The “flamenco troubadour”

During the Christmas break, we went to see some friends in Jerez, and took a long walk in the town centre. As I was walking through the famous neighbourhood of La Plazuela, I was thinking how the worst moment to learn about the existence of someone is the moment they stop existing. Unfortunately, this is what happened to me with Manuel Molina.

On the 19th of May 2015 I heard that Manuel Molina has sadly passed away. Intrigued by the fact that I could not recall any of his songs, I immersed myself in his Youtube videos. Although I have heard about the duo “Lole y Manuel” before and I knew Manuel was the guitarist there, I was surprised to find so many videos of him singing by himself. When I learned that he not only sang, but wrote songs, I started to pay attention to the lyrics, and soon could confirm what the obituaries said: Manuel Molina was not only a guitarist, but also a singer, a composer and an outstanding poet!

Or as some like to call him: a “flamenco troubadour”.

Going back to his beginnings: Manuel Molina Jiménez was born in 1948 in the Spanish North African enclave of Ceuta in a gypsy family. He took his first guitar lessons from his father, who was a flamenco guitarist known as “El Encajero”. When Manuel was still young, the family moved to the coastal city of Algeciras -where Manuel’s father was from and – where Manuel met the adolescent Paco de Lucía. Funny to think now, more than half a century later, when Paco de Lucía is internationally known as one of the greatest flamenco guitarists of all times -and Manuel is not- that at the peak of his popularity, Manuel used to hire Paco as his support act in sold-out concerts across Spain…

Not much after Manuel’s family moved to Algeciras, they moved again, this time to Seville, where they settled in the famous Triana neighbourhood. In Seville, Manuel first formed part of a group called “Los gitanillos del Tardón”, then in 1968, at the age 20 he joined the rock band “Smash”, considered to be pioneer in the so called ‘andalusian rock’ (“rock andaluz”). In Smash he first started “blending” -as he called it- different music styles with flamenco. 

The breakthrough or call it big success came to his life when he started performing with Lole in 1972, forming the duo “Lole y Manuel”. Lole, born as Dolores Montoya Rodríguez in Seville, comes from a gypsy family with flamenco roots: her father was a dancer and her mother, known as “La Negra”  (‘The Black’) was a singer and a dancer. Lole and Manuel not only formed an artistic duo, but they also became emotionally involved, got married in 1975 and had a daughter, Alba Molina, who also became a singer.

Although their marriage didn’t last, “Lole y Manuel” have become one of the most popular musical groups in modern Spanish history, topping music charts throughout the 1970’s, making flamenco a bestseller. Manuel experimented with new rhythms and created his own unique style of accompanying song and dance, while Lole sang with a clearer, more melodic voice that was common at the time. This “hippie flamenco” combination has become an instant hit with young Spaniards. No wonder, Anto remembers listening to them so much as a child. My father-in-law, Antonio explained how Lole and Manuel changed the perception of flamenco for his entire generation. Earlier, flamenco was regarded as music of the past, but thanks to Lole and Manuel, the generation of my father-in-law, youngsters in the 1970s, started to listen to this ‘new flamenco’ (“nuevo flamenco”). Lole and Manuel opened the door to a new type of flamenco fusion.

The release of their first album, “Nuevo Día” happened to be around the time when Franco was dying in 1975, and it proved to be very timely as it matched the hopeful spirit of the period, not least because the title means ‘New Day’. More albums followed, together with some sort of international recognition when Quentin Tarantino used their track “Tu Mirá”  in his 2004 film Kill Bill: Volume 2.

After their split as a couple in the 1980’s, the artistic collaboration only continued sporadically, but Manuel’s career hasn’t stopped there. He continued to perform: either having his own performances, singing and playing the guitar, or accompanying famous dancers like Farruquito or Manuela Carrasco. Later on, he formed an artistic duo with his daughter, Alba.

On all those YouTube videos I watched after the news of his death, I noticed how he holds the guitar differently from any other contemporary guitar player I have seen. Manuel held the guitar vertically, almost hugging it, turning his face towards the guitar, instead of holding it horizontally, leaning on the guitar or sometimes turning away from the guitar. I learned that the holding the guitar horizontally is a style revolutionised by Paco de Lucía, which was adopted by majority of his time, as it is a more comfortable way of holding the guitar and it allows for quicker, virtuous movements with the right hand. The “old school” way of vertically holding the guitar has become a characteristic and peculiarity of Manuel.

