It’s no exaggeration to say she lives and breathes art from every pore of her body. Just listen to her singing with jazz musicians, or a classic orchestra. Just see her dancing and singing in the National Ballet’s work “Café de Chinitas” with José Antonio. And above all, just listen to her music, the music of her people, flamenco music. Esperanza Fernández presents her truth constructed of memories on “Recuerdos”. With this idea in mind, we delved into the heart and the life of the Triana performer…
Is everything on this new record memories?
Everything. From the very first piece, “Manolito Reyes”, which I heard my grandmother Salud sing. From there on, it’s bits and pieces of all my concerts. The tangos of Titi are also very close to my heart because I also heard them from el Titi himself when I was little, and I’ve always had him in my thoughts whenever I sing or dance his tangos. Pastora’s farruca is a personal interpretation of mine, obviously, because there is only one Pastora, one Fernanda, one Bernarda. Since flamenco is a free expression, I did it the way I felt it. The fandangos de Lucena are Fosforito’s, and very old. The siguiriya is a memory of Lebrija, specifically from an uncle of my mother’s who was a very good siguiriya singer, Chache Lagaña. All memories.
You’re half Triana, and half Lebrija…
Yes, my father’s from Triana and my mother from Lebrija.
What do you bring from Lebrija? Aside from the siguiriya, we also hear bulerías with a Lebrija sound…
Yes, bulerías romanceadas that are sung in Lebrija and Utrera. For example, the Peñas are from my mother’s side. But there’s also a branch from Diego del Gastor. And on my father’s side, we’ve got singers and bullfighters: Gitanillo de Triana, Curro Puya, El Culata.
“I’m no fake, everyone knows that”
Despite that fifty percent, you’re more associated with Triana than Lebrija.
Well, I’ve lived all my life in Seville and I grew up in Triana, but I’ve also been around Lebrija a lot, so I really feel close to both. I have very good memories of Lebrija. We used to go nearly every weekend to Lebrija, and I remember listening to old Lagaña singing siguiriyas on the corner while I was playing with dolls. There were always fiestas… I remember hearing Funi, Inés, Lebrijano, Pedro Peña… The memories accumulate inside your head…
It’s a very sober recording: cante, guitar, palmas and the piano of Dorantes.
And that’s it. Well, and some subtle percussion that went well with the ideas set out by José Antonio Rodríguez.
And was the original idea like that? Were you thinking of this kind of record, or did José Antonio have the concept?
When I decided José Antonio Rodríguez would be my producer – something I’m very happy about because he caught the idea immediately – and I told him what I wanted to do, he already understood there would be nothing more that some good guitar arrangements and a good guitarist, including himself. And in actual fact, it would make no sense to have done more, it all came out so well.
And strangely enough that catches attention since the standard thing is to record with lots of arrangements, choruses, wind instruments, strings, etc…
The thing is, I wanted to make a record of traditional flamenco, like in the old days. That was my aim, and José Antonio saw it clearly. In fact, nearly everything on the record, except José Antonio’s guitar which was recorded beforehand, are nearly complete takes. It’s not bit and pieces that were arranged afterwards. And some pieces are complete as is, recorded live, without an audience, but live.
”I remember listening to old Lagaña singing siguiriyas on the corner while I was playing with dolls”
What numbers are those?
Siguiriyas, cantiñas, soleá and the gypsy anthem.
How does that go, what do the words say?
Let me read them to you…
No no no, that’s not necessary… I meant the overall idea.
Yes, I’m going to read them to you, because there are few people here who speak Romany. The story comes from the Holocaust, when in addition to the Jews, they also murdered many gypsies.
“Anduve, anduve por largos caminos
Encontré afortunados romà
Ay romà ¿de dónde venís
con las tiendas y los niños hambrientos?
(I walked long roads to find the gypsies, ‘friends, where are you coming from with your tents and hungry children?’)
También yo tenía una gran familia
fue asesinada por la Legión Negra
hombres y mujeres fueron descuartizados
entre ellos también niños pequeños
(I too had a big family, all killed by the Black Legion, women, men and small children)
Arriba Gitanos! Ahora es el momento
Venid conmigo los romà del mundo
La cara morena y los ojos oscuros
me gustan tanto como las uvas negras”
(Now is the time for gypsies to join forces, I like brown faces and dark eyes as much as black grapes)
What I’m really trying to do is make a statement. People ask me why it wasn’t recorded in Spanish, but I didn’t, precisely because I want to open the door so that my children and other gypsies may appreciate this beautiful language.
That’s fine. Your children are David and Miguel?
That’s some ending for soleá you dedicate to them!
Yes yes… Those are popular verses everyone knows, but I made them my own. I took a bit here, another bit there and joined it all together for soleá. And it’s dedicated to my sons, because they’re the pillars that keep my body upright.
It gives me goose-bumps when I hear that soleá ending…it sounds like you’re going to break in half.
It’s not that it “sounds” that way; in the soleá I broke up completely.
