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.

 

Job title – Clapper

(Photo by Ale)
 
Love is so wonderful, because it is not restrictive. You can love as much as you want, as many times as you want, as many creatures as you want. I probably could not count all the flamencos I am constantly in love with… but I clearly remember the first flamenco I fell in love with.
 
First name      Carlos
Surname         Grilo
Job title            Clapper/ Palmero
 
As a good feminist, I will not write about how handsome he is, rather about what he does: he claps. He claps for a living!
 
The basis of flamenco is the rhythm, or compás, as they call it in flamenco. In my previous article Compás and co. I have written about the importance of the compás: “The base, the starting point, the walls, the structure of flamenco.” This can be provided by many instruments: firstly, by percussion, drums or the cajón. Among the famous flamenco drummers you can find El Piraña, or my friend, Javi Ruibal. Secondly, rhythm can be provided by clapping, and believe it or not, there are people in flamenco whose main job is to clap only! Clapping basically plays the role of another instrument, without actually having any instrument, other than your hands! To be fair, most clappers also sing or play the guitar, but their primary job on the concerts is to clap. And how they control the rhythm, the sounds, the claps… I find it absolutely fascinating!
 
Fascinating the rhythm itself, the different base for different flamenco forms called ‘palos’, the different accents within the same base. For example the alegría and the bulería have the same 12 beat pattern, but the accents are different, therefore the accompanying clapping is different. Same goes for the tango and the farruca, which have the 4/4 pattern, but the accents are different, hence the clapping is different. 
 
Now if this isn’t beautiful (or complicated) enough, another layer is added with the so called ‘contratiempo’. The space between the beats, a.k.a. the rhythm half way between the whole beats. The use of these half beats and all the variations they allow to create, makes clapping play such an essential role in flamenco. Adding that flamencos love playing with the rhythm, and especially with contratiempo, and you see how it becomes so diverse and difficult! Just listen to Lole and Manuel’s El Río de mi Sevilla.
 
Sometimes clapping is accompanied by the feet – adding another instrument to the music- to support the rhythm and help emphasise, but also allowing the clapper to play with the rhythm and the contratiempo between his “instruments”.
Clapping is always accompanied by ‘jaleo’. Jaleo are words of encouragement, support and enjoyment, that can be added by anyone listening and enjoying flamenco. These vary greatly from olé, arsa, toma que toma, to the names of the artists, like Lucía, Manuel, or just words like agua. Flamenco is very inclusive and probably any word of encouragement is welcome by the artists, but bear in mind the importance of rhythm and that being out of the rhythm is like profanity in flamenco, and make sure you know when and what to say.
 
In 2013 (when I still had time and money…), I went to the Festival in Jerez to participate on two courses organised during the festival: one dancing, one clapping. Back in the day, if you participated in a course, you got free entry to all of the concerts during the festival, which is the greatest deal I have ever known. Even though I was knackered after the two classes, I tirelessly went to the concerts in the evenings and saw the most flamencos within the shortest period of time.
Not sure if the deal still exists, but in any case, the experience is highly recommended to any flamenco lover. Jerez is buzzing during the two weeks of the festival: filled with flamenco lovers, concerts and events, and the smell of spring in the air. 
I met people from all around the world, who came to Jerez just for the festival: Brazilians, Japanese, Italians, French, Germans, Slovakians, and also Spanish. It was a wonderful experience and excellent learning opportunity. The festival in 2019 is dedicated to women (checkout the beautiful poster) and actually starts this week, on the 22nd of February, if anyone has the time and money…
 
Going back to my clapping class, it started with each of us just clapping one or two, so we can listen to the sound of our clap. Before thinking of the rhythm, the compás, the contratiempo, the variations or anything else, we had to make sure, our clap sounded right. I would have never imagined that this would be the difficult part, but there were many people who really struggled producing the right sound. Our teacher, Jerónimo Utrilla was the most patient teacher ever.
Next, we learned about the ‘palma viva’, the vivid clap, and the ‘palma sorda’, the softer clap, and how you can combine them, play with them within the same song, depending on what the music requires and allows. The softer clap is normally used when then singer sings or the guitar has a solo, so it doesn’t interfere, only accompanies.
The variation between the claps adds another layer of beauty and complication to clapping and to flamenco.
 