The diagnosis of terminal cancer in the winter of 2014 and the fact that Manuel decided not to get any medical treatment put a quick end to his life. He died a few months after the diagnosis, in May 2015. “Money,” he said, “is the real cancer. And the rest—lack of understanding, power, egoism—is the metastasis.”

His legacy includes both words and music. Before he died he has been working on putting all his poems together in a 600-page-book, but unfortunately, I have no information whether it ever got published…

There is a short documentary on Youtube, made by Tao Ruspoli with & about Manuel, available here.

The obituary written by Jason Webster in the Classical Guitar magazine in the Fall of 2015  sums it brilliantly:

“Joyful, independent, and unique, he died in much the way that he lived—uncompromising, always forging his own path, quintessentially flamenco. No one better could write his epitaph:
Let no one cry the day I die;
It’s more beautiful to sing,
Even if the song comes with pain

These lyrics are from Manuel, he famously performed it before he died, resulting in a moving and beautiful song. It should come at no surprise that the above is one of my favourite songs of Manuel. Listen to it here to say farewell to one of the most authentic flamenco musicians of the XX. century.

 

Diversity & Inclusion

One of 2019’s trending topics in my universe has been Diversity & Inclusion. I consider myself lucky to have looked at D&I through many lenses at work, like Gender, Ethnicity, LGBT+, Disability, Social Equality or Age. So following the theme, I asked myself the big question: is there D&I in flamenco? In search for the response, I re-visited my flamenco journey and remembered the moment I first heard flamenco and was so shocked /amused / mesmerised that I just wanted more. I wanted to know more about the singer (happened to be the one and only Camarón I first heard), I wanted to know more about flamenco, I wanted to know everything. As I immersed myself in the world of flamenco, I realised that the more I read about the history and origins of flamenco, how it started and evolved over centuries, who it’s famous representatives have been and are today, the more I wanted to know. The more I listened, the more I realised how little I understood this world of rhythm and how far my musical experience has been from flamenco so far in my life. Little by little I fell in love. First with the dancers, having seen shows of Sara Baras, Mercedes Ruíz, Rocío Molina. Secondly, with the singers, having listened to everything old and new I could find: La Paquera de Jerez, El Torta, José Mercé. Next came the guitarists, having listened to Paco de Lucía, Santiago Lara and Sabicas. And finally, the clappers, having seen in action Carlos Grilo and Jerónimo Utrera.

The first few years I spent watching, listening, searching. I suddenly loved flamenco so much, but didn’t know anything about it, so I felt I had to know everyone, in case someone asks me: “Oh, you like flamenco, so who is your favourite?” or “Oh, you like flamenco, so what do you think about X?”

I felt the urge of knowing EVERY SINGLE flamenco artist who has EVER existed. Impossible challenge, but I tried. Years of research online, in libraries, attending shows, concerts, to be able to have an opinion, and say who is my favourite.

Only years later did I realise how silly I was, searching for my one and only favourite dancer, singer, guitarist. Only years later did I realise that each one of the flamencos is a colour on the flamenco palette of paint. Not even a colour, rather a shade. The more shades, the more beautiful the rainbow. Every shade adds something to flamenco, and makes it richer. Diversity is a value, not an obstacle. So the question is then: does it exist in flamenco?

Flamenco has come a long way since the ’70s movement claiming only gypsy artists are authentic flamencos, but one can still argue if it’s a truly diverse community today.

Male – female, religious – aethist, old – young, gypsy – non-gypsy(caló), Spanish – foreigner(guiri), with flamenco roots – or not, with musical education – or not. We have it all these days. Is that enough? Does that make flamenco a diverse community?

It is hard to define diversity in flamenco; there may not even be one single definition, but I know that the royals and aristocrats marrying among themselves for centuries has not ended too well, so by having diverse artists with different backgrounds, I believe that flamenco will always be able to be re-born, reinvent itself and provide new and fresh within its tradition.

