The singer from Huelva just released his recording “Al Este del Cante”, his project with the choral group of the Nuevas Voces Búlgaras, in which he also pays tribute to Camarón, Morente and Lole y Manuel, “artists who represent two basic concepts for me: bravery and freedom”.
-Paco de Lucía used to say he would have liked to make just one single record in his life, until he could “play it the way I really want”…you however, are unstoppable.
-Well, each era has its peculiarities, and the fact is I’m in a very productive phase in which I feel like doing new things, especially things I can have fun with. That testing the waters and the need to try things is what I like most of all.
-In any case, this album is the result of many years of work.
-Exactly, I’ve been four years with it, the thing is, the way it is now, it’s never been before. When I set out to finally record it, the re-working was total, as far as the musical arrangements, the repertoire, the musicians, everything. It’s actually the first time I’ve carried out the process in reverse, because the record came out after the tour. All this time has served to make me realize what works, and what doesn’t. It’s been a trial by fire.
“I don’t want to feel the burden of pressure of this profession, what I want is to enjoy myself and do whatever I want to do”
-According to Mayte Martín, this is the natural process any recording ought to follow, do you agree with that?
-In actual fact, both options make sense, because, on the one hand, you lose the surprise factor of bringing out the record after the tour, even though you do a complete revision. But on the other hand, it makes sense, because when is it going to come out better than after being broken in? Or perhaps not, perhaps it becomes corrupted. Isidro Muñoz says you can’t fiddle with a project so much.
-In any case, do recordings serve any purpose other than being a calling card?
-Normally, it’s a calling card that eventually serves to lay out your artistic concepts in live performance. Although lately I’m interested in records and shows that have a story line. I enjoy this more than getting ten songs together.
-And also to record them live, because the last two were made that way.
-I love the great unknown of having your shots to spend. When the record button starts, you know there’s no turning back. You can’t think whether you might have done something differently. There's no place for that.
-What have you learned from your contact with the Nuevas Voces Búlgaras?
-What I’ve liked most is discovering the greatness of flamenco, but also realizing that, despite what many people think, there are many other forms of music of very high quality that are interpreted with the same emotional level. You’d think flamenco is the only music authorized to transmit emotion. I think it’s important to be self-critical about this.
“In all artistic pursuits, you have to have peripheral vision. I’m a defender of tradition, but it’s worrisome when you don’t see there are other horizons”
-In other words, it’s not the genre that communicates the most?
-Not at all, and I don’t think it’s beneficial to say so. Why do we think that the guy playing a clarinet can’t have feelings? Are you the only one who has them because you do flamenco? There are some wonderful people devoted to music and who put all their heart into it.
-With what other kinds of music does flamenco communicate best?
-It depends on the flamenco interpreter and on the other person. It’s obvious that as a basic premise, such as popular music, you might think of other kinds of popular music. But then if it actually works or not, or maybe it does better with rock, you never know.
-On the recording, there’s folklore, but there’s also a tribute to Camarón, Enrique Morente and Lole y Manuel. Why these three, and what is there of each one of them?
-For me, they symbolize two basic concepts, one is bravery, and the other, freedom. There are many others from that era, but these are the ones I most identify with. I think bravery is necessary, to devote yourself to art and in order to live, and if we’re not free to do what we want, that’s no good. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to represent freedom to the extreme of underestimating others, as if I felt superior. I come to freedom because I don’t want to feel the burden of pressure of this profession, nor have to worry about what people will say, or what’s going to happen. What I want is to enjoy myself, and I’m not going to change my dialogue in order to make certain things happen.
-Enjoyment as a route to finding oneself?
-Obviously, as is only fitting. To enjoy what you accomplish, but always looking for something to seek, in order to keep having fun.
-Because the eternal struggle of what people will say always follows the artist?
-That struggle follows the artist and everyone else. Which is why you reach a point where you realize you just have to do whatever makes you happy. I think I’ve amply demonstrated the respect for tradition, but I also want to be able to sing in my own way. I don’t want to offend anyone, but I want to do my music the way I conceive it.
