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.

 

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

Listen

I am a person of words. I like reading, I like writing, I like conversing and exchanging opinions with words.

But words are not necessarily always the best or the only option. As I’m growing older, I agree with this more and more.

Sometimes we just have to listen.

Click here, close your eyes and let the music take you on a journey.

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!

Did you know…

… that Paco de Lucía spent the last few years of his life living between Mexico and Mallorca?

Did you know that the singers La Niña de los Peines and Tomás Pavón were siblings?

Did you know that Israel Galván and Pastora Galván are siblings?

Did you know that Pastora Pavón has not recognised her husband, Pepe Pinto at the end of her life due to her illness?

Did you know that the guest artist in the dancer Sara Baras’ shows is always the same, José Serrano, because he is her husband?

Did you know that the father of singer María Terremoto, the singer Fernando Terremoto died at the age of 40, and his father, also singer Terremoto de Jerez died at the age of 47?

Did you know that the National Dance Award winner, Rubén Olmo and former dancer of the Ballet Nacional de Andalucía, Eduardo Leal are a couple?

Did you know that the pianist Dorantes is the nephew of the singer El Lebrijano?

Did you know that singer Rocío Márquez and viola player Fahmi Alqhai, who recently published an album together, are neighbours?

Krisztián Nyáry has become famous in Hungary within a few months in 2012, when he started publishing to his friends on Facebook short stories about the personal life of famous Hungarian poets and writers. His stories became so popular, that a publisher offered him to publish the stories in a book. One book followed another, and today he is the author of six books about famous Hungarians and their life stories. The intention of bringing closer to us the already well known figures of literature, fine arts and Hungarian history is utterly brilliant, and I am a devoted fan of Krisztián. I truly respect his idea and all the work and research he has done to help us understand better the people we tirelessly learn about in school.

My intention is similar. Bringing closer to everyone the flamenco artists and the art of flamenco by sharing stories, interesting facts, upcoming events and my experience and opinion.

I have started this blog in 2018 to share my flamenco love with the world and if time allows, I would like to continue in 2019 too. So if you did not know some or any of the above things, I invite you to join me on this journey throughout the world of flamenco in this coming year. Let’s get 2019 started!

Opera, ballet, jazz

It seems unbelievable now, but I have not always been in love with flamenco. Frankly, until I was 25, I didn’t even know about the existence of flamenco. The opera and the ballet though, have always been present in my life. My mother’s love for opera arias have introduced me to this magical world. Listening to the heartbreaking solo of Madame Butterfly – when she realises her love will not return – let’s just say, it leaves its mark in a teenager’s heart. Plus the school trips to the Hungarian capital: standing mesmerised in front of the Opera House on Andrassy, staring at the facade and the sculptures in front of the building, thinking what on earth is going on inside this building? So I have a long history of being fascinated by this world. And surprisingly, I have not been to the opera much. Until now. I only needed two children and A. Although A. doesn’t agree with calling it “me time” – he doesn’t believe in labelling things in general – but he does agree with the need to get away from the daily routine of BBB – Bed, Bath, Book for beginners – and from each other sometimes. On these occasions, I go to the Opera. I go see operas and ballets, mostly in the Royal Opera House, mostly by myself. For once, my thoughts are not around bath and dinner; they are mine to wander (off to the moon and back): how is it possible that music created centuries ago is still around and still enjoyed? The world, people and life itself have changed so much, and yet, the operas of Mozart, Puccini and Wagner are still sold out every single night in the ROH in London. How is it possible that ballet has become so universal that dancers from Japan, England, Russia and Argentina dance together in the same show and none of them claims ballet their local art form?

As my thoughts keep wandering, I remember that A. and I had a long discussion once about jazz and flamenco, differences, similarities, trying to understand why jazz has spread around the globe and is played by musicians from all over the planet with the same genius, and flamenco isn’t. Flamenco is different. But why? Is it a younger music genre? Is it more complicated? Is it more restrictive? Is it more local? What is it with flamenco that it has not allowed it to spread its wings and conquer the world?

Looking at jazz (and without wanting to provide a full analysis), we did say, that jazz and flamenco are both native art forms, music originated in the roots,  expressing emotions of suppressed people in America and Spain, respectively, going back centuries. Flamenco is neither more complicated nor more complex to enjoy or follow. Jazz can actually get really difficult with the improvisations and the lack of structure to beginners’ ears.

Flamenco is not younger than jazz, the roots go back to the 15th century, when Jewish, Moorish and Gypsy influence mixing with the Andalusian folk music have laid the foundations of what we call today: flamenco. Perhaps jazz started the journey of globalisation earlier? According to an article in the New York Times in 2001 (only in 2001, not earlier!) “jazz is in the process of becoming the musica franca, the one language spoken everywhere, a glue in the global village, the musical common denominator; like English”. The language! As the United States has become a world power over the past 100 years or so, so has English become the dominant language around the world. This clearly favours jazz, where there is either no singing, or they sing in English. In flamenco there is lots of singing, all in Spanish, expressing deep emotions and feelings. You may like the moves and the rhythm, but if you don’t understand the words, you will always be a step behind.