And what about inclusion? I heard once that diversity means having different people waiting to dance around the dance floor and inclusion means actually asking them to join in the dance. I think it describes really well the difference and the relationship between the two.

Inclusion is starting to gain particular importance in the western societies, and I am incredibly happy to see it in flamenco too. Not only because artists from all backgrounds are accepted and encouraged to participate in flamenco, but because the flamenco palette is much more diverse now than 10 or 20 years ago, thanks to this inclusive culture. There are young and old artists, gypsy and non-gypsy, men and women with different sexual orientation coming from various places, all united in their love of flamenco, all representing flamenco in their own unique style under the universal umbrella of this art. This to me means that flamenco has been able to keep up with our ever changing times and has not stayed behind.

A great example was the Flamenco Bienal of Seville in 2018, which was specifically dedicated to Inclusion – with the primary focus on disabilities. In the flashmob choreographed by José Galán, professional dancers and aficionados with different disabilities danced alongside José, showing the world that flamenco is for everyone, and can be represented by everyone.

Here I would like to give a shout out to David Palomar and his wife Anabel Rivera from Cádiz, who created a creative flamenco space in their hometown, and invited José Galán, an advocate of inclusive flamenco, to organise classes for people with disabilities. Congratulations, truly inspiring!

One can always argue what is genuine diversity and inclusion, especially in such a traditional form of art as flamenco, but I think that once we get started, the details can be sorted out along the way.

The world moves on and anyone who cannot keep up with change, will stay behind. The sooner you realise this, the better for you. No need to worry though, flamenco has already made a good start!

International Flamenco Day 16.11.19

Photo of Lola Greco (1998)

Last year I celebrated International Flamenco Day with one of my flamenco photos. This year I would like to celebrate with some of the epic photos of Elke Stolzberg and José Lamarca. A German and an Argentinian photographer whose photos are published in the book “Flamenco”.

Two foreigners who realised the importance of the moments they shared with the flamenco artists in the 70s, 80s, 90s in Spain, and with the click of their cameras, made them eternal.

Enjoy the photos and let’s celebrate flamenco, its past and present artists on the 16th of November!

Happy International Flamenco Day to everyone!

Antonio Mairena dancing in the middle, surrounded by Tomás Torre, El Funi, Paco Valdepeñas and Fernanda de Utrera, behind them José Menese, El Lebrijano, Camarón, Curro Mairena, Enrique Morente and Manuel Mairena. On the guitar Manolo Sanlúcar and Samy Martín (Madrid, 1970)

Camarón and Dolores Montoya shortly after their wedding (Madrid, 1976)

Camarón and Paco de Lucía, the photo everyone knows of them; brilliantly captured by José Lamarca after having told them the photo shoot was over.

Juan Habichuela posing with Fernanda de Utrera (Puebla de Cazalla, 1980)

Cristina Hoyos was the principal dancer of the company of Antonio Gades for many years (1982)

Fernanda de Utrera with Marote (1984)

Fernando Terremoto (Sanlúcar de Barrameda)

Antonio Montoya Flores, El Farruco (1987)

The master Agustín Castelló, Sabicas (1984)

Moraíto, the pure essence of Jerez

Tomasa Guerrero, La Macanita

Flamenco Therapy

I recently learned a new expression in English: when shit hits the fan. No need to deep dive in the explanation, just imagine it, literally…

Well, last week shit hit the fan. I was upset, at times fuming, and even bought a pack of cigarettes in the process of sorting myself out (despite having quit 6 years ago!).

Then on Friday I took the tube and everything changed. Not because of the tube – the London tube is not that romantic – but because what happened on the tube. All throughout the summer I cycled to work, and besides the odd rainy day every now and then, I haven’t been on the tube. This simply means that I haven’t been listening to my favourite flamenco podcasts (because on the bike you shouldn’t listen to anything!).

Until the 20th of September 2019. I was going to the global climate strike with my colleagues (photo above), and I decided to take the underground. There is a short walk from my house to the station and on the way, for the first time in months, I turned on Duendeando, the podcast of Teo Sánchez. This session from August is dedicated to Sabicas, the guitarist from Pamplona, for the occasion of the “On Fire” flamenco festival in Pamplona at the end of August.

