“For a quarter of a century after
reading Pohren's 'The Art of Flamenco' the idea of making a flamenco pilgrimage
to Spain simmered in the back of my mind. Circumstances intervened, as
they will, and one would have thought the idea would fade with time. But
the seeds he sowed in a generation of English-speakers wouldn't go away.
And now that pilgrimage has become a regular part of my life. More than
anyone I never met, I thank you for the inspiration, Don.”
Richard Parker, guitarist, California.
The so-called beat generation which preached non-conformity to
a complacent post-war world hadn't yet arrived. The Beatles, who were
still in diapers, certainly had no thoughts of traveling to India to find
themselves, and future hippies, with their longing for cultural exotica,
were yet to be born. But one unassuming adolescent growing up in the neat
suburbs of the midwestern United States was destined to become flamenco
guru to several generations of non-Spanish flamenco-lovers, particularly
his own countrymen, many of whom, after reading the historic book, would
feel compelled to make the difficult pilgrimage to what was then a small,
dusty town some 60 kilometers southeast of Seville.
To be historically situated it is necessary to go back a bit further,
to the 1940's, when Carmen Amaya had taken the world by storm triggering
a fascination with flamenco that led to the great popularity of political
refugees like concert guitarist Sabicas, or homegrown talent like José
Greco. In the fifties, Americans were “doing” Europe, but Spain
was not on their itinerary because of Franco's politics, not to mention
the special vaccinations required, so flamenco remained an exotic import
to be savored and admired from the safe distance of a theater seat.
Pohren is the 20th century flamenco bridge between Spain and America –
the finest books ever published in English on flamenco.”
Agustín Eastwood-DeMello, guitarist, California.
“Pohren's 'The Art of Flamenco'
was my little black book of flamenco” – Dominico
Caro, singer. New Jersey.
“Don will stay memorable to me; and
I will remain appreciative, as long as there is any consciousness in my
being.” Homero Cates, guitarist. Londonderry, New
But a cultural revolution was primed to take place, and as so often happens
in history, a fortuitous confluence of circumstances put Don Pohren in
position for the highly specialized role he would so ably and thoroughly
assume. After stumbling upon the legendary Carmen Amaya while on vacation
in Mexico in 1947, the young man journeyed to Spain just a few years later
on a one-way ticket.
Far from the upscale mainstream art form it is today, flamenco at that
time in Spain was largely associated with marginal individuals and lowlife
(the generally frivolous 'opera flamenca' style of singing was in vogue),
and it was uncommon, to say the least, to find a foreigner actively seeking
out a more authentic type of flamenco.
“Don's book marked the beginning of
a new epoch in my artistic life and I will always be grateful to him for
that.” Richard Black “Quijote”, singer,
guitarist. Santa Cruz, California.
“The greatest non-Spanish communicator
of the art.” Brian Rudd, guitarist, Isle of Man.
“Don's writing on flamenco is inspiring
and humorous, and paints pictures that make the heart smile.”
Daniel Potts, guitarist. Stockport, United Kingdom.
A certain entrepreneurial spirit (Pohren had tried his hand at running
a couple of small flamenco clubs) led naturally to a brainstorm that would
permit him to make a discreet living while indulging his passion for flamenco.
He opened a country boarding-house known as the Finca Espartero which
combined flamenco instruction with generous dollops of “the flamenco
way of life” just outside Morón de la Frontera. Never quite
sure whether Pohren was intruder or saviour (his venture clearly brought
cash to the dirt-poor town but also disrupted the life style), the locals
soon became accustomed to seeing outsiders roaming the streets…everything
from wealthy professionals looking to cool out on “alternative vacations”,
to flamenco-hungry youngsters whose budget was less limited than the amount
of time they could spend abroad. Pohren's 'The Art of Flamenco' so eloquently
sang the praises of the town and its local heroes that he virtually put
Morón on the map not only for student artists and hippies, but
for misfits of all stripes. As journalist Jon Rhine put it, “Pohren
presided over the nonstop flamenco partying, which occasionally spilled
over into the otherwise quiet town, like an unflappable scientist watching
an experiment gone berserk”. Ironically the handful of earnest foreigners
that showed up in Morón during the Pohren years rebelled against
the very commercialism which had developed to satisfy foreign tourists'
hunger for flashy fast-food flamenco in the first place. The traditionally
closed flamenco world had been burst open for all to see, and the term
“pure flamenco” ran the danger of becoming an oxymoron…opportune
pun not intended.
Pohren (left), Manolito María (with hat), Papas Fritas(right)
“Pohren brought an understanding of
flamenco within reach of non-Spanish speakers the world over.”
Jim Morris, dancer. Bolton, UK
“I consider his books bibles of flamenco.”
T.J. Steenland, guitarist. Irving, Texas.
“Don Pohren has an encyclopedic knowledge
of Flamenco, and the more I know about Flamenco, the more I agree with
him.” “Flamenco Chuck” Keyser, guitarist.
Santa Barbara, California.
The sixth revised edition of this classic work is being published thirty
years almost to the day since Morón guitarist Diego del Gastor
surprised flamenco fans for the last time by dying on the very day Fernanda
y Bernarda, the sisters from Utrera, were to be honored at the town's
yearly flamenco festival, the Gazpacho de Morón. For the new edition
the author dropped an 'n' from his first name because “it seemed
like an affectation”, and a great deal of new material has been added
reflecting current trends and new developments.
Even at 73 Don's laid-back, self-effacing humor and “gee whiz”
delivery make it astonishingly difficult not to see him as an adolescent
wrongly trapped in someone else's body. His comfortable, spacious house
in a suburban area outside Madrid, complete with doting wife (dancer Luisa
Maravilla) and faithful oversized canine companion, is not much different
from the burbs of Minnesota where that distinctly midwestern personality
was acquired and shaped, never taking on aggressive Mediterranean airs
despite a half-century in Spain. Perhaps it was precisely the histrionic,
gut-spilling, bar-thumping, drink-til-you-drop philosophy that caused
the flamenco way of life to be appealing for the gentle young man educated
in the virtues of the work ethic, the dangers of drink, and early to bed,
early to rise. Any sunrises D. E. Pohren enjoyed were over churros and
chocolate after a long night's fiesta, and the work ethic translated into
the noble, single-minded pursuit of fun times and the relentless collection
of amazing anecdotes, with flamenco always an essential part of the mix.