difficult flamenco song] while you’re working. How can you sing a verse – you’d have to stop swinging the hammer [martillo]. Get the idea? It’s all a lie. It’s a lie told by people to fool other people. Why? Then my father would do two songs, resting and singing. Or he was in a corral at a friend’s house. Or on Sunday he’d sing a few songs for friends. And we’d listen. Don’t think that my father would say ‘this goes like this, and that goes like that’. Que va! [That’s nuts.]

Besides arte jondo [deep flamenco song], do you listen to other music?”

I never listen to any flamenco. Not by anyone. Ever since my father died, I don’t listen any more. I keep the record here, the one I made, and that’s it. But I don’t listen to my father’s singing – I have to be very good… to listen to it. Because when our family dies, let them be quiet and not bother That’s what they have to do. Then, everything is a lie. Flamenco is a lie and the books about it are a lie. There has never been more of a singer than Juan Talega [a great Gypsy singer] in the epoch I knew. I met him a few days before he died. I met La Niña de los Peines [the greatest female Gypsy singer] and she died a few days later. I didn’t know any of the other old masters. And I knew Antonio Mairena.

How were things between you and Mairena? “It was okay [Me llevé bien]…for a few days Because the man fell in love with me [se enamoró de mí]. People said “Agujetas slugged Mairena – you knew about this, right? Agujetas hit him. I didn’t hit anyone. We were at a Flamenco Festival and [the great guitarist] Melchor de Marchena took me out [me sacó]. Curro Mairena [a great singer, the brother of Antonio] was with me. There was the Yunque de Oro [Gold Anvil, an important prize], but we went for the festival, not the prize. For the best singer – and the way I sang, the public was with me, Then the guy gave the prize to aquel que era el que le hacía cara. The guy passed by thirty seats on my side, I was in one, he was in the other. I was put in jail for a half hour, until the festival ended.

Despite the incident, he doesn’t hide his admiration. Antonio was a maestro. True, he was a bit cold. But he was a maestro, man. They shouldn’t tell stories about Antonio. Antonio learned from the four old singers of Jerez. He took old songs, from my grandfather and my grandmother and from Manuel Torre. To know how to sing like Antonio… Maybe he was cold, but he was a maestrazo [a great master]. Don’t say that stuff about the Gypsies – that the Gypsies don’t like them. There are those who don’t even know how to open their mouths, but want to sing stuff by Mairena or me. Let them go where that takes them. People will go to see flamenco knowing that it’s not flamenco.”

Like sand castles erased by the tide, Manuel knocks down the urban legends surrounding serious flamenco. Those that shape the deepest mythology. The mystique about the dark night of the soul, or the dark trunk of the Pharaoh, like the “soníos negros” or black sounds, which [the great poet Rafael] Albertí revealed was nothing more than Federico García Lorca’s obsession with the sound of the sharps or flats on a piano. The black keys, the “black sounds” it seems. Agujetas offers no doubts when he’s asked about the duende, that other great unknown: “It’s a lie…” [Es mentira, es mentira, eso es mentiiiiraaa. Aquí no hay duende ni ná [Here there is no duende or anything]. I don’t know anything about it. Duende is for little kids, the guy who comes to you, the bogeyman [coco]. The same. [Iguaaaa.] I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know what it is. I have no idea.” And a new parenthesis: “And my father, as I’m going to tell you, in that era was a man who had a sweetheart and when he saw that he had two kids, Antoñito and Dolores, me dió por ser artista he set me toward being an artist, po carajo, well, I went to become an artist. Nothing happened here. Now, I sent the money I made to my daughter. I wasn’t here, like all artists. It’s the same with movie actors, they send money to their children and their wife, but if the man goes to America and comes back with nothing, well then, there’s no papa. If he brings money, there’s a papa. Have you heard this? Well, there it is, so you’ll know.”

He revisits his comments on duende: “It’s all a lie. There is no duende, no bogeyman, none of that.” And he says “Cantar [to sing]. There are those who need drugs, wine and the rest. I don’t need anything. I take a little water and I sing. Why should I be ashamed of singing (he laughs) if I live from it.”

Is it also untrue that business of the enormous juerga [flamenco jam session, usually private] that flamencos need in order to be a gusto [in their element, at their peak] and to seek out the real truth of the flamenco song? Haven’t you been in such juergas?

“Never, never, not one, not a single one. No juergas. There you have it. They’re a bunch of frauds. And in their book they say that I’ve been everywhere when I haven’t even left my house. I sing and I sleep. Others keep saying I was with them to god knows where, and I – god knows – I haven’t gone anywhere. Once when I was with this guy’s uncle [he indicates the photographer, alluding to his uncle the painter Paco Toro]. I just took a copita at the Feria and in his house with his wife and kids. Never, with Toro, nothing more. No juerga. What do you think. All the rest just a lie. They also said that Manuel Torre went to bed with his son’s wife. All a lie. Manuel Torre – a man like that going to bed with his son’s wife?”

So much confusion between flamenco and what is not flamenco – true?

“No, none at all. Confusion is what we see in the people who go to see it, those who like what is not flamenco. You can’t have a book about flamenco because it isn’t flamenco or anything like it – it’s just garbage.

And the market for recordings?

“There is no market – it’s over. No company offers flamenco discs. Maybe they put out a record with two or three artists together – but who do they sell them to? To their friends? Before, they’d come to me: ‘Agujetas, we want to make a record. What’s your price?’ Six or seven million [pesetas, maybe $50,000] plus ten percent,’ ‘Okay, let’s do it’ Now? Where can you make a record nowadays? Nobody calls me. One came out where they wanted two songs from me. Two songs. I took whatever it was and that was it. I have my live performances, but those are outside the country. I don’t have a manager because that’s worthless; they call me here at home.”

And even so, Manuel says that he has a Japanese passport and U.S. residence [residencia norteameriana] due to his last two marriages, and has toured the world twice, though never in Australia. “The first time I went to New York, I didn’t go to sing; I went with a gachí [a non-Gypsy woman -- La Tibu or Tibulina, a fine American dancer who died about a decade ago.] I went to a restaurant, and there was flamenquito [a diminutive term meaning “flamenco lite”], performers with Spanish names but who weren’t Spanish, and now they even have bars there. And fijate [get this!] there was a newsstand with a newspaper hanging up, and I saw a picture of me; and I asked the lady to read it to me and she said “The Leading Figure in Spain is now in New York” (he laughs). I have it right here, here’s the paper. I got to know a lot of countries, like I’d been born there. It seemed that way, at least. I told my father that. For me, it’s as if I’d been born in America. And he told me, “It’s because your uncle was there, and he brought back English chickens.”

But he doesn’t travel by plane. “The doctor told me: You have cañas tapás [a medical condition, clearly]. But the doctor wouldn’t operate yet. Now I can’t fly, the blood thing is scary. And now I’m headed to Japan, and it’s going to be a nice voyage. When I finish a gig in Paris and another in Jerez, I’m taking a train to Moscow, and after that, a two-day boat trip to Japan. Two weeks in a train! (He laughs]. One station, another station. But seeing the countryside. It’s scary, you won’t believe it. Those boats are preparaos. The boats float on the water, and if a boat goes down, it goes down.”

With all that traveling, do you want to sing again in Jerez?

“If I don’t feel bad, I’ll sing. If someone makes a stink about it, who cares? I sing well everywhere and that’s it. For the poor guy who doesn’t know, kmaybe he has more responsibilities. But what are they going to say to me? I rehearse every night. Even sleeping. I get up in the morning, I have a headache, but I practice every day. You can’t let this thing stop (he indicates his throat). And often I practice sitting here for an hour or so. Because if you don’t do that, yur voice will close up. The mouth has to be open. If you stop, it closes up and then how can your voice ring out? I don’t have anything written – I start singing a verse and 300 come out. According to what I encounter, with help from above.”

Winding down. Agujetas returns. “Okay, that’s it – your recorder will wear out. And the people will see this interview and say, whoa, look what Agujetas is saying. And you’ve done what no one else has done in your lifetime, with money. I’ve done it for you. (He laughs). You’ll be astounded, the other day a team from Moscow TV was here and I spoke about two words and they give me four thousand dollars. I didn’t do anything, right? That’s good. Nobody has done that – I did it for you because you made me a poster,” he reminds Juan Carlos, whose mural-sized photo of Agujetas was on a wall for weeks at the San Telmo roundabout in Jerez. And he insists: “4000 Euros” I tell him I don’t give credit, that I can’t believe he allowed us to interview him in his own house. So human, so entrañable. So far from the flamenco God that he is for those who love him. And those who hate him.” (He laughs.) You don’t believe it? Noooo – whatever you can believe. You say that Agujetas charged you a lot. Come on, you’ll be late.” “Habeis sacado la entrada ya?” he questions.

And that’s it – punto y final.

End of interview. The original is at http://www.lavozdelsur.es/agujetas-el-flamenco-es-mentira – corrections are always welcome.

The pictures are excellent. The bottom picture links to film of part of the interview.

