Flamenco entrevistas »

Interview with El Pele. New release '8 guitarras... y un piano'

"The day I have nothing to say, I'll just remain silent"
October 10, 2009
Text and photos: Manuel Moraga

Times change, and this profession has to adapt as best it can.  For example, they now expect us to do interviews with musicians who’ve recorded, but you don’t get a copy of the record to be able to formulate the interview coherently.  But you have to get used to things.  The fact is, El Pele just presented his latest work “8 Guitarras…y un Piano”, and at 11 o’clock on a September morning I find myself with El Pele in the Atocha train station, when he has just arrived from Córdoba.  Over coffee, I brought out the tape recorder, and the man required no prompting…he just started talking…

…I’m in favor of doing “things”, but in a dignified way, from inside flamenco.  I began experimenting at 35, along with Morente in the era of Camarón.  We were the first two to start, and the first to be the brunt of criticism, Morente and me…  And now my records tell the rest of the story, you can listen to them now.  I never strayed from the source, from the old masters.  I live and breath only flamenco. I get up at 8 in the morning, and maybe I study an entire siguiriya from one of the anthologies.  The following morning, I do the same thing with a soleá, and so it goes, always trying things.  Flamenco is much more than two friends who live in the same building and have a guitar: “New Flamenco!”...Listen up you!  “New Flamenco”…I’ve got news for you!.


Bienal de Flamenco. Foto Luis Castilla

You’ll be remembered by what you leave behind’, the famous saying… If someone who’s never heard Pele buys this record, will they get a proper idea of what Pele represents in cante?
If you look at all my records, there are things that are more traditional, and others more avant-garde and innovative, but of course, you’re always going to find Pele on this record.  It’s one of the most classic records I’ve made, along with “La Fuente de lo Jondo”.  I think it’s the purest piece of work because even the piece “Alfonsina y el Mar” is flamenco.  And what I don’t ever want to do is fool people, not Pele’s followers, nor all those people who keep old 78’s in glass cases.  In this recording I’m true to the purest sort of flamenco, to our old-timers.  As I said before, I’m not opposed to innovation, but it has to be done in a dignified way, none of this rubbish they’re putting out in the name of flamenco, because there are people who just want to peddle their little songs, and they don’t give a damn about flamenco.  And the only one who’s always defending flamenco, with all due respects, that’s El Pele, because I could have recorded whatever I wanted, because I have that facility to do all kinds of things.

”…but Isidro, for chrissake, what am I supposed to be dragging out?”
Is it hard to get motivated for making a record, getting into the studio and all it entails, or were you actually looking forward to it?
The day I have nothing to say, I’ll just remain silent.  Silence is more beautiful than any old nonsense.  I don’t record for the sake of recording.  Since the record with Vicente Amigo, some years have gone by because I had nothing to say, and I didn’t feel like communicating anything.  I know it’s a big drag to get into a studio and sing siguiriyas at 11 o’clock in the morning, so don’t go to bed!  Or get up at 4 in the morning, and by 11 you’re all set to sing siguiriyas.

I remember when you released the previous record, you mentioned what a perfectionist Vicente Amigo was as a producer…’Vicente’s really something!’ you said…is it the same with Isidro Sanlúcar?
Isidro is the biggest stickler for detail I’ve ever seen in the studio.  The whole time he’s saying “drag it out, make it meaningful”…but Isidro, for chrissake, what am I supposed to be dragging out?  One day he says to me “shit, I may have to call in Pele to do the siguiriya!”.  The thing is, you have to wait for the sparks to fly, and in any case, I’m the first one who wants things to come out, because in the end, that’s me on the record.  The problem is, you don’t always feel inspired or motivated.  And there have been times when I’ve just returned from the Rocío and said “Isidro, don’t count on me today, you’re on your own”. And three or four hours later, I phone him and apologize.  “No, it’s me who should apologize!” he says.  There’s a lot of tension in the studio, it’s not all fun and games.  But Isidro is one of the strictest people I’ve come across in the studio.  He’s very demanding, and precisely for that reason, he’s one of the best flamenco producers I’ve known, and I didn’t always realize this.  Tony García also contributed a lot.  José Antonio Rodríguez left his tour right in the middle to work on the siguiriya, which he produced.  And Dorantes, he’s a great big kid, and a wonderful musician.  I’m grateful to all of them, to all my colleagues.

