Cante: Antonio Núñez 'El Chocolate'
Guitar: Antonio Carrión, Paco Jarama
Palo Nuevo Muxxic Records 2001
Nowadays when “all the young kids sound alike” as Marote says,
this singer continues to have a very personal and unmistakable sound that
wasn't even altered by fact that his formative years overlapped the last
dredges of the powerful 'opera flamenca' period. And it continues to be
a round, resonant voice, conveniently tempered in any case, by the many
years of faithful service rendered. The compact disk “Mis 70 años
con el cante” ['my 70 years singing flamenco'] comes with a splendid
presentation. There is a little 30-page book which includes the words
to the cantes, an interview with the singer, biographical data and a large
number of historical photographs.
Chocolate with Antonio Carrion
In these flamenco times, it's quite a luxury to be able to hear a recording
of flamenco singing with no accompaniment other than that of a guitar
– something which has become so uncommon that you hear people speak about
“cante a guitarra” as if it were a separate manifestation, a
mere ramification of flamenco. In this case the rarefied profession of
cante accompanist is exercised by the young guitarist Antonio Carrión
who, while not being Ricardo or Melchor, supports and coddles the veteran
singer in a way that very few of his age could match. Paco Jarana also
accompanies ably in a taranto and one of the fandangos.
Chocolate was born in Jerez de la Frontera in 1931, 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”. Personally,
I prefer to believe that Chocolate is Chocolate, period, just as all great
maestros of any art form are who they are. Many years ago the flamencologist
Ricardo Molina said of this singer that “he has managed to juggle
new trends with tradition, never straying from the straight and narrow
path”. Quite a lesson for the pseudo-flamenco artists of recent years.
He has always been a cantaor who knows how to throw himself into his
music without resorting to affectations, almost effortlessly, and he is
one of the few remaining flamenco singers who learned the trade first-hand,
from other maestros, without the aid of recordings. Perhaps for this reason
we hear echoes of Manuel Torre, Tomás Pavón, Juan Talega
and others, but the singing never falls into the realm of imitation. The
two siguiriyas are superb, as is par for the course with Chocolate. Soleá
de Frijones is never missing from his repertoire and is delivered in such
a way that you think “of course…surely that is how it sounded”.
But it's in the soleá de Triana where his knowledge and life experiences
are dredged up and brought to life. Could anyone possibly sing with greater
flavor of time and place? More to the point, what reference will there
be to identify this flavor when the maestro's voice no longer sounds?
Taranto is another of Chocolate's favorite cantes, and it suits him,
as the taranto verse goes, 'like salt suits a stew'. He is possibly the
singer who best dominates this form without being specialized in mining
cante. Nevertheless the incompatibility of 'basic forms' with 'less basic
forms' (we don't want to offend) in the same voice, is reaffirmed. The
malagueña he always includes is neither orthodox nor is it his
fortè. Chocolate sings everything well, but his soleá, siguiriya
and martinete are of great quality and beauty. And needless to say, if
we examine the flip side of his virtual flamenco license we see “first-class
fandango singer”. The little gypsy boy who sang fandangos de la Calzá
for tips in railway cars before the second world war, obliges us with
his mature sensibility, even those who are not fond of fandangos, to sit
up and pay attention.
Tientos would have been nice, a form which Chocolate has always known
how to accord the importance that other singers fail to achieve, but it
would be ungrateful to fault his choice of repertoire when at the age
of 71 he has managed to produce this jewel of cante flamenco, or, as a
voice exclaims in the historic recording of his mentor Tomás Pavón,
“a treasured relic of the cante which no longer exists”.
The night of January 31st Chocolate was in Madrid to receive the Flamenco
Hoy critic's award for best recording of 2001. 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.
Chocolate con Estela Zatania
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 like 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.
[The interview comes to an end at this point as Chocolate
grabs the tape recorder to sing one of his characteristic fandangos…]