December 26, 2016   1 Comment

Flamenco Singer Manuel Agujetas – Obituary by Manuel Bohórquez – translated by Brook Zern

Flamenco Song’s Last Cry of Grief

By Manolo Bohorquez

from El Correo de Andalucía, December 25, 2015

A flamenco singer has died. Not just any singer, which would be terrible news. No, one of the greatest masters of Gypsy song (cante gitano). Yes, Gypsy, because that’s what Agujetas always was and always wanted to be. His father, Agujetas el Viejo, was also a singer, a Gypsy from Rota with a sound that came from centuries ago, metallic, dark as a cave, that put you in the last room of the blood. Manuel de los Santos Pastor, or Agujetas, who died this morning in Jerez, was the only one who remained of those Gypsies who took the song from the marrow of his bones, a singer who only had the song, who felt alone since the day he was born and who sang so he would not die of solitude. Unsociable, a strange person among strange people, as were Manuel Torres and Tomás Pavón [perhaps the two greatest male flamenco singers who ever lived]. Manuel Agujetas detested anything that was not the flamenco song or freedom, and who fled from stereotypes or academic schools, from technique, from treatises, from la ojana. He was, in the best sense of the word, a wild animal. Some critics reproached him for being too rough, disordered and anarchic, but he had the gift, that thing that correct and professional singers lack. That they can’t even dream of. You can fake a voice to sing Gypsy flamenco, but Manuel never faked anything. He was the Gypsy voice par excellence, the owner of what Manuel Torres called the duende, the black sounds that captivated the early flamenco expert Demófilo and García Lorcca. A stripped-down cry that could kill you in the fandango of El Carbonerillo, but that when it was applied to [deep song styles like] the siguiriyas or the martinetes, reached a terrible dramatic intensity. No one sounded as Gypsy as Agujetas, with such profundity. No flamenco singer carried his voice to such depths, even though he could be a disaster on a stage, not knowing how to deal with the accompanying guitar and repeating verses and styles to a point of overload. There is no such thing as “Agujeta-ism”, or attempting to copy his inimitable style; but his admirers are found all over the world and have always been faithful to him. A minority, to be sure, but devoted unto death. And they have not claimed official honors for him, as happens with other singers of his generation, They have loved his art and have wanted to experience it, knowing that he was unique and without parallel. Manuel had a charisma that wasn’t for stadiums or big theaters, but for an intimate setting. Someone who has an old LP of Manuel Agujetas feels as if he has a treasure, a relic, something sacred. And someone who heard him on a stage, with that antique aspect, that scar on his face and those sunken eyes, knows that on that day he lived a truly unique moment. Surely this death won’t make headlines or be reported on radio or TV. And what else? Those of us who heard him during an outdoor summer festival in a small town, or a small theater or a flamenco club will never forget it, because in each line, in each of his chilling moments, Manuel nailed to our soul a way of rendering deep song that didn’t die today, with his disappearance, but that died decades ago. It will be a long time before another Gypsy is born, if one is born at all, who has such an ability to wound you with his singing. And when he wounds you fatally, when it kills you, it is a desirable death. The last great pain, the last great grief of song has gone. May he rest in peace.

End of article in El Correo de Andalucía of December 25th, 2015. The original is at http://elcorreoweb.es/cultura/el-ultimo-dolor-del-cante-AI1183398, Olé to Manuel Bohórquez, and a final olé to Manuel Agujetas, the greatest singer I ever knew and the greatest singer I ever heard. Please refer to other entries in this blog for more translations and opinion about Manuel Agujetas.

Brook Zern

December 25, 2015   1 Comment

Manuel Agujetas leaves his soul in La Guarida del Angel – article by Juan Garrido in Diario de Jerez – translated with comments by Brook Zern (and a radio program about the event)

In the Diario de Jerez of March 2, Juan Garrido wrote:

Manuel Agujetas leaves his soul in La Guarida del Angel

A recital that lasted more than two hours. Styles of soleares and siguiriyas that are no longer heard. A Gypsy who is the exception to the rule.

The truths he possesses cannot be better transmitted. A true privilege for aficionados who came from around the world, from Japan, Barcelona, Huelva and Malaga.

Also those from here in Jerez, who trust him to reveal the most ancestral elements of flamenco culture. The authentic melismas of a past generation reverberate in his songs.

His rendition of the songs of Carapiera or Manuel Torre are chilling, but he is always himself. He isn’t compared to anyone else because his style is strictly his own. It’s unusual to see him in small venues like La Guarido del Angel, where one can appreciate the closeness with a strong man of such character.

The sensations generated were inexplicable, since only those who experienced them could understand it. Domingo Rubichi accompanied him superbly on guitar. Also on view was the dancing of his wife Kanako who revealed her love of true flamenco.

Never glancing at the clock, Agujetas took us into the world of the spoken fandango, unhurried, never rushed. He sipped some tea for his cough, and warmed up for the martinetes.

The aficionados shouted. “The day you’re not around, it’s all over, Manuel.” Then there were some saetas [religious flamenco songs] that you won’t hear, even in dreams, during Holy Week.

When it was over, we returned to reality. The reality of Agujetas as a singer is exceptional. A living soul who continues to head up the Olympus of the Gods of flamenco song. The living history of the cante of Jerez.

End of article. The original is at: http://www.diariodejerez.es/article/xixfestivaldejerez/1974283/manuel/agujetas/se/deja/alma/la/guarida/angel.html

Translator’s note:

What can you say about perfection? A few years ago, the savviest aficionado in Jerez, foreshadowing the cries of today’s crowds, told me “When Agujetas is gone, it’s all over.” Granted, he was a member of the Agujetas clan, as is the guitarist Domingo Rubichi who accompanied him for this show. But that doesn’t mean he was wrong.

I view Agujetas as a throwback to the era when giants walked the earth. You’ll find plenty of entries in this blog that try to sketch the essence of the man, starting with a 1976 article I wrote for the Village Voice. (As a person, it’s an understatement to call him problematic. A lot of people hate him, some for good reasons — he can leave damage in his wake. One recent rave review ended by urging people to boycott all of his appearances and recordings because his behavior and character fell so far short of acceptable.)

One of the many miracles of this man is that he’s still alive, never mind singing so well so far beyond his expected prime

In 1972, I began an obsessive fifteen-year effort to help ensure the preservation of the 100 programs in the now-fabled TV documentary series “Rito y Geografía del Cante Flamenco” — because I was sure that the greatest artists would not be around very long and it was crucial to have all those fabulous films (now happily free on YouTube by searching for “Flamenco” and “Rito” and the name of an artist or style). Agujetas was a particular focus of that struggle, and I was amazed that he was still around when I was finally allowed to repair and buy the films in 1987. I certainly never dreamed that he – virtually alone among the major protagonists — would be alive and kicking today, 43 years after the films were made.

The pendulum of flamenco preferences has swung away from artists we once viewed as purer, deeper and more authentic than their lesser colleagues.

Today, of course, scholars question the very meaning of words like “authentic” or “pure”.

Well, I can’t define purenography, but I know it when I hear it. Heck, I even believe in duende, whatever that is, and I know exactly when, a very few times for a very few minutes in a very good year, it shoves an icy knife into my back.

The songs we hear are a solea that is soon repeated, another solea, and a siguiriyas. Agujeteas is even older than I am, but boy, he can still summon up what an old time blues giant called the “hellhound on my trail.”

Agujetas’s 1972 program on Rito y Geografia is on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xx8IenwJABE

In addition, you can hear several songs from his recent recital by going to the following url and pressing the play button:


That url connects you to “Caminos del Cante”, the superb radio program that the Jerez flamenco (and sherry) expert José Maria Castaño has been presenting for many years. It covers all aspects of flamenco, though always from the Jerez perspective — in other words, leaning toward the increasingly unfashionable view that deep is better than shallow and that Gypsy — not as a genetic inheritance but as one way of approaching the problem of flamenco expression — is even better than its marvelous alternative. (It has been my occasional honor to be part of the weekly panel, where I try to get up the nerve to try and say something unstupid.)

Brook Zern

March 2, 2015   No Comments

A New Recording of Saetas by Manuel Agujetas and His Son Antonio – by José María Castaño – translated with comments by Brook Zern

From “Los Caminos de Cante”, March 13, 2014

Translator’s note:  Go to the link at the end of this blog entry to hear this recording.  Los Caminos del Cante is terrific radio program done in Jerez by José María Castaño, who literally wrote the book on that city’s flamenco, titled “De Jerez y Sus Cantes”.  (He sometimes lets me sit in on his otherwise-expert weekly panels, where my friend and expert informant Estela Zatania is an actual regular.)

This announces a rare event:  A flamenco recording.  No jazz, no flutes, no nonsense – not even any guitars, because this particular flamenco song form, the saeta, is accompanied only by muffled drums and, sometimes but not here, a brass band of cornets and trumpets.  They are the songs sung during Holy Week as the huge, heavy floats move through the nearly silent streets, when amateur and professional singers, sometimes overcome by emotion, speak directly in verse to Jesus or Mary as they make their annual passage through the town.  (A dimly-recalled verse: “Here he comes/ the best of all those ever born (el mejor de los nacíos)/ His hands bound so tightly/ it would crush a rock”.  As a true non-believer, incidentally, I find it problematic to navigate the emotional realm between my involuntary oneness with the singer and the song, and my complete separation from the underlying religious impulse.)

It’s hard to place the saetas into the context of flamenco’s hierarchy of song forms.  They can be intensely moving, and some versions – including those rendered here – are evidently indebted to the great deep song form called the siguiriyas.   In fact, they are attributed to the greatest Gypsy singer of all time, Manuel Torre.   (There is another kind of saeta that is simple, folky, and touching but without the terrifying depths of the versions heard here.

The main singer is Manuel Agujetas, referred to in the New York Times recently as “a great Gypsy singer”.  Yes, very possibly the greatest living Gypsy singer – not an admirable man, but a gigantic artist.  He is joined by his son Antonio, who I hope has overcome or outgrown some personal difficulties and who can be a powerful singer.