-Nina Simone used to say that freedom was not being afraid. Nevertheless, her daughter admitted that her mother’s problem was precisely that “she was always Nina Simone”
-I agree somewhat with that. Freedom is not being afraid…well, the person who feels is also free. Sometimes we forget we’re working. We can’t project all our fears or our insecurities in work. Yes, ok, we go out there to feel the emotion, but we’re working. In other words, is it true the artist gobbled up the person, or was it the person who devoured the artist? Often we believe that art is outside of the human being when people do it, which is why it mutates, depending on your knowledge, your life, your luck…we tend to make the mistake of separating the artist from the person, but for me it’s one and the same thing.
“We flamencos ourselves haven’t been pulling in favor of the work so that flamenco would have the consideration it deserves. We’ve lost a war of small battles”
-“Al Este del Cante” also appears to confirm your place at the edge. Does flamenco need to look toward other horizons?
-In all artistic pursuits you have to have peripheral vision. So fine, the conversation is whether that vision should be held by the tradition of that genre, or the traditionalists. It doesn’t bother me to admit that there’s a tradition with a certain form, and it has a name, I’m a defender of the roots, but I’m more concerned that someone might get bogged down in that, and not see there are other horizons.
-Recently, the Medallas de Andalucía that you received last year were awarded. What is flamenco in Andalusia, and what ought it be?
-In Andalusia flamenco doesn’t reach the level, nor is it as well-considered as it should be. In the first place, because the institutions have not done enough in the way of spreading the word, positioning and defending our art. Also, because we flamencos ourselves haven’t been pulling in favor of the work, and we’ve lost a war of small battles. Then too, what hurts us most, and we continue to believe that it does have the place it deserves among Andalusian people, when such is not the case. My own son knows who Beyoncé is, but has no idea about Niña de los Peines. That can be tolerated in Burgos or León, but not here.
-What would you like your son to be told?
-Well, that flamenco has been a cultural vehicle by which Andalusians, historically, have expressed themselves. The problem is that whenever something has been done in favor of flamenco, it’s been in favor of the industry, but not in favor of simply spreading the culture.
“My own son knows who Beyoncé is, but has no idea about Niña de los Peines. That can be tolerated in Burgos or León, but not here”
-Is the problem the need for better cultural awareness?
-I would begin by giving flamenco the dimension and category it deserves as a musical genre, and that is accomplished from a stance of institutional respect, a law that would allow it to enter into the educational system, a law that would make public resources fulfill a quota. That’s the first step, above all else, because we must raise the self-esteem of flamenco among the Andalusian people. Flamenco is the only genre where some jerk comes along and tells you to do a little song.
-Are flamencos underestimated in this sense?
-The banalization of our work annoys me. It kills me every time I hear “ah…but you have a good time”. I always answer “I sure hope so”. But I’m also annoyed by victimization, as if it were the hardest kind of work. What I strive for is that it be considered a profession, both by outsiders and insiders. In flamenco, an artist seen as a professional is looked upon with disrespect.
“Flamenco has repeatedly been the victim of a number of clichés that hurt the image many people have of us. Sometimes I hear people say, ‘how is so-and-so going to play siguiriyas well, with a fancy car parked outside?’ Why not, I’ll play better, more relaxed”.
-But it’s better to go through troubles, no?
-That thing you’re saying, about troubles…flamenco has repeatedly been the victim of a number of clichés that hurt the image many people have of us. It happens in all art-forms, but here, more so, because the industry is younger, and because it might come from a specific social structure. Sometimes I hear people say, ‘how is so-and-so going to play siguiriyas well, with a fancy car parked outside?’ Why not, I’ll play better, more relaxed.
-Or that hunger sharpens the ingenuity…
-Well now, if ingenuity is not having anything to eat, and doing whatever it takes to get something… That’s survival. I have no doubt there are people in extreme situations who do amazing things, but you can also develop creativity when circumstances are on your side, and in any case, that’s not the flamenco heritage.