Interview: Pablo San Nicasio
Photos : Isabel Camps
We are only free in love and in art
Everything in Mayte Martín is special. And of course, her interviews as well. She’s not in promotional mode, so we were able to talk about whatever we wanted. We met with María Teresa Martín Cadiemo the day after her recital at the Fernán Gómez theater, and she gave us the interview of the year.
We already knew Mayte was all heart. But her ideas about life and her concepts about flamenco are still impressive….her way of proclaiming freedom and honesty in art. When it comes to feelings, she’s our favorite candidate, and she always wins with an absolute majority.
How’d it go yesterday?
We must have waken you up.
No, but almost. I was up a short while, I’d taken note of the appointment.
Do you like doing interviews?
Now you’re really into social networking, because you even write, you don’t just put up your profile. You personally answer your fans, and that’s admirable.
It gives me a reason to be out there, because they’re the reason I try to go out and be myself on stage, and they let me know it. It’s such a love story, lots of people don’t even care what I sing, boleros, flamenco, whatever. They come to share the very essence of my being. Yes, the social networks have changed me completely.
One thing Mayte, your last names…what’s the origin?
The reason I ask, is because of your background…to see who’s to blame.
Who was singing?
They’re the ones who led to the great stylistic debate.
But look, when I started out I can tell you I discovered flamenco thanks to Valderrama, but it felt like something was missing, and after a time I understood. I loved that cante, but needed…how can I say it?…something more funky, more visceral…so I went searching. My brother Paco helped me, in those days he was accompanying me on guitar. Together we investigated and came upon Agujetas, Chocolate, Caracol…in other words, everything that was missing. That was the other side of the coin, but don’t think they were country bumpkins, what they were doing was plenty sophisticated in its own way.
But then, later on, I discovered la Niña de los Peines, and that’s where I saw there was someone who brought everything together, from my point of ear, she did everything and made it one. That was Pastora Pavón.
“The end result mustn’t be a concern. It’s the journey that matters, and how you feel about yourself. The fruits of your labor will come later on, first plant the tree and care for it, and that tree is your truth. If it isn’t your truth, what difference does it make if it bears fruit or not, or how big and lush it becomes?”
How old were you when that happened?
Flamenco is elegant phrasing with a gutsy quality, and risking everything at each moment.
That certainly comes through in what you do.
Well, many performing artists are pressured by the record companies…deadlines, collaborations, promotion…sometimes they miss being completely free, or so it seems at least.
I think only two things take you to that point: love and art. That is what liberates you and shows you who you are, it gets things out of you that you didn’t know were inside.
If anything limits you, that can’t be. You can’t be pressured because something you do isn’t commercial, or worrying about pleasing people because you’re insecure…none of that matters, you can’t go on stage like that. The end result mustn’t be a concern. It’s the journey that matters, and how you feel about yourself. The fruits of your labor will come later on, first plant the tree and care for it, and that tree is your truth. If it isn’t your truth, what difference does it make if it bears fruit or not, or how big and lush it becomes?
“The most creative flamenco artist in many decades was Enrique Morente, but his work didn’t spring out of nowhere…he knew a great deal about the forms and how they were done, he was encyclopedic. He knew the truth of cante. Without that knowledge, his creativity alone could have done a great deal of damage.”
You started out winning contests, and that world is a contradiction of your concept of art.
We ought to make sure the members of the jury are truly prepared to value artistic factors. There are plenty of people capable of discovering faint traces of so-and-so’s malagueña in one cante or another, but then they’re incapable of capturing other subtleties that are much more important.
I’ve studied many cantes exhaustively, I’ve dissected them, and that gives you a certain capacity, of course, but there has to be more.
Look, the most creative flamenco artist in many decades was Enrique Morente, but his work didn’t spring out of nowhere…he knew a great deal about the forms and how they were done, he was encyclopedic. He knew the truth of cante. Without that knowledge, his creativity alone could have done a great deal of damage.
Creation and interpretation, that’s the question. With Morente’s death, you have the feeling there aren’t many other born creators.
Like Paco de Lucía in guitar?
Getting back to what I was saying, one branch is absolute creation, and the other is the branch that works with what has been created. The latter aren’t considered creators. Someone who takes the malagueña of El Canario, gives it a personal spin and creates subtleties based on profound respect without creating a large new element, nevertheless creates something large in importance.
In order to appreciate creators of this second type, you have to be a sensitive person and possess great knowledge. It’s easy to spot the creation of something that never existed before, but hard to detect in a cante that has been around for decades.
You’re considered the main mover and shaker of Catalonian flamenco, you were the first in many ways. What was flamenco like when you were starting out?
Had you been planning on going?
You were able to take note of the music? Who taught you to write music?
And the same thing with guitar?
Ok, go on then….
