Writings and essays about flamenco

Flamenco and the bullfight: Soulmates? Or a match made in Hell? – Article in ABC.es – translated (with comments) by Brook Zern

Flamenco and the bullfight:  Soulmates? Or a match made in Hell?

I think José Mercé is the greatest flamenco singer working today.  Not coincidentally, no other flamenco artist has such a rich family heritage.  The charming Mercé is also the best-selling serious flamenco singer, with total sales of more than 600,000.  (It may not seem like much, but in this unpopular art, that is a spectacular figure.)

Funny thing, though,  The vast majority of foreign flamenco aficionados – and a whole lot of Spanish aficionados as well – profoundly disagree with him.  Or they would, if they knew how he views the bullfight and its relationship to flamenco.

Most will find his opinions – and possibly the man himself – disgusting and repulsive, or worse.  Or more charitably, they may conclude that he simply doesn’t understand his own culture as well as they do.

The story, from the May 27th issue of the major publication ABC.es, is at http://www.abc.es/agencias/noticia.asp?noticia=1425018.  My translation:

Juan José Padilla and José Mercé Fuse the Bullfight and Flamenco

Flamenco and the bullfight are two artistic expressions that have always been united, and it’s not possible to understand either one without understanding the other, say the torero Juan José Padilla and the flamenco singer José Mercé.

These respective masters of the art of the bulls and the art of flamenco, who are close personal friends, took part in the First Velada of Art and Tauromachy celebrated in Cáceres, where they spoke extensively, interacting with the public, about the aspects that these two arts have in common.

“Flamenco without the bullfight, and the bullfight without flamenco, cannot be understood,” José Mercé told EFE, Spain’s national news agency, adding that the two disciplines are “las mayores culturas” [the major cultural expressions; or, possibly, the oldest cultural expressions] of the nation, with numerous points of encounter.

In the same vein, the torero Juan José Padilla assured the audience that one cannot understand a good bullfight without the “flamenco foundation” [fondo flamenco] that accompanies it, and stated that a siguiriya or a soleá sung by Mercé serves as an inspiration for a bullfighter.

“The maestro has within his voice the capacity to render all the flamenco forms, and any bullfighter would choose him to round out a corrida,” Padilla said of Mercé.

The evening event, with flamenco and the bullfight as its central theme, took place on the bulwark of Los Pozos, in the heart of the Jewish quarter of Cáceres, where the two maestros shared their “hearts and souls”, in Mercé’s words.

The singer, in a gesture to the public, said he felt like a citizen of Cáceres, noting its flamenco peña [association] and the many friends he had made during numerous personal and artistic visits to the city,

Padilla, for his part, noted that he would be appearing in the ring the next Sunday, adding that the public in the province of Extremadura had always shown its support and affection, and it was time to return to the plaza de toros.

The mayor of Cáceres, Elena Nevado, who also participated in the event, thanked the two artists for their presence in the city and mentioned the effort of Juan Bazaga, a journalist who is an aficionado of the bulls and flamenco, for making it possible and for conducting the discussion.

End of article.

It may seem strange, but a long, long time ago — so long ago that gay did not exist in American media — you would find articles about Spain’s bullfight season every summer in Life, and Newsweek, and Holiday, and the Saturday Evening post and dozens of other American magazines and newspapers.

Today, the bullfight does not exist in American media.  (Neither do Life, Newsweek, Holiday and most other magazines and newspapers, but that’s another story.)  And any reporter who attempted to cover bullfighting dispassionately today would receive hate mail from nice people, and subscriptions would be enthusiastically cancelled and boycotts arranged.

But for better or worse, José Mercé and Sr. Padilla are not wrong.  The bullfight illuminates flamenco, and vice versa, to such an extent that neither can be fully understood independently.  I won’t try to elaborate on this mysterious fact (beyond hinting that death, an unfashionable and un-American concept that Spain still understands, lurks at the core of both.)

It is not necessary to love or like bullfighting to comprehend an essential aspect of flamenco.  It may even be okay to hate the bullfight.  But first, it is necessary to pay some attention to the bullfight, Spain’s other emblematic phenomenon, and try to understand it within its original cultural context.

(It won’t be easy to find this kind of information, of course.  It seems that our kinder and gentler era, afición for the bullfight has become the love that dare not speak its name.)

Two final notes:  First, José Mercé’s strong total record sales are primarily due to his inclusion of his own personal non-flamenco musical melange on all of his later recordings.

And second: Before anyone expresses the remarkably common American wish that Señor Padilla should be killed or be horribly gored by a bull for his sin, please note that he was horribly gored by a bull not long ago, his face disfigured and his left eye lost.  He is back in the ring.  (Some nice folks earnestly wish it would happen to him again.)

Those who hate the bullfight have effectively carried the day.  Banned in Catalonia, which resents everything Spanish, it still exists in Spain.  But for better or worse, in the larger sense bullfighting is now beyond the pale.  Hooray?

3 comments

1 Brian Felix Smalley { 10.06.13 at 11:54 pm }

The Flamenco and The Corrida will always, like Curro Romero, rise again.

2 richard ogilby { 12.11.13 at 12:34 pm }

The people that hate bullfight seem filled with hate.They profess to love but yet they hate.None of that “Love the sinner hate the sin” stuff for them.It’s straight hate that revels in murder.
It’s hate the bullfight without a scintilla of knowledge about bullfight.
Flamenco has the true depth that bullfight needs to express the drama and yet they play silly paso dobles to accompany the fight.Weird ,very weird

3 Learn to Dance Sevillanas – Poems That Dance { 12.29.15 at 2:06 pm }

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