Boldog karácsonyt!

Christmas for me has always been white and cold, peaceful and quiet, intimate and family oriented. But then I fell in love with a boy from the south of Spain and got to know a different kind of Christmas. Still European, not hot and sunny, but a totally different celebration in a totally different atmosphere. Cultural shock at its best, as they teach in university. I found myself in El Puerto de Santa María, in Cádiz, Andalusia, celebrating the holidays with A’s family, where Christmas is neither white nor quiet. It’s still cold to some extent, and very much family oriented, but family has a much wider meaning in the south of Spain. We essentially do the same: eat, drink, sing and gather with our loved ones, but the songs are merrier, the rhythm is sparkier, the instruments are different.

A typical celebration is a gathering to sing and dance together, called the “zambomba”, which is also the instrument, a friction drum, used to accompany Christmas carols. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, many “zambombas” are organised across Andalusia, Jerez being one of the most famous places of all. People gather in family circles or on the main square, eat and drink, sing together, playing the zambomba, playing the guitar, accompanied by clapping, making it all a flamenco event at the same time.

Shocking experience listening to “La virgen gitana“, an example of a Spanish Christmas carol, for someone who grew up listening to Hungarian Christmas carols, like “Pásztorok, pásztorok“.

The point is the same everywhere though: being together, sharing and cherishing moments of life. Lucky us, who have food, a roof above our heads, central heating, running water and jobs to provide for ourselves.

Merry Christmas!

Feliz Navidad!

Boldog karácsonyt!

Enrique Morente

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Eight years. On the 13th of December it will be eight years. I still remember the day he died. The shock, the genuine shock of the world of music.

He was diagnosed with cancer shortly beforehand, and a specialist recommended operating immediately. The operation went well, but complications arose afterwards; a second operation was needed, followed by induced coma, he never woke up again. Not as planned, not as expected. Years at the court searching for justice, but the pain could not be helped. Another genius from the old flamencos gone. I remember the scene at the funeral parlour: his daughter, Estrella singing “Habanera Imposible” and her mother, Aurora, wife of Enrique laying on top of the coffin, crying and screaming, surrounded and supported by the family. Heart-breaking and surprising at the same time, because it was so different from the silent and introverted way of mourning, I have known. Loud, expressive, filled with emotions. It seemed like they let the pain take over everything without any self control. Different culture, different ways of dealing with pain, but the pain is the same for all.

At that time, I didn’t understand why so many musicians were affected so much by the loss of a flamenco singer. Now, I know that he was much more than just a flamenco singer.

Who was Enrique Morente?

Born in the famous Albaicín district of Granada on Christmas Day, in 1942, he started singing in the cathedral of Granada in a group of children, dancing, singing and playing the castanets on religious events, until he was kicked out by one of the priests who considered his voice ugly, explains Juan Verdú in his book, The garden of flamenco (“El jardín del flamenco”). His attraction to flamenco originates from the same time, when he also learned the basics on family and neighbourhood gatherings. He moved to Madrid in his teens to start a professional career in singing, and started in 1964 in peñas flamencas (club for flamenco fans) as “Enrique, el Granaíno” (Enrique from Granada). In the next few years, this was followed by concerts in tablaos, on festivals, contracts with flamenco dance companies, tours in Europe and Japan, and his first album in 1967, with the guitarist Félix de Utrera. “His first recordings were strictly orthodox and showed deep understanding of traditional flamenco, which was a rare quality for singers of his generation.”

But knowing traditional flamenco was only one of his attributes. A motive that followed him through his entire career is that after something traditional, he always got his teeth into something new, something unconventional. These alternations between traditional and innovative flamenco made him controversial among the traditional flamencos and a genius among the risk taker innovators. So for example, after recording an album “Homage to Antonio Chacón” (1977), famous representative of the non-Romani (Gipsy) flamenco and also fundamental figure of the early XX. century flamenco, he recorded an album called “Despegando” (Taking off), in an innovative mood, clearly announcing his intentions. Then in 1982, he recorded some songs that were later chosen by the flamencologist, José Blas Vega to form part of the complete collection of traditional singing styles (Magna Antología del Cante), followed by a return to orthodoxy with the album Morente-Sabicas (1990), with guitarist, Sabicas (photo above).

Then he created a flamenco mass. Not unseen before, but very different from the previous ones. We’d better call it fusion, due to its mixture between traditional flamenco singing and Gregorian chant. What an idea! And once we talk about fusion, obligatory to mention at least some of the music genres he tried to mix with flamenco: classical music,  jazz, rock, music from Senegal, music from Cuba, the choir of Bulgarian voices and so on. There is no end to Morente’s interest in other kinds of music; as he said once: “…if I had to put out a CD for every culture I mixed with, I’d be putting out about 7 or 8 CDs a year.”

Representing the traditional side, he performed a seguiriya in Carlos Saura’s 1995 film “Flamenco” (highly recommended for anyone interested in flamenco!), which was then followed by one of his most controversial works: “Omega” with alternative rock group Lagartija Nick. It counts with the participation of many flamencos, such as Tomatito, Vicente Amigo or Miguel Ángel Cortés, but it was again a new concept, whereby “flamenco and punk rock are mingled with recreations of songs by Leonard Cohen and lyrics from Federico García Lorca’s book “A Poet in New York”, together with traditional flamenco lyrics.”

Today’s post is getting far too long, but it cannot end without mentioning his extensive use of poems as lyrics in the flamenco songs he recorded, paying tribute to poets and writers by recording songs with lyrics from Miguel Hernandez, Federico García Lorca, Antonio Machado and Lope de Vega. He also composed music for theatre plays, films and television, despite not being able to read musical notations. Many albums, many awards, but also much criticism in the 70-80’s from the purists defending the patrimony of Romani/Gipsy in singing. Fortunately, this is now mostly behind us. The artistic intelligence of Enrique Morente and his commitment to flamenco is widely acknowledged and praised.

Simple fans like me realise his genius when finding out that Santiago Lara has a new album dedicated to guitar legend Pat Metheny, but wait, Morente has already performed with Pat Metheny! Or Arcángel announces collaboration with the choir of Bulgarian voices, but Morente has already done that! Miguel Poveda has a new album dedicated to Federico García Lorca (called “Enlorquecido”), but Morente has already done that!

And then we haven’t even talked about how he was as a person. Juan Verdú can tell you all about him, as only a close friend or a brother can. Because they called each other brothers, having spent decades together, Juan accompanying Enrique in his adventures, sharing the best and the most difficult moments. Loving and caring, humble, 100% human, generous (sharing his earnings after the the concerts with his circle of friends , having put the family’s share already away, because family always came first!), leaving a great heritage of wisdom, sense of humor and way of living.

Enrique Morente passed away on the 13th of December 2010. He left behind his wife, Aurora and three children: Estrella, Soleá and Kiki. Estrella has followed the footsteps of her father and has become a flamenco singer, representing everything her father used to. One way or another, Soleá and Kiki are also involved with flamenco.

Today, my farewell goes out to Enrique Morente and to my grandfather. He passed away yesterday, leaving his own heritage behind. The last man of a past generation.

I say goodbye with the song of the close family friend and admired musician: Javier Ruibal: A Morente.