Interview: Pablo San Nicasio Ramos
Future projects? I'm happy if I can just get it together each time on stage.
Juan José Heredia, “Niño Josele”, was in especially good spirits when he received us. He felt like talking and was full of energy. He was willing to talk about everything, no matter how difficult a topic might be.
The guitarist from the Pescadería neighborhood of Almería is returning to the flamenco fold with few external elements. With the era of tours and concerts with the big names behind him, his guitar is looking back to the roots. His own people asked for this and, he admits, he needed it too.
And what’s that about your son playing the piano? Did you have him listen to Bill Evans instead of Paco de Lucía?
That’s how it goes. He’s thirteen, about to enter the conservatory. Some time back I took him to my neighborhood, the Pescadería, and after that he started wanting to play the guitar. He saw that all the kids there did something with music. But after a while we saw the guitar was just a passing fad for him, despite the fact that he learned quickly and had ability. He has a very good ear.
At home we’ve always listened to Morente, Caracol, Pat Metheny, opera…and further down the line, I stared working with Chick Corea. So some really good piano was being heard in my house, and lots of it. The boy started to listen to it, and that was what he wanted to do. So he’s still at it. I let him do what he wants, but at the same time I tell him how difficult this kind of work is.
Your seventh record just came out, “El Mar de mi Ventana”. That’s a lot of recordings for your age, you’re really in the fast lane.
Perhaps, and it’s not only that. I’m on a lot of recordings as collaborator. I’ve been in many projects over the years. And look, the best part is the human contact with those incredible musicians, being friends with them, for example Calamaro, with whom I still have a fabulous relationship.
A controversial person, now he’s almost becoming a bullfighter.
I don’t know anything about bullfighting, I like being a bullfighter of life [laughter], but I don’t know anything about it, so I don’t talk to him about those things. But I’d have to say it’s not really clear I know anything about flamenco either.
Yeah, sure, I know the forms of course. Ok, but you sit down and study them, like when I was the official guitarist of the peña El Taranto in Almería at thirteen, know what I mean? I thought I was the king of the world. But one year later a singer made me stop playing and told me I didn’t know how to accompany, I don’t remember what cante it was. Just think what a blow to my ego…I went home with different ideas on the whole thing. But that guy was right, I didn’t have a clue and had to go back to square one. My father would show me how to place my fingers and all, and that’s where I’m at, a deeply serious commitment. And I’m convinced I still haven’t got this thing under control. I listened to Caracol, to Niña de los Peines…everyone…they’re light-years from us.
“A singer made me stop playing and told me I didn’t know how to accompany, I don’t remember what cante it was. Just think what a blow to my ego…I went home with different ideas on the whole thing. But that guy was right”.
Fair enough, but to say you don’t know anything…
If you’re dedicated to it, you can understand it better, but it won’t be until the end of your life, if you live in flamenco day in and day out. Paco de Lucía and Morente say it too, that they don’t know anything. Look, to compose a minera or a soleá, I rehash it a thousand times, I record it again and again…and I don’t know if it’s good or not, I myself am aware of just how little I know. By the same token I prefer being lost to thinking I know something, which would be a complete farce.
You’ve drifted in and out of that “flamenco life” you say you don’t always understand, maybe you’re saturated.
Well, I’ve tested other waters in order to apply things to what I do. Miles Davis did flamenco to take it to his own territory. From Bill Evans’ recording I took pieces of his to set to flamenco compás and reach musical conclusions. I need information from outside in order to apply it to flamenco. Music is a sea I observe from my window, which is where the name of the record comes from. And then flamenco is a river, something smaller, where I put the fish I caught elsewhere.
One can conclude that this record took less time than, for example, “Española”, which is much more jazz. Now you must have had things more clear.
Yes, I think so. Generally speaking, I try not to belabor the issue when I make records because ideas have to be fresh, and if not, don’t bother to record. It took no more than three months to make this record. If I set out to make a record three years from now, I’d never get it together.
The same time “Española” came out, “La Venta del Alma” was also released, one great flamenco record that hardly made a ripple, and I don’t think that’s right, what do you think?
