The quietest, most intimate place we could find Monday morning was the guitar workshop of Pedro de Miguel, a regular meeting-place for guitarists. Amor de Dios was abuzz, and in the cafeterias there was nothing but noise. You could tell Agustín Carbonell “El Bola” felt like talking, and he wanted a quiet place suitable for telling us about his third record, “Rojo y Rosa”, an album that takes him back to his beginnings when he was playing for dance.
A Madrid flamenco person, from the Rastro flea market, Carbonell updated us about his career and along the way opened up the door to his memories with a lesson in the recent history of Spain’s capìtal.
Your third record is call “Rojo y Rosa”, and the previous one, “Desvarios” with Jorge Pardo…
I wanted to find something easy, but in the end I decided on this title because I wanted to say more, to create a different atmosphere. It’s the combination of the lyrical quality of pink (rosa), and the passion of red (rojo), with no political message, just flamenco.
The work I created is comprised of six scenes, each with its own story, where the listener isn’t a prisoner of an aesthetic, and then changes to something else, another piece. They’re snippets of life that are even inter-dependant. And as you could hear, a guitar for dance accompaniment which takes me back to my roots when I was immersed in playing for dancers.
So is this a dance record?
It’s a concept of flamenco and guitar for dance, music of “new flamenco” which is the new fad. Dance has been so important in my background, when I play I’m thinking of dance, and it comes out, that’s all.
In the introduction one of the greats, Javier Colina…
He’s a musician I know and worked with more than twenty years ago. I was probably the first person to present him in flamenco society, people he went on to work with. I set him up with Carmen Linares, Enrique Morente…
Agustín Carbonell “El Bola” in “Pedro de Miguel” shop guitar
In my opinion, “Paralelos” is the best thing on the recording, including the alternative tuning.
Yes, I lowered the sixth to D and second to A. I tried to give the piece a certain narrative meaning, if that’s even possible. And I try to achieve this by making dance feel comfortable with my music, to make the most out of it. It’s not the concept of a guitar, and then a great dancer comes and puts his grain of sand. No. The idea behind my music in this piece, and the rest of the record, uses dance as a starting point, not a decoration. And I’m looking for a commitment I’m very satisfied with.
There’s a prayer too…
I think it’s a novel concept. Flamenco has a variety of forms and derivatives we all know, but there’s none in which you could say the guitar is shown as the Creator, as God. And, well, that’s what I do here, and with plenty of technique to flesh it out.
“My flamenco neighborhood is really Tirso de Molina. It’s a small part of a whole, the area of the Rastro, which is the most flamenco area of Madrid, because that’s where all the flamenco people from all over Spain always got together”
The record is much more centered on choreography and dance, and the cante comes in…
Here too the titles have their story. “La Ventana” is a kind of tribute to the sense of freedom I feel from something so simple as looking at a window, the light that goes in and goes out, the air. It was something I wanted to do for tientos-tangos because I have great respect for that form. And for dance. The great maestros always used to say a dance piece had to last at least ten or twelve minutes…something I do in “Piedras” and in “La Ventana”. In “Piedras” I’m referring to time, which I shape and mold little by little, like stones which aren’t here today gone tomorrow. I think many fundamental things in life boil down to the concept of time.
You place your bets on a young, gypsy, Madrid style of cante.
Because these are complex musicians despite their youth, and they sing great. Musically they’re very good. On the one hand, Saray Muñoz, the daughter of Tina of Las Grecas, whose sound drives me crazy. And Piculabe, who’s very studious and is singing really well now. These are young artists who adapt to whatever you want, and we learn from each other. They know my possibilities, they listen to me…and they’re from Madrid. Madrid flamenco is the most cosmopolitan, the most complete in my opinion.
Piculabe, Saray Muñoz, Claudio Villanueva, Agustín Carbonell “El Bola” – photo by Manuel Montaño
And within Madrid, your neighborhood has a personality of its own.
