Christmas Day 2015 and the world has lost a major exponent of flamenco… Manuel de los Santos Pastor, better known as Agujetas, son of Agujetas El Viejo and father of a clan of cantaores, has passed away. His song, like him, was taciturn and hard. When he shut his eyes and clasped his hand into a fist, one knew that the sound that would come out would be raw and unforgiving, painful even to listen to and hauntingly penetrating. Agujetas takes with him one of the finest, most honest and last examples of flamenco as oral memory. Best known for his siguiriyas, he was at once an extremely dramatic and understated singer. No one knows for sure when exactly he was born and Agujetas exemplified in his way of life the marginality that has accompanied gypsies through centuries. Despite fame and recording contracts that put him more in the international spotlight than many others of his generation, Agujetas eschewed attention. Yet, his name will remain synonymous with cante jondo at its deepest, its darkest and, for many, its most honest and most electric.
The French filmmaker Dominique Abel made a fine documentary of his life, as you can see in the video above.
Flamencorhythms was delighted to be recently mentioned by La Ámbar in her website Ambiente Flamenco, a great resource for all flamenc@s in the UK. Listed here are shows, events, classes and videos for the flamenco lover, as well as all kinds of other news, images and information. La Ámbar is a dancer herself, who has trained in Spain and who, apart from maintaining this website, also makes flamenco dresses. This website offers both new and practised flamenco@s what they might need to know in order to pursue the arte in the UK. It has really made me ruminate on the dire need for a website just like this for every city or region in the world, so that flamenc@s old and new across the globe can find out what they need to know: where to order a dress, buy shoes, find local classes. Best of all is the page that offers resources, tips and tutorials, including a valuable glossary of jaleos. I remember that when I first moved to Barcelona from London, I really wished there were one site that listed it all. I recall moving from one website to another and getting lost in the array of information that was scattered on the web. Here, in Ambiente Flamenco, the information is organised and collated, making it one easy stop for any flamenco lover.
¡Arsa, Ámbar, and thank you!
A reader, Valeska Lozada, who is a flamenco dancer from Venezuela, has requested me to disseminate her call for financial help to make it possible for her to travel to Madrid to study flamenco. From the video, it would seem she is already very skilled and, clearly, talented.
This request made me think about the financial aspect of a flamenco life… This is especially pertinent to those of us who were not born to flamenco, but fell in love with it, in some remote part of the globe, along the way. How many pounds and euros have I spent over the past thirty years on classes, shoes, shawls, fans, hair clips, fake flowers, earrings, skirts, books, CDs, DVDs, concerts, gigs…? How many people travel to Spain yearly from places as far away as Japan, Australia and, it would seem, Venezuela, to find ‘the real thing’ in Spain? Is ‘real’ flamenco only in Spain? Is access to flamenco a privilege of class and wealth? If so, is it not ironic that an art form that emerged from the dirt poor underbelly of southern Spanish cities should turn into a commodity of privilege? What does that mean for the art form itself?
They say that flamenco is universal… Then what does it mean for flamenco lovers from across the globe, if access to this art is subject to currency fluctuations, devaluations and exchange control mechanisms?
In the months since I last posted here (far too many…), I’ve spent many more hours practising flamenco than writing on it. Classes at La Escuela de La Tani continue to be as dynamic as ever and I’ve upped the ante a bit by venturing into the back row of Yolanda Cortés’s class. It’s a workout for the brain and the body, that leaves one high on endorphins and absolutely convinced that Barcelona must surely be one of the true capitals of flamenco. Well, come to think of it, the most famous dancer of all time, Carmen Amaya was born just a walk away, on the former Somorrostro beach now turned into Barceloneta. Like her, the Cortés family are from Barcelona but have origins in Andalucía. They are not alone. Throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the relative prosperity of Catalunya and its industrial might drew many immigrant Spaniards from poorer parts of Spain, especially Andalucía. The rumba catalana has evolved as the hybrid expression of this mix, drawing a line northwards from western Andalucía all the way to Catalonia and then on to the south of France , where the Gypsy Kings did us the favour many years ago of rendering flamenco sounds international.
With the onset of summer, open air concerts late at night have become common in Barcelona. Some of these have been devoted to the rumba catalana — almost always performed by gypsy groups that claim blood ties or musical ties to the famous Peret, who won fame for flamenco, Catalunya and Spain with his Eurovision winner Canta y Sé Feliz back in 1974… So here, with the hallmark flares and sideburns of those times, is the grand old master of the rumba catalana Peret, singing one of many hit songs, Borriquito como tú:
Flamenco loses another of its ‘grandes’ with the passing of the great guitarist Manitas de Plata. Aged 93, he was perhaps instrumental in globalising the sounds of flamenco from the 1960s onwards. The Gypsy Kings, either biologically or musically his sons, owed much to him in the way of having forged a path outward from gypsy communities to mass audiences for the rhythms and beats of flamenco. A guitarist who acquired the skill rather than having learnt it, Manitas de Plata embodied a lifelong passion for flamenco. He was also notable for being part of the French art scene through his friendships with Picasso and others.