How long did it all take? No false modesty now…
“Each cante has a certain feeling, each style has its own meaning. A siguiriya isn’t the same thing as alegrías. You have to differentiate them and know when to do each. And to do siguiriyas, maybe life hasn’t screwed you up enough for it to come out well”.
I’m talking about love again. And cantes are like people. Sometimes you come across people at certain moments which may or may not be opportune.
Each cante has a certain feeling, each style has its own meaning. A siguiriya isn’t the same thing as alegrías. You have to differentiate them and know when to do each. And to do siguiriyas, maybe life hasn’t screwed you up enough for it to come out well.
Mayte, we need to talk more about love. Your records have a lot to do with it.
You go in and out of flamenco a lot, I don’t know if it’s intentional.
People are obsessed with the concept that ideas have to become something. But no, many can just exist and never lead to anything. The idea is the genesis, and in the early stages we don’t need to do anything, or very little. Ideas grow and we have to be alert…months, years…but we can’t force them to become a record or a show. Because they change, and we aren’t masters of our own ideas. We’re only masters of what we do with them.
And speaking as an observer, it would be completely different if we treated ideas as such and didn’t force the issues. They would have a different importance, much more sincere and specific.
If I were to carry out all the ideas inside my head, I’d need another ten or twelve lifetimes. And it’s funny, because I’m sure there are people who think that making a record every five or six years, that makes me less in search of something than the person who records twice a year, but that’s not how it is. I don’t know how many ideas other people have, but I can assure you I have thousands. It’s really unsettling, and you just have to wait for things to come together.
I don’t whether or not I believe in God, but fate or whatever puts ideas into your head and you have to know how to understand them. You have to be less anxious. Everyone is so anxious, Pablo.
“We aren’t masters of our own ideas. We’re only masters of what we do with them”.
Now you’re talking about the era of Pilates, self-help…
Well, not completely, please… How do you decide when it’s the right time to do something?
“I’m sure there are people who think that making a record every five or six years, that makes me less in search of something than the person who records twice a year, but that’s not how it is. I don’t know how many ideas other people have, but I can assure you I have thousands. It’s really unsettling, and you just have to wait for things to come together.”
I would imagine this is hard in the beginning.
And not just in flamenco?
I met Tete Montoliú when I was 25 more or less, singing boleros in a jazz club in Barcelona with a pianist friend. That was a few years before making “Muy Frágil”.
So he just went for a couple of drinks, then he came out on stage and started to play for me. “Do you know this song?…and this other one?” We didn’t even say hi. Afterwards, I went home and fortunately, after a couple of weeks, the owner of the club, a good friend of mine, called me and said Tete was looking for me to make a record.
I mulled it over for a couple of days and nights, and I called Tete and told him I wasn’t ready to record boleros, because first I had to record a flamenco record, and I didn’t want to confuse people. I was a flamenco singer, and had started out in flamenco. I couldn’t do something that didn’t seem ethical.
He could have told me to go to hell, but he understood what I meant. So we made the record, but put it on the back burner for the time being. And he respected the condition that nothing would be published until I’d started my flamenco recording career. And that’s how it was. We got into the studio, agreed on the songs, the keys, the tempos…and that was it. We recorded twelve boleros.
Time went by, and I recorded “Frágil”, did my little tour and that was it. Then I took up the idea again. I called Tete and told him it was time to bring out the recordings. But when we listened to them together, we realized we weren’t those people any more…so the recording was ultimately made from three live performances. It was a question of ethics, like always.
“People who are starting out have to understand that this is like being a doctor. Before getting money for being on stage, you have to go through a lot of things. It’s terrible to have that burning desire to become a star, because you forget everything you learned, and at some point we just have to be virgin, it’s a necessary part of the process.”
What was Tete’s opinion of flamenco?
The same old story regarding flamenco people I guess.
How’s flamenco doing in Catalonia? It’s very popular, isn’t it?
In the younger generation, like in their twenties, the fever of “we’re going to sell more records than anyone” has, mercifully, passed. No one made a penny.
When they give you money to do something, that puts the pressure on. It makes you be on a level that maybe isn’t yours. You want to get applause from someone, and maybe it isn’t going to happen. People who are starting out have to understand that this is like being a doctor. Before getting money for being on stage, you have to go through a lot of things. It’s terrible to have that burning desire to become a star, because you forget everything you learned, and at some point we just have to be virgin, it’s a necessary part of the process.
What you said about getting detached from the flamenco yoke gives the idea that that world, not the music but the world, is just a bit small-minded.
And they have no interest in having that kind of sensitivity, they couldn’t care less.
Didn’t they burn Valderrama at the stake for doing “El Emigrante”? Him, and many others…the world of flamenco can sometimes be very unfair. For me it’s wonderful, it’s my most important vehicle of expression, because it’s the one that has been inside me the longest, and which I’ve developed the most. But I can assure you I wasn’t born just for this.
Have you made any false steps along the way?