Huelva has been in the forefront recently with regard to the quantity and quality of interpreters. And although he won’t admit it, this man is largely responsible. Juan Carlos Romero was already one of the most popular guitarists and producers. One of the two or three names a singer has in his head when he or she wants to get into serious work.
Now, in addition, his solo career enjoys the prestige of his having received the Giraldillo for guitar from the last Bienal. Everyone is in agreement. Critics and professionals. Huelva has a new epicenter of guitar, and we now have his third solo recording.
Aside from being his best work, “Agua Encendida” is one of the great recordings of the year which is about to end. If this creative musician had earlier sought to tear down barriers, his guitar now longs to recapture the aroma of how he used to play.
I suppose the phone is going to ring much more from now on…
Well, there’s more activity, yes, no point in denying that. The Giraldillo was a great satisfaction because we were able to bring audience and critics together in agreement. On the personal level, it’s what has had the most impact on my career. I stress “on the personal level”, because when we brought out Miguel Poveda’s “Tierra de Calma” or “Raíces y Alas”, there was much praise and recognition. In the personal context, the Giraldillo is what brought the greatest satisfaction.
Were you expecting it? Everyone says it was your best concert.
Well, it was good, but I couldn’t really say it was any different from other times. I didn’t plan any specific strategy. I’d played before in the Bienal a few times. Sometimes as soloist, sometimes accompanying, other times as composer…and I’ve always tried to show what I was feeling in each moment, no different from now. No more, no less. Maybe it’s the passage of time, people are getting used to me. I’m especially happy the reviews were good, all too often you approach a concert with your guard up, it’s something you have to do, but on the other hand… And we managed to break through to show ourselves as we are.
It’s quite a good seal of approval for a record that had just barely hit the market.
I’m very grateful. Because instrumentalists frankly have a hard time these days. I don’t just mean guitarists, I mean instrumentalists in general. In Spain we’re not too well-considered. This isn’t Germany or France, who’s kidding who, so anything that supports something like this project is welcome. We all know more musical education and a higher cultural level are needed.
You don’t seem to sound so experimental here as you used to.
It’s perhaps a kind of return to the past. To the essence of who I was when I began to play guitar. It’s true enough that flamenco was extremely orthodox, like “play this and don’t play those notes because that’s how so-and-so did it, period”. That’s why when I started out I had to get out of that dynamic, it was a little stifling. In fact, if you look at my early compositions for Enrique Morente, on his Lorca record for example, you can see the most orthodox people would have a fit. But it was what I needed and felt at that time. It was flamenco of course, but from my own personal vision coming out of me. Now it’s changed, but always sincere.
Can you tell when an artist is forcing or feigning originality?
You know it immediately. Because truth gives strength, it goes much further. There are people who think something is original by virtue of simply doing something new, but in the end it’s contrived and artificial. And that so-called originality that isn’t even based on knowledge, is repellent to me.
At this point in my life I was looking for the most traditional sort of flamenco, and that’s all. And look, if it comes out spontaneously, all the better. Then, you begin to notice things on the record you never realized before, and which are part of that flamenco naturalness, they come out because they are based on the code we’ve assimilated and quickly come to the surface if we are respectful of what we were taught in our youth.
Although, originality sells more…
The aesthetic patterns of today’s flamenco are different, and often they contradict flamenco itself. Today’s record companies for example want singers to have a certain image, tall, blond, designer hair, no belly…with codes like that, Fernanda and Bernarda would surely never have been professional artists. Can you imagine? Well, that’s how it is these days….
“Today’s record companies for example want singers to have a certain image, tall, blond, designer hair, no belly…with codes like that, Fernanda and Bernarda would surely never have been professional artists”.
The bulería “El Vino de la Herida” almost burns with just naming it.
That’s the idea. This record is based on two fundamental pillars, two presences: my wife and my son. They’re the ones who heal the wounds, and if in that bulería the title is wrenching, you can in part understand why.
Not to mention the title of the siguiriya “La Hora sin Remedio”.
Siguiriyas is death. It announces something apocalyptical, and it’s in the title, the hour of death. Something as natural as life. But in today’s world the negative things in life are not acknowledged, suffering is hidden. And we live with it, and we all know it exists. But modern society’s orientation is to avoid so much as the existence of anything bad. It’s an artificial fictitious prudishness. Siguiriyas is the authentic apocalypse, andit has to go all the way.
Where was the “Portalillo del Zapatero” located?
On my street in Huelva, on the corner. It’s another indication of my return to the roots, the atmosphere I experienced in the street.
