39th Festival de Cante Grande de Casabermeja
Text and photos: Estela Zatania
Cante: El Torta, Antonio Reyes, Mari Peña, Laura Vital. Guitar: Juan Manuel Moneo, Antonio Higuero, Antonio Moya, Eduardo Rebollar. Dance: Luisa Palicio with Rafael Rodríguez, guitar, and Moi de Morón and Juan Reina, cante.
On the verge of its fourth decade, and with the recession threatening the viability of many flamenco festivals, the Festival de Cante Grande de Casabermeja was held on Saturday night with a perfectly respectable program. Given the current state of affairs, the organizers of this event are to be admired for continuing to defend the classic format of historic festivals with a well-administered 6-hour program, traditional picnic baskets and drinks brought from home permitted without there being any excesses and artists with an absolutely flamenco repertoire.
The program got under way with young hopeful Laura Vital, with her regular guitarist, the old hand, Eduardo Rebollar. With the unmistakable mark of cante learned in a conservatory, and all the associated good and bad (knowledge, precision and technique, but a notable lack of flavor), the beautiful singer began with tientos tangos recalling the work of Pastora, as well as styles from Extremadura and Triana. Her lyrical melismatic voice was highly suitable for malagueña de Mellizo ended with abandolao. For the cante of rosas from her hometown of Sanlúcar, with alegrías, Laura again evoked la Niña de los Peines. A classic debla set the mood for siguiriyas, a cante that fared less well with the singer’s lyrical delivery, but when she announced she was going to sing some fandangos, the collective “aaahh” of approval that came from the audience was only surpassed by the enthusiasm of their applause afterwards. The bulerías encore, little appreciated by this crowd, should have been left out.
One of the best performances of the evening was that of Antonio Reyes from Chiclana. As emcee Manuel Curao pointed out, from Jerez south, the influence of Caracol displaces that of Antonio Mairena, but Reyes holds the prestigious national prizes from Córdoba named after both legendary singers. Impeccably dressed in suit and tie, he began with tangos which Jerez guitarist Antonio Higuero played “por arriba” giving a Granada feel, with some melodies reminiscent of Camarón. This is not a singer to expect surprises from, but his professionalism and reliability are welcome. In soleá, his velvety voice is a balsam that leads us through a series of classic styles, and his siguiriyas are sweetly painful. Higuero then launches a gust of crisp Jerez power for bulerías cuplé and standards, but once again it’s fandangos that wins over the audience. Then, the Caracol zambra this singer always uses to end. And the inevitable (unavoidable?) appearance of his barefoot wife whose dancing, as always, subtracts much more than it adds. Reyes ended bravely with tonás, ignoring the Saturday night din from the crowd in the street whose noise filtered into the venue.
To close the first half, dancer Luisa Palicio was accompanied by the singing of Moi de Morón and Juan Reina, and the well-cured guitar of Rafael Rodríguez. Moi’s voice, thick and knowledgeable beyond his years, set the stage for soleá and Palicio made her appearance. From her mentor Milagros Mengíbar, Luisa has inherited the elegance and restrained grace that typifies the so-called Seville school. But she is also annoyingly saccharine sweet, and a markedly retro approach, not in keeping with her age, also mars the performance. Nervous and insecure at first, she soon managed to get her concentration together, and shortly after finishing the soleá, she reappeared on stage with shawl and bata de cola for alegrías.
The second part opened with Utrera singer Mari Peña, with her husband, the wonderful Antonio Moya on guitar. With her sweet clean voice, she opened with tientos tangos. Utrera has lost its legendary flamenco singers, but this woman may be a candidate for the new generation of interpreters of this genre as it is understood in one of the most important centers of flamenco. In soleá, the cante that most typifies her hometown, she is delicately classic, but a possible excess of shading and/or deficient amplification produced a lack of communication with the audience. Homegrown cantiñas from Utrera are those of Pinini, and here Mari’s sweet delivery is especially effective. Bulerías to end, recalled the repertoire of Gaspar de Utrera among others.
Juan Moneo. (Sigh). The Torta show. Cult figure among a certain sector, but for others, a caricature of himself. There’s greatness in there somewhere, but it gets harder and harder to find all the time. Nevertheless, his diehard followers never tire of waiting, and it’s surely worth their while. Dressed in pristine white, with his nephew Juan Manuel on guitar, he began with alegrías, giving this cheerful style all the weight of flamenco’s most profound forms. In granaína and malagueña, his expansive unpredictability continues to upstage everything else, and in soleá he exhibits an intensity that approaches nervous breakdown. Agitated and tortured in his delivery, the malleable nature of siguiriyas is the perfect vehicle for his anarchic approach, and in bulerías Torta gives free rein to his already free personality and to his dancerly impulses.
After the merry-go-round of Torta, the sweet guajira of Luisa Palicio, and the almost symbolic bulerías fiesta finale that close the festival at a quarter to five in the morning, are strangely anti-climactic.