Well, the fact is I don’t worry too much about that. Maybe it was unfair, but I had to choose, publish or not publish. Everything was very fast. I’d done “Española”, but during the composing some very flamenco things were coming out that couldn’t be forgotten. I told the record company, and they agreed to bring out everything, just think, twenty-five pieces. But they gave priority to “Española”, that was the deal. On “La Venta del Alma” there’s nothing that had been recorded before, it’s all live performance in the rough. And that’s why I like it, it’s more a guitarist’s recording than anything else.
So you’re one of these guitarists capable of thinking of two things at once…
[Laughter]. Yeah, like women they say. It’s possible. I remember during the “Harlem nights in the Pescadería”, which is how me and my cousin used to call the musical encounters at my house, he always wanted to show me flamenco stuff, and I wanted to show him jazz and classical music…and all these ideas were churning in our heads. That, and then too Tomatito’s father who played clarinet in the municipal band and was a neighbor would show me all kinds of stuff. That trains your ear and opens you up, like it or not.
I guess part of your secret is the added experience of being able to interact with people of all levels and genres.
Yes, because you even learn from inferior artists. At the Peña El Taranto I played for a lot of people, but that was long before. During my Mallorca period. I’m talking about my childhood and adolescence. I remember in Palma, my father had some dance groups and he sent them around to different places. He had a bit of a name, so there were gigs all over the island. And he took advantage of that by making it an apprenticeship for me. He wanted me to go around with him to play for the dancers, but day after day I was playing for people who barely had compás, very deficient. And with no singer!! I had to play the melody of the voice on guitar, and out of compás in order to follow the dancers. Some apprenticeship that was, you can imagine! Of course on Sunday all my father’s groups got together in the bullring, and that was a little better because there were some good artists.
So you don’t only learn by being with maestros or geniuses. If it hadn’t been for that, I might not have taken the route I eventually took.
“There I was in the middle, I couldn’t believe it, with everything they know, and they reached the conclusion that they just weren’t sure. So imagine the scene…sitting there watching Paco on the sofa playing for Morente while they debated”.
And now, nobody hears or sees us. Why do you think Paco de Lucía and Enrique Morente never recorded together?
Look, it’s no secret. Circumstances were not in their favor. And the person telling you this worked with both of them separately, and I spent time with them, the three of us in a recording studio. I think you could say I know them well and can offer an opinion. I met Paco during the recording of “El Pequeño Reloj”. Then we became better acquainted during rehearsals for the live performances of that record.
He and Enrique talked a lot about flamenco. One afternoon the three of us were discussing something about Enrique’s record, about whether this guitar of Manolo de Huelva is here or there…and in the end it wasn’t clear who was right or wrong. And there I was in the middle, I couldn’t believe it, with everything they know and they reached the conclusion that they just didn’t know. So imagine the scene…sitting there watching Paco on the sofa playing for Morente while they debated.
You could have recorded the conversation with your phone or whatever…
I actually could have, but I didn’t dare make a sound…
I assume “El Mar de mi Ventana” will have a live revival at some point…how would you work that?
It takes a lot of good musicians. I’m looking for people I want to express this with. It’s a challenge to give it beauty and strength. So don’t ask me about upcoming records or projects for the future, because for now, I’ve got my hands full dealing with live performances. Like I say, I struggling to do something that sounds novel and fresh, and that has the same optimistic spirit as when I composed the material. The current situation doesn’t make for much optimism, but we’re not politicians and all we can do is make music and give people happiness to the extent of our abilities.
What sort of crisis does a guitarist normally have to face and which can be resolved?
Keeping an ear to the guitar. It’s hell sometimes listening to the instrument and thinking “…for god’s sake, the amount of time I have to devote to repeating and repeating…” Guitarists have to be strong and overcome fear and laziness. They have to really want to put countless hours of work into this, and never take time off. If you’re mentalized, you manage to deal with it, but it’s very hard.
Niño Josele & Mariscal en Formentera – Mediterrania