Is flamenco still being lived in the street?
Hardly at all any more. Maybe in Jerez…but not even there…it’s a shame. Times change.
There are two soleá pieces.
Yes, but they have nothing to do with each other. The first one is “Agua Encendida”, which is my son. Just like that.
The second one is a traditional soleá from start to finish, but with a more contemporary sound. And I say traditional from beginning to end because, although my sound and technique are modern, I don’t speed up at the end the way people are doing lately. I end in a sedate fashion, in keeping with the rest of the piece.
“No one is going to sing nanas better than my mother, because what my mother feels when she sings, that’s a kind of truth that is older than cante. And it comes from having given birth”
The piece “Sube la Marea” doesn’t have much to do with bulerías either, it’s much more rhythmic than the first one you mentioned earlier.
And the title recalls what I was saying about my beginnings. In Huelva, my life was always very involved with the sea. If the wind was blowing from one direction or another, if it was high or low tide. It’s a look back at that time.
Your mother sings it.
Yes. I could have gotten a professional singer to sing the nana, it’s fashionable right now. But I don’t think anyone is going to do it better than my mother, because what my mother feels when she sings, that’s a kind of truth that is older than cante. And it comes from having given birth.
Although I must say, the collaborations are fabulous.
I really like to surround myself with people who have something to say, obviously. Susi is very flamenco and I think she is underestimated. She should be much higher up. José Mercé is there because we go way back. Also, I just recently collaborated on his record “Ruido”.
And precisely José Valencia is a singer who’s been quite talked-about at the Bienal, and he’s got all it takes, everything everything you need to be a star.
Who were you thinking of in “Nos Habitan y se Van [they live inside us and they go away]?
Well, I don’t exactly know, but they exist. They are beings, entities or things that made the rondeña, which is why has that title, come together in two or three days. You see, this record kept getting put on the back burner for a variety of family reasons, then picking it up again, and letting it go…some pieces took months and months, but that rondeña, came out in one sitting, just like that.
Four years ago I remember being struck by something you said about the guitarist’s loneliness.
I still think that to be a guitarist you have to be prepared to put up with a lot of loneliness. To go into a room hours and hours every day and hardly see anyone… And then to go out and do it and the people to like it…that’s something else.
It used to seem that wouldn’t happen. I used to wonder if what I do, they just didn’t understand, or they didn’t like it. Now I think I know but even so….you can be sure that success isn’t going to catch me resting on my laurals, not at my age. Someone once said that success and failure are both impostors. And when someone thinks they’re irreplaceable, they’ve got a real problem.
Getting back to your family, what you were saying about your record…you wanted your son to play?
I’d like him to know about music, to see what all this is about. It would even make him a better person. But no, I wouldn’t like him to become a professional guitarist. This is a thankless job, very hard, a lot of sacrifice. There are moments of joy when suddenly you come upon a melody, a formula… But you also miss out on a lot. He’ll do whatever he wants, but I’m not going to do anything to make him be a guitarist.
“The tip of the flamenco iceberg is in the creators, and that’s what attracts me. A guy who works in an office doesn’t care, but I do. You have to compose and search”.
I bet you’ve got something big planned for the future.
It’s still early. For now, I want to prepare the live performance of the record with a great deal of care, work it, and we’ll see. It has to be studied.
But I still think it’s unfair that producers, guitarists and composers like yourself, doing at least half the work on these projects, then you don’t get the same recognition as the singers. I’m sure this record won’t bring you the same recognition as other artists for whom you’ve composed or accompanied.
Because that’s the way flamenco is set up. It’s something I’m not even thinking about right now. The composer doesn’t really have a high profile yet. And add to this the poor musical preparation in this country. In the world of classical music they have it all figured out: I go to see a Verdi opera sung by Plácido Domingo. The interpreter, the work and the composer have a pre-established equilibrium everyone accepts. In flamenco the figure of the composer is new.
It’s also that we come from a tradition in which popular verses are the norm, pre-existing formulas, mostly anonymous, so the figure of the composer doesn’t even come up. But I don’t care. The tip of the flamenco iceberg is in the creators, and that’s what attracts me. A guy who works in an office doesn’t care, but I do. You have to compose and search.
Would it be nice to continue on stage forever?
I hadn’t thought about it, but I wouldn’t want that at any price. If I’m in good enough condition to offer quality, yes, that would be fine. But I don’t believe in going on stage without having minimum quality, no matter who I am. If I’m not good enough to play, I’ll stay in the fiestas with my friends.
Agua encendida – Ficha disco venta on-line