Interview: Silvia Cruz Lapeña
Photos: Diego Gallardo
“It?s scary singing Antonio Mairena”
Pedro Cintas assures us that despite having won the Antonio Mairena prize in 2010, he feels strong but not mature as a singer. This man from Extremadura has stuck to classic cante to make his record “Papeles Íntimos” (La Droguería Music, 2013), in which he interprets, with a restrained and well-formed voice, some verses of Mairena’s that have never before been recorded, or very seldom heard, and which were supplied by the maestro’s nephew, Antonio Cruz. With this work, Cintas embarks on a journey in which he demonstrates he is able to be a follower of Mairena without copying him. One thing however, don’t expect to find any diminutives of “flamenco” on this record: the singer himself unabashedly describes it as a work created for a “select minority”.
How does it feel to be singing the cante of maestro Mairena after having won the prize that bears his name?
It’s not easy. In addition to the responsibility of singing his legacy, trying as much as possible not to destroy his interpretation, you have to consider that flamenco fans and followers of Mairena are going to look at Papeles Íntimos with a magnifying glass to take it apart bit by bit and have a field day with the mistakes while overlooking the good things. It’s a risk we took on from the very beginning. This is no time to do anything half-baked.
How do you see yourself vocally, artistically…you seem mature on this record…what do you think?
I feel strong. Years ago I began managing not to wear out my voice, and to avoid having a bad time from singing too strong. It’s basic when you get up in front of a paying audience, people who came to hear a complete recital of seven or eight cantes. Maturity is something else. I feel myself advancing, but at 36 you’re not really a mature singer. You can still tell I’m a young guy. With each passing day I feel more like hearing myself at 60.
Those never-before-heard verses…don’t you feel a little something special when you sing them?
It’s scary singing Antonio, but we had it clear from the outset: it wasn’t a question of copying Mairena, which is what most interpreters in this line have always done, but rather to try get inside his head and think like him. Many singers breathe in a certain place because that’s how Mairena did it, but that’s not it. I’m Pedro Cintas and I’m not here to outdo Mairena, among other things, because that’s simply not within anyone’s reach.
In what forms do you feel the most comfortable?
Siguiriya is my strong point, but with romance I’ve discovered a cante that is equally fulfilling. In soleá and tonás I also feel at home. And in cantiñas, I feel more relaxed all the time.
What’s very nice, beautiful, is the romance del Conde Arnaldos. What’s your favorite piece, the one you’d give someone to “sell” the recording?
Probably the romance, it represents the investigative intent of the record. The “Infante Arnaldos” comes from the romance tradition of the sixteenth century, and it came into the hands of Antonio in Segovia in 1980 thanks to philologist Diego Catalán who gave him a copy just minutes before he went on stage. Mairena sang it that night and planned to record it on “El Calor de Mis Recuerdos”, but after Catalán gave it to him, Mairena discovered there were unresolved issues and disputes among investigators regarding contamination and other theories. Antonio felt used and decided not to record it. So each of the cantes on this record has its own story, so it’s not that important that some verses may never have been recorded before.
How did it feel in live performance?
The record was presented in Mairena del Alcor last March, and a few weeks later in Zamora, a place where they really know how to appreciate cante, and where Mairena is the absolute reference. There were good reviews in both places. But now I’m involved in the presentation for Madrid. I want to do several dates in the capital where I have a lot of fans. It’s the acid test and I’m nervous about it.
You’ve won the “Silla de Oro”, the “Uva de Oro”, the National Prize for Jaleos Extremeños and Cantes Generales Porrina de Badajoz…we could go on with another 31 prizes. Do you get used to winning this kind of thing?
When I won in Mairena, I left competitions and set other goals for myself, but I want to take advantage of my experience to advise people who are starting out. You have to make the distinction, contests like that of Mairena give you artistic prestige more than economic gain, and always give you a boost. But then there are other contests, the immense majority, that just bring in a little money if you win. Those competitions are organized by flamenco peñas to insure regular entertainment; that way they have four singers every Friday and Saturday for the three or four months the contest lasts, the bar does great business, the local newspaper has something to report on and all for the minuscule prize of maybe 500 euros. The worst of it is after all the run-around, they almost always end up giving the prize to some regular contest participant who then performs free at the festival. It’s sad they take advantage of kids starting out like that. I’ve gone through it myself.
To what do you aspire with this record? What are your hopes for it?
With this record I hope to grow and have work. This is one of the first steps in a career I hope will be long. My entire life is devoted to cante, it’s how I make a living and I want it to continue like that.
You must be aware this record isn’t for everyone, it’s not “lite” flamenco, and it seems that was the idea from the very beginning. It’s clear both you and the producer wanted to keep it traditional. What was the objective, what are you trying to communicate with this focus?
My producer doesn’t make records of “flamenkito”. Chemi López has turned down projects with young singers who at first seemed to be doing straight flamenco but then, even after they were in the studio, suddenly launched into lightweight tangos, bulerías and alegrías songs, not even cante. That’s why I called him, because he knows flamenco is music for a discerning minority, and not everything goes. And Papeles Íntimos is for that minority. I know it’s going to be ten times as hard, but look, those people who years ago were telling us flamenco was universal, have all seen their downfall. Some of Camarón and Paco might be universal, or Miguel Poveda’s lyrical songs. If you don’t think so, just ask Juan Villar, you couldn’t sing better than him and with more taste, ask him if flamenco is universal. So our objective was, is and continues to be cante, period. Then maybe they like me, or maybe they don’t, but that’s another story.