I hit play and a familiar tune started… I recognised immediately the tune, the song, her voice. It’s like lightening going through my brain. I listened to this song hundreds of times, when I first heard it more than a decade ago. It was so powerful and beautiful, I just couldn’t stop listening to it. Then out of the blue, it appears again. I am most certainly emotionally attached to this song, so it is difficult to be objective about it. However, you only need to listen to it, to understand where I am coming from.

Fernanda de Utrera: Se nos rompió el amor

Fernanda is one of the most important female flamenco singers of history, and probably my favourite. Her voice carries such power and strength, that reminds me of Mother Nature herself. Sometimes even sounding like a male voice, she sings about the tragedy of love that has just ended. The roller coaster of the feeling is there in every sound of her voice, taking you on a sad journey with much emotion involved.

Do you like Fernanda? Or just having a bad day?

Listen to the song and you will not regret it.

Lágrimas negras

Have you ever heard about the album Lágrimas negras (Black tears)?

Don’t worry if you haven’t, it’s better late than never.

The album celebrated its 15 year anniversary in 2018, and the tour commemorating the occasion is still going around the world. Although it’s not pure flamenco, it’s one of the best fusions ever involving flamenco.

Bebo Valdés and Diego El Cigala.

Do you know them?

Bebo is a Cuban jazz pianist/composer and Diego is a Spanish flamenco singer.

They have already been famous in their own respective genres, when Bebo collaborated in Diego’s 2001 album Corren tiempos de alegría (Those were years of joy) with 2 boleros Amar y vivir (To love and live) and La fuente de Bebo (Bebo’s source). Afterwards they both felt the need to go deeper in their collaboration, and almost secretly started working together on some songs. What felt like a spontaneous and intimate project at the beginning, ended up being the most beautiful fusion of Latin jazz, flamenco and bolero of all times. You don’t have to like flamenco to enjoy it; you don’t have to like jazz to enjoy it. It’s just good music.

Fusion of Cuban rhythms and flamenco vocals, produced by Spanish producer and guitarist Javier Limón and film director and producer Fernando Trueba. It counts with a number of top flamenco musicians like Javier Colina on the bass/contrabass, El Piraña on drums/cajón, Niño Josele on the guitar, and also the Cuban-born American saxophonist, and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera. It was recorded between September and December 2002, and consists of 9 songs:

1. Inolvidable

2. Veinte años

3. Lágrimas negras

4. Nieblas de riachuelo

5. Corazón loco

6. Se me olvidó que te olvidé

7. Vete de mi

8. La bien pagá

9. Eu sei que vou te amar / Coraçao vagabundo

The title of the album comes from the song Lágrimas negras. The story tells that the Cuban author Miguel Matamoros travelled to Santo Domingo in 1930, and stayed at a B&B, where he heard a woman desperately crying in another room. As the weeping hasn’t stopped nor seemed she finding comfort, Miguel asked the B&B owner what was wrong, and he was told the story of a woman abandoned by her lover for the love of another woman. The suffering and despair of this woman inspired Miguel to compose the song in 1930, and has been interpreted on countless occasions since.

The album was huge success, and earned a Latin Grammy Award for Best Traditional Tropical Album.

Enough of words now, let’s listen to the album a bit and enjoy the magic of Diego and Bebo.

London Flamenco Summers

7.04am The alarm goes off. Snooze. Snooze. Snooze. I slowly get out of bed, get them out of bed, brush my teeth, brush their teeth, dress up, dress them up, kisses to all and go!

8.02am I’m out the door. Helmet, keys, phone, ready to hit the road. July, London, nice breeze on the bike.

8.30am Coffee and nuts at the office, a nice chat by the coffee machine.

9.00am Numbers, charts, meetings till lunchtime.

12.40pm Lunch from the canteen, healthy and free, what else can you ask for?! A little walk with my colleague Tom outside the office (happens to be Little Venice, lucky me!).

1.20pm More meetings, numbers and charts till 4.29pm.

4.30pm Home time: helmet, keys, phone, ready to hit the road. July, London, nice breeze on the bike.

5.02pm Arrive at home, start the laundry, peel the potatoes, boil the water, put the sausages in the oven. While I get ready in the shower, the sausages and potatoes are ready too.