Here’s José María Castaño’s article:

We have received the new CD “Al Mejor de los Nacío” by Manuel and Antonio Agujetas

Manuel de los Santos Pastor “Agujetas” has sent us his latest discographic publication:  A recording dedicated to the saeta, with no additives except the presence of his singing son, Antonio Agujetas.

The disc, recorded in the studios at La Bodega de Jerez, with José Manuel García Pelayo in charge, includes nine new saetas from Manuel Agujetas, complemented with two by Antonio.

The musical lineage of all these saetas is clearly identified with those left to us by Manuel Soto Leyton “Manuel Torre” which we hear in his recordings.  This primitive saeta, stripped of any adornment, very corta [brief, limited, short] and direct with a profound flavor of the old street cries adorned with some dry and forceful sung “ayes” that evoke the siguiriyas.  These may be the “old, simple saeta por siguiriyas [saeta sung in the manner of siguiriyas] that Antonio Mairena spoke of, that arrived in Seville in the beginning of the last century.”

As is logical, despite the fount that is Manuel Torre, the Agujetas insert that unmistakable rajo de dolor [ragged cry of grief], born of that atavistic eco that carries us into this mysterious sound that resembles the first wail emitted by our human species.

All the saetas are accompanied by the drums that seem to cover the nakedness of this sacred message of Holy Week and the traditional verses, including some very primitive versions that surely have survived in the selective memory of this family of singers.

An authentic relic.

End of article.

To hear these saetas, and read the Spanish comments, go to:


March 13, 2014   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Manuel Agujetas – Information from YouTube commentary posted by “elmojama4″ – Translated by Brook Zern

Flamenco Singer Manuel Agujetas – Information – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s Note and Introduction

Moraíto on Agujetas: “For me, his singing is always surprising, there is always something new.  This is singing in its savage state, the pure song.”

Translator’s note:  For many years, I have been fascinated by Manuel Agujetas, recently described in the New York Times as a great flamenco singer.  Elsewhere in this blog, you’ll find my 1976 Village Voice article about him as well as other translated interviews and that New York Times article.

Even when he emerged as a new figure in song in the early 1970’s, he was a throwback to an earlier age.  I tried to find him in Spain back then, but it wasn’t until he showed up working at a small restaurant in New York in ’76 that I met him.  He was married to a remarkable international New York woman and a fine flamenco dancer, Henriette Lubart, known as Tibu or Tibulina and as “La Tormenta”, and I helped organize and publicize some of their appearances.  (I also tried to reassure Tibu’s protective and understandably apprehensive Jewish parents that this menacing-looking and illiterate Gypsy was, like it or not, one of the world’s great artists.)

In recent years, living in Jerez, I have again managed to witness his art face to face.

Flamenco is an art of many dimensions.  A new wave of beautiful singers with beautiful voices is upon us now, and we have Estrella Morente and Argentina and Arcangel and Juan Valderrama among others.  Miguel Poveda is the new master of the art as a whole, commanding every great branch of song from the immense trunk of flamenco.  Carmen Linares is the other great figure overseeing the proceedings.  And José Mercé, who among singers in their prime may be the greatest master of the crucial deep song forms and and terrific in many other styles, is the best-selling flamenco singer of all, thanks in large measure to the rock and pop songs that take up about half the space on his CD’s.

And then there is Agujetas – not just a difficult but an impossible man, thoughtless, inconsiderate, outrageous, doing what he wants to do and often leaving serious damage in his wake.  The resentment is so strong that a leading critic I admire has urged people to boycott his appearances, despite the fact that he is a magnificent singer.  (Agujetas has always behaved impeccably with me, and remembers times we shared better than I do – go figure.)

For me and some others, he is a living connection to the aspect of flamenco we see as essential in grasping the tragic essence of the art, a link to a vanished world of disease, hunger, poverty and ignorance.

(Or maybe not vanished after all, at least in terms of economic misery:  Last month, the Bloomberg Misery Index placed Spain among the world’s ten unhappiest nations – not exactly surprising, given the fact that hundreds of thousands of Spaniards were demonstrating against the leaders who have led it into its desperate economic situation.  Somehow, though, I doubt if a 1950’s national poll would have revealed such feelings of misery despite far worse poverty.  Perhaps ignorance was bliss, or perhaps, as it seemed to me, the people somehow managed to find happiness – or at least believe they were happy –when terrible deprivation was shared equally among a virtually universal underclass.)

This is a translation with a soundtrack.  The article was posted on YouTube by “elmojama4”, one of the leading contributors to YouTube’s immense flamenco section with 733 videos (and 1,858 subscribers).  It was published on March 6, 2012. One interviewer was Pepe Marín, a frequent “emcee” at the countless free recitals and events at the many wonderful peñas or flamenco associations of Jerez.  Here’s the URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjSCLRNOC7o

It’s posted in small segments, with viewer comments interpolated.

Please note that it is incomplete – actually fragmentary:  It includes a segment headed 1 of 8 and another headed 2 of 8.  I hope to find the remaining six, if they exist.

(Also note that today’s preferred flamenco authorities frown on the concept of “pure” flamenco, and the idea that certain Gypsy artists can offer art in a “savage” state that  few other artists ever approach.  That’s why I began this with a quote from the late, great Jerez guitarist Moraito – because in my book he, too, was an authority, and because he understood flamenco  evenbetter than those other people.)  The translation:



In the sociology of the world of flamenco deep song, the Gypsy family has great importance as the conserver and transmitter of the styles, creating the most propitious ambiente so that the song, guitar and dance in their maximum purity are not lost.  We have as examples the house of the Torre family, of the Mairenas, the Paulas, the Perrates.

From Jerez de la Frontera comes the house of the Agujetas, whose most important professional exponent we have with us here, for those who do not already know in depth the dark metal of his voice.  He is also here for the growing number of aficionados who are left speechless by the black sounds that reside in an unknown dimension, and that this Gypsy has the duende to invoke with his song.

The Forge of the Agujetas

The saga of the Agujetas comes from Puerto de Santa Maria and is descended from the Rubichis, the Fedeitos, the Moneos and the Chaquetas.  Focusing on the provable, we find that Manuel Agujeta comes from an exceptional line of singers residing on Acebuche Street in Jerez.  His uncle, Tomás de los Santos Navarro, a compadre of Manuel Torre [widely considered the greatest Gypsy singer of the last century, or of all time], was sought out by aficionados and wealthy men of the locality who hoped to immerse themselves in the depths of his song; his grandmother María Gallardo was evidently an extraordinary singer of siguiriyas [flamencos central deep song form], his grandfather was  Juntito Pastor, also touched by the lance of the deep song; his father Manuel de los Santos Gallardo “Agujetas el Viejo”, an impressive non-professional singer, a living encyclopedia of the archaic song styles of El Marrurro, Manuel Molina, Manuel Torre, Frijones, Juan Jambre, Tío José de Paula, Carapiera, Ramírez and the crippled Farrabú.  Like many other singers from this deepest vortex, this Gypsy blacksmith did not receive the recognition he deserved for the jewels that poured from his throat and his way of rendering the song.  Many aficionados and  professionals made the pilgrimage to his forge in Rota to take pleasure in his song, including such emblematic figures as Antonio Mairena and Manolo Caracol [the two most important figures in mid-twentieth century deep song].  Unfortunately in this world of flamenco the acclaimed artist is not the one who creates and makes true art, but the one who sells best and fills theaters, at the cost of distancing himself from the greatest depths of the art.  A nephew of the essential figure “Mingo [Domingo] Rubichi” and of Diego de los Santos, from whom aficionados bought things just to hear him sing, and a grandnephew of José Gallardo Suarez “El Chalao Viejo”; a brother of the singers Juan “El Gordo Agujeta”, Paco Agujeta, Diego Agujeta and Luís Agujeta; father of Antonio Agujeta and Dolores Agujeta who continue the tradition; grandfather of Antonio Agujeta “Niño Agujeta” who at just 11 years old created a sensation in the homage dedicated to his relative El Negro del Puerto, singing the songs of his grandfather and then continuing as a flamenco guitar accompanist.  Cousin of the singers El Gitano de Bronce and the surprising Diego Rubichi, who left an extraordinary legacy of deep song.

Manuel de los Santos Pastor “Manuel Agujeta” [or, as your translator prefers to pluralize him, Manuel Agujetas] was born in Acebuche Street in Jerez in 1935.  [Other stories give different later dates, often 1941] Agujeta el Viejo and his wife Ana Pastor Monje moved to Rota in 1936 after the birth of their fourth child María, where he opened a small forge, bringing to it the best of Jerez ironworking and flamenco song.  Manuel, besides apprenticing as a blacksmith, went into the realm of his deep legacy as learned from his father, and with time became his legitimate artistic heir.  Manuel returned to the San Miguel neighborhood of Jerez at 15, and at 17 entered a course in aviation, after receiving a recommendation from Álvaro Domecq [the sherry magnate, probably the richest and most important man in Jerez or all of Andalucía], perhaps through the man who would become his key promoter, the poet, writer and director of the Institute [Cátedra] of Flamencology of Jerez, Juan de la Plata.

Manuel, aside from blacksmithing, was a sheep-shearer serving the ranches of the area, where he heard old non-professional singers who knew the deep roots of the song.

