Interview: Manuel Moraga
New CD “Tierra”
“Art must move you on the inside and tell you things you already know”
A different presentation (the CD case is 6 inches tall), an unusual cover for flamenco and, most of all, an original musical concept. That’s “Tierra”, Vicente Amigo’s most recent work. Celtic references from a Córdoba man who’s infatuated with Rome. To put music to this “Tierra”, Vicente Amigo has had to do a lot of traveling.
The cover, the music…everything is reminiscent of earth. Moist earth to be exact.
You have to give a title to everything, even if it doesn’t seem necessary. But the meaning behind it is the act of approaching another world through music, and it’s the embrace of two cultures via two forms of expression, Celtic music and flamenco. It’s something I’d always wanted to do, but I didn’t have a clear vision until I met these musicians and saw they could adapt pieces I already had in the works. When I finally saw it clearly, I decided to take on this project and work with them. The record company had been asking me for something for a long time, but I just wasn’t ready and I didn’t want to force the issue…I wanted to wait until I was completely convinced, and there you have it. We got involved as much as we could.
This work is a big change from what you’ve been doing up to now, and not only because of the content, but also as far as the visual design, it’s not the classic image of the interpreter on the cover. I’d almost say the cover looks like it’s about herbal remedies.
[Laughter] That’s good, that’s really good… Hey, maybe there’s a market in health-food stores, the way things are now…those herbal things work.
But I mean like it’s all very natural, isn’t it?
Yes, the design created by Carlos Ruiz is very related to the musical content. We wanted everything to have coherence.
“The real landscape is the one that appears when you’re alone with the six strings”
I would imagine you were already familiar with Celtic music before getting involved in this project.
Not really. Well, a long time ago I collaborated with Carlos Núñez, but it wasn’t a kind of music I would listen to. And when I unexpectedly heard Knopfler I thought, this musician, this sound is something I can work with, for sure, it was clear to me from the first moment. So we got down to work in order to show the idea to Guy Fletcher (keyboardist with Dire Straits, and later a collaborator of Mark Knopfler) and he was immediately open to it all. And I was really surprised, I went to give Knopfler some of my records, and it turned out he already had things of mine. That was when I realized I’m older than Córdoba’s Roman bridge, and if I’m not known now, I never will be [laughter]
I don’t know if you’re aware that 40% of all prehistoric instruments were found in Ireland. That country has an incredible musical tradition, they breathe music. In fact the symbol of the country is a harp…and the harp also appears on Guinness beer now that I remember…
It doesn’t surprise me, you feel something profound and basic in the way these people play, very ancient, a tradition you breathe in as soon as you hear these musicians.
There’s rumba, tangos, bulerías… Are the flamenco forms you chose perhaps the ones that best lent themselves to this experience?
I looked for things that would be compatible with what I’d been hearing at that time, I had some ideas I’d been mulling over that needed to be developed, and then we were talking it over and decided for this work it was to be those pieces, although there were others. And from a rhythmic point of view, I didn’t mean for them to play flamenco, or anything of the sort. On the contrary. If you look at it, there’s very little hand-clapping on the record. I wanted them to play their own way, without falling into the things I’d always done. I wanted us to mix freely and see how it went. What was clear to me was it was going to sound interesting.
“I leave a margin for errors, but I’d rather do something good than just half-good”
Did you have to travel to put this work together? Was is necessary to feel the mist and see the landscape?
What we needed was the feeling, and a landscape always helps you pick up on these things, but the real landscape is what appears when you’re alone with the six strings. Your mind is the mirror in which you see yourself to create something of your own. It’s all descriptive music. All music lets you imagine whatever you want. I don’t want to dictate to people what they have to imagine when they listen to what I play. Maybe I was thinking of one thing, and the listener thinks of something else. I believe much art is expressing things that are inside of you. That’s what puts us all on the same page. I’ve had the experience of listening to music and saying to myself, “”yes, that’s how it is”.
You’ve recorded in London. What difference is there compared to recording in Spain as far as production quality, sound, etc.?
None I think. Personally I don’t think there’s any difference. When someone’s instrument sounds good, it sounds good in London, Pamplona, Valencia or Montalbán, which is a very pretty town down south. What’s true however is you do need certain facilities, a proper room…and each place is a whole new story, just as every instrument and every microphone is a new story. In the end you have to make the choices. And then there’s the mixing. You have to mix and decide how you want it to sound.
