Monday, December 17, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Read part of the introduction to A Time-Defying Heritage

It is my belief that in order to understand flamenco correctly you must live among these people and participate in the life style that is attached to it.
 I am also inclined to believe that in order to truly appreciate flamenco as it was intended you must witness it first hand in the surroundings of an old bodega or in someone’s living room where it is performed by everyday people who are not artistes and who have no intention of ever becoming one.
 The flamenco culture has been molded and preserved in the homes of the gypsies who would sing and dance whilst attending their daily routine.
 This way of life was never about producing commercial stars, in fact the parents of many of the greatest performers did not want their children to become flamenco artistes at all.
 Many of the gypsies in the small towns and villages were butchers or farm labourers who used the flamenco song as a means of unwinding or relaxing after a day’s work.

This was certainly the case with the family of the subject of this book - Fernando Peña Soto.

Fernando was known locally as Popa Pinini and although his legend is based on the fact that he was the patriarch of one of the most important families in flamenco history, he was a simple butcher who made his living in Seville.
 His voice was never recorded so therefore there is no concrete evidence that this man was an exceptional singer and there is not anyone alive today who could honestly declare that they could remember his singing.
 There exists only one photograph of this humble man, who was born in a small village deep in the lower region of Andalusía, and if you were to ask the average Spaniard, including a good crop of the flamenco fans, they probably would not know who he was. 
There are, however, many flamencologists or died-in-the-wool aficionados that will be able to tell you that El Pinini was the grandfather of La Fernanda de Utrera, one of the greatest singers in flamenco history, and that he was also the great grandfather to Inés and Pedro Bacán. There are also many who will know that La Perrata is the cousin of La Fernanda and that she is also related to Mercedes La Serneta, but there are few who will know how they are related, other than because they are of gypsy origin.

It has been my intensions to try to piece together this intricate family tree and demonstrate that this gypsy clan is one of the mightiest families to be associated with flamenco, or in fact, any musical culture.

The branches of this genealogical tree are laden with some of the most majestic and most inspiring flamenco performers of the last two hundred years and I believe that they need to be documented together in one volume; something which, apparently has never been done before.

This huge family can be separated or broken down into three sections: Pinini, Perrate, and the Peñas of Lebrija, which incorporates the names of Bacán and Funi, and as we shall see, they are in fact one large family.
It was also most important to review the family of Paco la Luz with some degree of depth in this book because El Pinini and Paco la Luz are actually related by the same set of great-grandparents. 

Monday, December 10, 2012


Villancicos:-The Flamenco Christmas Carols

Said to have been the invention of the mighty Manuel Torres; the villancicos were originally peasant songs (canto de villano) which have since become the flamenco Christmas carol that are traditionally sung in the week leading up to Christmas.
In Andalucía the villancicos are also known by the name of zambombas, a name that derived from the instrument that is traditionally used to accompany them.
The zambomba is a percussive instrument that would normally have been made from an old paint tin or flower pot, over which a membrane is stretched: a stick attached with small cymbals is inserted through the skin and this is moved up and down to create a droning rhythm.
Tambourines, cowbells and an array of home-made rhythmic instruments will also be used in this lively festive song and together with the clapping rhythms and boisterous jaleo; the whole atmosphere will become a swirling, noisy festivity.
It is a gathering, especially, but not exclusively, among gypsies who light fires on their patios - around which they form a semicircle to take turns in singing a line or two, before everyone joins in with the chorus. The tunes are of all sorts and rhythms but they are always lively and joyful and may be in the style of the bulerias or rumbas.
The whole family will join in from the grandparents down to the smallest of children and these parties are natural flamenco schools where the children learn by simply watching, and being totally engulfed in, everything that happens.
The buleria is also an integral part of this celebration and everyone is expected to sing, dance or simply clown around to the thumping of table tops and clapping of hands.

It was once, and still is in some villages, customary for the gypsies to hold a fiesta during the week leading up to Christmas and this celebration would start with a Matanza; the ritual killing of the pig.
The women would then prepare the pig and make an array of pork products, which would include chorizo, morcilla, manteca and chipparones, They would also prepare sweet delicacies like pestiños, which are small fried dough cakes that are flavoured with anise, and dipped in honey.
The most customary celebration takes place on Noche Buena - Christmas Eve – a night when families congregate en mass to celebrate the coming of Christ..
The twenty-fourth of December is celebrated throughout most of the Christian world but few cultures celebrate Christmas Eve like the gypsies of Andalucía, especially those in Utrera, Lebrija and Jerez de la Frontera.

It is a night where the whole family will gather to eat, drink, sing and make merry, and whilst the rest of us are retiring to our beds, the gypsy fiesta will be in full swing and will only cease when they can consume and sing no more.
This celebration is renowned for being a night of celebration and not a night for sleep and a constant flow of food and drink will keep the revellers fuelled for a night of flamenco and fun. The night will progress into a riotous fiesta of bulerias, tangos and zambombas, which will ring out from the tiny houses that are packed to the seams with people.