He supplemented that with local appearances after winning the [very prestigious] Concurso de Cante Flamenco of Mairena del Alcor in 1966, together with Camarón and Fosforito.  Beyond the usual private gatherings of cabales [savvy aficionados], he started some sporadic appearances on stages and thereby sang in 1968 in Jerez and Cadiz in the show called “Festival Flamenco” organized by Juan de la Plata and the Cátedra as part of the “Festivales de España” together with his father, El Tío Borrico and El Chozas…simulating onstage the singing in taverns, he also appeared at that time in the “Jueves Flamencos” and the “Fiesta de la Bulería of his hometown, both under the direction of [the great Jerez guitarist and entrepreneur] Manuel Morao.


Here It All Began

In 1970, Manuel Agujeta put aside the hammer and the shearing scissors after the performances of his other two valedores, El Tío Parrilla who gave him a letter of introduction to [the noted flamenco expert, poet and writer] Manuel Ríos Ruiz, and his compadre Antonio “El Platero” [the silversmith, currently completing an important book about Agujetas] who put up enough money to send him to Madrid.  Once there, Ríos Ruiz quickly arranged for him to record for the [prestigious] CBS label, the producer of his stupendous first album.

That was the beginning of his promotion as an artist, appearing at the Ateneo de Madrid at a gathering of people who had heard of him and were inclined to be severe judges rather than simply listening to him.  But Agujeta convinced them, demonstrating that for him, the world of serious flamenco song had no secrets.

After that initial success he appeared in the Villa & Corte, the [prestigious tablao] Café de Chinitas, the Club Urbis and the Colegios Mayores such as San Juan Evangelista where Alejandro Reyes, a member of the Music Club, told us: “From that period I have to recall the recitals of the singer Manuel Agujetas, which went on until all hours of the morning.”  He also sang at the peñas [flamenco clubs] and municipal festivals, and also at fiestas [private gatherings] organized by circles of friends.

He signed a notarized contract with Juan de la Plata as his manager, just as good bullfighters would do.  He returned to Madrid in 1972 to record his second LP and appeared in the Teatro Español as part of the II Festival of Flamencology organized by his manager to get funding for the Museum of Flamenco, with huge success.

At that time, says [the flamenco expert and great documentary filmmaker] José María Velásquez, “Manuel Agujeta and I went to a bullfight and met [the great Jerez singer then living in Madrid] Manuel Soto “Sordera” and [the great Granada-born singer] Enrique Morente.  I live near the Las Ventas bullring, so when the corrida was over I suggested that we continue the gathering at my house.  They accepted.   The encounter was going very well when Agujeta, in a spontaneous outburst, began to sing.  It seems strange, but after that, neither Sordera nor Morente even thought of opening their mouths.  They remained in uncomfortable silence.”

Manuel, learning from friends about the increasing importance of concursos de cante (song contests), entered the Ceuta contest in 1974.  He insulted Antonio Mairena, who was assigned to deliver the prizes, when the jury did not give him the prize for singing the siguiriyas.  [That’s my translator’s guess: In Spanish it says Agujetas “montado el pollo contra Antonio Mairena, encargado por la organización de la entrega de los galardones, cuando se le ningunea por parte del jurado el premio por siguiriyas.”

In the Seville newspaper ABC, the flamenco critic Juan Luís Manfredi wrote: The first contest, intended to identify important new artists, had [three prizes].  They were given to Calixto Sánchez, Curro Malena and Antonio Suarez.  I won’t go into the fine points, but the fact is that the first night was a yawn and the audience only came awake on a few occasions: Pepe Sanlúcar was sensational, Alfredo Arrebolo generated enthusiasm; Agujetas delivered a siguiriya that was one for the anthologies; and Calixto delivered.  So two of the winners didn’t awaken the public, although they must have impressed the jury, whose qualifications were not clear.”

In the mid-seventies, Agujeta married the American dancer Tibu “La Tormenta”, forming an artistic partnership that lasted more than a decade, appearing at festivals, theaters and universities.  Although nothing went wrong with his association with his manager, Manuel decided to fly solo, after Juan de la Plata made the contacts to get him a passport despite problems due to his birth not being registered anywhere.

In 1975, the couple settled in New York and appeared in Carnegie Hall [it was the small Carnegie Recital Hall], at the New School and at Columbia University.  They were contracted to appear for a season, from Wednesdays through Sundays, at the New York restaurant La Sangría.  In 1976 they represented Spain in the Smithsonian Institute’s Folklife Festival, where their were filmed in an NBC-TV documentary.  They went to the western U.S., appearing in theaters and universities including the Colorado Dance Festival, the Nairopa Institute for Buddhism and the San Francisco Bay area.

End of available written commentary accompanying elmojama4’s YouTube films of Agujetas.  It seems remarkable that elmojama4 had such solid information about their stateside activities.  I arranged the Columbia gig while I was using my alma mater to help extract the Rito y Geografía films from Spanish TV. I also helped Ana Lomax — who, along with her father the great folklorist Alan Lomax was associated with Columbia — set up the Smithsonian gig and never heard about any NBC-TV documentary; I hope someone can help find it.  I also helped with the “little Carnegie” event — when Agujetas saw the posters, he said I’d spelled his name wrong.  I pointed out that I was literate and he was not, but he pointed out that it was his name and he was the decider; he then pointed to the “g” and said it should be a “b” (the sounds can get a bit conflated way down south).  I changed it.  Maybe he wasn’t bigger than me, but somehow he looked a tiny bit tougher.

I hope to add further material soon.

Brook Zern

December 23, 2013   No Comments

The Mysterious Voice of Flamenco Singer Manuel Agujetas, Explained at Last (Oh Yeah?) – Endless Rumination Number 31 by Brook Zern

Some sounds are especially difficult to analyze.  One might presume, for example, that the baffling way that cats somehow produce purrs would resist surgical investigation.  But here’s a stab at demystifying the incomparable grito or timeless cry of one singer.

In my modest understanding, to borrow a Spanish phrase, Manuel Agujetas is the greatest flamenco singer alive.  He’s an old man now, and can’t reach the heights or depths he once commanded – José Mercé is the go-to guy if you want to see a genius at the top of his game, and if you can deal with the pop music he sings for the second half of his  recitals.

But Manuel Agujetas is utterly unique, and you can see him all over YouTube.  (The black and white stuff is from the very-early-seventies Rito y Geografía de Flamenco series I vowed to get my hands on, and did, though it took fifteen years to buy the first copies.  I was especially determined to get the Agujetas material because he was going to die of the overly flamenco lifestyle pretty soon; if I’d known he was likely to outlive me, I would’ve been less obsessive about it.  He may now be the sole survivor among the scads of so-called “consecrated artists” that infest those fabulous films – now available cheap via the internet in a superb DVD restoration done by the historic project’s guiding light, José María Velásquez Gaztelu).

A terrific aficionado who borrows the nom de video of the immortal singer Manuel Torre has posted a lot of newer videos of Agujetas, along with a series of lengthy and illuminationg comments about the artist and his life.  I’m trying to round them all up for translation .

For now, I’d like to quote part of his comments that accompany the following video:


I’ve selected this part because when you love Manuel’s singing, you get a lot of flak from a lot of people who know a lot.  Not just a lot more than I do, but a lot more than people who know a lot more than I do.

Much of the resentment is personal.  Agujetas is an impossible character.  I’m not talking about the inevitable, sometimes antisocial idiosyncrasies of geniuses in general and flamenco geniuses in particular.  I’m referring in part to his many disgraceful comments about many other artists, or worse yet, about certain groups of people (including mine – anti-semitic would apply, if his disorganized “political” thinking deserved credibility.)

This fault has led one outstanding critic who loves Manuel’s singing to urge everyone to boycott all of his performances and recordings.

I’ve also known people who have been damaged by Manuel’s deliberate actions or thoughtless inaction.  I nonetheless see him sing whenever I can, onstage or in private.  (He’s the only artist I could call a fan of mine – when we were young he showed up in New York, and I wrote a rave 1976 article in the Village Voice that he never forgot.  He always treats me like a long-lost pal, and I don’t have the urge, or maybe the nerve, to remind him he should shape up and be nice to everyone else, too.)

But the informed criticism that bothers me even more states that Manuel Agujetas is a bad flamenco singer.  I’ve learned a lot about the cante after a half-century of trying, but not enough.  For the life of me, I can’t hear it well enough to pinpoint the fine points and say whether a certain phrasing is incorrect, or a mixing of verses is not kosher, or a way of handling pitch is right or wrong.

The Spanish word “afinación” seems to mean pitch, or accuracy of pitch.  (The 1992 obituaries for Camarón referred almost obsessively to his magnificent “afinación”, and Paco de Lucía always stressed this aspect of Camarón’s greatness.)

Conversely, “desafinación” means going off-pitch.  However, in flamenco that isn’t necessarily seen as a deficiency.

One thing’s sure about Agujetas: his treatment of pitch is unorthodox.  The flamenco expert Estela Zatania has pointed out that he sings sharp – his pitch is often slightly above where it would be in other singers, even those from his own area and (I think) his own family.  I believe this has been confirmed in her contacts with authorities who can make such fine distinctions.

But – and here’s why I’ve started this whole thing – another expert has weighed in, with an even broader perspective on the pitch or tonality of Manuel Agujetas.

Manolo Sanlúcar, who accompanies the old Agujetas on that fantastic YouTube siguiriyas, also accompanied the young Agujetas on some of his first records – including a spectacular two-LP production on which Manuel just sang the two accompanied forms deserving the honorific of Deep Song: the siguiriyas and soleares.   (Good Lord, what a hugely ambitious project for a young singer — but in the case of Agujetas, you got the feeling he could’ve done two more LP’s within those two most difficult and demandng forms.)

