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 Post Under General - Read More

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