Flamenco entrevistas »

Interview with Juan Manuel Cañizares. New CD 'Cuerdas del alma'

"Being able to play my music is all I need to be happy"
January 10, 2011
Interview by: Pablo San Nicasio Ramos
Photos: Amancio Guillén

He’s one of the few guitarists no one has doubts about when it comes to evaluating his ability to always contribute something new.  The kind who, whenever they bring out a new recording, you have to call him immediately to make a statement about the work.  You have to feed his numerous admirers who are hanging on his every note in search of ways to continue moving flamenco guitar into the future.

Juan Manuel Cañizares is in the spotlight again with “Cuerdas del Alma”, a return to flamenco after an extremely successful flirtation with the music of Albénez, rediscovering his unusual picado and extreme compás, always giving priority to the concept.  This is no circus show, but there’s plenty of magic.


How did you experience with classical music turn out?
I learned a lot, and it left a good taste.  They gave me a prize, and the whole thing was personally very rewarding.  It was three years of hard work, creating guitar versions of everything, really tough.  But in any case, I don’t think my contact with those composers is finished.  They are still there for the future, because you learn a lot from them and it honors our culture.

Yes, but that record was almost an obligatory return.
Flamenco is always something that has been with me from the very beginning, just two more years and it will be forty years in flamenco…I can’t believe it!  I’m from Sabadell, but my family was from Málaga and my Catalonian ambience was always flamenco, so this record is something logical and natural.  This one, and every one of them looks to flamenco.  Your beginnings are always with you.

Your relationship accompanying singers and dancers is little known, you’ve always been seen as a soloist.
Well, I spent many hours and years accompanying flamenco singing and dancing in tablaos.  My father singing at home got me going, and all the tapes, and the neighbors, it was like a little Andalusia in the north, and look, it wasn’t only me, many flamenco stars everyone knows have come out of that atmosphere.

It’s complex record guitar-wise, but simple as far as the resources you had at your disposal.
Yes, it’s a work with few elements.  To make a record of traditional guitar you don’t need more.  I tried to follow the concepts of guitar records and formats used in the nineteen-seventies.  Not only falsetas, but a global concept.  It’s a recording that began with many pieces, but after making a selection, we ended up with the nine you now see.  It was a selection based on the ethics of flamenco music.  That’s why some things were left out, especially anything that didn’t sound flamenco, that was my goal.

But there’s even a waltz…
Yes, well, that’s probably the least flamenco piece.  Although it has a more Andalusian part in which I try for another kind of sound, perhaps more experimental.  The ballad dedicated to my wife is also in that line, these are the exceptions.

There are suggestive titles like “Añorando el Presente” (nostalgia for the present).
The thing is, sometime you’re playing and you don’t stop to think what you’re doing at that precise moment.  When I play this piece, it happens several times.  And I don’t mean to say I got lost, just that I wanted to think about my reality and what was happening in that moment.

I’ve always thought the best thing is let yourself get carried away, not do so much analyzing, that would be like “going against nature”.  But playing this, it went even further…

After years of playing I’ve come to realize that a good performance is the result of a formula that goes something like this: potential minus interference.  In other words, do everything you can, removing those preconceived ideas that analyze the difficult passages…so much analysis eliminates a lot of basic feeling.  I think anything that gets in the way of what your body and hands want to do should be eliminated.

“After years of playing I’ve come to realize that a good performance is the result of a formula that goes something like this: potential minus interference”. 

Well, it’s not easy to play the way you do on the record.  I think it’s noteworthy because even someone who knows nothing about guitar can tell…there are some killer passages.
I wasn’t trying to get points by playing difficult material, it came out like that, that’s all.  I don’t think about the guitar when I compose or play.  I think of the idea.  I have a concept and I go for it.  If I have to be in a certain position on the guitar, I stay there for a while because the concept needs it, not because it’s easier or more difficult.