Are you very picky about recording, with the sound and all?
Yes, well I also leave a margin for errors, but I’d rather do something good than just half-good.
Are there any anecdotes about recording in London? Surely some beers went down…
We worked all day, following a system that seems right to me because it’s my own: deep concentration, not letting anything slip through the cracks if possible, but when it was over, of course we had our beers. And these people have good work habits, the recording was like in the old days, everyone playing together. Each one in his sound-room but playing at the same time, and that’s very interesting too because it’s not like playing with a click-track. It shows when you breathe a little slower, or push upwards or downwards. I really think it shows.
Are you aware many guitarists watch what you people do, the ones opening new paths, especially in technique or small details? Are you concerned about this, or are you more concerned with new ideas?
All guitarists, all musicians are worried about technique. There are basic established techniques, but then it’s very personal, because each guitarist has his own ways, it depends on the physical characteristics of your hands. But of course we’re all concerned about technique, so that each one can express what he’s trying for. And if you get better technique, you have a wider range of expression.
Nearly all the guitarists I know are quite obsessive. Do you ever stop being a guitarist? Like when you go on vacation? Are you able to stop thinking about guitar?
I don’t think so. Not guitarists nor any instrumentalist. It’s very hard to put the guitar aside, it’s a necessity. On vacation there’s time for everything, including getting bored. If you take two or three days too much vacation, the whole thing gets boring, you need your medium, your routine, it’s like something’s missing if you don’t have your guitar, even if it’s only to play it for five minutes, not to play a concert for myself, but just to see if something comes out, like a little musical soul-searching.
Are you still interested in the history of the art?
There was a time when I was more involved. Now I’ve got other things. I read some philosophy…spiritual things you often need.
Does that benefit your work?
What you learn in a book or in a conversation, helps you to live better at least, which is what we’re all trying to do I think…trying to focus our lives in order to be happier.
“I often retire to a place to be alone, or to believe that I’m alone, but in the end I’m with myself, which is precisely the problem”
I have the feeling Vicente Amigo is quite a mystic, and that this recording is in that line.
I think all artists have something of that. I delve into myself very much, and it’s hard for me to be outgoing and explain it.
Maybe that’s why one difficulty you have is bringing the music to live performance: getting into that mindset of spiritual introspection…is that hard for you?
When I have a performance I always try to go to another place. It takes concentration, you have to be calm. And it’s not always up to you.
It’s kind of odd: everyone goes to a Vicente Amigo recital, people fight to get in, and there you are looking for a way to get out…
Yes, that’s how it is. I try to leave that place and not think of where I am. But now what I need to do is learn the pieces inside and out to express them the way I want.
The video-clip of the first single was directed by an ex-minister of Culture, Ángeles González Sinde…
That family has a great deal of prestige in the world of cinema. We proposed the idea and she was all for it from the very start, for which I’m very grateful. And they really gave it a different feel compared to what had been done before and what is usually done, showing the guitarist playing the guitar. She proposed doing something about my day-to-day life, and I told her one of the things I like to do is go bike-riding. I’m not sportsman, but I do like the bike for a little ride, to get some fresh air and feel the city a little. And the idea came up to do it in Santiago de Compostela because of the Celtic thing, the road to Santiago, with the bicycle, bringing along the guitar. And that’s what we did. It’s also like a trip and it has to do with the record.
Is the pilgrimage to Santiago on your agenda?
Yes, I want to do it.
See how you’re a mystic?
It’s that I often retire to a place to be alone, or to believe that I’m alone, but in the end I’m with myself, which is precisely the problem [laughter]. What I’d really like to do is go away and not be with myself [laughter]. Lots of times you go out there to some town, or into the country and you say, “the problem is you brought him along again”, and it’s you [laughter].
Well, the road to Santiago is many kilometers, but then there’s the internal journey…
I feel like doing it, for the experience, to see what it does for me.
You once mentioned to me that you loved Tuscany. Now I see on this record there’s a piece titled “Rome”. Is it because of the city, or because it’s the beginning of the road to Santiago?
Anyone who loves art has to fall in love with Rome. It’s all there. We all come from there, and every place in the world has a lot of Rome. Right in Córdoba for example. Rome isn’t a city, it’s a world. It’s different. I had a kind of debt in that regard which I felt when I walked through the streets.