From the Rastro we’ve got Güito, one of my mother’s cousins. On my father’s side there are more artists, but they’ve all got it in the blood. And dance seems to be the main thing in my family. That’s why when I make music, I’m thinking about that, but trying to give it meaning. Because when you accompany dance, you have to know guitar, singing and dance.
My flamenco neighborhood is really Tirso de Molina. It’s a small part of a whole, the area of the Rastro, which is the most flamenco area of Madrid, because this is where all the flamenco artists from all over Spain always got together. On Amparo street you might run into my father with Bernardo de los los Lobitos, or Chaqueta….Pepe de la Matrona…all the members of the Pelao family, Porrina, Joselito Soto “Sorderita”, Ray Heredia on Mesón de Paredes street… In the old houses there would be gypsies and non-gypsies singing, and tons of guitarists and guitar-makers…Montoya was from here, he spent a lot of time with Sabicas…I remember a time in the Rastro when they played rumba different, and they created flamenco pop….there was an incredible ambience.
Getting back to the record, there’s a fandango por bulería, something you don’t see any more.
In my opinion it’s the most intimate of flamenco forms.
“I didn’t want to get sucked into the hell of those nights, that whole atmosphere, the ‘drug generation’ as I call it…and music was there to save me. My entire generation was in the abyss”
Did the work for the record take a long time?
One year to think about it, digest it and elaborate the themes. Long days, very hard, absolute solitude. And in just two days I recorded. I think it was worth it, because it shows I know dance and the music it requires. And no one does that. Nowadays people talk about Paco de Lucía and Manolo Sanlúcar, and they don’t know how those two maestros wore their fingers to the bone playing for singing and dancing. Their knowledge begins there, and that has to be remembered, it’s something I try to do myself. It’s very comfortable to sit and play whatever you want, but there’s also something called respect, and if you see what’s behind it all, you won’t play frivolous solos.
You’ve travelled a lot and spent long periods of time in the most unusual places. I’d like you to comment on that…
In flamenco and in Spain, we’re not accustomed to see people change their place of residence to learn from other cultures. At 30 I felt the need to go away, to find how to say different things. And I filled my luggage with things from Brazil and Tunisia.
I also had to get away from the flamenco ambience of those times, for my own good. I didn’t want to get sucked into the hell of those nights, that whole atmosphere, the ‘drug generation’ as I call it…and music was there to save me. My entire generation was in the abyss, we could have died…
Agustín Carbonell “El Bola” – foto Manuel Montaño
And now, in comparison with those places, how is our music?
I think Brazil has the edge on us. In the first place, because in that country music is closely related to spirituality, more than in Spain. Then too, it’s the country where popular music is the strongest of any in the world. Furthermore, I’d say that about their popular art in general.
Aside from that, they have an advantage over Europe because they learn from the mistakes we’ve made here in Spain, especially regarding wars and political struggles. They took the best from our culture.
In Africa there is an incredible historical wealth. Here, everything related to Arabic and African culture is still taboo, you wouldn’t believe what they have. They were the first ones to create cameratas, they’re the true forerunners of our guitarists.
“Now recordings are like science fiction, super-manipulated. And flamenco was never like that, it’s living music, not canned. And guitarists who depend so heavily on that, later on they can’t perform live, it’s impossible”.
You mentioned something about an escape, catharsis…
Yes. Now we’ve learned the lesson, not only flamenco, but other kinds of music, cinema…that unstoppable torrent was beyond us. But yes, with that catharsis, which was based on love for my family, for flamenco…I got over everything.
And what are you up to now?
I’m very pleased with myself. I managed to make a complex recording in two days, and without cuts. Now recordings are like science fiction, super-manipulated. And flamenco was never like that, it’s living music, not canned. And guitarists who depend so heavily on that, later on they can’t perform live, it’s impossible. People who spend twenty euros for a record demand fireworks, the same as recorded, in a live performance. And it just can’t be. I don’t like fireworks.
So, in trying to avoid all that, I’ve managed to make a decent record that covers guitar, dance…
Now I’m focused on defending that, it’s what I have to do in the immediate future.
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