Interview: Pablo San Nicasio
Photos: Rafael Manjavacas
“arteSano” because it's honest, straightforward art.
A wide-reaching singer with a huge potential still to be imagined, almost invented, Miguel Poveda has gotten back to recording flamenco after his flirtation with lyrical Spanish song. With someone of this stature, any new product makes headlines, and good ones considering he’s working in the area where he first triumphed. Poveda can sing whatever he wants, it will always be good, but flamenco was the trampoline that launched him into an orbit he manages better than anyone. With all the promotional pressurehe’s under, but also with the burning desire to again make contact with flamenco fans, we had a conversation with the biggest figure of current flamenco singing. Poveda is back, and better than ever.
In 2009 you spoke of a future anthology of cante in two recordings, thirteen cantes and a double CD. Here, with arteSano, we have the first part of that promise fulfilled, but not the second.
This isn’t the anthology I have in mind. And in any case, it would presumptuous on my part to do it now. That will come when I’m older. And more than an anthology, I mean it to be more didactic than anthological. Something to draw people into flamenco.
There are people who believe you arouse interest in flamenco via pop songs.
For me, it’s the opposite, it draws me away from flamenco. Unless it’s very well done, and not everyone does it well. It’s possible there might be some instances where that is so. I myself got into flamenco listening to pseudo flamenco and lyrical Spanish songs, that isn’t really flamenco.
To enter into the world of orthodox flamenco, you have to have quite a large toolbox full of feeling, right here [he points to his chest]. And a burning desire to delve into it.
ArteSano, why do you say it’s a crafted work, or allude to the health of the genre?
“ArteSano” because that’s what it is, a carefully crafted piece of work. We’re lucky enough to have studios and fabulous resources at our disposal to be able to do prepare everything meticulously.
But that could be taken to mean this is the exact opposite of being authentic or worthy.
Of course…the place I want to go, the thing is we’re often at the mercy of the machines, but not in this case. We did some things live, and the things we did in the studio are real. With machines at the service of flamenco, not as creators. That led to many details that favored the work.
It’s also arte-Sano (healthy art) because the guitar is very important in the whole recording. And the guitar is the most artisan instrument we have in flamenco. We’ve got guitarists of all ages and aesthetics. And not only in guitar, but also the percussion.
And it’s arte-Sano because there are minor imperfections as happens with anything crafted by human beings. ArteSano because it’s honest, straightforward art.
How would you evaluate the health of flamenco?
It’s in good health because there’s a rich younger generation coming up, and if we support them the way they deserve, they can bring a great deal of joy and make everything come out right. There’s Jesús Méndez, Rafael de Utrera, José Valencia, Kiko Peña, Londro…and the younger ones like Argentina, Arcángel, Estrella Morente, Marina Heredia…in spite of the fact that we’ve lost many of the greats, Fernanda and Bernarda, Chano, Enrique Morente, Paquera…in dance, there’s another batch of great artists coming up.
And in guitar, of course, we’re lucky enough to have Paco de Lucía and Manolo Sanlúcar who’s doing a terrific job of teaching and studying, Vicente Amigo…
“We did some things live, and the ones we did in the studio are real. With machines at the service of flamenco, not as creators. That led to many details that favored the work”
I was surprised not to see Vicente Amigo here, a question of space I suppose.
Yes, there’ll be time for that. And not only Vicente, but also Alfredo Lagos, I love how he accompanies, Manolo Franco as well…
You mentioned young singers, some of whom you’ve helped out, and other who are on their way, such as Jesús Méndez, right?
I’d love that, he’s one of my favorites, I’m his number one fan! It couldn’t be any other way. The other day he said something about this in a newspaper, and look, whenever he wants.
Now that nobody’s listening, there’s an obvious question…having your own record company, how come…?
Financially, a disaster…[laughter]
Haven’t you wanted to follow the route of so many artists who produce their own work? It’s clear you’re not exactly a financial disaster.
I’ve always had an aversion to multinationals. In fact, I was already making my record of lyrical Spanish music when Universal approached me, with the recording already underway. I knew they wanted me on board, so we sat down and talked. Like I say, I was reluctant, but they did such a good job, it made me feel obligated to them. But you can be sure that without the work they did, this record wouldn’t have reached so many people, and this one is flamenco. For this reason I’m grateful to them for having done something that had a positive effect on flamenco.
My label helps other singers who don’t have the chance of a large record company doing that work for them, but you never know, I might record something of my own, but this time it worked out differently.
Thirteen cantes. You always say that’s your lucky number.
I was born February 13th at 1:00pm, the thirteenth hour.
Paco de Lucía in the credits…how did that come about?
I wanted to have a lot of guitarists for my return to flamenco, in recording that is, because I never stopped doing flamenco recitals, and after the good reception of the lyrical album, I felt the need to record flamenco with as much dignity as possible, and with the best arsenal. Of course I could have done it without Paco de Lucía, but the thing is, he’s the genius, and my friend Rafa had his contact. The possibility was there. We’d already had dinner with him, I didn’t want to ask anything of him, but he immediately agreed, it was a dream come true.
He also likes Spanish lyrical song and was involved in some projects with it.
Yes yes, he told me he liked the lyrical recording and that it was a brave thing to do. That great singers throughout history had done similar things, but it was necessary to bring it back, because there is still some prejudice. It’s true he has something planned in that line, it’s bound to be great.
And it was a real dream to have Paco de Lucía play, I liked the fact that he played alegrías. He always gets asked to collaborate with bulerías, but I love his feel for alegrías. He took it very seriously, he told me to send him the outline with plenty of time so he could make new variations and make the whole thing sound as good as possible.
