On July 19th, 2005, one of the most revered flamenco singers of our time passed away.
His voice was imbued with the ambience of smoke-filled back rooms, the prototype of a romanticized era…“all the clichés” many of today's flamenco fans would say. But behind most clichés, great truths can often be found. When Antono Núñez “El Chocolate” left us, flamenco followers had the oppressive feeling that now an entire era that would only be reflected in recordings had come to an end.
He always knew how to throw himself into his music without resorting to affectation, almost effortlessly, and he is one of the few remaining flamenco singers who learned the trade first-hand from elder maestros without the aid of recordings. In his singing we hear echoes of Manuel Torre, Tomás Pavón, Juan Talega and others, although it never falls into the realm of imitation. His voice was round and resonant, with a peculiar and unmistakable nasal twang.
Chocolate was born in Jerez de la Frontera, but lived in Sevilla from early childhood. Regarding this circumstance, flamenco journalist Miguel Acal wrote: “in his soul is melded the grace and good humor of having been born in Jerez, with the ‘duende’ [flamenco inspiration] of having grown up in Seville’s Alameda de Hércules”. Flamencologist Ricardo Molina said of him that “he has managed to juggle new trends with tradition, never straying from the straight and narrow path”.
The night of January 31st, 2001, Chocolate, 71 years old, was in Madrid to receive the Flamenco Hoy critic’s award for best recording of the year. In the noisy dressing-room I managed to ask him a few questions:
What singers have there been in your family?
There’s my nephew Cabrillero who’s in Utrera, my father sang, my mother… And I have a little eleven-year-old nephew who sings my stuff…he really gets into my style. I don’t teach him anything, but he learns everything just by ear.
As far as cante goes, do you feel closer to Jerez or to Seville?
I feel closest to Seville…I’m from Jerez, but I was brought up in Seville.
What importance has bulerías for you?
The young people where I’m from, and all over the world, really love to sing bulerías. It’s a good-time cante for making a ruckus, you can’t feel the same as in a soleá or a siguiriya. On my next record I’m going to sing a “bulería pa’ escuchar”, for listening, not for dancing…nowadays everyone sings for dancing, I don’t do that. It’s like the caña, you can sing it for listening or for dancing. I don’t get involved with bulerías.
Were you born too late to be swept up in the ‘opera flamenca’, or did you simply reject it? Because there’s nothing at all in common with that sound in your singing…
I liked Pepe Marchena’s singing a lot, but it wasn’t for me. I toured with Marchena, but that wasn’t my path.
Is there any fandango that can be attributed to you? Is there a “fandango del Chocolate?
Everything I sing is my own creation.
UPON CHOCOLATE'S PASSING, DeFLAMENCO PUBLISHED THE FOLLOWING OBITUARY:
Antonio Núñez “Chocolate”
More than “chocolate”, somehow the color of his face always reminded me of cinnamon. “A clavito y canela me hueles tú a mí, el que no huele a clavo y canela, no sabe distinguir”, the famous siguiriya verse says “You smell of cloves and cinnamon, and whoever doesn’t smell of cloves and cinnamon, cannot know what is worthwhile”. Antonio Núñez “Chocolate” was one who knew what was worthwhile, and as far as the color of his singing, everyone seems to be in agreement: “black”.
Born in Jerez, he’s to be buried in Seville, a fitting life story for an artist with a foot in each of the two flamenco capitals, and who in 2001 declared “I feel like a Seville native”.
He left an ample discography, but no artistic heir. He embodied the memory of Seville’s Alameda de Hércules, the heyday of Pastora Pavón, Tomás Pavón, Pepe Pinto, Mojama and el Gloria, and today the entire flamenco world is in mourning because an important piece of flamenco history has disappeared.
When he was unable to appear at the fortieth anniversary of the Caracolá Lebrijana due to his delicate health, we collected the following words from some of the people he was to have performed with, unaware of the fateful outcome that was to unfold the night of Tuesday, July 19th, 2005 when a flamenco era came to a close.
“I like my flamenco on the classical side, and more classic than Chocolate, there hasn’t been anyone, nor will there ever be another like him. The haunting quality of his voice is unforgettable – it represents the golden era, a time that is gone forever. Ever since I was a young girl I’ve worked with him at festivals, and the dream of my life was that he should sing siguiriyas for me. In the Bienal that dream came true and I think he sang better than ever – the theater went wild, and for me that was on of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Young singers have no personality, the same could be said about dancers, I see them and they’re all cut from the same cloth. Chocolate’s singing is a basic necessity because his sound is so gypsy, with so much personality, just seeing him raise his hand makes the tears flow. A true genius.”
Fernando de la Morena:
“It’s a great responsibility for me to be here tonight sitting in for Chocolate, considering what a huge artist he is, no question about it, and I’m very grateful. Chocolate is one of the few “black ones” left, his singing is black, in every sense of the word, an exceptional artist, his singing is timeless and profound. We’ve performed together at many festivals – he talks to me about cante and sings for me, there’s a personal harmony between us and this is very gratifying because he’s one of the pillars, a standard-bearer of flamenco.”
Juan Peña “El Lebrijano”:
“Antonio Núñez “Chocolate” is an institution, nothing less than a flamenco institution. He is a figure to learn from because he has great wisdom and is a man who has lived both the past and the present, so those of us who are younger than him must follow his lead and learn from him, he has a great deal to offer and the affection and friendship we share fill me with emotion.”
Antonio Carrión, his regular guitarist and personal friend, had the following words this morning:
“Personally, I’m deeply affected. We’ve lost one of the greats, as a person and as an artist – he had his own imitable style. Those fandangos and siguiriyas, those black sounds…we’ve lost an institution.”
Deflamenco’s regular contributor Arzapúa also wanted to add his voice:
“A candle, one of the most important guiding lights of flamenco singing, has flickered and extinguished after illuminating brightly for more than seventy years…
“Chocolate, Antonio Núñez, was one of a kind. Now that he’s gone there’s this empty feeling in the gut, and the sensation of having lost one of the people responsible for some of the most truly profound and enriching moments of cante – dignified, high-quality classic flamenco that never relied on cheap tricks to get your attention, to twist your heart into knots, to bring that tragic but joyous release that makes you laugh and cry at the same time.
I wish to forever remember his right hand held high in the air, opening and closing as if groping to clutch the secret, and then letting the knowledge that infiltrates every note and syllable flow freely, only to clench the fist once more to make it all knot up inside and squeeze out the seed of true art.
A very great flamenco singer…may he rest in peace.”