And thus, a record is born. Finally. It was a long wait, because this time we all knew most flamenco fans were watching and waiting for this one to arrive. It’s par for the course considering we’re talking about Diego Moreno Jiménez, “Diego del Morao” (Jerez, 1978), solid candidate not only to follow in his ancestors’ footsteps, but to go one step further and become a major representative of his generation.
With “Orate” he jumps into the market and is immediately the king of compás. And if there aren’t more collaborations, it’s because there is no more room. The thing is, in addition to playing with a privileged “special something”, Diego follows in the family tradition of being a good ol’ boy, liked by one and all.
I don’t believe that thing about how your family didn’t want you to become a guitarist. You’d think no one wants to keep the trade going…
Well, that’s exactly how it was. My father didn’t want it, and didn’t have me play guitar. At all. Things are the way they are, and until they saw I could half make a living, or half fill the refrigerator, they wanted me to have no part of the guitar. Do you realize today’s guitarists, how little faith they have in this, knowing what a difficult profession this is? Besides, my father was an idol to me…he seemed a little distant, I was intimidated and did my own thing. Look at my daughter who’s now ten, she’s quite clear about this. She likes pop music and doesn’t want to know one single thing about flamenco, at least for now…
But your father must have had you play something, a little falseta, something of his own, that’s the least you’d expect…
Yes, but not until I’d been playing a while in Carbonero’s classes with all the guys who became professionals in Jerez: Juan Diego, Bolita…that generation. Carbonero is a great teacher, he taught me the typical stuff, and then I did my own thing. I also spent three years at the conservatory. One thing I can assure you is I’d never have been a singer. Lots of guitarists say they’re frustrated singers, well not me. What I am however is a great cante lover, and I really enjoy listening to cante, it’s something today’s young guitarists don’t tend to do.
A Morao in the conservatory?
Yes indeed, and I wasn’t a bad student at school. I studied administration, but guitar was my thing, and I did the other stuff to have that to fall back on. At 16 I was doing festivals with Macanita, my first gig was a double-header with her at el Viso del Alcor and Morón, I’ll never forget it. That was when I knew what I wanted.
That’s when they had to give in.
I owe a lot to Macanita, she was the one who gave me the opportunity to start circulating. Tomasa heard me one day play soleá, because Chicarito asked her to, then I accompanied her bulerías a little, and listen…the following week I was performing with her. That was when it stopped being a game and, well, then came Diego Carrasco, José Mercé, Potito…so you could really say I started out accompanying cante, I was neither a soloist nor a dance accompanist.
One can’t imagine you doing anything else, or being in any other place…
Look, it may sound like a bit much, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m fine in Jerez, I would never leave, this is plenty for me, it’s something very special. And that’s considering that not everyone is into flamenco any more…but there’s a bunch of us who are, it’s true we live constantly in bulerias.
”It may sound like a bit much, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m fine in Jerez, I would never leave, this is plenty for me, it’s something very special”
What you have changed in the family tradition is you’ve begun early with a solo recording.
It might look that way from the outside looking in, but I don’t see it as a solo record. In fact, I don’t see myself like that…this record is just my music at this point in time. It could have been earlier, but it was now. And like I say, it’s not a soloist’s point of view, but my own music. I don’t want to become type-cast as a solo player, because I want to maintain my career as an accompanist.
You’re not one for contests either…
But I was about to enter one, about ten years ago. I had some pieces of Vicente Amigo’s I’d learned. Alegrías, soleá por bulerías and bulerías from his first record. In fact, my father encouraged me to go, but I didn’t. And I’d learned it by ear, with the radio and playing right along with him, you know?….but I didn’t go.
The family name hasn’t hurt any, and, well, thank god it’s all gone well, doors have opened and it wasn’t necessary to have won contests. I can’t say that it was all easy, because just look at the level of guitar-playing today…but it’s true, I can’t complain.
People were already talking alot about you. Did you feel the pressure?
I felt it somewhat. But that’s behind me now, with the record finished and released. I don’t get obsessed about it all, because if I do, it never ends and I’d be recording and retouching forever. If you start examining details, it never gets finished. I played it in the car, I liked it okay and said “that’s that, I’m not retouching another thing, not one note”. I was like a bike racer who no sooner crosses the finish line than he falls…I couldn’t do any more.
And why now, and why with Cigala?
I’d had other opportunities to make a record, but, well, I don’t know if it was just stupidity, or because it wasn’t the right moment, I really don’t know…but it’s true I’d had previous offers. Now everything was ready and the time was right.
”The family name hasn’t hurt any, and, well, thank god it’s all gone well, doors have opened and it wasn’t necessary to have won contests. I can’t say that it was all easy, because just look at the level of guitar-playing today…but it’s true, I can’t complain”.
“Orate” means crazy among us. I was between that word, and “Arate”, which means “blood” in Caló. In the end I went with the first one, which has to do with the first bulerías with the verse “Ya no me conoce el sol/porque yo duermo de día…” (“the sun doesn’t know me any more, because I sleep by day”).
There has to be some madness in putting four bulerías I’d say…
They’re different. But look, I have fun doing bulerías. And don’t think the compositions were just thrown together. I would go to the studio, put together my plan, and little by little the music came together. I do have to go back to that material and study it for live performance. That’s how I am, spontaneous. Other things, it’s true, were from a long time ago, from my beginnings even, but in general no, not on this recording.
Lots of guest artists, it must have taken some time to get this project together.
Three years. Everything took about three years. And I could have continued improving it, but like I said, it never ends. I owe a lot to people like Chaboli who held nothing back.
You’ve managed to get Manolo Sanlúcar and Paco de Lucía together again, if only in the credits, on the same record.
