Flamenco entrevistas »

Mayte Martin, interview 'Al cantar a Manuel'

"All poetry has music, you just have to find it"
August 10, 2010
Interview: Manuel Moraga
photos: Mario Pacheco

She’s sung with Tete Montoliu and the Labèque brothers.  She won the coveted Lámpara Minera of La Unión.  She bared her soul in “Tiempo de Amar” and now she has sought inspiration in poetry.  “Al Cantar a Manuel” (a play on words with the name of poet Manuel Alcántara), is the most recent recording of Mayte Martín, a free-spirited artist with her soul divided into neat packets which are always coalescing.

When you sing to Manuel Alcántara, what do you feel?
The truth is, Manuel Alcántara’s poetry is so natural, so direct and free of artifice and excess, that it’s a pleasure to sing his work.

Mayte Martín is a flamenco singer, she plays the guitar, sings boleros, is a composer…is there any way to define Mayte Martín?

I don’t know…I think I’m versatile, but actually versatile, not experimenting.  Really versatile because I feel what I do, because I love music, because I don’t want to limit myself to a specific musical style..  Everything inspires me.  When I compose I feel free, because I’m writing on a blank sheet of paper, and all of me comes out.

On your webpage, you say flamenco is your beginning but not your yoke…
Exactly…that’s sort of what I mean.  Flamenco is wonderful, and my first musical language was flamenco and I find it very moving, but that has nothing to do with my interest in other things, nor does it keep me from carrying them out honestly.

You’re something of a perfectionist, but also a great lover of freedom.  How do you reconcile the two concepts?
It’s that within what I’m striving for, which is to do whatever I want, I try to do it well, in other words, “whatever I want” is something I take quite seriously.  That’s the common ground.  Loving freedom doesn’t mean charging ahead and nothing matters.  I have great respect for everything I do, and for the people who hear it.  I have extreme respect for audiences, and that makes me cautious, to such an extent that when I’m going to do something, I make sure it’s carefully crafted.

“I’ve tried to find the musical landscape of each poem”

You must have read many poems in order to make this record…

And how did you go about selecting the ones you wanted to sing?
I chose the ones that made my hair stand on end when I read them, the ones that made me react, regardless of whether or not they would later be set to music.  I believe that to be able to put something to music, first you have to connect with the poem, it has to be moving.  And if you feel it, it takes you to a place, to a landscape where you already have the music made.  All poetry has music, you just have to find it.  That’s why in this poetic universe of Manuel, there is a universe of music, a universe of sound, and I’ve tried to find the musical landscape of each poem.

When you come down to it, poetry is also rhythm, color…

I suppose Manuel Alcántara must have heard your record…
[She nods]

”Whatever I want’ is something I take quite seriously”

Does he identify with your way of expressing his poetry?
I couldn’t really say.  I didn’t ask, and I’m not going to ask in case he says no, I wouldn’t be prepared for that.  But it’s possible the people who commissioned this work expected the poems of Manuel to come to life in flamenco forms.  That did not happen.  And it didn’t happen because I felt them in a different way.  There were poems that wanted to be flamenco, such as “La Paloma de Picasso”, which I put to alegrías, or the one dedicated “To Miguel Hernández”, which I put to bulerías.  But there were others I felt didn’t want to be flamenco, and I took them where my heart said they wanted to be.  I had no prejudices in that sense…I don’t know if he has.

Also, you tend to strongly differentiate your flamenco work from the rest.  You almost never mix genres…in this case, like you say, there was some communication between Mayte the interpreter of mainstream music, and Mayte the flamenco singer.  Was flamenco the best vehicle for the poems to Picasso and Hernández?
Yes.  They’re poems whose content and meter seemed to be asking for that form of expression.

Our friend Pedro Sanz – also a singer, as well as a colleague of mine on the radio – says you aren’t a slave of flamenco, but of your heart, and there is tenderness in everything you do.
Well that really sounds nice.  “Tenderness” is something I’ve never been told before, but it sounds nice.

This recording is new, but in fact you were doing this work in 2007…
Yes, the work was to be for September 2007, and through 2008, which is when I started recording it, I gave several concerts: at the Teatro Albéniz in Madrid, at the Palau and the Festival Grec of Barcelona, at the Bienal de Sevilla…

“I need musicians who share my philosophy”

And has the creation evolved?
The creation grew up because things came together.  In a project like this you have a repertoire, the musicians learn the pieces and so on.  Then, you reach a point where you no longer have to worry about the ins and out and everything flows, and that’s when you just have to concentrate on enjoying yourself and discovering new things, nuances…the more you work something, the more it grows.  In the end, the time comes when it stops growing and it becomes a little solidified.  You have to be able to identify that moment, let things go, move on to other projects and leave the former ones behind.

On this recording we see familiar collaborators from your lyrical side, such as José Luís Montón, Olvido Lanza… They seem to connect perfectly with this line.
Perfectly.  That’s why I don’t change.  This project needed a guitarist from outside flamenco, but one who could understand other things as well: you can’t play “La Paloma de Picasso” unless you’re a flamenco guitarist, nor can you play the tango we did unless you have a free spirit.  That’s why José Luis Montón is the perfect choice for the job.  I need musicians who share my philosophy, at least while they’re working with me.  They have to understand my perspective of freedom, and my desire for perfection without relinquishing spontaneity.  And since it’s not easy to find such people, I buy them.

Years ago we crossed paths at a local radio station in Albacete, Radio Chinchilla, and with your first record just out, you talked about what was then just a project you had in mind: to record with Tete Montoliu.  Time went by, and you managed to achieve that goal.  Then, you wanted to show us your most lyrical melodic side, and you did.  Now here you are interpreting the poetry of Manuel Alcántara.  I get the feeling Mayte Martín always accomplishes what she sets her mind to.  What can we expect in the future?
I’ve got projects and ideas…I spend a lot of time just thinking, in a vacuum, in silence…ideas come up…and of the ones that arise, some become important and take on substance, and the moment comes when I feel it’s time to develop them.  I have lots of ideas, but I’d need four or five lifetimes to develop all of them, because each one requires two or three years, so I have to make a selection, little by little.  I’m very patient, and I think things need to come together in your head and solidify.  I’ve got no burning desire to do everything or demonstrate everything.  Little by little.  It’s like a slow striptease.

More information, store on-line, audio: