Pansequito is on a roll right now. The legendary singer recently made himself heard along with others of the trade to made some demands on the administration, while at the same time he’s been picking up prizes, prestigious ones, all over the flamenco map. We’re speaking with José Cortés Jiménez (La Línea de la Concepción, Cádiz, 1946) a few days before the presentation of the Bankia 2012 festival which will honor him with the presentation of its “Calle de Alcalá” award in recognition of one of the best singers in Spain’s capital throughout the seventies.
It was no easy task getting hold of you to do this interview…your cell phone is working overtime.
Well, yeah, and I hope it continues like that, it’s a good sign. I’ve been at this a long time, and people are beginning to notice. With this prize “Calle de Alcalá”, it brings back a lot of memories of Madrid. I’d like to return, it’s the capital of flamenco.
Even now is that still true?
Without a doubt. Look, you can be a great singer, right now that are very good singers, guitarists and dancers. But if you don’t make it in Madrid, you can’t say you’re anyone or manage to make a living from flamenco.
It’s a bit like bull-fighting, Seville brings the prestige and Madrid brings the money. If you make it for one year in these places, you pretty much have your career in the bag, this is fundamental.
You came to Madrid young, very young.
I think I was the youngest of the singers around the capital those days, of those not from Madrid. There were some very young guitarists and dancers, but singers… I was fifteen when I started at Los Canasteros. Just a boy when you think of it. Manolo Caracol was looking for a young singer for his tablao, and someone mentioned me. Anyhow, I got there, what a trip! We went from Cádiz to Madrid by train with a bunch of people…Cepero, Perla de Cádiz, María Vargas who is my wife María’s aunt, Terremoto…three days traveling! Now I look back and those are cherished memories. I was the first person to sing at Caracol’s tablao, the first voice to sound was mine. Soleá for a dancer, it wasn’t easy because I was mostly specialized in bulerías.
Madrid was my first home. I lived there twenty years, and that leaves a mark. I was born in La Línea, but soon moved to Puerto de Santa María. And I was still a youngster when I got to Madrid, so you could say I grew up in the capital.
Where did you live?
I was in several places. I found a students’ residence on Huertas street, and none other than Fernanda and Bernarda were living there. Also with us was Cepero, Perla…all of us who’d come up from Cádiz. Then I was four years living in the hotel right above the tablao Torres Bermejas, because those of us who sang, they gave us lodging. After that I moved to the area of the flea market on Amparo street, where the flamenco action was.
In Madrid I sang at Los Canasteros, Torres Bermejas and the Cuevas de Nerja. All near each other, the artists always got together, it was a wonderful era.
“Manolo Caracol was looking for a young singer for his tablao, and someone mentioned me. Anyhow, I got there, what a trip! We went from Cádiz to Madrid by train with a bunch of people…Cepero, Perla de Cádiz, María Vargas who is my wife María’s aunt, Terremoto…”
The era of Cepero, Camarón…
People with personality in everything they did. With Camarón, whose widow is my cousin, we went through a lot, everyone knows this.
Pansequito with Alfonso Salmerón
And the early prizes?
Prizes are worth the effort, and as far as I’m concerned, very important. Like last year’s from the Bienal, or the Compás del Cante which they gave me last year in Granada, two from the El Taranto flamenco club…but I think the most noteworthy was the Creativity prize they gave me in Córdoba forty years ago. The prize was created for me, and has not been given to anyone since.
What did you actually do to pull that off?
The thing is, in the contest rules, the pamphlet they gave all the contestants, it said you had to do this style or that from this or that singer. And I didn’t know how. I couldn’t do what they were asking! All I knew how to do was sing bulerías, soleá or whatever, but my way. That’s what it’s about, isn’t it? So I sang, and they gave me this prize awarded by the Tourism Ministry which was headed by Fraga at the time. It’s never been given to anyone since, and that’s why it’s special for me, because no one else holds it.
Were those precarious times in any way comparable to what we’re beginning to see now?
No, I don’t think so. There was greater suffering back then, but when you’re a kid you don’t realize. You see everything different. When you’re older you become aware of certain realities and it affects you differently. In any case, I think this is the most important music of Spain, because it’s ours, homegrown, and it will always be around. There are very good guitarists, dancers and singers now, and this must continue. Perhaps the biggest problem now is that everyone wants to become a star overnight, and that can’t be.
You had three best-selling recordings.
My record “Tápame, Tápame” sold 550,000 copies. We’re talking about the nineteen-seventies, in the middle of the “Entre Dos Aguas” phenomenon of Paco de Lucía, and of Lole and Manuel, and in the midst of all that people bought all those records of mine. I remember I was on the best-selling lists with Stevie Wonder and Luis Llach, what a trip!
“In the pamphlet they gave all the contestants, it said you had to do this style or that from this or that singer. And I didn’t know how. I couldn’t do what they were asking! All I knew how to do was sing bulerías, soleá or whatever, but my way. That’s what it’s about, isn’t it?”
Pansequito with Mariana Cornejo and Arcángel
Back then you were already a seasoned veteran, weren’t you?
An artist goes through different stages. My infancy was when I cut my teeth singing for dancers like Faíco and Maleni Loreto in the tablaos. High school was the three or four years I was with Antonio Gades and other big artists. And university is when you strike out and make records, create your own music. My first recording was in 1970.
What are you most proud of?
I’d say the personality I’ve contributed. Today you can talk about bulerías, soleá or alegrías “of Pansequito”. And I don’t think they’re easy to do. I’m a performing artist, and that’s important. I was able to please everyone. Because in the end, what really matters is that someone who doesn’t know you hears you and shouts ‘ole’.
After the whirlwind of prizes and festivals, is it now time to wind down?
No, because I’m in the heat of an upcoming record. I’m doing it little by little. It’s to be in commemoration of my fifty years of profession, my golden anniversary. I want to go back to ideas and pieces from my past recordings, I have thirty-two in all, and add other new things.
I had planned on the participation of Enrique de Melchor, but what a tragedy. We’ve lost one of the great guitarists of this country. Cepero will be there…my people.