“When my children are playing they put my record on for background music”
How old are they?
Miguelito just turned eight, and David is five.
Are they following in their parent’s footsteps?
They’re musicians because it’s in their blood. It’s not that they spend the whole day singing and dancing at home, but they show signs. Miguelito has danced and played percussion very well since he was two and a half. No one taught him. And David sings. And the cutest thing is, when they’re playing, they put my record on for background music; they go down to their playroom with my CD and play cards or whatever, but always with their mother’s record. That’s the greatest satisfaction I could ever have, because children have very special feelings, and if it communicates something to them… I let myself get carried away by emotion. When I made the pilot recording, the first thing I did was play it for my children. And when they said it was okay, then we went ahead.
So it’s a record packed with emotion.
Absolutely. There’s a reason for everything that’s on it.
Some things are your classic repertoire: solea, siguiriya…but there are also others that deviate from your Triana and Lebrija background such as the abandolaos or fandangos de Huelva…
The abandolaos I heard a lot from Fosforito, one of my greatest idols, my father is crazy about Fosforito. I have many of his records and for me, he’s a great maestro. The last thing I heard of his was fandangos de Lucena on the record of the Himno de Andalusia, and it was very moving seeing the struggle he has to go through. It was such a beautiful sensation, I wanted to honor Fosforito on the record. I don’t know whether he’s heard it, or if he’ll like it, I took an old record of his and got the verses. On the cover of that record Fosforito looks about twenty years old. And the fandangos de Huelva were made especially for me. They are by José María de Lepe, a great guitarist who sings and composes very well. I really wanted to do fandango de Huelva, and he saw where I was coming from so he wrote the verse about Fernanda, el Titi, my old neighborhood of Triana, the river and Paco Toronjo. It’s the only theme that doesn’t use popular verses and was made especially for me.
”Fosforito is one of my greatest idols”
Let’s talk about you. You’re deeply involved in promoting your record in Madrid, and I suppose there’ll be record presentations. Then, you have the Centro de Arte Flamenco in Sevilla. You’re a mother, wife and performer.
The other day they asked me if I was a superwoman. I don’t know what I am, all I can say is if you’re at peace with yourself, and really know what you want, you find the necessary strength. If you’re surrounded by people who care about you and coddle you, it makes you even stronger. My children love me, my husband is very supportive and loves me… All that gives me strength, and it makes me proud to be able to do what I want. And I manage to juggle it all; I don’t sacrifice my children to have a career, the children don’t miss anything, not even their friends’ birthdays, their mother or father is always there to take them.
You give the impression of being a real mother and wife…and a good friend, because when you go to Madrid you don’t stay at a hotel, you’re with your friend Elena Andújar. Do you like to cultivate friendships?
Well, I need to have friends around me, people who care about me. I’ve known Elena since we were small, I’m her son’s godmother, and since her path took her to Madrid, whenever we see each other, we want to be together to talk about things, our childhood, or the way things are today….you need that.
Ok, let’s get back on track. Although we’re here today to talk about your record, I can’t avoid asking what you think about Enrique Morente’s letter that was recently published at Deflamenco.com, signed by many artists, including Esperanza Fernández: “Critique of the Critics” it was called.
Yeah, but it was directed at one person in particular.
I know, but aside from that, I wanted to ask you if you think the critics have treated you well.
Generally speaking, I can’t complain about the critics because they’ve always treated me fairly. But it’s also true they’ve treated me well because I know what I’m doing and deliver the goods. I’m no fake, everyone knows that. I can respect the fact that one show may go over more than another, or you might not be up to the level the critic expected, because performers have mood swings just like everyone else, we’re only human. All I ask is that critics say what really happened, and also talk about the work that went into the show, whether the audience applauded, if the show was dignified… If it’s done like that, I would even thank the person, whoever it might be. What you can’t do is destroy an artist for no reason at all. It might not have been a propitious moment, but what does that person know about the months of work it takes to put on a show? You’re going to sit down that night to see a show and not take into consideration what went into it? I think it’s a bit much.
Okay okay… Getting back to “Recuerdos”… What would you like people to remember about this record?
Those are my memories, and each individual will have an opinion about each piece. Everyone’s going to feel it differently: one person might like “Manolito Reyes”, another, the soleá, another, the cantiñas… I’ll be happy if people remember the record because of something that gave them goosebumps.
“If you’re at peace with yourself, and really know what you want, you find the necessary strength”
Esperanza Fernández has become part of flamenco history. How would you like to be remembered after many years?
I’ve been working since I was a little girl, and the only thing I ask god is that he protects my voice so I may continue to sing for many years. And above all, I’d like my children to have the satisfaction of being able to say “my mother is a flamenco singer”. At the children’s school there’s a textbook where they talk about flamenco and there’s a picture of mine: the pride on my children’s faces is the greatest thing there is for me. And people…they can remember me any way they want, and if in the future I have importance, that would be the greatest honor in the world.