Worth to mention, that flamenco should not always be imagined with strong and loud clapping; it really depends on the palo, the artists, the production.
 
Listening to another song from Lole y Manuel La plazuela y el tardon, let’s lose ourselves in the rhythm and the claps, and remember all the wonderful people who dedicate their lives to flamenco clapping, like Jerónimo Utrilla, Los Mellis, and my all time favourite, Carlos Grilo…
 
 
 
 

Music is not free

Digital age has dawned upon us much earlier than I would have ever imagined. I still remember asking for a Walkman for Christmas, changing carefully the CDs in my CD player, or buying an iPod on a trip to the States. Listening to music anywhere and anytime, is nothing new though. The magic of radio has long been invented, even though on the radio we can only listen to the programs and music offered by the radio channels. Our choices are limited in a way. One can argue though that listening to our choice of music was also possible before Internet was around. We had the walkmans, CD players, but it was always music you either paid for, bought the vinyl, cassette or CD (or copied from a friend…). It needed some physical action to get the music you wanted.

Times have changed. With the evolution of technology and with the invention of internet, we are now able to listen to the music we want, anywhere, anytime, with the click of a button. Perhaps even without paying or having done anything extraordinary. Providers like YouTube offer infinite amount of music and videos available for anyone with internet connection. Quality and origin can be disputed, but it’s there. ITunes offer a big variety of music from all over the world for a relatively cheap price. And with Spotify, music in good quality has been brought to our doorsteps. Yes, it is still limited in a way, but now with Beatles on Spotify, I would say the limit is closer to the sky. And all that, practically for free. With advertising in between songs, it is literally free. Without advertising, and for making music available on your phone, there is a small charge. About 10-15 pounds a month. Is that a realistic price to have a music library of tens of thousands of artists and their numerous albums, radio channels by genre, music lists by theme and occasion?! By subscribing and paying this rather symbolic monthly subscription fee, music is available on any device, without advertising to anyone who has access to internet. Excellent! Music we like, music we want, when we want it, basically for free.

But what about the artists? Do they get paid? Do they get anything for allowing millions to access their creation? Do they get paid for all their hard work? Or publicity and accessibility compensates them?

I am not intending to answer these questions in their entirety. There may not even be one correct answer, responses may differ for each and every artist. Artists at the start of their career, may be happy for getting their name out there via Spotify or getting just a small pay from iTunes; being well paid may not be their number one priority. Once they are better known, their CDs will sell better and more people will go to their concerts. Artists with an established career, will not need such publicity anymore, their priority may simply shift to get paid. It all depends.

What I know for sure is that when you buy a CDs or go to a concert, bigger portion of your money goes to the artists. So I keep buying CDs and go to concerts. Recently, we have bought a HiFi, so we could listen to our CDs at home, because with the evolution of technology, listening to a CD is also becoming a challenge! We still have a big collection of CDs, including lots of flamenco and loads of jazz… A’s jazz.

Last year on a trip to Madrid, we went to a giant book-music-video store called Fnac, and we bought a number of CDs for our home collection. Photo above. Not strictly all my choice, but a good variety of flamenco artists, all rather traditional, and mostly from earlier days, only a couple contemporary artists and albums.

Just to put the names out there too (from left to right, up and down):

Isabelita de Jerez

Enrique Morente & Sabicas

Lole y Manuel

Paco de Lucía

David Carpio

Ray Heredia

Antonio Flores

Recent news in the UK is the music and film retailer HMV going into administration. For the second time in 6 years (!), but this time around, it seems to be final. This is the result of multiple changes over the past 10 years in our consumer behaviour: buying less music in general, buying less in stores and more online, buying more digital music, and so on. But the trend is there: we spend less on music and this results in businesses going bust, people losing their jobs, artists earning less.

So I encourage everybody to always pay for the music they listen to and keep going to concerts! Let’s support the artists in every possible way, so they can continue creating, and we can enjoy their music!