“The ambience is generated by what you’re surrounded with”
A short time ago a historic recording was released of a live performance by flamenco singer Duquende, “Live in Cirque D’Hiver Paris”. His performance on this important Parisian stage takes place exactly two decades after Camarón de la Isla, with whom the Catalonian singer is often compared, gave his own concert which was also made into a recording. The comparisons are inevitable, but in this interview, which also includes the participation of Juan Gómez “Chicuelo”, the guitarist who so magnificently accompanies Duquende and has just made a solo recording, we find out what the artists themselves think, their objectives, tastes and aspirations
How long have you two been working together?
(D) Duquende: Many years.
(C) Chicuelo: Plenty…a long time ago we were working together, then we divorced, and now we’re married again.
This second romance has been going on for some time. But this time around, the union has been consummated, with the making of this recorD:
D: I tell you something, one day, when I made my first record, I was 20 years old, and in this radio interview they called in a kid to accompany me on the guitar, and this guy sitting over there showed up, that was the first time I saw Chicuelo.
You were on hand for whatever was needed.
C: Of course, I was dying to work….hungry for music…
In a certain sense you two are an important part of flamenco in Catalonia.
D: We’re universal.
C: We’re artists born in Catalonia, we were brought up there, but like Duquende says, in the end, we’re universal, like flamenco.
D: Here, there, everywhere…
And now that you’ve linked up with a French record company, you’re also part French…
C: And from Luxembourg too, whatever comes our way.
D: People understand flamenco all over the world.
There are no language barriers, like English in other kinds of music, you don’t have to understand the words.
D: Without understanding the words, you know who’s good and who’s bad.
C: What gets to me is the music, there’s music I love and I don’t understand the words…that doesn’t mean it’s no use understanding the words, but if I understood them and didn’t like them, it’s worse. If you analyze the whole thing…
D: You’re always reacting to the music.
You, Chicuelo, you’ve accompanied Poveda, Ginesa Ortega, Mayte Martín…
C: I’ve worked with all the Catalonian artists, the best of them, and that makes me proud, I’m happy about it, having been with them.
You’re the accompanist everyone thinks of in Catalonia.
C: That’s not for me to say, but it’s what I’ve done throughout my career, I’ve always loved cante, although I’ve also recorded two solo records, but cante is something special.
Poveda now lives in Sevilla, and he spent a lot of time in Jerez with the Zambos…is it necessary to live flamenco close up, or is that simply an option?
C: I think there are different moods. If you feel like you need to go to Seville, you go, if you don’t have a family, it’s all the same. If I were single, it’s possible I might have considered going somewhere else.
There’s flamenco in Barcelona too.
C: It’s not just the flamenco, life is very good in Barcelona.
D: There’s always been flamenco in my house, my mother sang flamenco, I learned from her, how to form the lines, shorter, longer…she knew a lot about flamenco, her father also sang and played the guitar, that was my inspiration. My home in Catalonia is, and has always been flamenco.
C: The flamenco following there is very important, not only the artists…there are many people involved in flamenco, wherever you go, the ambience is generated by what you’re surrounded with.
You’re the musical director in many of the records where you’re accompanying.
C: Not in this case, it’s a live recording, a recital where Duquende decides what he wants to sing, and I accompany him as always, it’s not a question of producing. On other occasions, yes, in the studio recordings, Duquende’s previous record, one of Miguel’s, Ginesa’s…producing is a facet I enjoy very much.
In this case, was the live recording of Cirque d’Hiver de París pre-arranged, or was it an afterthought?
D: We thought of it afterwards, it’s not the same going to the studio every day, you’re not always in top form, but we thought the concert sounded good. It was one of the hottest recitals we’ve done, and one of the best-received by the audience.
In a certain sense, it’s a tribute to Camarón who recorded 20 years ago in the same theater.
D: That’s got nothing to do with it, I’m Duquende, I’m a flamenco singer and I happened to give a concert in the Cirque d’Hiver de París where Camarón also recorded, but it wasn’t planned, it could just as easily have been Luis el Zambo or Miguel Poveda who recorded there.
You know that your artistic personality is linked to Camarón.
D: That’s my greatest pride in life, that they compare me to a genius of that sort, but Camarón was Camarón, and Duquende is Duquende, I have my own style.
José (Duquende’s manager): It could have been someplace else, but since I do the programming for the Cirque d’Hiver, we scheduled this concert, it was just a coincidence.
You’re Camarón’s most faithful and well-known follower.
D: The oldest of the Camarón people.
Comparisons are always a problem, you’re one of the few who gets by doing Camarón, but that can turn into a problem, it must be annoying sometimes.
D: No, it’s an honor, really, but let’s leave Camarón alone. Caracol had no successor, nor Mairena, why should Camarón? Each one has his own path. My mother made me the way I am, sleight, fair, transparent skin, I sort of look and sound like him, that’s all.
Camarón created a style, many people follow his school, but some do it better than others.
D: At the age of two or three I already knew Camarón was the greatest, without even understanding why. I’d close myself up at home with his recordings because I knew he was the best, even before people gave Camarón credit…at the age of two I knew this man was someone very special. And I stuck with him until I was old enough to have the capacity to listen to the old singers, like Mojama, in order to capture other flavor and bring them to my cante, to my own turf.
What’s included on the record?