Manolo Sanlúcar is not just a master but a student of music.  He knows whatof (is that a word?) he speaks.  And he says this:

“I’ve been asked about the mystery that this man had.  Well, 35 years ago, my wife and I and our little boy in diapers were driving from Madrid back to Sanlúcar.  And do you know what tape we played to calm and relax the kid?  Agujetas.  But how could a child in diapers become so hypnotized listening to that?  How is it possible that this man “desafine” [in the sense of “sings incorrectly or badly”]?  I stopped to analyze this, and discovered that he was not desafinado at all.  In fact, he was singing in a tonal system that existed before the tempered scale [came to dominate western music].  This guy had picked it up from his family and from his own musical world.  It’s just amazing [“Es para volverse loco.”].  This may seem to be desafinación to today’s tempered hearing, but it incorporates a bewitching quality (embrujo) that our tempered scale just doesn’t have.  In the Nineteenth Century, a woman could listen and say, “here comes so-and-so.”  We can’t do that now because we have telephones and we don’t have to work to cultivate that quality.   it was present; but today we have no need for it.

(Okay – that last sentence is a crude approximation or a wild guess:  The actual quote is “En el siglo XIX ponía una mujer la oreja y decía: «Por ahí viene fulano». Ahora no podemos hacer eso porque tenemos teléfonos y no nos tenemos que preocupar de cultivarlo”.  Accurate interpretation of the meaning would be welcome.

I don’t know if Sanlúcar is right or wrong here – but it’s a fascinating theory, that a shockingly ancient-sounding singer is actually revealing a survival of tonality as it existed before that hipster Johann Sebastian Bach wrote The Well-Tempered Clavier:  That instruction book showed the presumptive superiority of adjusting the interval between all notes so that concurrent notes always sounded okay.  But nothing was ever perfect – the tempered scale is, inevitably, a compromise.

Have I mentioned that I have no idea how music works, unlike millions of professionals and fellow amateurs? Yet the mystery of Manuel Agujetas’ searing, frightening and immensely deep sound has fascinated a lot of other people for a long time, and as a reflexive rationalist I’d love to see a logical explanation.  Competing theories and inevitable corrections warmly welcomed.

For what it’s worth, around 2002 I translated Manolo Sanlúcar’s master class for the New York Flamenco Festival.  He presented a complicated, baroque theory about the nature of the flamenco scale that I couldn’t grasp, and he recently recanted that theory for a new one, or so it seems.

Also, a few months ago after a terrific recital, Manolo Sanlúcar announced his retirement.  If Paco de Lucía hadn’t arisen alongside him, Sanlúcar would’ve been flamenco virtuoso número uno for several decades. Instead, he took a brave look around, proclaimed himself Paco’s number one fan, and — perhaps taking a lead from Sabicas’s devoted fan Mario Escudero — carved out a great career of his own.  (Check out Sanlúcar’s album Tauromagia for a broad musical vision and playing that withstands comparison to anything Paco has done.)

As for Agujetas, a phrase I often hear while eavesdropping outside the inner flamenco sanctums or sanctae of Jerez is”When he’s gone, it’s all over.”

Basta ya. (Enough already).

Brook Zern

December 21, 2013   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Manuel Agujetas – New York Times Review by Ben Ratliff – May 22, 2012

[Review of flamenco singer Manuel Agujetas by Ben Ratliff from the New York Times of May 22, 2012]

No Smiles. No Fusion. Just That Old-Time Flamenco Sadness.

Manuel Agujetas at Elebash Recital Hall

[picture caption]:  Manuel Agujetas The Gitano flamenco singer brought his fiercely traditional style and tense, shaking, sobbing voice to the Elebash Recital Hall in Manhattan in a rare New York performance on Tuesday evening.

By Ben Ratliff

“Everybody says I have the face of a dead man,” Manuel Agujetas sang in Spanish, in a dire, unaccompanied, ancient-sounding modal chant, its tonality blurred by his rasp. “It’s what happens to good Gitanos when life isn’t going well.” He sat on a chair, staring forward, hands on knees, his eyes like deep creases, an old scar running in a lateral slice on his right cheek.

If you have any interest in the void, Manuel Agujetas is your man. Born in 1939 into a blacksmithing family in Jerez, Spain, he is a great Gitano singer of the old, restricted flamenco forms defined by rhythm and mode. He performed a short and extraordinary concert on Tuesday night with the young guitarist Manuel Valencia, at Elebash Recital Hall at the City University of New York Graduate Center as part of the Live @ 365 series.

Mr. Agujetas kept to soléa, fandango, seguiriyas, tientos and the unaccompanied martinetes. He used a tense, shaking, sobbing voice; he shouted in long tones, and the sounds retreated into a kind of nasal whining — a lonely and piercing sound.

And he ended nearly every song the same way: sweeping his arms apart to indicate total finishedness, and abruptly rising from his chair. Then he sat back down, called out for another form, and started singing again.

At the beginning of the second half, after a break, his wife, Ikeda Kanako, danced in the formal flamenco style, accelerating toe and heel rhythms as she moved slowly across the stage, her left hand to the small of her back, palm out. He stood behind, bent slightly, clapping in even time and looking rueful.

No nuevo-flamenco fusions for him, no mixing with tango or bolero, jazz or techno. “Agujetas is a ferocious enemy of modernity,” read the program notes. (“I wonder if that means he came by steamboat?” someone wondered aloud behind me.)

His rare interviews stay appealingly truculent. “All this modern stuff is just a bad copy of flamenco,” he said in one. “Of course flamenco is dying. It’s over.”

Before Tuesday he hadn’t performed in New York since 1976, when he sang for a few weeks at a restaurant called La Sangria at Hudson and 11th Street. (We know about this through the vivid reporting of Brook Zern, a flamenco historian who wrote about it in the Village Voice at the time and who was in the audience on Tuesday.) To know what the singer sounded like back then, you should see some great films of him in 1972, shot for the Spanish television series “Rito y Geografía del Flamenco,” and now on YouTube: in them, he has a direct line to an almost terrifying intensity.

Mr. Agujetas’s voice is still recognizable from those films, though his controlled violence has dissipated a little, or become more stylized. Often he just pointed a finger as he sang, but at certain moments he flapped his forearms in a ritual of anguish. His pitch has become more generalized, so that he seemed as if he were singing a whole range of notes at once; his vibrato has become more pronounced, a constant deep throb.

Everything he sang was almost punitively sad, with each group of words separated by deep and complete pauses. One song told the story of a prostitute who wore a crucifix; every time she took off her clothes, the crucifix would cry.

After about an hour and a half, he pointed to his throat and said “this is not a machine,” as if anyone would think so. Two songs later he was done.

A version of this review appeared in print on May 24, 2012, on page C7 of the New York edition with the headline: No Smiles. No Fusion. Just That Old-Time Flamenco Sadness.

Comment by Brook Zern, July 12, 2012:  Because Manuel Agujetas has just received the Special Prize of Honor for his art and his life’s work from the prestigious Cátedra de Flamencología in Jerez de la Frontera, I felt that the above review belonged in this blog.  I was very pleased that critic Ben Ratliff got the story right in the world’s Newspaper of Record:  He calls Manuel Agujetas a great singer; specifically, a great Gitano (Gypsy) singer.  (He also rightly uses the term “great” to describe the film of the young Agujetas in the historic 100-program documentary series “Rito y Geografia del Flamenco”, now mostly viewable on YouTube.)

August 4, 2012   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Agujetas Speaks – 1998 Radio Interview – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:

This is my translation of a radio interview with the great flamenco singer Manuel Agujetas broadcast on April 25th, 1998 on Radio 3, on the program “Duendeando”.  The interviewer was Teo Sanchez.  Thanks to Rafael Moreno, who posted the Spanish transcription.

Agujetas is a difficult – okay, impossible – person, a living legend, and is seen in the flamenco world as a true monstruo (the word can be a compliment in Spanish, though in this case it could also indicate the usual English-language meaning.)  I knew him well in the 1970′s, and still see him often.  I feel privileged to have witnessed his singing up close and even face-to-face on many occasions.

I feel that Agujetas, and other artists who come out of the flamenco tradition, are extremely important sources of information and fact, and should be taken as seriously as any given anthropologist, sociologist, flamencologist or self-styled flamenco authority.  Yes, artists have axes to grind, and like to tell stories or cite facts or incidents that fit their interests.  So do I, of course, and more importantly, so do the actual authorities including those I know and respect.  (Agujetas, unlike most other people, freely admits here that he doesn’t feel compelled to tell the truth about certain parts of  his life — but he tells the truth about his art.)

Here’s the interview:

Teo Sanchez:  Here with us this afternoon is Manuel Agujetas, or Manuel de los Santos.  How are you, Manuel?

Agujetas:  So-so.

T:  Why is that?

A:  Well, it was a long trip and I haven’t slept well.

T:  That’s just today — but in general you’re pretty good, and content, I think.  With a new CD on sale, no?

A:  It must be on sale, according to the paper.

T:  Yes, it’s already on sale.  It’s called “Agujetas in La Solea”.  Quite a while since your last CD, no?

A:  Four years, at least.

T:  And the last one?

A:  “Agujetas in Paris”.

T:  I’ve got that one here.  And what a cover photo — you look handsome indeed, and the Eiffel Tower right behind you.  The French arranged this, right?

A:  Radio France — the government.

T:  Very good.  And how did they treat you there?