I’m very grateful to them. They’re both great artists and…well, for me and for everyone else…I don’t know what I can say…I soak it all up, and everyone has their place here. I draw from Vicente, Tomatito, Manuel Parrilla…my buddy Antonio Rey gave me some very good ideas.
Tell me about the bulerías.
The first one was already thought out. Not the order of the variations or Diego’s tone, but that’s how it came out. The one with Diego Carrasco, imagine, it was two variations I had and then Diego did everything in his line. The thing is, the record is really me giving everything to these artists who collaborated, and they worked it as they saw best. That piece could easily be part of a record of Diego’s. Just like the tangos could be on a record of Niña Pastori’s, or the first bulerías on a Cigala recording. That’s my philosopy, it’s no lie, maybe people will like it or maybe not, but I have to be with people like them, at their service as much as possible.
The soleá por bulería reminds me of the one from Vicente’s first record, and the one from Tomatito’s “Guitarra Gitana”.
I’m pleased and honored you say that. It’s true, but it’s also true that I had those ideas and those tones in place since about fifteen years ago…which is also important. That tone, the rondeña with the first and second strings lowered, is something Paquete also has, another guitarist I like a lot.
The two tangos are very different. One seems like a game, and the other something worth putting on at clubs and bars.
They are. Antonio Rey gave me ideas. Chaboli also put the verses, he helped me a lot. Pastori sings terrific.
Lots of camaraderie you guitarists have now, almost like in the old days.
It used to be like that. I’m not interested in bad vibes. That’s for others.
“One night I had a shot of tequila and called him…I didn’t know what to say, and he says “see here…get serious! Just what do you want me to do on the record?” He was very generous, and I was like “Maestro, whatever you want…”
That concept I’d been working on in previous recordings of mine of siguiriya. It’s a thing I saw in Diego Carrasco, he wouldn’t even remember now, and I worked it up with Potito, with José Mercé, with Macanita… It’s something very old, but it’s not done much, it’s original. You can see it for example in “Rito y Geografía del Cante” when Anica la Periñaca sings. It’s a special way of carrying the compás, that feeling, with knuckles, and I’ve always liked it.
How do you go about offering a piece to Paco de Lucía?
Pfff…well look, I called him half-drunk. I didn’t know how to ask him. Juan Estrada, his personal manager, told me to call him, I was very excited about it…but the Maestro is the Maestro. Between one thing and another, one night I had a shot of tequila and called him…I didn’t know what to say, and he says “see here…get serious! Just what do you want me to do on the record?” He was very generous, and I was like “Maestro, whatever you want…”
No problem, I gave him a bulería I’d done during some concerts in Lima, Peru, in the hotel when I was holed up for two or three days playing guitar. I sent it to him thinking he would take it a certain way, but the Maestro played it another…whatever, that’s how he is, surprising, incredible.
You knew each other from a long time ago.
Yes, Javier Limón proposed that I take part in “Fragua Futura” and, well, he liked what I did. Later on, when he knew it was me who played on that record, he invited me to Seville to be with him. That was when I was working with Macanita, you can’t imagine…then I got involved in the project with La Tana and I was able to see him many days, share things continually with him. He’s a fun guy, what he wants is for you to relax and play and feel good. It’s true his gaze seems to cut through you like a dagger, but then he’s just another friend, he doesn’t let you get intimidated, he says “give it more flavor, Diego”, he’s a terrific guy. It’s a privilege to have a world-class musician in flamenco.
You end with bulerías, in general the record feels to me like a continuous party of friends.
Yes, with Juan’s singing, the son of Fernando de la Morena…it couldn’t have been any other way, don’t you think? And the name, “Juan&Co”, he’s our very own “guaguancó”.
“I don’t play free-form pieces, but I try to be sincere. I’m limited, but I try to be flamenco. Technically I can’t compete with those young guys who devour the guitar, how could I possibly compete with that?
Such a long time in preparation, and then you don’t put the name of the violinist in the credits.
No, that’s incredible…the record is a never-ending story. We put out 500, in the next batch we’ll put that it’s Bernardo Parrilla. Look, I’ve listened to the record a million times, and now I put it on again and the other day I realized there was a minute of soleá with a fade-down that got away from us…it’s impossible to make a perfect record, afterwards, if you really look at it….that’s how I am a little.
Were some ideas not included?
No, not at all. Everything is there, all of me. I tell it like it is. I don’t play free-form pieces, but I try to be sincere. I’m limited, but I try to be flamenco. Technically I can’t compete with these young guys who devour the guitar, how could I possibly compete with that? But I try to seek out my own things. My father for example, he’ll do a strum and then says “now you”. Yeah, sure, very easy, but do it with that crisp clean sound my father has, that feeling…it’s more complicated than it looks.
It can’t be all that serious, that you’re so limited, come on, guitarists don’t have that same opinion.
Well I say so. I’m not a spectacular guitarist, and I don’t have brilliant technique, no way. I prefer to play two well-placed notes that say something. And it’s not a question of minimalism, because you may think I’m a know-it-all, but just simplifying things would be more appropriate.
Are you very studious? About how many hours do you practice?
I don’t like to admit it, but no, I’m not very disciplined, I practice just enough to get by, and no more. I ought to do more, but I’ve never had the discipline. Now with the record, it’s going to force me to do more. I’m a bad example, and I shouldn’t even say it. I don’t know how to explain it, there are times when it’s like someone who doesn’t go to the gym and has no discipline to do exercise, but then he gets the habit and can’t live without it…that’s how I am, I go by fits and starts.
So you’re a human being.
Of course. Enrique Morente once said that the most difficult piece is the one you do worst, and I’ve got lots.