D: A little bit of everything, some Levante cante, soleá, bulerías, fandangos…
In other words, a typical concert of Duquende.
D: I always vary things, I work according to my inspiration and what I do is on the spur of the moment, according to how I feel, I sing one thing or another.
You alternate your concerts as Duquende with touring with Paco de Lucía, which is further recognition for your talent.
D: Imagine what it means to be called by Paco, and he says to go touring with him…that was very important for me, I’ve been with Paco for seven or eight years now.
You’ve also worked with Tomatito, in fact your first record was recorded with him.
D: Yes, I toured with him for a few years. He’s the one who introduced me to Madrid and made the record, I’m very grateful to him.
You also worked with Manzanita, there were at least a couple of records.
D: Yes, I recorded with him in Barcelona, very excited about it at the time, the idea of having Manzanita play for me.
And now, finally, with Chicuelo…do you seek out the guitarists, or do they come looking for you?
D: I just let things happen on their own, and it all comes together.
Will there be a DVD of this concert?
D: No, it wasn’t filmed, it’s a standard recording.
It must be very different to make a studio recording, compared to a live concert.
C: There’s no point of comparison, the audience’s warmth, the pressure, everything is different…in this case I think it went well.
Is there a Duquende tour in the works?
José (manager): There’s a European tour planned to present the record in Paris, London, also Poland, Korea, and whatever else comes up.
Will you also continue to tour with Paco?
D: I think I’m going to have my hands full with my own things, but Paco is the maestro, I worship him.
What about you, Chicuelo, have you presented your record yet?
C: There was a pre-presentation in Barcelona, at Nou Barris, a sort of trial run, to see how it would go live. In the next few days we have something else in Barcelona, and almost surely the Suma Flamenca Festival in Madrid.
What’s the process Chicuelo goes through to make a studio recording?
C: A few years of creation, combining with other projects, you put things together little by little, you get into the studio and the themes take shape, you observe, maybe you get other people to participate, your ideas take shape in the studio.
Does the music come into being and then you record it, or vice versa?
C: When I decide to make a record, I’ve already got all the numbers thought out. I go into the studio knowing what I’m after.
It seems like it might be easier to make a cante recording, although it has its own complications, but solo guitar forces you to create, to surprise, to find more in the music…
C: Personally, I don’t see it like that, Duquende’s record is just as important as mine, and neither one is more complex. What we do comes to the surface in a natural way, I don’t rack my brains about it.
And what would you highlight on this record?
C: I’d highlight all ten pieces. But let me tell you a little about what there is. There’s a piece TOMODACHI which in Japanese means “friend”, and it’s fandangos dedicated to Soji Kojima whom I love dearly. A LA DERIVA is tangos, SOMORROSTRO, bulerías, and there’s also a rumba, a nana dedicated to my son Diego, fandangos de Huelva, bulerías in waltz rhythm, another bulería, colombiana and granaína.
I recorded with the idea of nine pieces, but in the end I liked them all and the ten remained There’s a lot of material for a guitar record, I could have kept some things under wraps for the future, but everything’s there.
At this stage of the game, artists like yourselves, with your background, you must be able to record whatever you want without the record company making any demands.
C: I’ve always recorded what I’ve wanted, nobody ever told me what I had to play, I don’t know any other way to work, and have no complaints in that regard, maybe I’m just spoiled.
Is there more to cante accompaniment than meets the eye?
C: It’s very complicated, it doesn’t just depend on you, like with concert guitar. You have to get inside the singer’s skin, into his heart, his head, accompany him and be his faithful servant, whatever it takes, and be silent when it’s time to be silent.
Performing live concert guitar must be much more complicated than with singers.
In the technical sense, it’s much more complicated and requires more preparation, solo guitar performances take a lot of backup work. Accompanying cante, you play more lightly, barely playing at all sometimes. Concert guitar needs to be based on many days and hours of practice.
As far as lining up recitals and concerts, it seems only Paco, Vicente Amigo and Tomatito are able to count on a stable circuit, it must not be easy to make headway.
C: It’s all in how you focus it, they’re guitarists who were born to play in concert and compose, maybe Tomatito was different, from having accompanied Camarón; after his death he had to make his way as a soloist.
Do you aspire to a concert career?
It’s different, what I’ve mostly done is play for cante, but also for dance and as soloist, like doing the triathlon.
Your record is going to be presented at the SUMA FLAMENCA festial in Madrid.
I hope so, it’s nearly a sure thing and I hope there won’t be any glitch.
Flamenco in Andalusia gets a lot of support lately. In Barcelona I think there’s a lot less.
C: There isn’t as much activity in Barcelona, but considering the quantity and variety of music that’s offered, I think flamenco has its place and is important. There are three or four festivals, and also the towns organize their own festivals, and of course the flamenco peñas (clubs). There is room for the growth of flamenco in Barcelona, it’s discreet but not forgotten, I think they’re ready for flamenco, and it’s all the more noteworthy because it’s Barcelona, not Andalusia.
There’s also an important body of artists.
C: Yes, of course, and Catalonia benefits as well, the fact that the artists always take Barcelona into consideration.
After the interview, Duquende continues to talk about the Camarón school of cante, and how much those followers are criticized, compared to the lack of criticism of those who follow in Enrique Morente’s footsteps, as if it were fine to follow Morente, but to follow Camarón were somehow shameful.