XV BIENAL DE FLAMENCO DE SEVILLA
‘JOSÉ MERCÉ EN CONCIERTO’
Text: Estela Zatania
No other singer today could have announced himself so neatly and simply: “En Concierto” [in concert]. When other flamenco singers give recitals, you see the name of the artist and nothing else, and with that one understands that said individual is going to give a recital. To name a cante recital “In Concert”, is the ultimate anti-show statement. It’s saying “I’m going to sing flamenco, take it or leave it”.
The handbill also. No other show in the Bienal so far has required less ink. The shortest text, a few words about the singer, and a straightforward list of the cantes to be interpreted: MALAGUEÑA, SOLEÁ, SEGUIRIYA, ALEGRÍA, TIENTOS, TANGOS, BULERÍA, just like that, in caps, and no frills. Many flamenco fans have been harshly critical of the man from Jerez for having cultivated a pop repertoire simultaneously with his cante, but when José Mercé puts all his flamenco cards on the table, no one dares to blink. As far as I’m concerned, in his free time he can sing Three Blind Mice if that makes him happy, just as long as he keeps delivering his soleá de Alcalá, siguiriya del Marruro, fandango del Gloria and bulerías from Santiago with that wisdom, professionalism, compas and that voice that envelops you in flamenco and cuts you in pieces.
And a packed house at the large Maestranza theater showed just how many flamenco fans are hungry for this kind of offering. Not all works based on flamenco are bad, but anyone who gets hooked on the genre via cante, has the fundamental need to hear it periodically. From the moment the overhead spot illuminated his bent graying head to start out with tonás, José Mercé opened his private flamenco tap with the ease of stepping onto a bus.
Moraíto arrives on the scene, hair combed back like for Sunday school, guitar all ready to accompany malagueñas. Diego del Morao takes up the gauntlet from his father to accompany soleá. Father and son play a guitar solo, the popular tangos “Rocayisa”, and Mercé returns to summon the “duende” (who days ago became tired of waiting in the wings) with his siguiriyas. Profound alegrías follow, free-form fandangos and full-spead ahead to a “great big bulerías fiesta from Santiago, with dancing from 40 or 50 years ago”.
Enrique el Zambo joins in on the palmas adding life to bulerías that were sounding a bit old hat, the housewife in the flowered dress does an insipid bit of dance reminding us that Jerez is the land of guitar and cante, but José Mercé’s dancing always reveals his beginnings as a dancer.
The audience, many of whom might have been expecting to see the other Mercé (and grumbled about the shortness of the recital, about 75 minutes), he of “Confí de Fuá” and “pilas alcalinas”, demanded an encore, and when the first notes of the hit song “Aire” rang out, the excitement was tremendous. When it was all over, there was a massive standing ovation, the singer from Santiago bowed, packed up the goods, put the ‘duende’ under his arm and headed off to the next gig with his faithful sidekick Morao.