XV BIENAL DE FLAMENCO DE SEVILLA
SPECIAL BIENAL DE FLAMENCO DE SEVILLA 2008
Texto: Estela Zatania
Voice and guitar: Mayte Martín. Guitar: José Luís Montón. Double bass: Guillermo Prats. Violin: Olvido Lanza. Percussion: Chico Fargas. Poems: Manuel Alcántará. Composer and artistic director: Mayte Martín. Arrangements: Mayte Martín, Nelsa Baró.
My goodness, how cultured and sophisticated we flamencos are nowadays…we’re downright intellectual! No more gold chains, no polkadot scarves…not even any cante. Pardon? Just what it says. For the second time in less than one week in this Bienal de Flamenco, a major flamenco singer’s recital included not the faintest trace of cante.
So the question begs: why are flamenco singers no longer able to find inspiration in the genre to which they’ve devoted so many years of love and sacrifice? The obvious answer comes like a flash: the general public has limited patience for cante, and this is no backroom private fiesta, but a large theater whose seats must be filled. The real possibility also exists that it’s difficult to collect royalties on cante (both recitals are to be released as recordings), but I have no information in that respect.
I think it’s perfectly legitimate for a singer to apply his or her voice to more popular music – it’s always been done, just look at the great Pastora Pavón – but the disappearance of cante from recitals is worrisome. For decades, the pool of flamenco singers has been slowly but surely getting smaller. In the year 2008 almost no one would dare to record cante without the inclusion of a pop repertoire, something with which to promote the record and expand the market. Now, we’ve ascended (or descended) to the next level: “I’ve got flamenco in the lining of my jacket” said Mayte. Like the uncouth cousin you banish to his room when guests arrive, flamenco is now longer apt for exhibition. It’s what they now call the “dignification” of flamenco.
I’d like to talk about the recital itself, but little can I comment about music that is so foreign to my experience or knowledge. I would point out that the recital was an exquisite display of art and good taste. Mayte, the person, is genuinely charming when she talks between songs, and her intelligence and sincerity shine through. In fact, the first thing she said was that there was not going to be any cante, because this work, commissioned by the last Bienal de Málaga, did not seem to lead her in that direction. She administers her sweet, flexible, expressive voice with absolute command, and delivers the poetry of Manuel Alcántara, full of references to Mälaga, with convincing emotion.
Mayte accompanies herself on guitar for all the pieces, along with the top-notch guitar of José Luis Montón. The songs are relatively short, twelve in all, and very similar to one another: the nearly free-form rhythm, the relaxed, discreet backup of violin, double bass and percussion giving the air of a laidback bolero sung in a piano bar.
The staging is elegantly simple, like Mayte herself, with excellent lighting, something frequently missing in flamenco shows in general.
When the entire flamenco world is in mourning for the legendary Mario Maya who passed away just a few hours before the recital, somehow I have the sensation of being witness to another kind of loss. The effusive audience demanded an encore from the singer who ignored the many requests for “un fandango”, choosing instead to repeat one of the songs from the recital.