Interview: Antonio Conde
New CD&Book “Escribiendo en el Alfar”, flamenco, literature, painting.
Singer Antonio Campos' agenda is fuller than the president's. He never stops working with the most noteworthy dancers of the flamenco scene.
In fact, it's hard to find him idle in Granada. When he's not rehearsing, he's touring, or vice versa. During these days, before the presentation of what will be his second recording, we stole some time between his rehearsals with the Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía, performing several days at the Alhambra theater in commemoration of the company's twentieth anniversary. With all that, and travelling around the world several times over, he manages to find time to talk about his new artistic “baby”. A book and record with forty poems and seven songs, all written by him, allow us to discover an unknown facet of the singer: that of composer, poet and lyricist. 'Escribiendo en el alfar' gets inside the singer's head and lets us see the ideas that drift around within an artist of this stature.
It must be pointed out that you're not going to find flamenco guitars, palmas, the typical shouts of “olé”, etc. Times change, and flamenco, while maintaining its conventional concept, is broader than ever. And it's in this book and record that followers of the art show off the flamenco that's behind it all. Important followers such as Arcángel, Paco Cortés, Carmelilla Montoya, Juan José Amador, Matilde Coral, Alfredo Lagos, Dani de Morón, Segundo Falcón, Carmen Ledesma, Javier Ruibal, Antonio Canales, David Lagos, Manuela Carrasco, Carmen Ledesma and many more, not only are familiar with this new work of Campos, but will be in Seville to show their support. The record contains everything from a corrido of his own creation (wherein is superbly described the film “Un Perro Andaluz”, as well as zambras, soleares, bulerías, granaínas and milongas.
What made you think of doing a “flamenco” record without guitar, palmas or jaleo, in other words, without the usual elements for a record of flamenco singing?
In actual fact, I've been working for years with Pablo Suárez and I had the pieces worked out, the idea of doing them to piano came out of the idea of creating a show, an atmosphere, and that atmosphere was forthcoming from the piano. Then, I knew I didn't want any additional elements because it wasn't necessary for telling what I had to tell.
'Trisquel flamenco' is part of that process…
Yes, it's the genesis of the record, four out of the seven pieces are from Trisquel. And I've followed in the same line of that work, trying to get the most out of the least. The record came about because every time we did Trisquel, we always had a good feeling and said “we have to get into a studio and record this”. I like to record my work. After one of our trips to Dublin, and with the idea fresh in our heads, we got a studio that had a grand piano, and made the whole record in four hours. That was in Madrid. We did each piece twice except for the soleá which was on the first take. I did it and said, that's it, I'm not doing it again.
And to put it on-stage, how did you manage for example Rachid Hanbali's painting?
Rachid is in the book, and is going to be in the presentation. I want the painting to be there. I would have liked him to be touring with us, but since we already have his paintings, all I need is a projector, and that's easy. We also have some exhibits prepared with Rachid, and we're going to join in along with Pablo's piano.
Let's take a closer look at this…why are some cantes included, and not others? What makes you combine a particular verse with one musical form or another?
I look for a way to do it, and the cantes I chose make me feel a certain way of telling things. If there's anything that calls attention, it's that the record is completely alive not only because it's recorded live, but because of how I deliver the verses. I don't set out to do the milonga of Chacón with the same approach as he did it, but rather I live the milonga of Chacón. When I write the verse, I'm already thinking of which cante form it's going to be right from the start. I know what prism it's going to pass through. In fact, I've been writing since I was very young, since adolescence. No one was ever going to know that facet of me, because I just wrote for myself, but it was Juan José Tellez who encouraged me.
That's what I was going to say, Juan José Téllez has something to do with all this.
I ran into him in Morrocco, and sang him a “corrido” I wrote about the film “Un Perro Andaluz”. It describes how and why it was made. Where it comes from and how the film was made, which is inspiring for me. Téllez listened to it, and asked if it was mine. He asked me if I had other things written, and when he read some of my poems, he liked them. He asked me to send him more things. I had had the idea of doing the book and record, but was too timid to actually do it. But then I began to visualize things, and believe more in myself to do this work, and I sent him the pieces I had recorded, along with forty poems, and he sent back an email that ended with him saying that others had to read this and see it with their own eyes.
After that, you met Javier Ruibal.
Yes, through Téllez I met Ruibal, who was a great discovery on this record. I fell in love with Ruibal in “Pensión Triana”, with El Pelao and all that, and he explained how self-publication works, and how you make a book and record. He said Téllez had stirred his interest, and I sent him some texts. The next time we spent more than two hours on the phone, and that's when our friendship began.
I had my mind made up, what with the industry the way it is. I already worked with the industry, but the way it works is, either you're very box-office, or there's no investment. Unfortunately, in the world of music, and of art in general, the best artist isn't who's valued, but the one they put the bets on. Sometimes it also happens that the artist is so big, he has to be released one way or another.
Can you see yourself at strictly a solo singer?
I enjoy singing for dancing very much, but the goal would be to go solo. I'm sure I will never stop singing for dance. It's all about adding, not subtracting. Making a living with flamenco is very hard these days, there are very good people, and a lot of us. The market is floundering. If people have a hard time just shopping for food, imagine how hard it is for them to buy a ticket. But those of us who work with dance, which is really one of the few things that works, especially abroad, we can't complain. I like to express my things, and I'm more convinced all the time that you don't need to be sitting in a chair to do it. We may end up doing just that, but you have to write your own script, create your own show, and if what's needed is a sitting still in a chair, so be it. We're getting an education, and big-time contamination, that's our day-by-day routine. Where we really have something to offer, and where we're ourselves, is in live performance, which is why both of my recordings were done live. Being in the fish-bowl, wearing headphones, the music in front of you, the click in the ear…you end up doing everything except feel the cante. My idea is to tell the cante, not just sing it. I don't say that's the best way, but it's my way.
I'm doing this because right now we're a group of artists who can afford to do whatever we want when it comes to recording, because our work is singing for dance, and what we do for ourselves is for having a good time. My record isn't going to bring ten thousand “duros” to my house. So I'm free to do whatever I like. I'm not going to make a living from this record. Singing for dancing is very fulfilling for me.
I gather you have no complaints about the amount of work you have…
What really works is dance shows, and outside Spain. Those of us who are singing for dancing can't complain. We're a group of singers who have plenty of work: Extremeño and Juan José Amador, whom we look up to… David Lagos, Londro, Miguel Ortega, José Valencia… I'm the luckiest of all. They're in Seville. And here I am in Granada, and the telephone doesn't stop ringing.