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September 18, 2010

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Photos: Luis Castilla / Bienal de Flamenco



Text: Estela Zatania

Music, all music, has the eerie power to transport us psychologically to other dimensions of time and place.  On Friday night, I took two trips to the past, to two radically different settings.  The experience offered the opportunity to reflect upon the tug-of-war going on in flamenco between pure, impure, intransigence, evolution or absence of same.

For many young flamenco fans, and plenty of middle-aged ones as well, “a voice and a guitar” is a dated format that conjures up images of Manuel Torre or Antonio Chacón, but which is no longer relevant in the new millennium.  So what’s to be done with José Menese and Manuel Agujetas?  No problem, place them in metaphorical wicker chairs alongside two great guitarists like Antonio Carrión and Antonio Soto, and let them babble freely.  And if an audience wants to pay money to observe the process, filling the Lope de Vega Theater, and they feel like applauding till their hands ache, cheering until they are hoarse or jumping to their feet with the slightest provocation, no harm done.

Asi se Cantaba y así se canta - Menese / Agujetas
Asi se Cantaba y así se canta - Menese / Agujetas

And that’s how it was.  The faculties diminish, voices wear out and sheer physical energy are lost with the years, it’s part of the natural process of life, but artistic sensibility doesn’t get used up.  And if at times during José Menese’s recital we had to mentally fill in some technical voids with our audio memory of what he sounded like three or four decades ago, the unmistakable Mairena delivery and Menese personality, now reduced to the essence, still trigger strong emotions.  The singer appeared wearing a polkadot sling; “I’ve had a small mishap” he explained before delivering a series of cantes that could have been better organized.  Granaína is not his strong point, and then, three 4/4 time forms that are emotionally very similar, mariana, farruca and tientos, one after the other, cancelling out each other’s impact.  The power of Menese’s voice finally kicked in for soleá and siguiriya, cantes that are always “repeatable” due to the enormous variety of each, and which the man from La Puebla does so well.

Manuel Agujetas who did the second part of the recital had no qualms about repeating soleá, siguiriya and fandangos, all with the flavor of San Miguel passed through the prism of his admirable family heritage.  This man does not fool around, and he knows his forté, which is not in his voice but in the acrid flavor of his delivery and the controlled anarchy of everything he sings.  Cutting and caustic in his chit-chat with the audience, Agujetas is a complete package that is both convincing and striking.

It all came to a head with the surprising round of tonás between the two old lions, the gypsy and the non-gypsy, each one in his own way, embracing and shaking hands afterward.  Another unforgettable moment for the history books courtesy of the Bienal.

“FLAMEN-PURA” - NIÑO de PURA - Teatro Central -9 pm

Guitar: Niño de Pura; Guest artist, voice: Churumbaque hijo; Second guitar: Juan María Real; Percussion: Agustín Henke, Patricio Cámara; Dance: David Pérez; Palmas: Mª José Álvarez, David Pérez.

Text: Gonzalo Montaño Peña

“Pura Velocity”

Seville guitarist Niño de Pura last night filled the Teatro Central to offer some of the most celebrated compositions from his most recent work “Pozo y Caudal”, as well as give a preview of his upcoming recording due out in the spring.

Rubén Olmo - Tranquilo Alboroto

It’s absolutely incredible how fast this guitarist plays!  Completely amazing!  He came on stage and it seemed like before he even sat down he’d begun to play.  You didn’t even have time to digest the fact that the musician had arrived, when he’d already been playing for two minutes…what speed!

In my opinion, the opening number was the best, the granaínas “El Pañuelo”.  He was perhaps a bit cold at the outset, some picado sounded a little dirty, but that was when you could hear the most musicality in the phrasing and the most beautiful melodies.  He charged ahead with soleá, his alzapua flying and his thumb hammering the strings at astonishing speed, the tremolos and arpeggios sounding full despite the speed.  What can I say?  There was too much acceleration for me to be able to savor the music, and the audience didn’t seem to react in the expected way with cheering, but rather remained in silence.  It must be added that both the sound and the lighting were perfect.

In the alegrías “El Puerto”, I had the sensation of listening to Vicente Amigo, and not only because of the choral concept, but because the sound and phrasing were very similar.  In this piece, the guitarist presented the singer who was accompanying him, “Churumbaque Hijo”, winner of last year’s Lámpara Minera, a very flamenco voice with a high register and great power although he sounded best in the low tones.

