Manuel Moreno Junquera, “Moraíto”, “Moraíto Chico”, or simply Morao as his friends now call him in Jerez. He of the unruly hair, the gravel-toned voice and the permanent smile is one of the personalities that most symbolizes Jerez de la Frontera for the “outside” world. “Outside” in quotes, because Jerez is a hermetic microcosm, a state of mind that daily, between the aroma of sherry casks and the memory of great stars of the past, cultivates its own image to represent “flamenco”.
So it’s only fitting that Moraíto has his night during the festival, and it’s precisely the inaugural night of the two-week festival, at the wine cellar Bodega de los Apóstoles. His unmistakable playing style, inherited from his illustrious family of guitarists, is pure Jerez, pure compás, and has earned him a place among the most important stars of flamenco guitar. But Jerez tradition is also cante, and on this occasion Moraíto decided to dedicate the show to her royal highness, the late Francisca Méndez Garrido, “Paquera”, who took her leave six years ago, taking with her part of the magical compás of her hometown; there are other singers, but there will never be another Paquera.
A sunny day at noon, with springtime trying to get underway in front of the Arco bar, neuralgic and spiritual center of the Santiago neighborhood of Jerez, hence, of the flamenco universe, we sit down with a glass of dry oloroso sherry. Just one glass, because Manuel isn’t having anything:
“It’s a kind of ritual” he explains. “Every year, since three years ago, I only drink water for a month and a half, until Holy Week…it kind of cleans you out after all those battles, know what I mean?
photo Moraíto by Rafael Manjavacas
February 27th, tribute to Paquera…why precisely to Paquera?
Well, you know, she’s a much-loved artist in Jerez, and nothing’s been done for her yet, except naming her Favorite Daughter, and some talk about a peña, I don’t know… So I thought, look, let’s dedicate the recital to Paquera, a kind of personal tribute I want to give her.
…considering she’s from the rival neighborhood of San Miguel…
Nah, that means nothing at all, for me it’s never had any importance that thing about the neighborhoods, the same dumb stuff all the time, people who aren’t even involved in flamenco spread those stories about rivalry, but never, I mean really, it was never important for me, I admire them, I admire people from the other neighborhood, I admire people from Santiago, friends here, friends there, it means nothing.
Is this show just for the Festival, or is there the intention of taking it to other places?
Well, as you can imagine, my hope is to be able to bring it to other places, we’ll see how it’s received.
Miguel Poveda is making a guest appearance, is that right?
Yes, I asked him to participate, because in his own show he sings a piece Paquera used to do, so I asked him to come along. He’s just pitching in for the sake of it, and I’m really grateful he’s coming. He’s just doing the one Paquera bit, a brief appearance.
Who else is in the show?
Jesús Méndez is appearing, he’s going to do bulería por soleá, and bulerías in the fin de fiesta, Bernardo Parrilla on violín, Ignacio Cintado from Navajita Plateá, bass-player, Diego Carrasco’s son…just a bunch of friends and good musicians. Then there’s Pedrito Navarro who is now with Paco Cepero, percussionist along with Juan Grande, we’ve got Juan Cantarote and Carlos Grilo doing palmas, my buddy Chícharo and Dr.Kelly on sound.
Is there any story line, or is it straightfoward music?
Music…a few pieces with cante, but mostly, my guitar repertoire with some new things I’m planning on doing, and the commitment to dedicate the show to Paquera…Poveda’s cante of Paquera that Antonio Gallardo composed for her, and the bulería por soleá Jesús Méndez is going to sing with verses I composed in reference to Paquera.
Moraíto at 16 in Rito y Geografía del Cante
Miguel Poveda is very popular in Jerez, why is that?
Well, he’s really endeared himself, he won people over with his cante, nothing phony about it, no groupies. As a person, he’s first-class, and artistically he’s got Jerez in his pocket, as difficult as the Jerez audience is.
What does Jerez represent in the world of flamenco?
I think it’s one of the most important mainstays, this should come as no surprise to anyone, it’s in all the history books, trying to deny it would be an injustice, Jerez is one of the most important centers…they say it’s the birthplace of flamenco, and it’s true. Then, there’s Triana down to Cádiz, passing through Jerez, Utrera and all the rest, the Bermuda triangle of flamenco.
Do you defend traditional flamenco because it’s what you know best, or because it’s in line with your ideals?
I defend traditional flamenco because without that, there’s no flamenco, I mean fusion and the stuff they do now, I think it’s fine, very nice and modern, that’s terrific, you have to investigate, you can’t fall asleep at the wheel, flamenco has to evolve, don’t you think? But without classic flamenco, the roots…that’s where everything has to come from, without a beginning, there’s no history.
Is Paco de Lucía still relevant, or is he a thing of the past?
Please, no, Paco de Lucía will never go out of style, he’s always there, the living history of guitar, he did so much, and continues to contribute, he put flamenco guitar in its rightful place and is an example to follow for guitarists all over the world.
Nowadays, has guitar become more important than cante?
No, each one has its place…the guitar came afterwards, it hasn’t been around as long as the singing, so it always follows behind.
When you play guitar, are you thinking of your people, your father, Juan Morao, your uncle, Manuel Morao…?
Absolutely, I consider myself a classic, but I don’t want to rest on my laurels, because even being a classic, I try to investigate, review my ideas, update my perspective, but without losing sight of the past.
Would you ever consider leaving Jerez to go live in Seville or Madrid like so many others have done?
No, not at this stage of the game. I lived in Madrid many years ago, when I started out, at 16 or 17, and when I got married I returned to Madrid to live and work, but I’m happy in Jerez.
foto Moraíto por Estela Zatania
Is your son on the right path?
Yes, my Diego is just finishing his record, very good, really fine, now we have to wait and see how people react to it.
Did you teach him yourself, or did he learn indirectly from hearing you at home?
He mostly started out listening to me, but I sent him to the maestro Carbonero who prepared him to be a professional guitarist, I think you need to start out on the right foot, and the best thing was to send him to Manuel Lozano “Carbonero” who taught him technique and all the basics of guitar. After that, he was able to find his own path.
What do you think of the Festival de Jerez?
I think it’s great, and with each passing year it’s becoming more important, it already has a presence at the international level, and every year flamenco fans all over the world anxiously await the date