The circle of life

(Photo by Antonio Ojeda Guerrero a.k.a. Antonio III. of Antonio IV. and Antonio V. in June 2017 in La Jara, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain)

As children we listen to the music our parents listen to; only after a certain age we choose for ourselves. To give you an idea about my musical upbringing, meaning what my parents listened to when I was little, we listened to for instance ABBA, Queen, Elton John from the internationals music palette and to LGT, Koncz Zsuzsa and Zorán from the Hungarian. Despite being a scientist, my father has a sensitive soul and has always enjoyed playing and listening to music, not to mention his talent in singing. Even today he sings in a choir in my home town Szombathely, having concerts on local events on both sides of the Austro-Hungarian border.

He has always been a big fan of Zorán, a Hungarian singer and composer with Serbian origin. Zorán and his brother Dusán have formed an outstanding artistic couple for decades: Dusán writing the lyrics for the songs written and performed by Zorán. I must have listened to thousands of their songs as a child, among them to “Volt egy tánc”. Even though I didn’t quite understand what Zorán sang about until I was older, I have totally been mesmerised by the music.

The music. I was in my twenties, when I first listened to Leonard Cohen’s Take this waltz and god, was it a big shock! I told my friends: “I know this song, this is from Zorán, a Hungarian singer.” They laughed and lightened me up that the original is from Cohen, and “the Hungarian guy must have created his own version.”. Really??? Oh wow, that is possible, of course, but what a discovery after having thought throughout my entire lifetime it was Zorán’s song…

The other shock came when I found out that the lyrics of Cohen’s Take this waltz are from  Federico García Lorca’s “A Poet in New York”. It was part of Cohen’s tribute to Lorca (as Lorca was one of his favourite poets) and the song was released as a single, then also included in his album “I’m your man” later on.

But versions do exist, and recently, I found another one. The ONE, I should say. The flamenco version: “Pequeño vals vienés” What would be the world like without a flamenco version, right? And who else could have done it, than the one and only Enrique Morente. I have recently written about him in another post, explaining and praising his art, talent and curiosity. Always interested in new stuff, always wanting to create something different, but with the foundations of flamenco, that he knows so well and is so good at! So here is his version. This song forms part of his album “Omega” with alternative rock group Lagartija Nick, and it is considered one of the most controversial works of Enrique’s career. It counts with the participation of many flamencos, such as Tomatito, Vicente Amigo or Miguel Ángel Cortés, whereby “flamenco and punk rock are mingled with the recreation of Cohen’s song and lyrics from Federico García Lorca’s book “A Poet in New York”. Surprise, surprise. So basically the singer from Granada brought the song back to where it was originally from, where Lorca was from: Granada! What a genius, Enrique Morente.

In the Spanish documentary “Omega” (link to the full version on Youtube) Leonard Cohen shares, how he loved that Enrique made a version of his song. I wonder if he said the same about Zorán’s version. Did he know about it at all?! I can only hope he did…

This is how the circle closes: Zorán – Leonard Cohen – Enrique Morente. The circle of MY life. Starting with me in Hungary, travelling through the international music scene, getting to Spain and to flamenco, and hence back to me again. Olé!

 

Enrique Morente

img_2620

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.