“Paco de Lucía told me he liked the lyrical recording and that it was a brave thing to do. That great singers throughout history had done similar things, but it was necessary to bring it back, because there is still some prejudice”.
And it’s true, there’s a rounder sound, not so much virtuosity, more melodic.
You noticed it too…there are things that seem easy, but no….
The malagueña by Manolo Sanlúcar is “Mundo y Formasde Manolo Sanlúcar”.
That was the first thing I recorded on the whole record. Manolo asked me to collaborate on his anthology, and I recorded two malagueñas and one abandolao with the guitar of Manolo Franco. The maestro felt that since there were two malagueñas, we could put two kinds of guitar accompaniment, one traditional and one more contemporary. And he said “I have dared to accompany you”…what humility! He sent me his accompaniment, very complex, and it took several listenings to absorb it. In the end he told me he wasn’t paying me, but the work belonged to me, so it was very clear it would be for my record.
I think Isidro is the true guitar novelty on the recording.
He’d been ten years without accompanying anyone on a recording. And you can’t imagine what Bolita and me had to go through to convince him. But we finally sucked him him…[laughter]
Jesús Guerrero also participates.
He’s there, and god only knows where he’ll be in the future if he keeps up like this. I met him at Manuel Betanzos’ school, a dancer who has a school in Triana. We became friends and he asked me if I could sing for the student show at the end of the course. I didn’t tell anyone, and I sang for the girls.
What a treat for them!
My sister had already told me about him, and I saw him play, I liked his sound very much. Then later on I saw him with Encarnita Anillo, and was still more impressed. He debuted with me in Carmen Linares’ festival, the one for the Comisiones Obreras party. I just told him two things and he got it from the first moment.
The guy has a very respectful way of playing, he’s a good student of flamenco.
What do you look for in a guitarist?
Well, the concept of accompaniment has to be clear. And it’s not a question of playing second fiddle, or maybe it is, but I don’t see it like that. If the person accompanying is taking a back seat, he’s really on top. If I do something with the singing, the other one can’t be playing Swan Lake at full throttle. Many guitarists think that playing quietly is being inferior, but that isn’t so.
“If the person accompanying is taking a back seat, he’s really on top. If I do something with the singing, the other one can’t be playing Swan Lake at full throttle. Many guitarists think that playing quietly is being inferior, but that isn’t so”.
That’s what Juan Habichuela always says.
Look at that, and he’s a sweetheart. He’s a master guitarist, and he’s been an accompanist all his life. Today, all the world sees him as an absolute maestro, and he never made a solo recording.
He’s the guitarist you have to study if you want to know how to accompany. Afterwards, you can play your best variations, and then…I can’t concentrate with big long falsetas, or ones that aren’t in line with what I’m singing.
Getting back to the record, in the bulerías you talk about the recession.
You can do that kind of thing in bulerías. Kidding around sort of defuses this kind of drama, because the recession is a drama. And Cádiz is great for that. It’s an old verse, but I recorded it now.
What things did you write for arteSano?
The minera for Pencho Cros, and the soleá apolá…
Isn’t that the one about Charamusco?
Yes, but with my own verse. And also with a Pepe Marchena twist. I tried to explain my concept of cante via the verse, it brings different aesthetics together, all equally valid in my opinion.
“People who are greater followers of flamenco than me, aren’t the ones who speak badly about me, that’s clear”.
You don’t indulge in complete creation yet?
It would really be brazen of me to create something new. I haven’t created any cante or musical form…and I’d like to, but it’s easier said than done. I’m not going to force the issue. My creative work will come if it comes. And if not, in the end I’ll say that my work has been that of singing other people’s things the best I knew, and with the permission of the creators, I brought it into the area of my abilities and concepts of cante. Which happens to be very flamenco, creating on the fly, improvising on stage…but creating, not yet.
Years ago you said you’d “been a bit of a lowlife now and again in order to be able to learn”. Is that really still necessary in flamenco today? And mind you, I don’t disapprove, I just want to know how you managed to get right into the heat of the kitchen of the Santiago neighborhood of Jerez, being Catalonian and a non-gypsy.
I don’t want to encourage anyone to do anything in order to be flamenco. That’s not what it’s about. It’s true the nightlife helped me, and for example, hanging out with Luis el Zambo for hours on end, getting drunk, not only in the literal sense, but in the sense of drunk with singing and fiesta, to know what it felt like. Everything in moderation. To know flamenco first-hand is something that happens at night, night-time gets you on the right track. But with caution, mind you. I’m no longer up for that, I have to be in top form to go out on stage. I can’t let myself get carried away. But I also maintain it’s not bad to stay up all night and be a lowlife once in a while. And not just in Jerez. In Lebrija, Utrera, wherever…
“To know flamenco first-hand is something that happens at night, night-time gets you on the right track. But with caution, mind you. I’m no longer up for that, I have to be in top form to go out on stage”.
A moment ago you hinted at fallen idols that maybe you discovered at night.
No, at night, after two drinks, everyone loves you. I’ve noticed how idols of mine fell in the sense of how they treated me in the dressing-room. Negative energy, not supportive of young people. Like it or not, it’s what they do. But mind you, there are many I don’t like, and I could give you a long list, but I don’t take it to the extreme.
Maybe it’s because of your business activity, as if you were taking work from them.
But what work can I take from anyone if there isn’t any? The thing is, if I depended on a town hall or a mayor, I would have noticed the recession long ago. But I’m lucky enough to be sought-after somewhere or other. And I take my chances in theaters, bull-rings, etc…and it’s risky. That’s what there is. And people who are greater followers of flamenco than me, aren’t the ones who speak badly about me, that’s clear.