Archive for April, 2010

Sabicas, Maestro

It does not seem quite right to let the month of April slip by without our remembering that twenty years ago, this month, the world lost a genius of the flamenco guitar. Agustín Castellón Campos, better known as Sabicas, passed away on April 14th 1990 in a hospital in New York. He was called Sabicas because he was fond of habas or broad beans. Hence, Las Habicas (or the little broad beans) became Sabicas.

Those of us who followed his music will recall the day he died. There is something not quite acceptable in the passing of such exceptional talent. Sabicas was born in Pamplona into a gitano family. He started playing the guitar at an early age, but left Spain in the company of Carmen Amaya after the Spanish Civil War and later settled in New York. For those of us who lived in Francoist Spain, it was hard to come by his music: the regime was not one to promote its deserters and Sabicas had been a gypsy with choice, unlike the majority of gitanos who had no choice but to endure the harsh years of the dictatorship.

Maybe it was the fast-paced city of New York that did it, but one major change that Sabicas brought to flamenco was to speed it up. Until he arrived on the scene, the guitar had been slower, more ponderous and dream-like. Sabicas stepped up the pace. He was also not afraid to cross the boundaries of tradition and experiment. The dexterity of his fingers on the chords made it all look easy. Sabicas was born in 1912, nearly a century ago. Yet, if you listen to the video above, taken in 1987, some three years before he died, his music seems surprisingly contemporary, leaps and bounds more up to date than that of many of his contemporaries. He was innovative, incredibly sensitive, totally devoted to the guitar and inspirational. A true maestro.

April 29, 2010 Posted Under: General   Read More

Like Shards of Broken Crystal

I’ve been listening again to Concha Buika, the flamenco singer whose origins are in an old African colony of Spain, Equatorial Guinea. It’s been a while since I last listened to her. Once again, I am struck by  her voice, clear and strong, yet immensely vulnerable and pained, like shards of broken crystal.

Buika is a tremendous woman, who brings out in a very tangible way the innate propensity of flamenco to create new forms and to reinvent itself in new contexts. She says she grew up in the Balearic islands, near a gitano community from whom she acquired flamenco. The eclectic nature of her life and interests reflects in her flamenco, which she transports to the realms of soul and jazz, creating both a hybrid song that resonates with the long histories of disempowerment, poverty and suffering that shadow all three kinds of music and, at the same time, bringing out in flamenco the cry of pain that makes the song so deep. Buika is notable for her many talents and for her boldness. Openly bisexual, she also challenges the patriarchal parameters of flamenco and the tendency amongst purists to emphasise some sort of racial affinity that privileges the gitano/andalúz as rightful custodians of the art. By her mere presence, Buika dismisses all of that.

She also does more: though no mention, to my knowledge, has been made of it, Buika brings to mind the figure of Lorca, who went to Harlem and found an affinity there with the gitanos of his Granada, an affinity that resulted in his Poeta en Nueva York… In Buika’s case, it is the coming of Africa, of colonial history, of discriminated gender, of disempowered race to claim a voice, yes, an unmissable and unforgettable voice, in the heartland of flamenco. So, if Lorca’ s silhouette can somehow be discerned in so much of contemporary flamenco… and I’m thinking here of the work of Camarón, of course, and of Morente, to name but a few… then Buika makes music that brings his memory and his love for those who have been otherized spontaneously alive.

April 19, 2010 Posted Under: General   Read More

Sons and heirs

morente hijo y habichuela hijo

On Thursday, April 15th, the Teatro Echegaray in Málaga will house a joint performance by two new flamenco artists who recently appeared on the horizon: the singer Enrique Morente hijo, son of Enrique Morente and the guitarrist Juan Habichuela nieto, grandson of the Habichuela, whose photograph appears in previous posts. Both are native of Granada and are close friends. They are the scions of Granada’s two most powerful flamenco families. Enrique Morente hijo and Juan Habichuela nieto made their debut some three years ago, but both are still very young and it would not surprise me if, in fact, the twenty year old Enrique Morente hijo’s voice were to change in the next few years. That does not stop him from being a nuanced singer who is beginning to venture beyond the inherited repertoire. Not surprising, perhaps, when you consider who his father and sister are. As for Juan Habichuela nieto, he too reveals a considerable dexterity and range on the guitar, again in keeping with the exceptional artistic standards of his background. One suspects that there are also long years of rigour here and discipline in the practice of the art.

Of course, for long-standing flamencophiles like me, there is something quite moving about seeing this young duo. They are not merely the bearers of a lineage: given whose sons they are, they also portend new limits to flamenco. Will they irrevocably alter the contours of the arte? For precisely some thirty or so years ago, their fathers, Enrique Morente and  Pepe Habichuela brought out their album, Homenaje a Don Antonio Chacón. In so doing, the two rendered tribute to another great duo in flamenco history, the turn-of-the-century singer Don Antonio Chacón and the wonderful guitarrist who accompanied him, Sabicas. However, this gesture towards the past also served as a powerful signal of the versatility of flamenco, for the collaboration between Enrique Morente and Pepe Habichuela also proved beyond doubt the versatility of flamenco, whereby tradition becomes wedded to innovation. What novelties, we may well wonder, will these two young performers bring to flamenco?

As for those of us who spend our lives aspiring to be flamencos, well… This is a gentle, if mildly annoying, reminder that some things are perhaps best kept in the family!

April 8, 2010 Posted Under: General   Read More

The Magic of Diana Navarro

It’s Easter and, of course, time for the saeta. I’m not a huge fan of overt religiosity so, at the best of times, even when this is expressed through flamenco, I tend to take a small step back. However, whilst browsing through a list of saetas, there is no doubt that this one, sung by Diana Navarro, made me sit up straight. This is a voice well worth listening to. Diana Navarro emerged on the flamenco scene relatively recently, but has already made a huge impact on her listeners. This malagueña is still quite young, so we have much to look forward to in terms of the cante that she has to offer. In keeping with the strong religiosity of so many Andalusians, Diana Navarro honed her talent through the saeta, but her singing range is wide and strong.

In case you, like me, are a tad resistant to the saeta, then do check out this lovely song sung without accompaniment. Like the saeta, it is a song of passion, but one that is more corporeal in its desire — and so perhaps easier to relate to. There is something quite magical here about the heady passion of the lyrics combined with the silver tones of her crystalline voice.

April 3, 2010 Posted Under: General   Read More