5.43pm Dash to nursery, but instead of starting the second shift in the playground, home again, baby sitter is coming.

6.15pm Helmet, keys, phone, ready to hit the road. July, London, nice breeze on the bike.

6.32pm Arrive at Shakespeare’s Head for a quick beer with friends before the concert.

7.15pm Head over to Sadler’s Wells, and watch the theatre fill up.

7.30pm Flamenco!

9.18pm The show is over, the night is young. After a chat with friends about the concert: helmet, keys, phone, ready to hit the road. July, London, nice breeze on the bike.

10.25pm Home, dinner, blog, bed. Dreams only arrive after midnight.

7.04am The alarm goes off again, and a new day of the London Flamenco Festival starts…

After more than a decade of Flamenco Festival in London, in 2019 Sadler’s Wells moved the festival from its February-March program to July. Scary? Brave? Miguel Marín, the director of the festival expressed his initial concerns about the new date: summer, holidays, will people come to see flamenco, when it’s nice and warm outside and they could be sitting on a terrace sipping Pimm’s?!

Well, I don’t know the sales figures, but I saw the theatre packed every night. Plus it felt more like shows in Spain:, because it was hot. And after all, it’s easier to relate flamenco to the hot summers I lived in Spain, than the cold Februaries I live in London… so I say, it was a good decision.

It was two weeks of madness due to the number of concerts I went to, but now that it’s over, I miss every moment of it…

 

Paco Peña and friends

As gentrification continues across London, new spaces are created all around the centre. King’s Cross is no exception, the area has undergone major transformation in the past few years. About 10 years ago we went to a friend’s gig behind King’s Cross, and I remember the area as dark and dodgy. Now it is like a different universe. I am not aware of each and every change, because there must have been hundreds or thousands, but I saw how they created Canopy market, Granary square and it’s fun fountains, the renovated building on the square is now home of the famous art’s college Central St. Martins, a lovely walking/cycling space was created by the canal, with a projector showing Moana across the canal and the huge steps last year, providing entertainment for the younger ones (and their parents). In the back of King’s Cross, there is a space called Skip Garden, an amazing local project not only aiming at creating a green area among the new built towers for anyone looking for a calm moment in big city life, but it is literally a portable garden with apple trees, pumpkins and tomatoes, using the debris/material from the construction site next door, and all this with getting local schools and children involved to teach them about nature and its creatures (not to mention the delicious vegetarian/vegan food they offer and the room for small events). I guess you can tell I like the idea…

The area between Granary square and Skip garden is called Coal Drops Yard, it was opened in October 2018. What used to be once two coal drops sheds, it is today a retail space, home of designer shops, rooftops bars and restaurants (Flat white in one of the cafés £6……..), and for two weeks this summer, for the very first time it also gives home to a new (and free!) event series called Cubitt Sessions. The name comes from Lewis Cubitt, architect of King’s Cross, who also designed the building of Central St. Martins, which once used to store wheat for London’s bakers. Interesting facts that may help understand the transformation this area has undergone not only recently, but in 150 year scale too!

The long introduction leads to my one and only topic, of course:

FLAMENCO.

On 27 July, as part of the Cubitt Sessions, we could enjoy the music of Paco Peña and his friends. Stage, sun loungers, Vermuteria nearby, free flamenco… it sounded like the perfect Saturday afternoon program, so I convinced my friends and family to go.

Paco Peña is a Spanish guitarist and composer from Córdoba, living in London since the late 1960’s. Today, at the age of 77, he is regarded as one of the world’s foremost traditional flamenco players.

I was happy to listen to him playing, even though I could only stay for the first half of the concert. I loved the fandango, and happily concluded that it’s not only “happy” flamenco they played with alegrías and bulerías. Unfortunately, the names of the accompanying artists were not shared, so I can only say I liked the singer. The dances were nice, but the Flamenco Festival is still too vivid in my memory, so better not compare anyone with those artists.

I love the idea of bringing flamenco to a wider public, especially for free (hence I am writing a blog, hello!), so it was great to hear the sound of the flamenco guitar and the flamenco heels in this brand new space of London!

Big applause to the organisers for thinking of flamenco!