Flamenco Guitarist Vicente Amigo – a Stark Raving Review by Alberto García Reyes – translated by Brook Zern
From ABCdeSevilla, September 17, 2016, comes this report from the Bienal de Sevilla, the major Andalusian flamenco festival.
Vicente Amigo, the Messiah of the Guitar
The brilliant guitarist makes history with a memorable concert that marks a before and after
By Alberto García Reyes
Once upon a time there was a guitarist who came down from the sky. A hero with fingernails of velvet, born to caress the monument of Andalusian sound. His name was Vicente. Vicente Amigo. And they tell of the legend who arrived in Seville after the reign of Paco de Lucia, and without saying a word, without even tuning up his guitar, sat down and made history with his rendering of the soleá. A soleá dredged up from the richest seam of a mine known only to the angels in paradise.
He began with a piece from the mining district of Spain’s southeast, steeped in the essence of the great guitarist Niño Ricardo, sounding both megalithic and avant-garde. He weaved a thousand melodic variations of immense profundity. Without technical excess or technical deficiency. Launching a duel between perfection and emotion. Playing like a whirlwind, not intending to please us, but to inflict pain.
Once upon a time there was a king who asked for no realm beyond the deep well of his guitar. A protoman chosen for the succession. A deity who played the flamenco tangos for the dance of his cousin Antonio. Inventing new harmonies to bring new green shoots to olive groves a thousand years old. A captain of a paper boat who slowed the pulse of his bulerías to oil the tips of his fingers with a distinctive, slow sound, like the procession of the toreros in Seville’s Maestranza bullring. The helmsman of some tanguillos that seemed to loose falcons from his hands, but were never a vehicle for virtuosity.
Once upon a time there was a guitarist who played far above our possibilities. A supergifted technician who never made us notice that virtue, but only of his artistic creativity, his ability to move the listener. This was his secret. That he was not a slave to the guitar, not a servant of its demands, but a transmitter of emotion. And the road toward the heart has risks that do not come from the faculties of execution. Because the guitar does not have strings, it has bars. And the Prisoner Number One in the jail of guitar playing was born in Guadalcanal, Cordoba. Once there was a simple crazy man who pressed the tuning pegs of the siguiriyas, playing up the neck in the fourth position without using a capo. Changing the pasa to flamenco without rising from the round yellow table upon which he wrapped up the history of this art.
Once upon a time the inheritor of the throne of guitar, in a shared reign with Rafael Riqueni, seated on a golden chair and embracing the rosewood symbol of the south, which is the cross carried by the martyrs of guitar playing when they want to shout out that those six strigs are the sum total of who we are. Vicente sometimes struck the guitar with too much power, but he was in Seville proclaiming the advent of his monarchy. And in festive full sail he stopped at the Callejón de Agua, again in the soleá. In the key of the mysterious taranta. A sublime madness. Una excelsa barbaridad. One must be very pure to play in this key without it sounding like the flamenco from the eastern mining districts. This was the secret: to create something totally new without it being noticed.
Once upon a time there was a sublime creator who tried to pass through here unperceived. I’m sorry, Amigo, but excess humility is only worthwhile behind the guitar. On the other side, we saw everything. In the Biennal de Sevilla. Dancing in celeric phrasing, encircling the electrical bulerías that El Choro dnced in accents that must be sought two hundred meters deep in the earth, where the soleá apolá as once sung by Camarón sends down its roots, with its echoes of the hollow sound of the great singer Niño Gloria, but above all, of the singer Rafael de Utrera.
Once upon a time there was a man who came to Seville and wrote his name in the register of the unique, ofthe singular. If sometimes I forget myself, go ahead and mock me. I feel I have not been worthy of witnessing the definitive ascension of Vicente Amigo to the Olympus of flamenco. And I swear on my guts that I saw the new Messiah playing with the firmament in his hands. His destination unto death. Al que va a dirigir esta hasta que se muera. A un cristo que busca con la mirada su sitio en cada latigazo. A Christ who seeks with his glance his site in every lash of the whip. El cielo. Heaven itself.
Translator’s note: The original is at:
Holy cow. It’s interesting that this hyperventilated consecration of Vicente Amigo simply confirms what most observers have suspected for at least two decades: That with due respect to the wondrous Tomatito, who took over Paco de Lucía’s role as accompanist-in-chief for the legendary Camarón, and to the amazing Gerardo Nuñez, it was Vicente Amigo — and not someone who arose later among the incredible crop of younger guitarists — who was indeed the Anointed One in terms of the contemporary guitar itself.
(Am I the last player around who still uses the original E A D G B E guitar tuning? And is it my imagination, or is it actually starting to sound novel and exotic?)