A:  Pretty well.  They treat me well wherever I go.

T:  And in La Solea, they treated you marvellously as well.

A:  Well, okay, because the owner is a friend.

T:  And when there’s a friend….

A:  There are very few friends; but anyway….

T:  When did the idea of doing this CD emerge:  How long since you started looking at the project?

A:  I think that Francis and the other guy had considered it for a long time.  They told me about a year ago that they’d record me in La Solea “whenever you want to do something”.

T:  And it was done in a special way, because it’s not a studio recording.  It’s a CD that was recorded during three of your performances, no?

A:  They wanted to do it over three days, to select things, but I don’t think they really selected anything.  They put in everything, because the disc runs to about an hour.

T:  I wonder about your name:  Is it Agujeta or Agujetas?  [Translator's note:  The interviewer here is asking whether it is singular or plural -- but in deepest Andalucia the "s" would be omitted regardless.  Agujetas focuses instead on whether there is or is not a "h" sound -- indicated by a "j" in Spanish.]

A:  Well, in Andalucia they say “Aguheta” [Agu-eta], the same as they say ”naranha” [naran-a] for orange; up here they say “naranja” [naran-ha], or patata…

T:  I mean about the “s”, Manuel.

A:  I don’t know.  I’m illiterate.  Down there they say “Aguheta” [Agu-eta].

T:  The name seems to come from your father.

A:  Yes, he worked on the RENFE national railroads, and my mother would call out “Manuel, Manuel”, and he didn’t hear; but then there were the spikes, the agujas, and that’s where the name “agujetas” came from.

T:  So your father worked on the railroad.

A:  Yes, changing the spikes.

T:  But he also had a forge.

A:  Hombre, that was his real job.

T:  And you’re from Rota….

A:  No, no, I’m not from Rota.  I was born in Jerez de la Frontera, and that’s why I’m called Agujetas de Jerez.  But my mother was from Rota and that’s where my father went…the usual thing…then…there were two of us born in Jerez.  One died, who was older than me; so we’re from Jerez, understand?  Whatever happens, happens.  People want to know about this stuff more than the artist himself.  “He’s from Rota”.  Agujetas de Rota…  My father wasn’t from Rota.  He spent 40 years there, and there’s an Agujetas Street in Rota, but my father is from Jerez and I was born in Jerez.  But the falsehood remained.  I was born…now people want to know how old I am and I wasn’t even baptized or officially noted.  How can people know how old I am?  Were they all by my mother’s side at the time I was born?  Gypsies never tell the truth to anyone.  I, specifically, never tell the truth to anyone.  I tell the truth about flamenco, and what’s good and not good, yes.  But the truth about my life, I never tell to anyone.  I’m not like those who go on TV and blather that “I fought with my brother four years ago” or “I don’t speak to my mother”.   That’s not what one does.  That’s shameful behavior.

T:  Your father sang…

A:  He was one of the very best, the purest.  And there was Manuel Torre, and now there’s me.

T:  What did Manuel Torre represent in flamenco

A:  I didn’t know him, but when my father was 13 he sang the cante of Manuel Torre; but it was my grandmother who sang just like Manuel Torre — and my grandfather, and my uncles.  So my song is like an amnistia — a pardon, an amnesty, see?   And my father did four cantes of Manuel because he liked Manuel, but my father is a born artist.  What happened was that I did the recordings, and I brought the music to light, because at that time there were no artists.  The four Gypsies that there were, well they sang for the señoritos — for rich folks, in private sessions.  Then I came along and made the recordings.  Just as Borrico and other old singers of Jerez did.  But none were artists.

T:  There is a romance, a flamenco-style ballad, recorded by your father.

A:  There is one, done in his style.

T:  It’s believed that those old romances are part of the origin of flamenco song.

A:  Well, no.  That stuff had nothing to do with flamenco.  A romance is a story.  A story that lasted perhaps two hours.  The Romance del Bernardo el Carpio or of all those Counts they had, you know?  But no sung corrido or romance existed.  It was a story that lasted for two hours, but then, much later, some flamenco artists dedicated themselves to doing romances as song.  The first to do it was Juan Paterna, a man from El Puerto who was the father of el Negro el de la Pipa, of Tio Jose de los Reyes, who is my cousin, part of my family.  He was the first.  In a communal house in Puerto de Santa Maria, in some rooms on the side where some women lived in the summer, nursing their children, this guy came along who wasn’t even a Gypsy — at least I think he wasn’t, though I was just a kid of about 14 — he came out doing this corrido, but it wasn’t sung.  At first he just spoke or recited the words, it was a story that lasted one or two hours, and the women fell asleep.  And he was the first who sang these little songs in Puerto de Santa Maria; but before that it was just a recited story, understand?

T:  Yes, yes.  It was a story first, and wasn’t sung till later.

A:  I did it as song.  I had never heard it, ever.  Now, in books, you won’t find that.  I have a book about the cante that’s from a hundred years ago and there they wrote down all the corridos that were done back then, like the one I recorded called “Cuatrocientos sois los mios”.  I did that on an early CBS recording I made with flamencologist Manuel Rios Ruiz, both speaking and singing it.

T:  Is it true that your father did little song contests with his children?  That he would have you sing to see who did it best?

A:  No, no.  My father worked at his forge.  The big box was in the middle, and there was an anvil for my brother.  I was little, and would straighten the irons…and my father was working and singing while the iron heated up.  That business about the Gypsies singing while they worked is a lie, understand?  Working and singing martinetes is impossible.  I guess you could hit something with a hammer, but doing the real work would not be possible.  I told that to Rios Ruiz, and on my first record there’s a “Martinetes of the prison”, which is an old cante jondo.  The Gypsies picked that up from those who were in the society.  Flamenco is not something created by the “canastero” Gypies like Camaron, and all those making up all these modern things.  This has nothing to do with flamenco.  Flamenco is from those Gypsies who functioned within the society, but who’d end up in jail because they misrepresented the mules they were selling, understand?  And they’d be sentenced to five or six years, and they’d sing to family members and end up crying.  But if you’re working at a forge, why would you be singing with such intense emotion?  You toss the hammer down and go to a bar for a glass of wine.  No, the martinetes come from the prisons.  You were stuck inside, and you sang.  If you were at the forge, hauling coal and throwing water around, well, you could sing, but only if you weren’t working.  You can’t sing at the forge — why do they want to fool people like that?

T:  We’re going to listen to a solea por bulerias from your CD.

A:  A bulerias para escuchar.  [Note:  This is an alternative word for the bulerias por solea, which is neither a bulerias nor a solea but a distinct form that has a clear relationship to both.  The form can also be called solea por bulerias, or a bulerias al golpe.  ”Proper” usage varies according to locality, so some people will get irritated no matter which term is used.]

T:  So the bulerias por solea is one that’s meant to be listened to, rather than danced to… and what’s the difference between the compas of the bulerias and that of the solea?

A:  The solea is more parada — braked, slower.

T:  But the compas is basically the same.

A:  No, no.  It’s a miajica, a little crumb, that’s lighter than the solea, and more for listening.  The folks who don’t know call it bulerias por solea, but it is not bulerias por solea.  It’s proper name is bulerias para escuchar.  And now we’re into that book that you mention.  The Gypsies don’t tell the truth to anyone.  How are you going to write a book, then?  If someone wants to write a book, let them make a record.  But through good luck or bad luck, flamenco ended up in the hands of illiterates.  Chocolate, Terremoto, Agujetas…  How could a writer create a book about flamenco?  They can’t, because they don’t know the real truth.  The Gypsy walks off with your money and tells you lies.  Understand?  I tell no one the truth.  Because my father never told me, “Do you hear this song as it should be?”  Never.  “”Well, and because you’ve sung it that way here at the forge, as we’re talking”.  “Whatever you say.  Manuel sings it this way, but now it will go that way because no one knows.”  And the day came, “Let’s go listen to Manuel”.  “Yes, Manuel knows everything.”  “Of course, if you say that it wasn’t like that, it was like that; and now it’s going to be like this.”  I sing in 70 different ways, but without ever losing the rhythm of the cante gitano.

T:  When did you first decide to become a professional?

A:  I was working at the forge.  I was fifteen, and had my own workshop.  I had a girl.  And at seventeen, with the father of [the great guitarist Manuel] Parrilla called Parrilla el Viejo and with Manuel Rios Ruiz, who was a mailman in Jerez.  Then he worked for CBS records.  And with the friendships of Parrilla el Veijo we made a few records with Manolo Sanlucar accompanying, the first for CBS.  And I went up to Cafe Chinitas for a few months.  And when I got back I was an important artist.  I gave 16 recitals in the Ateneo theatre.

T:  Manolo Sanlucar was on your first record.

A:  And the second and third.  I have 11 LP’s with Manolo Sanlucar.  The first two were on CBS.  Then five years on an exclusive contract with Compania Fonografica (CFE?), making 10 records — one every six months.  I was in America and would come and record two at a time.

T:  What are you doing now?  Still working?

A:  Yes, I live through the cante.  This year I go to Japan.  But I don’t want to leave.  They call me at home and I go where I please.  I don’t have to call anyone, or hope I’ll get work.  I sit at home.  They call and say “Agujeta, come to such-and-such…”  And if I like the idea, I go; if not, I say “Nah, I’m retired”.  That’s my way, and I’m not about to change.

T:  Where do you get the words for your cantes?

A:  I make them up.  Some are from my father, and those of Manuel Torre are in the tradition.  But I make up verses, according to what is happening in my life.