I suppose every guitarist has a certain something, a special message…
I think we chose well in the guitars.  For example, I couldn’t get by without José Antonio Rodríguez, who did the siguiriya, and the bulería of Morao. Each one has his special thing that makes it great.  And that’s how it was with all of them: Juan Carlos Romero, Miguel Ángel Cortés for the taranta, Niño de Pura, Diego del Morao, Dani Méndez who did wonders with ”Alfonsina y el Mar”.  All of them, each one did a fine job with his bit.  Behind this modernistic record cover, there’s a world of good feelings, of greatness, of good flamenco that you just don’t find any more.

“I like to focus on a pretty face, an old lady’s hair…I have to sing for someone somehow”

Bienal de Flamenco. Foto Luis Castilla

If I’m not mistaken, the record opens with a taranta…that’s a little surprising nowadays.
Of course…I’m not trying to fool anyone.  The fakes are the ones who are selling flamenquito as flamenco.  They’re not selling fusion, but confusion.  If you want to sell jazz, or gospel, or any other kind of music, go right ahead, but don’t use the word “flamenco”, because the word is loaded, and represents something very great.

On the cover we see a Pele who looks straight from the Bronx, or Havana…
I look like an old man…a veteran of something, but I don’t know what.

An old jazz musician…
Or boleros…I’m not sure.

El Pele has voice and heart…which comes first?
Without a heart, you haven’t got anything.  A voice is good for peddling fish in the morning…or beans: “garbanzooooos!”  But without a heart, you can’t even sell in the market.  Having a heart is basic in order to sing siguiriyas.  And anyone who’s heard me recently, knows I’m a different Pele, not as crazy as before.  Not so bohemian, although you never really lose that. Before, I might tell my wife I was going for a cup of coffee, and I’d go to Brazil with a backpack and a baseball cap.  That’s finished, now I’m a responsible person, especially in flamenco.  Like I said before, I spend hours studying to be able to leave something for the future, so people can remember El Pele for his contribution.

“Thank god you exist!”

I remember a few years back, you came to sing at the Cajamadrid festival with a horrible cold.  And yet, you sang your heart out…that’s being a real professional.
It’s commitment to the profession.

You know that for a Pele concert, a lot of people aren’t completely convinced, they think “let’s see how it goes today…”
Yeah, people want to see what I can surprise them with, because I never do the same concert twice, even if it’s the same cantes.  I spend three or four days rehearsing with the musicians, and when it comes time for the concert, I change everything up on stage.  I like spontaneity, I like sparks to fly…  During a performance, I like to focus on a pretty face, an old lady’s hair…I have to sing for someone somehow.

Bienal de Flamenco. Foto Luis Castilla

The last time I attended a Pele recital was at the Ciutat Vella Festival in Barcelona.  The following day I wrote in this same magazine: ‘I’m now a Pele fan’.
Shit! So that was you who wrote you were no longer rooting for the Madrid team or anyone else?!

Yeah, that was me.  So my question is, when I finally hear your new record, will I still be able to say that?
Yes yes yes…of course.  Like I said before, I’m not trying to fool anyone.  I don’t open the record with bulerías, but taranta, which is as important as any rhythmic cante.  I think anyone who listens to the record can become a flamenco fan, which is what I’m hoping for, to create a love for flamenco without anything phoney.

Ok, so we’ll still be Pele fans…
That’s my hope…not my intention, but my hope.

When the interview was over, while I was taking some pictures of him, El Pele, brimming with emotion, commented that several weeks ago, in Puente Genil, Fosforito gave him a big bear hug after a recital and said “Thank god you exist, I hadn’t heard siguiriyas sung like that in years!”  Without even having heard the record, I share the opinion of maestro Fosforito.  And once again my opinion is reinforced: El Pele is a force of nature.