Have you ever thought about how guitarists manage old age?  I mean, to maintain your current level…
No, I haven’t thought about it, but it’s no mystery, you study all you can and that’s it.  You go as far as you can.  And problems don’t necessarily come with age, sometimes you file your nails wrong, and maybe you’re young, you’re at the peak and you can’t play the notes because your nails are too short.

Your notes would suffer.
Especially in the strums, for picados I use less nail than you think, it’s no big deal.

You open with “Cuerdas del Alma”.
It’s a rumba that tries to evoke the things that happen to us and that make the strings sound inside each one of us.  Sometimes a happy event catches you at the wrong moment, other times you’re fine and something bad happens that triggers another mentality in you.  The strings of our soul are what respond to outside stimuli.

Two parts, A and B, easy and suave, like this moment in my life right now.  Mi idea was to play and leave it at that.

The bulería seems like pure Jerez to me, with Capullo himself singing right in your guitar.
That was also my idea.  Return to the roots, and the references.  Where we all owe so much.  Flamenco is known for drunken parties and anarchy, but I don’t think it’s like that.  I agree with Unamuno when he says that freedom isn’t the leaves or the foliage that grows freely.  Freedom is the root that anchors us in the most positive sense and makes us have a specific character.  Bulerías can be extremely creative and still be bulería, and that was what I was looking for.

”I agree with Unamuno when he says that freedom isn’t the leaves or the foliage that grows freely.  Freedom is the root that anchors us in the most positive sense and makes us have a specific character”.

You’ve opened your most recent concerts with the last piece on the record, the title theme…
Exactly, it’s like I said, I wanted the record to be a concept.  And the album opens with the rumba which begins in minor key and ends with this fantasy also in minor.  In concert it changes a bit, but yes, basically it’s the same philosophy.

The waltz doesn’t have much to do with the one Niño Miguel created years ago.
No, it’s something else.  That was wonderful, this is more Andalusian music in general, not even pure flamenco.  That piece of Niño Miguel’s was great.

Were you tempted to add cante?
No, because it’s something that had nothing to do with this record.  Maybe in the future I’ll include vocals with some of the work.  Certainly here there was no place for them here.  I suppose some people with miss it, but I think it wasn’t appropriate at this time, it’s no big deal.

And also some Albéniz influence in some of the compositions, no?  Like in the way you play the low strings, it’s reminiscent of Iberia.
Yes, it’s true.  It’s like a friend of mine says, “when it rains, you always get wet”, and if you have a raincoat, you end up stepping in a puddle. Of course there’s something of Albéniz in my guitar, it’s inevitable.

Is it hard to keep from being type-cast as Paco de Lucía’s second guitar?  They didn’t even call Tomatito when Camarón died, everyone assumed they were inseparable.

I know what you mean, but it’s worth it in the long run.  In any case, I believe in the value of one’s own work.  And each person has to show what he or she can do.  Besides, being with Paco de Lucía is always a boost and helps you become known.  It’s a big responsibility, but it forces you to improve.

This is a world in which creative honesty is valued, just look at Tomatito’s career, and all the people who have worked in the shadow of great talents.  He demonstrated himself and showed the whole world that not only could he accompany the best, but he could also play alone at a very high level.

All the same, what I mean is it helps to have a good showcase, but it doesn’t make that much of a difference in the real world, because they’re not going to call you and tell you how great you are just like that, it’s a question of lots of hard work and constancy.

Well, if they don’t call you, I don’t know who…

It’s really important to be consistent.  And to know how to recognize your strong points and weak points…and hope inspiration comes knocking while you’re working.  No, no one here tells you how great you are, they call and roll out the rug.

And you’re another one, like Paco de Lucía, you kill yourself touring, and with the way you demand so much of yourself with the guitar, I don’t know how you do it.
Yes, three days ago I was in Portugal and the next day I played in Vic, just think!  Two hours of sleep I got…in the end it’s pure adrenaline you’re working on.

And where do you want the adrenaline to take you in the future?
I want to keep playing my music, that’s the primary goal.  That’s all I need to be happy.

Juan Manuel Cañizares
"Cuerdas del alma"