It also has to be mentioned that the culture around flamenco has always been quite restrictive. The so called “purists” in flamenco have always said that authentic flamenco can only be performed by gypsies from Spain, and they have always protected the original forms of singing, dancing and playing, beyond everything. The purist “movement”, among them Antonio Mairena, a famous gipsy singer from the twentieth century,  has cut the wings and denied the acceptance of many musicians, who tried to modernise, change or add anything to flamenco. Thankfully no one could stop Paco de Lucía. Camarón de la Isla and Enrique Morente, and their new additions to flamenco. To be fair, protection of some kind must have served flamenco to a certain extent throughout the centuries, because it did not allow it to get lost or diluted, but the importance and art of the gypsies cannot be denied. Protection has to be chosen wisely.

Last, but not least, the ‘duende’. I have never heard anything similar in jazz or in opera; in flamenco, it is essential. It’s everything. Some people say it is the hardest word to translate from Spanish… Originally, it only existed in plural, duendes, meaning elf, elves. Until Federico García Lorca created the singular version in the 1930’s, describing magic or “fiery spirit what makes great performance stir the emotions”. Since then it describes the essence of flamenco: the aficionados (fans) say that all you need to be a great flamenco musician, is ‘duende’. It must have been along these lines what Paco de Lucía meant, when he said that to play flamenco well, one must have lived in Andalusia once. Difficult to imagine that one of the biggest innovators of flamenco would want to put limitations ahead of flamenco, but to me, this phrase makes flamenco a very local folk music. Perhaps he just wanted to say that you do need to experience the local spirit, the ‘duende’ to understand where those emotions and expressions really come from. Who knows…

I do know that in economy, the protectionist approach never resulted in the desired success. The same may be true for music. So I say: let flamenco spread its wings and fly. Along the way, it may change to some extent, but there will always be people representing the original forms. Do not fear change. Fear will be your enemy (as grandpa troll so wisely said in Frozen).

There is still time until flamenco gets where jazz, ballet and opera are in the international music scene.

Until we get there, let the Hungarian fan of Spanish flamenco entertain you from the UK with more flamenco stories!

Discovering the guitar

The other day I have realised – almost by accident – that the flamenco I have lately listened to, is fully dominated by guitar albums. This is probably an after effect of having just read a book about Paco de Lucía…

Throughout the years, as I have been discovering flamenco and it’s artists, I first found interest in getting to know the dancers (‘bailaores y bailaoras’). Without doubt the visual experience of the dance is the most catchy, especially for new audiences. Then my attention turned to the singers (‘cantaores y cantaoras’), trying to understand the words, recognising the different ‘palos’. Flamenco is the collective name of the art but there are many different forms within. It was an adventurous journey getting to know these forms: starting from the more joyful alegrías, bulerías, tangos, cantiñete, to the more sorrow soleá, malagueña, seguiriya, martinete, toná and so on. There are lots of different categorisations and names of the ‘palos’ (‘cante grande’, ‘cante chico’, ‘canciónes de ida y vuelta’, ‘quejío’ etc.) but I don’t think it is necessary to know these to be able to enjoy the music.

Only after the dancers and singers, I am now exploring the guitar players (‘guitarristas’) and I am discovering excellent artists and albums.

Just to mention a few:

  • The last album of Rafael Riqueni: ‘Parque de María Luisa‘, María Luisa Park ‘es una delicia’ as the Spanish would say. Delightful. The guitar imitating the sound of the birds is astounding.
  • The last album of Vicente Amigo ‘Memoria de los sentidos’ is amazing but the song ‘Requiem‘ dedicated to Paco de Lucía is just breathtaking.
  • ‘Palo Santo’ is the latest album of Dani Casares and the atmosphere of Easter (‘Semana Santa’) is wonderfully transmitted.
  • I really like Manuel Molina , although I wouldn’t categorise him as a guitar player only, he sings and he writes his lyrics, as well. If you listen to his songs, he is a true poet!

I haven’t listened so much to the old maestros Ramón Montoya or Niño Ricardo but more to Diego del Gastor and Sabicas accompanying singers of their time. I recently bought an album of Enrique Morente and Sabicas and it’s also wonderful. And without trying to list all of the guitarists, just a few I like: Pedro Bacán, Moraíto, Diego del Morao, Antonio Rey, Manolo Sanlúcar and Santiago Lara.

The first guitar album I was ever able to appreciate on its own was ‘Sentimientos’, Emotions from Santiago Lara. Santi is married to the dancer Mercedes Ruiz and they create and perform together. I have always been a big fan of Mercedes and her traditional dance from Jerez and through her, I got to know Santi and his music. Very pleasant on a Saturday afternoon while reading on the couch and listening to the raindrops on the window (yes, I live in London).

And even though I haven’t mentioned the other instrument players present in today’s flamenco, I haven’t forgotten about them! Artists like the pianist, Dorantes, drummers like Piraña and Javi Ruibal and the saxophonist Jorge Pardo are also important. Since the revolution initiated by Camarón and Paco de Lucía, flamenco is not restricted to the trio of singer-dancer-guitarist and other, new instruments have greatly added to the beauty of this music.