I am very excited. For a while now, I have been looking forward to the release of Flamencas: Mujeres, Fuerza, Duende, a film by Jonathan González and Marcos Medina that was recently presented at project stage at the Seville Biennial and that documents the lives and work of over 60 flamencas — not least among them, my wonderful maestra here in Barcelona, La Tani. The film will be accompanied by a book in due course and will most likely be out in 2015.
In the more immediate future, though, I cannot wait to get hold of Chus Gutiérrez’s latest cinematic venture, Sacromonte: Los sabios de la tribu, a documentary that charts the arte of the great gitano community of Sacromonte in Granada. This is close to home for me. Just watching the trailer has been a moving experience, with so many familiar faces against the perennially stunning backdrop of the Sacromonte and the Alhambra opposite.
I’ve been a fan of Gutiérrez’s films for ever so long… Back in time, I even wrote a whole chapter of my Phd on her Alma gitana as a way of viewing and re-viewing both flamenco and Madrid’s Lavapiés. Both dance and ethnicity feature large in much of her work. This trailer has been enough to make me really look forward to this new film:
I’ve always maintained that the one of the great advantages of living in Spain has to be that flamenco comes to you, you don’t have to go looking for it. This happened to me the other day. Having gotten into a taxi to go from Alcalá to Zurbano in Madrid, I found myself lifted high by the unmistakeable voice of José Mercé. The taxista and I firmly agreed that Mercé is one of the best singers alive — a sad sort of thought, really, if you think of the massive losses that flamenco has suffered lately… We then wound our way through thick traffic trying to name our favourites. We agreed that one outstanding singer, getting stronger and stronger by the day, but always keeping the gentle nuances that make his voice so special, is Miguel Poveda. We both continue to mourn the loss of Morente, surely one of the greatest flamencos ever. And we differed on the deep song. I told him that it was not a question of liking a siguiriya sung by one of the Agujetas, but more one of being entranced by it. And he said he needed a few drinks to take a siguiriya in. The taxi driver did not know much about Arcángel, another favourite of mine, but then I had not heard Argentina, the singer of fandangos from Huelva, who, he said, was a slim young woman with a surprisingly strong voice. We agreed that it was a pity that the market for flamenco is so tough that only very few of the true gems emerge from the circuits of Andalusia and go global.
Ever since, I’ve been listening to nothing but Argentina…
Attempts to map flamenco abound, most often in the form of hefty books that construct histories, narratives and routes of flamenco. Few, however, manage to really get the imagination going. True, we do get to know the iconic names and the landmark moments in the evolution of flamenco, maybe even recognise the great performers from past decades, but we are too often left with a basic knowledge of the main palos and only a vague sense of how they connect or may be related. So it was great to find this blog with its maze-like depiction of the complex, and distinctly incestuous, flamenco family (not sure the buttons to turn the blog into English or Japanese work as yet…). The detailed descriptions of each palo and sub-palo are refreshing. The map made me feel as if it were moving, as if flamenco has a huge life-force that makes it grow and change even as it is being tracked. What I liked as well, beyond the dynamic, multiple connections, was also the fact that this map puts to rest, once and for all, the incredibly tedious debate about how to quantify or demarcate the gypsy contribution to flamenco as opposed to the Spanish one… I’ve decided I far prefer maps that draw connections and chart flows to ones that lay down boundaries. Yes, this is definitely a processual map.
As for the name, Flamencopolis, well, it kind of says it all… I never knew, for instance, that the soleá and cantiñas are related! My thanks to the author, Professor Faustino Núñez, a musicologist and writer on flamenco. I am really hoping to catch a few of his ongoing seminars on flamenco at Barcelona’s Taller de Músics.
I am very grateful to my friend César Gómez Gallego for pointing me to Català Roca, the Catalan photographer who took this image of gypsies in Montjuic. This image has sat on my desktop for some months, making me wonder every day who took it. Thank you, César!
The many centenary celebrations of Carmen Amaya’s birth and life have also put a long-needed focus on the rich gitano culture of Barcelona. I found this lovely image a while ago and would like to know who took it. If anyone knows, please get back to me.