Archive for February, 2011

Tomatito in London: The Gypsy Guitar

I think it really speaks well of Sadler’s Wells that, despite its fame as London’s foremost dance venue, it has hosted three performances in this year’s Flamenco Festival where the main attraction was not on dance. Perhaps this is because the folks at Sadler’s Wells recognise that it is a knowing audience that attends this festival and that many will be looking for more than the overt attraction of dance in any given performance. I’ve already covered two of these concerts, those by Estrella Morente and Miguel Poveda, great singers whose names go before them. The same was true of the third, Tomatito’s performance on Wednesday night.

Many of us recall Tomatito from the Camarón years. His was the guitar in the boundary-breaking Leyenda del tiempo of 1979, the fateful year when Camarón shocked the purists by courting fusion with jazz and rock and turned himself into a legend in his own time. The timing could not have been better. Spain was going through its transition to democracy and flamenco burst through the barriers of tradition in a way that no one had ever expected — least of all from a group of young, long-haired gitanos from small-town Andalusia. Tomatito’s guitar accompanied Camarón’s voice for two decades, resonating always with that unmistakeable toque gitano or gypsy touch, as in that unforgettable concert in Paris back in 1987. Camarón and Tomatito were inseparable figures. The perfect duo. An unspoken bond united these two gypsy men, with their dark mane of hair and vibrant talent. Then, in 1992, Camarón died…What now for Tomatito, many asked themselves. How could a guitarist who had accompanied flamenco’s most hallowed singer now go on?

Tomatito has gone on, brilliantly. Yet, the aura of Camarón surrounds him. Wednesday’s show was dedicated to Camarón and brought with it the palos we associate with the coast of Cádiz — alegrías and bulerías. Tomatito continues to play with that unmistakeable mix of strength and softness that characterizes his music. He brought with him a group of two singers, Morenito de Íllora and Simón Román, the exceptional dancer, José Maya and the equally exceptional percussionist, Lucky Losada. Many of the songs had lyrics more associated with Camarón’s many great hits. To hear live the very guitar that once accompanied those words (the poignant yunque, clavo, jaca, jaca… ), but to hear these now sung by others — very good singers though they are — was strangely haunting. It did not help that the amplification was slightly grating at times, especially as the voices were strong. The highlights of the show were when the compás simply took over and brought Tomatito into intimate exchange with Lucky Losada and again, when José Maya’s incredible footwork locked into rhythm with the percussion. At times like these, the audience was just spellbound.

There is something very distinct but hard to name about flamenco performed by gitanos. It is not just the long hair — though there was a lot of that on stage — or the incredible ease with which José Maya cut shapes in the air with his lean, elegant body or the stirring of the guitar. It is more a way of being. If you were there on Wednesday night, perhaps you will know what I mean.

Here is a video of Camarón and Tomatito’s last performance together back in 1992:


February 20, 2011 Posted Under: General   Read More

Miguel Poveda: The Golden Voice

Miguel Poveda received no less than three standing ovations from a full house at Sadler’s Wells tonight. Small wonder. His resonant voice filled the theatre for an hour and a half, at times thunderous, at times soft and tender, an exercise in the control of power. In a year when the world has lost two flamenco majestic singers, Terremoto Hijo and Enrique Morente. it is deeply heartening to see Poveda fly so high. Many flamenco aficionados will recall Poveda from his early albums — Zaguán, for example — when his voice was a touch too gentle or maybe even too soft to be flamenco. People may also recall him as the youthful besotted lover in Bigas Luna’s film The Tit and the Moon, where he comically crooned flamenco to his undeserving beloved. All that has changed. Though still relatively young, Poveda has matured immensely as a singer, gaining in range, depth and strength. He is, I believe, the single most important living cantaor and, if ever any male singer can take on the mantle of Morente or Camarón, then it will probably be him. In 2010, he launched the Flamenco Bienal in Sevilla with a concert in the famed bull ring of this city and went on to gain a prestigious award at this festival, the latest of many in his shining career. Tonight he sang what he is best known for: some deep song, but also coplas as bulerías, a rumba… For Poveda returns flamenco from the most elite of stages, such as that of Sadler’s Wells, to the terrestrial, the everyday and the popular. He takes the art to new heights, always stretching himself to perform his best, but then also always returns it back to where he got it from: Badalona, the working class Barcelona suburb where Andalusian immigrants live and where, as a child, he imbibed flamenco through the radio, television and records. Poveda brings to flamenco something new, as well something old: he both bows to tradition, always ensuring that these are respected, but also innovates, at times perhaps unconsciously through his Catalan upbringing. What is certain is that his maturity as a singer has ripened greatly since his move to Andalusia where he is now located. The effect of contact and exchanges with singers in Seville and Jeréz can be felt in his voice.