T:  There’s a song on the CD called Soleares al cambio.

A:  That doesn’t exist.  If they’d only asked me, they wouldn’t have put down all that nonsense.  I said, “I’ll make the recording and you have to do it as I tell you.”  It should begin here, and be in a certain order.  Don’t put the Solea after the “fuerte” (strongest part, macho); there are those who put the “fuerte” before the solea itself, and the whole piece becomes worthless.  Because properly, you sing the solea, and then the macho that follows is stronger than the solea, to wrap it up.  Understand?  And if you put that macho section first, and then follow it with the solea, that’s worthless.

T:  What is the macho?

A:  It’s the stronger part.  When you sing the siguiriyas, there’s a macho that’s stronger than the siguiriya.  When you sing a solea, there’s a macho that’s stronger than two soleares.  You end with them.  Do you think just anyone can sing?  People listen to four howling dogs and say they know how to sing.  Well, they don’t know how to sing.  Singing flamenco is very difficult.  Not just anyone can do it.  But that fact is not appreciated, so you get people who do all kinds of foolishness.

T:  Do you think the siguiriyas is the most moving flamenco song?

A:  The siguiriyas is the greatest flamenco song.  Siguiriya, solea and martinete.  And to know how to do them, one must endure a lot of suffering and troubles.  Those who haven’t suffered can’t sing flamenco.  One must suffer, and often go hungry, and have lice.  If you’ve been well brought up, in good circumstances, then you can’t sing worth a damn.  Understand?  You must have a cause, a reason, within yourself.  One must have something.

T:  I find myself doubtful about flamenco, because the times have changed so much.  There is not the same kind of misery and suffering that there was years ago.

A:  But I still carry that suffering with me.  That’s from the way I was raised.  I was raised badly.  The lice I had — they carried national identity cards.  I slept on a heap of straw, not a bed.  My father raised nine kids, but on a heap of hay with one blanket on top.  Understand?  That’s what made me what I am.  Should I pretend I was never hungry?  I’m the same as I was.

T:  But couldn’t you know yourself and sing flamenco if you hadn’t suffered such deprivations?

A:  No — you could know, but you wouldn’t feel the same.  To express this, you have to have undergone something.

T:  So there are really two flamencos?

A:  No, hombre, no.  There is only one flamenco.  The other is just a bad copy.  All this modern stuff is a bad copy of flamenco.  Flamenco is this:  Juan Talega, Chocolate, Mairena.

T:  Something must save it.

A:  If you want it to, sure.  You’re asking.  But actually, flamenco is what I’ve told you it is.  The modern stuff is a bad copy.  Does everyone have a right to eat?  Sure.  Get it?

T:  But in the beginning, the song — as you said before — was only in families, in homes.

A:  And don’t you think these homes each held miseries of their own?  Men in prison, men working the forges with heavy hammers, lice-infested, kids raised sleeping on hay.

T:  But when flamenco leaves these homes, does it remain flamenco?

A:  The purity remains, if it was there in the first place.  Who carried flamenco within themselves?  El Chocolate did.  I did.  Terremoto did, with those four sings he did so well.  Antonio Mairena did.  And who carries flamenco today?  Just one person:  Agujetas — and a son of mine who, if he weren’t involved with drugs, would be an important figure.  I’m talking of Antonio Agujetas, who made a record at the age of 14, and sang the other day in Casa Patas in Madrid.  This kid could’ve been a figure today.  But he isn’t, because he’s a drug addict.  And then there’s the fact that young singers are doing modern stuff.  So if one comes along who could actually sing flamenco, he doesn’t know how.  Who could sing like that son of mine?  Nobody.  But he’s been in jail for 15 years, because of drugs.  Who has suffered as much as he has?  When you remember what flamenco is…but he is ignorant about life, because he thinks that modern flamenco is what’s best.  The other day, when he sang in Casa Patas, in the first part he did nothing, but then he remembered his father, and he did two fine cantes in the last part.  That’s what the newspaper wrote.  The only one left who can do it, and he doesn’t do it.

T:  So you think it’s all over?

A:  Hombre, who is going to do it?  There’s no one.  Everybody is doing modern stuff only.  They don’t do flamenco right…  I say to them, “Tell the truth, man.”  But they don’t.  Artists today don’t tell the truth because they know doors would close, and no one would call them.  I tell the truth about flamenco because it’s all the same to me, and I don’t care what people say.  Of course flamenco is dying.  It’s over.  Who do you go to when you want to hear cante flamenco?  I taught my son to sing the right way.  The moment that young artists want to do the four modern-flamenco things, flamenco is lost…There’s a moment when you feel right, you feel a gusto, whether you’re sad or happy, you know?  Because I’ve cried in America with my pockets bulging with dollars — and my boots full of money, too.  When I had no place to put money, I’d fill my boots with it.  I have a sister who’s there in America, and she’d ask me for money because she didn’t want to go to the bank and I was carrying $10,000 in my boots.  Well, I cried with full pockets, but now I don’t know if it was from grief or happiness, you know?  And that must be what people call inspiration.  But reading and stuff like that, I don’t understand.”

End of radio interview with Agujetas.

Brook Zern

April 7, 2012   No Comments

Flamenco Documentaries – Rito y Geografia del Cante Flamenco – The Good News, The Great News and the Bad News – by Brook Zern

Flamenco Documentaries – Rito y Geografía del Cante Flamenco The Good News, The Great News and the Bad News – by Brook Zern

You’re a flamenco aficionado, right?  And even in this era when audio and video piracy is considered proper behavior, you still buy some videos and even a few CD’s every year, right?

Well, here’s the Good News.  The greatest flamenco documentary series ever made, or that ever will be made, is called Rito y Geografia del Cante Flamenco.  It consisted of 100 black-and-white filmed programs made for Spain’s national broadcasting network, RTVE, between 1970 and 1973.  It was the work of a team of dedicated visionaries, and the key person was José María Velázquez-Gaztelu  who remains a major presence in the art with his twice-weekly radio program Nuestro Flamenco on Radio Nacional, available as podcasts, and his outstanding presentations and commentary at flamenco conferences and festivals worldwide.

The brilliance of the films was enhanced by the fact that they were filmed in the field, or more specifically in the homes, bars and other haunts where the artists were most comfortable.  In the process, the shows reveal a vanished Andalucía that is barely post-Medieval, and where permanent hunger was a very recent memory.  In other words, these films help us understand the time, place and reality that engendered and nurtured the art of flamenco.

Now, for the first time, you can buy eight of those great shows on two DVD’s bound into two striking hardcover-books, all material beautifully restored and brilliantly documented, for an absurdly low price.  The programs on the first one include:

Terremoto de Jerez – very possibly Jerez’s finest cantaor or male singer in living memory, here rendering his fandangos, soleares, magnificent bulerias and legendary siguiriyas accompanied by his compatriot, the great guitarist Manuel Morao.

Viejos Cantaores – including songs by the immense artist Juan Talega, boss of the crucial style called the Solea de Alcala; Agujetas el Viejo, known as the father of Manuel Agujetas and a great singer in his own right; Diego el Perote, a master of the song of Malaga; Antonio Piñana, the main man for tarantas and its related styles from the Linares/Cartagena/Murcia region of  Eastern Spain; and Pepe de la Matrona, the all-around man from Madrid.

Malaga y Levante – lots of styles of Malaguenas and also of the mining forms of the East or Levante area, including Piñana and Fosforito among others.

Maria Vargas – a brilliant cantaora from Sanlucar, with a rare asset – a voice that is actually pleasant, even beautiful, even when she delivers hard-core flamenco.  She’s accompanied by a hot kid from her home town – yes, the great Manolo Sanlucar.  María Vargas has just re-entered the flamenco scene here in Spain.

Here’s the rundown on the other DVD/booklet:

Manuel Agujetas – not the nicest guy in the world, but the savviest artists in Jerez say that when he’s gone, the game is over.  He’s accompanied by the wonderful Parrilla de Jerez and by Manolo Sanlucar, and his father Agujetas el Viejo is also seen in fine form.

Cante Flamenco Gitano – revealing the song and the way of life of artists including Gaspar de Utrera, Rafael Romero, Santiago Donday, Cristobalina Suarez (wife of Miguel Funi) and El Turronero.  Accompanists include Manuel Morao, Perico del Liunar hijo, Pedro Bacan and Paco Cepero.  For great homestyle flamenco, these are the usual suspects for a really fine lineup.

Fandangos Naturales – a favorite form for artists and Spanish devotees alike, but hard for some of us outsiders to fully appreciate.  A lot depends on the words of the verses that the artists choose – and these are are more melodramatic or histrionic than you’ll find in other styles.  Worse yet, the words can be hard to understand.  Still, with Camarón, Enrique Morente and El Mono de Jerez among other masters of the form, it’s worth your attention.

Beni de Cadiz – another challenge for outsiders, El Beni always charms his Spanish fans with his ebullient personality, his very funny stories and some dynamite dance moves.  At his singing best, he evokes the great Manolo Caracol.

Now the Great News:

Those two new DVDs/Books are actually Volumes 17 and 18 of this wonderful edition of this incomparable documentary – which means that there are 16 more volumes that have already been published over the past few years, for a total of 72 half-hour programs.  Every one is priceless, and every one is for sale cheap.

I don’t know the best way to get them all, and some volumes may be hard to find but should turn up sooner or later.  Maybe you can buy them, or some of them, in the store linked to the excellent website deflamenco.com.  Maybe they’re available from elflamencovive.com in Madrid.  Maybe they’re all over eBay’s English or Spanish incarnations.  Google will reveal all.  Start saving up.

