Text: Silvia Cruz
The Jerez guitarist will soon launch his first recording
“I like guitar more than anything else”
How often we mistake an introspective person for a timid one. This is the case of Alfredo Lagos, who triggers that confusion in those who don’t actually know him. People who personally know him however, know he has an inner life. Israel Galván defines him more succinctly: “a loner” says the Seville dancer about the guitarist, “like Paco de Lucia, with the guitar always by his side”. Alfredo however, avoids the comparison, mostly out of modesty, which in his case, is never false. “I didn’t ‘hide’ behind the guitar as the maestro used to say of himself. I like guitar more than anything else”, he says, adding that he couldn’t have done anything else, because although he likes to sing, he has no voice, and he assures us beyond any doubt that if he gets up to dance, he’ll be arrested.
He defuses his shyness saying an artist has to move outside the comfort zone, take risks and experiment. Which is why, despite his love of Jerez, he is planning on moving to Madrid to enjoy the advantages of the capital now that his first record is about to be released. “People are anxious, and that puts the pressure on, but it’s also a good sign. The work is recorded, mixed and mastered”. He’s done this now, at past forty, because, he says, a record is like having children, “it comes when the time is right”. On possibly becoming a father, he hasn't decided yet, although he admits he's thinking about it. “I never really felt ready, but I might decide on it before it's too late to do so”. If it goes like his recordings, he just might have twins; he says he's already preparing his second record. “And I can tell you right now, it won't have anything to do with the first”.
To speak of his family is to speak of love, he's quite definite about that. “It's the only thing we really have. The affection of my mother and my brothers, that's true love. And if I needed a kidney, they would give it to me. Can there be anything more important than that?”
Sabicas, Morente and Márquez are among his favorites
When we talk about the family, we're talking about David, his singer brother. But this time, it's the younger one who talks about the elder, and who assures us that to describe him, you can't separate the artist from the person: “Alfredo's music reflects exactly what he's like: strength wrapped in tenderness”. He also points out his interpretive capacity, his technique and the fact that he isn't overly concerned about preparing things a hundred percent. “That margin of improvisation on stage throws me sometimes, and other times it carries me to the heights”. Of course that's his brother speaking, but also the singer, who sings so at ease with Alfredo on guitar, that he can't even hide it.
David participates in Alfredo's first record, as do Israel Galván and Estrella Morente. As difficult and pointless as it is to name favorite singers, Alfredo accepts the challenge and cites Estrella, whom he considers “a great artist, in the broadest sense”. Since I don't let him name his brother, he mentions another woman, “my adored Rocío Márquez, with whom I shared her first record, and who very deservedly has a magnificent career”.
When asked to name a record he's crazy about, he meditates for a moment, then chooses “Viviré” of Camarón, and “Omega” of Enrique Morente. Asked to name guitarists, you can tell it's impossible to choose, and since he knows his choice can type-cast him one way or another, when all he wants to be is Alfredo Lagos, he answers diplomatically: “If I were on a desert island, one of the records I would surely not forget would be something of Sabicas”. He says this and draws his own self-portrait, with no sweeping statements.
On Paco de Lucía
Israel Galván says of Alfredo Lagos: “Being a non-gypsy flamenco guitarist in Jerez, and not recognized by the flamencos of Jerez, has made him open up to the world, and that has made him special”. Israel knows what he's talking about, because he's spent many hours with Alfredo, but in fact, at the last Festival de Jerez, Lagos took on five guitar superstars from Jerez, and at the Villamarta Theater there was no doubt about the power of his music.
Some people think of Jerez as a big party or an ongoing happening. Alfredo is as typical as they come, though a little quieter than the usual. During the festival you could see him on more than one occasion in the door of some typical bar, with just a faint smile, speaking little and with his guitar slung over his shoulder. You can see he is pensive, and that is reflected in his comments, the way he follows a thread, a certain degree of normalcy, and then suddenly, he blurts out a thought. A spark, a reflection or a word than turns the interview into something out of the ordinary. The same thing happens with his guitar, fine and outstanding, far removed from the obvious.
When we look to see whether certain things that have been said about him in other interviews have any grain of truth, we find out that some things are ideas transmitted to him by Paco de Lucía. They're not his own, he doesn't recognize them as such, and although it would be very easy to do so, he does not claim them as his own. Could it be that flamenco is anxiously looking for someone to fill in the void? He has one thing clear: “It happens in everything: every so often a genius appears who breaks with the norm and whom everyone adores and bows down to because the person deserves it, but also in part because we need it. What happens is, when someone else comes along of that level, it won't be in the same way that Paco had us accustomed”. His reflection goes further. Alfredo believes it's painful for us to think anyone could dethrone the great maestro, especially now when his death is so recent and is still painful. But he's certain someone will come along sooner or later to take charge.
To accompany with feeling…to compose when it arises
Alfredo doesn't pick and choose from the various facets of his work as a guitarist. He says he composes when the urge comes, he doesn't force it, that sometimes an idea comes up and he follows the thread. He likes to accompany. Although he clarifies: “I don't like standard accompaniment, the first thing that comes to people's heads…maybe I never saw a singer before, but if he sings a soleá I'll accompany it because I know my job. That's not so interesting for me”. He likes accompaniment which is at the service of the voice, “to enhance what that voice is trying to say…that's if I'm inspired. But I have to say, there aren't that many singers”.
And what was it like playing for Luis de la Pica? “I don't remember much” he says modestly, without trying to stretch a story diluted by the years. “I remember he treated me very well, that he was very special and everyone loved him. And as an artist, he was what we all want to be: free”. We're not face to face, but in that reply I sense there's not even the hint of a smile. In the straightforward way he speaks there's a country feeling, the fields his father worked nearly his entire life. “In his later years he worked in a factory that made caps for wine bottles” he explains, and emphasizes how long and hard his father worked, and how he wanted his son to study in addition to playing guitar. “In any case, he paid for my guitar classes for several years. I think that between one thing and another, deep down inside, he believed in me”.
There are people who make a lot of noise throughout their lives. Especially among performing artists. Alfredo, however, is different. The childhood anecdote his brother David offers, gives an idea of his way of being. “At 8 or 9 we were in a flamenco singing contest. I memorized the tone he had to start on, and my brother asked me not to forget it. But right before our turn, they asked me some questions, and I forgot the tone”. David says Alfredo, without saying a word, adapted the tones so it wouldn't be noticed, but of course, they were both children and it was no easy task. “He was playing softly, and I wondered why he was doing that. When they asked me what had happened, I smoothed it over saying he'd played very low. Then, when we were alone, he looked at me and said: 'You started in another tone, I can't play that way”. Why does David highlight this story from his childhood alongside his brother? “Because by then he was already capable of improvising, and above all, because he stood by me as best he could, and sacrificed himself”.