In Churumbaque’s soleá and abandolao cantes, we were able to hear Niño de Pura’s enjoyment of accompanying, and discovered his patience and willingness to dialogue with the cante, while at the same time inserting the finest embellishment thanks to his polished technique.

“Al Piñón” was the title of the bulerías he played last night, and the name was more than justified, since the guitar was scorching on high heat; his ability to subdivide time into fractionary notes and fit them all into compás is quite a gift.  The voice went for the high notes harking back to Camarón, the percussion marked the beats and the musical pressure of the concert was on the rise.  Shouts of “ole” began to be heard in the theaer.  The last piece of the program, the one Niño de Pura usually uses to close his recitals, was fandango de Huelva titled “Punta Umbría”, and was dedicated on this occasion to bullfighter Curro Romero who was in the audience.  And if everything that had gone before was impressive, this guitarist saved the best for last.  The most lightning-fast picado of the night closed the fandango and got everyone present to jump out of their seats.

Niño de Pura offered quite a show of virtuosity, perhaps overly technical, perhaps so many notes becomes overwhelming and disguises the clear meaning of each phrase, but in any case, it’s a concept of guitar-playing, and this man showed he is one of the best.

“PERET & LOS CHICHOS & KIKO VENENO”- Auditorio Rocío Jurado 11 pm

Text: Estela Zatania

Four decades ago, before there was any Bienal de Flamenco de Sevilla, when Las Grecas, the gypsy sisters who were outrageously successful with their pseudo-flamenco rumbas and tangos, I don’t know whether they would have been included in any flamenco festival.  But in the year 2010, everything is possible in the world of flamenco, and don’t anyone dare try put definitions on the table.  

And it’s not that rumba isn’t a legitimate part of flamenco.  A quick look at the past and we see versions by Pepe de la Matrona, Pericón and Manolo Vargas, Bernardo de los Lobitos, the great Niña de los Peines, or later one, who would deny the legitimacy of Juan Villar’s “Quiero Pronunciar tu Nombre” or maestro Fosforito’s “Libre Quiero Ser” among many other examples that could be cited?

But around the end of the nineteen-seventies or beginning of the eighties, responding to the cultural opening of the time, rumba flirted, became engaged and finally got married to mainstream international pop rock.  It would be hard to define the frontier where one thing ends and another begins, and the performers of “Rumbeando” inhabit that no-man’s land between the two.  But the staging was thoroughly in keeping with the most conventional format of a rock concert: the large outdoor venue, the megawatts that shake your insides, people crowded around the edge of the stage, the snack stands within the arena, professional emcees, an abundance of young people dancing and raising hell and smoke machines working overtime.  It’s not what Antonio Mairena had in mind when he organized the early festivals, nor does it have to be.

But no.  I didn’t like seeing this in a Bienal de Flamenco de Sevilla.  Despite trying to be so hip, and making so many concessions to popular taste, the two-thousand people who eventually trickled in were far less than had been anticipated for this exercise in nostalgia.

Asi se Cantaba y así se canta - Menese / Agujetas
Asi se Cantaba y así se canta - Menese / Agujetas

From the muggy heat of just two nights ago at the bull-ring, we went directly to the first cool evening of Seville’s autumn.  But there was always the option of dancing, and the majority of those present were happy to do so.

In Kiko Veneno’s performance, the most noteworthy element was the participation of the great musician Raúl Rodríguez former member and founder of Son de la Frontera, who contributed his musical wisdom via the flamenco guitar to the prolific Kiko’s most beloved songs as well as some new ones from his recent recording.

The most moving moment of the evening, and probably the most flamenco, was the appearance of the great rumba musician Peret, the person who one half-century ago picked up where Pescaílla left off in the popularization of rumba catalana, managing to put it in international circulation.  Ever since then, to say “rumba” is to say “rumba catalana”, and to say “rumba catalana” is to say Peret.  That’s what this man achieved crossing Cuban “son” with music from the Gracia neighborhood of Barcelona and his own musical creativity.  Friday night he caused a major stir in the most positive sense with his eloquent protest: “How you people hear in Seville get along with the gypsies?...aren’t you going to deport us?”

After nearly four hours of show, the night ended with the nostalgic performance of the legendary group the Chichos who were very well-received by a euphoric though relatively reduced audience.  The historic hits, especially “Todo lo que Piensas tú” and “Para que tú lo Bailes son, son”, with their unmistakable harmony, relived past glory while at the same time they confirmed the limited shelf-life of pop music in general.