And now the Bad News:

While these two latest publications add eight very fine programs to the previous 64 on the 16 previous DVD’s, my primitive math indicates that – umm, let’s see, 100 minus 72 equals – roughly 28 programs that are not available and might not be for a long time, if ever.

For me personally, that’s actually good news.  I did a lot of begging, bribing and paying to help ensure the survival of this series (and a lot of other RTVE flamenco programs filmed in their studios as well, though my focus was always on the Rito series.)  In 1987, after 15 frustrating years and after giving the first set to the Flamenco Archive or Flamenco Collection I’d established at Columbia University, I finally ended up with the world’s only at-large copy of these programs.

That meant I could show them in those rare instances where cultural organizations and universities would allow me to do that.  And so it was that I ruled — at least in terms of having great VHS cassettes to show for friends and for any interested culturati.

You wanna see it, you gotta go thru me, pal.  Hey, I coulda been a contender, if only anyone had wanted to see it.

Then a lot of the programs were published, albeit in bad shape and with silly documentation by Alga Editorial in Spain, so I lost my monopoly.  Worse yet, some jerk invented YouTube, so that anybody could see good and even great flamenco at the push of a button.  And then this great new edition came out.  The jig was up.

But I still have nearly all of the still-unpublished programs.  Good for me.  But I also have a bad feeling that with these latest eight programs now available in improved fidelity, the remaining stuff is relatively weak.  (Yes, there were some feeble programs, about wine and flamencologists and Lorca and deFalla and whatnot, that I rarely bothered to look at, and that wouldn’t add much to the glory of this achievement.)

But I digress (what else is new, you ask).  Hunt these programs down.  Never mind the fact that you can see lots of them on YouTube — the books alone are worth much more than you’ll pay for the combo.

Get the whole batch.  You’ll sleep better knowing that you have the definitive documentary on flamenco, right up to the moment when Paco and Camarón (both featured, though separately) delivered on Paco’s published threat in Triunfo magazine (you’ll find it on this blog) to rip flamenco from the hands of the men they called old farts, fogies and phonies who controlled it and, with the help of a kid from La Isla, reshape it into the hipper, jazzier, freer, fusionier art form it has become.

And remember, even Paco is on record as saying that if you don’t understand where flamenco came from, you’ll never know where it is or where it’s going.

Brook Zern

March 20, 2012   No Comments

Flamenco Singer Agujetas: 1992 Article by Antonio Delgado – Translated by Brook Zern

Translator’s note:  Sevilla Flamenca #76 of 1992 carried an article on the extraordinary flamenco singer Manuel Agujetas by Antonio Delgado.

A close look at the two long-established “official” flamenco magazines, Sevilla Flamenca and Candil, reveals a strong current of “mairenismo” — admiration for the late, great Gypsy singer Antonio Mairena which borders on idolatry.

There are reasons for this attitude.  Mairena was undoubtedly the most complete singer of recent times, with a huge repertoire of serious cante.  His vocal faculties were superb. His powerful interpretations are considered definitive — even if he admittedly had to make his own creative guesses about what some nearly forgotten songs had sounded like in their heyday.  In addition, Mairena did more than anyone else to further the “dignification” of flamenco, helping it come out of the shadows (remember, this was originally the disreputable music of a reviled underclass, more at home in the bars, ventas and brothels than in select theaters and municipal festivals.)

Like many aficionados, I found that Mairena’s public performances left me cold, and never tried to hear him in private, as I probably should have.  I’ve subsequently heard tapes and even seen some film which indicates that Mairena, given a comfortable setting, could at least approach the magical realm of what we call, in romantic shorthand, the duende.  But it was not evident in his visage, in his bearing.

So, along with other sycophantic Americans and a number of Spaniards, I gravitated instead toward the more clearly electrifying approach of the Daddies of Duende:  first El Chocolate (and the late Terremoto, whom I rarely saw), and then Agujetas.  (Yes, there were big Mamas too – notably La Pirinaca, and the magnificent La Fernanda de Utrera.)

But here’s a rarity: an article on Agujetas in Sevilla Flamenca, which usually gave short shrift to the more difficult and less dignified singers whose intense and obvious transmission of emotion is, shall we say, resented by the more refined mairenista faction.

Antonio Delgado wrote:

“I have resolved to write something about Agujetas, in view of the short shrift (escasa repercusion) that this excellent singer seems to get in specialized publications, relegating him to the status of an accursed artist.

In fact, there is a minority of aficionados who are enraptured by the black sounds which reside in an unknown dimension of our world, and which this singer has the duende to summon with his cante.

Manuel de los Santos Pastor was born in Rota in 1939, son of the extraordinary non-professional singer Agujetas el Viejo, who was an expert (un fiel transmisor) singer of the cantes of Manuel Torre.  He was part of a great family of Jerez singers, including the Rubichis, the Chalaos, the  Fideitos and the Chaquetas.  He started as a blacksmith, as were most Gypsy singers of the Nineteenth Century, learning the trade while accompanying his father to various locales in Jerez to shoe the horses of the country folk and the rich families.  After recording his first LP [Viejo Cante Jondo] in 1970, he decided to leave the forge to become someone (“para ser gente“) in flamenco.

Angel Alvarez Caballero, the flamencologist, says: “He is one who is ecstatically linked to flamenco (“un ser arrebatadamente entranado con el flamenco“.)  His lean body, almost dry; his antique Gypsy face seemingly askew, with hard features that appear carved.”

Agujetas, while he has a large repertoire of songs, is outstanding in the hardest genres: the unaccompanied songs such as the martinetes and tonas, and also in the siguiriyas and the soleares.  In addition, he excels in the other Gypsy cantes; and also the fandangos.  He is clearly influenced by the cantes of Manuel Molina, el Marrurro, Mojama, Tio Jose de Paula, and Manuel Torre.

The few who have written about him agree in calling a vital and anarchic singer, steeped in duende, able to unbury and bring into our time the most obscure and darkest ways of expressing the cante of the previous century.  On the jacket of his record “Por Derecho”, producer Pepe Fernandez writes: “It is a shattering cry that comes from a hundred years ago, and which today carries even more force than when it was first generated.  His case is totally original.  At the point when  other singers are silenced by sheer exhaustion of the throat, he is just warming up.  His vocal cords have the resilience of the strings of a guitar in the hands of an expert.  When the two are matched, a combat ensues in which the first to die is the listener, because the chills extend into the deepest reaches of the flamenco soul.”

Fernando Quinones writes:  “It’s an unmistakable sound, wounding and Gypsy.  There is something fabulous in the timbre of his voice — not in the silly way the word is used now, but in the first and literal sense of the word ”fabulous”.  The cante is etched with an acid primitivism by this man, possessor of an antiquity which, together with his physical aspect and behavior, I can only conclude is a survival from another age, a kind of Neanderthal of flamenco…”

Soon after becoming professional, Agujetas received the “Premio Nacional de Cante Manuel Torre” which, together with the “Premio del Cante” awarded to him by the Catedra de Flamencologia de Jerez in 1977, are the highest awards he has received so far.

He began his career in the tablaos of Madrid, in the Cafe de Chinitas, the Club Urbis, the Ateneo and Colegios Mayores, and appearing before various penas (clubs) and in municipal flamenco festivals.  He also sang in many private gatherings, and became the favorite singer of the well-to-do gentlemen of Jerez.  In the mid-seventies, he began what would become a constant of his career, becoming the eternal traveler and going all over the world, with long periods in Japan and Mexico and cities like Paris and New York.  It was that city of skyscrapers where he most often resided while abroad, encountering a legion of followers who did indeed know the value of his art.  During that time, his appearances in Spain were limited to the Festival de la Buleria in his own Jerez, and a few other recitals in Madrid where he also commands a fervent aficion.

Lately, fate has been hard on him.  During a Mexican trip, he was in a traffic accident that incapacitated him for months.  One day in 1987, the SER radio station announced that he was in intensive care.  The poet, flamencologist and director of the “Cuarto de los Cabales” program organized an homage in his native land to help in his recovery; the whole flamenco world attended, and support also came from the penas that carry his name outside of Spain.  All this, combined with the grief caused by the long prison sentence for his son Antonio, made the late 1980′s a time to forget.

Now, however, he is completely reestablished, and we hope that the festivities of ’92 will serve to absolutely confirm his stature.  And that the organizers of Festivals and heads of Penas will remember to include him in their events, where a singer of this kind is best heard and experienced.  And that aficionados themselves will give him the place that is deserved by this undoubted “genio y duende del cante gitano”.

Translator’s comment:  Note the references to Agujetas as embodying the past, as coming from another time.  I felt this palpably, and referred to it in an article I wrote about him.  Off the record, so to speak, when I met him soon after his arrival in New York in 1976, he had evidently caught the eye of a remarkable and discerning downtown woman.  He asked me why she seemed to find him so appealing, and I quoted a line from Bob Dylan’s ironically titled love/hate song titled “She Belongs To Me”: “She’s a hypnotist collector; you are a walking antique.”

(For any Dylanologists out there, yes, this woman did wear a scarab ring, with two tiny diamonds on the setting that held the carved red bug.  And yes, the first line of that verse is:  “She wears an Egyptian ring, that sparkles before she speaks.”

Life is a mystery, as my mother in law always said; or was it “Life is a misery”?

Did I already ask if I was repeating myself?

– Brook Zern

November 7, 2011   No Comments