XLII Reunión de Cante Jondo
Cante: Marina Heredia, José Menese, Diego Clavel, José Mercé. Guitar: José Quevedo, Antonio Carrión, Moraíto. Dance: Antonio el Pipa and his group.
WE'LL ALWAYS HAVE LA PUEBLA
A warm sultry evening with a breeze aspiring to become a wind that stirred the rosemary scattered on the ground of the lovely patio of the Fuenlonguilla hacienda. We had all come, as one attends a solemn event, to witness the rites of the Reunión de Cante Jondo de La Puebla de Cazalla. “Rites” because the historic formula of the festival era is rigorously followed, and year after year the patio, with a capacity of 1500, continues to fill up with the faithful, and the organizers continue to refuse to make the concessions other similar events have made in order to fill seats.
And speaking of seats, this year there were little cushions on the folding wooden chairs for the savvy audience that attends this event precisely for the above-mentioned reasons: dignity and respect for the art at every moment. At eleven o’clock sharp the forty-second Reunión de Cante Jondo got underway. The emcee, my colleague Alberto García Reyes, tells us that from the first time this festival was held, on September 3rd, 1967, only one of the performers remains: José Menese.
The ever-present lanterns that have become a tradition on this stage, shimmy with the breeze to receive Antonio Carrión who opens with a guitar solo of soleá, powerful and traditional, hardly any contemporary harmony, while at the same time fresh-sounding and original.
The custom in La Puebla has always been to open with a young hopeful, but Granada singer Marina Heredia, although she is perhaps less-known in this are, is a tried and true cantaora, admired by flamenco followers. Radiantly beautiful, dressed in white, she started with some alegrías, more song-like that cante-like, with a female chorus. What’s to be done about these over-used choruses so popular nowadays? They enhance musically as much as they trivialize – it probably wasn’t a good idea to have used them in this precise time and place. In soleá, Marina interpreted some apolá styles, and the final result was frankly excellent, in large part thanks to the accompaniment of guitarist José Quevedo “Bolita”.
For malagueña, Marina Heredia found a sweetly subtle voice, and each line was personalized and stylized with exquisite taste, ending with a fandango of Frasquito Yerbagüena. “A little something from my town” could only mean tangos. The singer recalled some old styles of Camarón who started the fad of singing ultra-slow tangos in the seventies, and swung constantly between contemporary and classic, reflecting her youth and current taste. Bulerías was the cante she chose to end her performance.
A tribute to the memory of José Antonio Martínez Bernicola took the form of siguiriyas in the voice of José Menese with verses of Miguel Hernández. La Puebla’s favorite flamenco son, with the accompaniment of Antonio Carrión, went on to sing taranto, soleá and siguiriyas, struggling with reduced faculties, which in turn provided the warmth that was often missing in earlier years when the singer triumphed at the Olympia in Paris and other important venues. Carrión earned warm applause for his falsetas.
Just as last week in Utrera, the dance portion of the festival was the responsibility of Antonio el Pipa and his group. The siguiriyas with cabales, the young protégé striving to be a prodigy and not yet making it, the magnificent soleá that always turns into a jondo duet with Pipa and his aunt Juana who sings to him and half-dances with him, and the fiesta finale. But on this night the heavenly bodies were aligned in a special way, and there was magic. Antonio and Juana, Juana and Antonio managed to conjure up that extraordinary chemistry they share, leaving the audience standing, cheering and applauding. With only seven people in all, Pipa’s group did more than many large companies with elaborate works and elevated concepts. The element of improvisation, something Antonio el Pipa knows how to value and manage better than many of today’s stars, can result in mediocre performances or worse, but when things come together, unforgettable moments are the reward.
After intermission, another guitar solo from Carrión, bulerías, with plenty of winks and nods to the neighboring town of Morón de la Frontera, with well-worn falsetas popularized by Diego del Gastor played with a contemporary delivery. García Reyes then presented Diego Clavel, pointing out the singer’s intensive work of investigation and recuperation which only a few days ago earned him the recognition of the Cátedra de Flamencología de Jerez. After the familiar gesture of removing his watch, he gave us his updated version of caña, moving tientos, soleá apolá with original touches and siguiriyas with the obligatory barroque ending of Manuel Molina we all identify with this singer. Dedication and affection mark everything Diego Clavel does, and for this reason he has earned the respect of his town and of flamenco fans in general.
The icing on the cake this night was Jerez singer José Mercé, with his guitarist and sidekick, Moraíto Chico, Morao, Moraíto or whatever you want to call him, he of the big hair and the killer thumb, guardian of the Jerez school of guitar-playing with a style that has little to do with fashion or fusion. Mercé starts in with malagueñas, “En el mundo envidiable…”, and the flavor soaks us through to the bone. That’s part of this singer’s gift, the ability to put just the right spin on each cante, he never lets you down. The soleá is dedicated to Menese who, as José explains, helped him out in his formative years. Alegrías and bulerías, no lapse into the pop repertoire, and each cante, each note is a master class.
Clavel, Menese, Marina and Mercé came on stage for the traditional round of tonás, although Mercé didn’t feel like singing in the end. When it’s Menese’s turn, the singer interrupts himself in the middle of a line to declare “tonight has been the best festival in a very long time”. And those words are the most succinctly accurate summary of a night of cante in La Puebla de Cazalla.