Despite the upbeat nature of tonight’s concert, it too had its gestures of remembrance. Poveda paid homage to two, very different, but equally great flamenco singers, Pepe Marchena (who broke with traditions of dress and posture, as well as song) and Antonio Mairena (the purist who sought to rescue and preserve flamenco from dilution or contamination) . He also paid tribute to the memory of the late Enrique Morente. Poveda is certainly a siger who has followed in Morente’s trail.Like Estrella Morente, he is, quite literally, Morente’s next generation. Like him, he innovates, works with other musical forms, adapts painting, poetry and art to flamenco and pushes the art tirelessly further, without ever losing touch with that which is traditional or popular. On stage and off it, he is kind, generous and humble. This amazing and immensely likeable singer is definitely one to watch:

February 11, 2011 Posted Under: General   Read More

Estrella Morente: A Song For Her Father

Estrella Morente, about whom I have posted quite a lot recently, launched the eighth Flamenco Festival at Sadler’s Wells last night. It was not what many would have expected of the opening night of this high-octane annual event that so many flamenco-philes in the UK eagerly await. Nor was she the energised diva we so vividly remember from the  time when she hit world fame with her rendition of Volver in Almodóvar’s film of the same title, who commanded the entire breadth and length of the stage and artlessly seduced her audience. The Estrella we saw last night was still as a statue at times, weighted, withdrawn. She began and ended the concert with seguiriyas, climaxing in the extremely difficult cante por cabales that she so dramatically sang for her late father at his funeral. Deep song flowed from her resplendent throat all evening long: seguiriyas, soleá,  taranta… Those who are familiar with her father’s many albums will have recognized that everything she sang came from his rich and wide repertoire. It was his aura, and not hers, that filled the theatre. The colours on stage suited the sombre mood. Black and white dominated the first half of the evening, broken, blood-like, in the second half, by a red dress with bata de cola that somehow added to the sense of loss and despair that permeated the theatre. For sure, Estrella’s singing had its incredible qualities of control and range, but she, herself, was almost absent, even when she made an attempt to engage with the audience or to force herself to flounce her hair and the trail of her flaming dress.

A small minority of those in the audience may have felt restless. Deep song makes few concessions. Next to me, one lady whispered to another ‘When is she going to get up and dance?’ Most, however, knew, understood and had even anticipated the mood of the evening. Like Estrella and her entourage, many in the audience also felt the void created by the untimely death, less than two months ago, of her father, the dynamic and enormously creative singer, Enrique Morente. Estrella had been mentored by him and, in recent years, they had often appeared as a duo. Moreover, the strong communal and family ties of southern Spain translate in times of death to a public and shared sense of grief that defies containment. And so it was that sombreness descended on the audience too. The knowledge that she was surrounded by many close members of her family — her younger brother Kiko Morente, her maternal uncle Montoyita Carbonell, who accompanied her on the guitar, and another close relative Monti Carbonell — turned the evening into a performance of grieving of which we too were part. In a sense, and in the wake of Enrique Morente’s death, the audience too became part of this flamenco family that has suffered so great a loss. Words of encouragement came from the audience. So too the cry ‘Vivan los Morente!’ (Long live the Morentes!) and a plea to sing one song for her father. In that final addendum, Estrella practically broke down, overwhelmed by the emotion that she had held under control all evening long.

The Flamenco Festival often brings new and exciting talent to London, replete with amazing technical skill, innovation and creative flair. Last night reminded us that flamenco is, first and foremost, about loss, about death and about haunting. Estrella Morente may not have enjoyed performing last night, but the night was soulful and deep.

February 9, 2011 Posted Under: General   Read More