The passion of Aurora Vargas, the machinations of the Bienal de Sevilla, the rediscovery of Riqueni and the pleasure of Rocío Molina, among the memories of 2017 with sound track by Manuel Cástulo and Rocío Márquez and a trip from Los Alcores and beyond.
Looking back over #Miañoflamenco, I realize art has a fundamental advantage over other life experiences. Namely, what moves you, stays with you all your life, and what doesn’t, simply disappears from memory. Going over my summary as I write these words, I realize that whatever doesn’t come together, or is flawed, irresponsible or banal that I may have seen, hurts at the moment, but leaves no after-effects. This is speaking of what takes place on a stage, of course, because if unpleasant things come from above, below or behind, your insides keep churning when you recall it, unfortunately. And that’s why we’re still here.
Beginning with the end of 2017, I wound up electrified by the sizzling energy of Aurora Vargas. And no, I hadn’t just discovered her nor did she bring anything new, but her strength, her naturalness and her savage approach are so necessary that they illuminate like fireworks set off during Christmas celebrations. But fireworks in a world which is colder all the time.
And before that embrace, the deception of the squabbling of a Bienal that continues to roam without a destination, despite having a new director about whom we’ve received little or no information to date. Because, as I mentioned in the opinion column begun this year, just at Ortiz Nuevo is the Least of it, the same goes for Antonio Zoido, and so it will be with anyone else who comes along, as long as there is no real commitment to making this a responsible, attractive and proactive event. That’s why, when I think about the issue, a tientos-tangos verse plays over and over in my mind: ‘I believed in the truth, and the truth deceived me’ in the voice of Bernardo de los Lobitos, and I feel the pain of having missed so many things already pushed through by the poet of Archidona.
Fortunately we’ve got Rafael Riqueni to soothe the hurt, and with his return to the stage we can cry in peace. In the conversation we had before his performance at the Festival Flamenco on Fire, he said there was no sadness in his guitar, there’s life, but tears don’t only flow from pain, but also from emotion, and this is a fundamental part of his music. And so we were able to see once again in his Pamplona concert where, far far away from the María Luisa Park, we discovered that “although the backdrop of the image of our memories may change, in Pamplona, in Seville, in New York or in Timbuktu, human beings share the uncertainty, dreams, indecision, unease, vulnerability, dreams, fears, joy and naiveté that mark us from birth. Which is exactly what Riqueni captures through his hands”.
But flamenco is also yearning, defending, strength, discovery. That thing that shakes you to the core and destroys with pleasure and pain at the same time. It penetrates until it leaves you exhausted. The collective orgasm Rocío Molina invited us to in the Bienal de Flamenco de los Paises Bajos with her Caída del Cielo. The WORK, in capital letters, which this year landed on the planet and which we continue to remember, no matter how much time goes by.
And since the paths of flamenco are sometimes inscrutable, we are invited to take pause in Una Mirada Lenta, such as that proposed by Ana Morales and David Coria in a show that was an ode to sensitivity. A delicate poem from which we emerge with our souls diminished but feeling good about what all these artists still have to give us. Or the fine thread of voice of Antonio Reyes who seems not to flinch when he brings out the lines of his songs and shows that flamenco is a question of taste.
From the Alcores and beyond
Without a doubt, this year 2017 highlights my journey through some of the festivals outside the city from which I speak because of how much I’ve learned from other ways of understanding and dealing with flamenco, and the brotherhood created in these circumstances among journalists themselves, and even the artists.
But it would be unfair not to mention the good fortune I have of experiencing flamenco up close in Los Alcores. Because probably, neither Mairena nor El Viso del Alcor are likely to open the daily national news, but only here, and in very few other places – let’s include La Puebla de Cazalla – can flamenco fans receive a master class in the art of knowing how to listen, something mentioned by Pedro Madroñal in his book, and you see how interpreters get butterflies being in a place that represents a school and where flamenco singing is taken outdoors. Thus, in Mairena, I felt the emotion of those competing in the Concurso de Cante Jondo de Antonio Mairena, and on the following day I could watch Esperanza Fernández giving her all in the best recital I remembering her giving. Just like in the Festival de Cante Grande in El Visor del Alcor where Mayte Martín came to warm us up on a cold and very windy night.
In this area, we also find two artists whom we mention since they deserve more recognition than they receive: Rubio de Pruna, a sure bet with a penetrating delivery that raises the level of any program, and Manuel Cástulo, an essential singer who connects us to the most classical roots from the most affable vision, and doesn’t understand flamenco singing unless it’s all the way. Be sure to listen to his Entre Tiempos, one of the albums that I’ve most listened to this year. It’s so great when people sing great!
Being is more important than being there
Of these 365 remaining days, naturally, with those open interviews in which the artist can show their true self when they’re not on the other side. In one of these conversations, I was able to show that the humility that Dorantes exhibits is in no way a pose, and that his artistic discourse comes from his memories, but is fueled by his enormous curiosity and his capacity to listen and learn.
In another, that the strength and enthusiasm Patricia Guerrero transmits on stage is equally captivating face to face. And yes, she’s going to devour the world if she so chooses, because her main virtue isn’t her youth, but her shrewdness and solidity.
Of the talk with Tomasito, I remember what he wanted to say but didn’t finish, partly due to his own nervousness, and mostly, because he uses that stop-and-start way of speaking to exhibit his great sense of humor and supposedly to hide his intelligence.
And from Mayte Martín, I learned the lesson that even she is not aware of. Because that day, now I can say this, I came from accompanying a writer in the promotion of his book – another of the jobs I carry out – and he openly explained how he did studies and collected statistics to write a story that would have the highest possible volume of sales. I mean with Excel and everything. Afterwards, in the interview with Mayte, she stopped to explain her artistic concept and her desire not to be a victim of the industry or of fashion. Her statements sounded so solemn and authentic, that when I hung up the telephone I admired her more than usual, and I thought of that phrase of Eduardo Galeano as spoken by the painter Portinari: “all I know is this, art is either art, or it’s shit”.
And lastly, I can’t close without mentioning Rocío Márquez, without a doubt, with her commitment, bravery, intelligence and generosity, one of the singers who most contributes to current flamenco. Firmamento is another recording I always have on table of my office, because it’s where I find an approach that I whole-heartedly believe in.
As for the rest, forgive me if I’ve forgotten anything important, or if I fail to mention many things I would have liked to comment on – such as that Don Quixote of Andrés Marín – but which I wasn’t able to do.