At around midnight the woman will prepare the turkey, which is then placed in a large cauldron along with plenty of wine, garlic, bay leaves, a wad of rosemary and a good dose of salt and pepper.
This is then left to simmer for a few hours whilst the celebrations continue. Plates of marinated olives, Serrano ham and tangy Manchego cheese, along with an array of other andalucian delicacies are consumed to keep the effects of the whisky and wine at bay.

When the feast is ready (at around two in the morning) the singing will cease and the turkey will be served with plenty of bread to mop up the delicious cooking juices.
After the meal, and a brief time to recharge, glasses will be refilled and the singing and dancing will take up again until the early hours.
Christmas day is not such a big event and this day will normally be used to sleep off the hangover and recuperate from the previous night’s carousing.

Jerez de la Frontera is the foremost city where the zambomba fiesta takes place in the week leading to Christmas, but many of the main cities like Seville, Granada and Málaga,  will have zambomba festivals.It is advisable to see the local press for details of Zambomba nights that are held in the main squares or flamenco tablaos.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Kindle & Epub format of Flamenco; an Englishman's passion

Books4Spain have now made Tony Bryant's fascinating book - Flamenco; an Englishman's passion - available in E-BOOK format. Buy your copy today for just 7:99, Kindle or ePub from

From the author.......
"If this book does only one thing for the readers, I hope that it helps them understand the difference between the traditional flamenco performed by non-professionals and the tablao-style flamenco."
The main reason behind the book was to inform English-speaking people who might have an interest in flamenco about the superb flamenco that exists in Andalusia.
 I believe that cante jondo has a future and it will not just die out and be pushed to one side by the commercial scene. Even though flamenco is not as much a part or a way of life as it used to be, there are those who still adhere to this way and if you are fortunate enough to experience it, you will understand why flamenco is so captivating and fascinating.
I do not profess to be an expert on the art of flamenco, just a passionate follower of it, and I have merely offered my personal opinions and preferences throughout this book.
Other aficionados must seek out the styles and artistes they prefer, because like all art, everyone sees something different in it.
Flamenco is not just a strange form of music, which to the unfamiliar sounds like the cries of death or the painful tones of a desolate race; it is a magical gift that has been bestowed upon the people of Andalusia.

Monday, October 1, 2012

When in Madrid

Flamenco in Madrid

Seville is the province that most foreign tourists associate with the art of flamenco and yet Seville is, in fact, just one region in a vast area in the southernmost part of Spain that has contributed to the evolution of this fantastic art.
The provinces of Cadiz and Málaga have also bequeathed much to flamenco history - as have the remaining five provinces of Andalusia, although in a somewhat smaller capacity to the others.
However during the 1970s there was a mass exodus of flamenco artistes who left Andalusia in search of a better livelihood In Madrid. There were two main reasons for this migration; the lack of money and work prospects that existed in Andalusia at that time, and because Madrid had become the epitome of the flamenco scene in Spain.
Wave after wave of renowned artistes flocked to Madrid because they knew that money could be earned in the plush new flamenco tablaos that were opening in the center of the city.
One of the most famed was Los Canasteros; a grand tablao owned by the illustrious singer, Manolo Caracol, who had retreated to Madrid after his extremely public separation from Lola Flores.
Los Canasteros was the place that flamenco’s elite would perform side by side and it was also were numerous up-and-coming performers made their artistic names.
Camarón de la Isla was one of many youngsters who left their customary village lifestyles behind to make good in the hubbub of Madrid.
During the 1970s artistes such as he would have rubbed shoulders with numerous legendary figures like El Sodera de Jerez, El Terromoto, Bambino and La Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera; all of whom had been lured to the exciting flamenco scene that was thriving in Madrid.
Little has changed today and one can experience some of the best flamenco in Madrid whilst relaxing in one of the grandeur tablaos like Torres Bermejas, El Café de Chinitas, Corral de la Pacheca, Casa Patas or Corral de la Moreria.    
Torres Bermejas (formerly La Taverna Gitana) opened its doors for the first time in 1960 and this plush flamenco club was the only tablao that Camarón performed in during his early years in Madrid: It was also the place where he would meet Paco de Lucia!
This fabulous establishment, which is decorated in the style of the magnificent Alhambra Palace, is situated in the very heart of Madrid – just minutes from the Gran Via.
El Café de Chinitas is another lavish restaurant where flamenco is performed on a nightly basis. This classically decorated tablao creates a profoundly authentic setting for flamenco and is one place that the flamenco enthusiast should most definitely visit whilst in Madrid.
Much the same can be said of Corral de la Moreria because this is a fine tablao that’s décor and ambience has earned it the name of the ‘Flamenco Cathedral’.
Corral De la Moreria is the venue used for the celebrated Noches Brujas; a series of flamenco shows where some of today’s top artistes appear in a festival that runs every Saturday throughout June.
There is also the Casa Patas, an andalusian-tavern style flamenco bar with walls lined with old photographs of past masters of the art, and huge legs of Serrano ham, morcilla and chorizo hanging from the ceiling. Casa Patas is one of the most traditional because it has the ambience of an era long past and it smells and tastes of all the wonders of antediluvian Spain.
Another good flamenco show in Madrid can be seen at the Corral de la Pacheca; a traditional tablao decorated with the emblematic colorful ceramics and the brass and wrought iron-work that make these establishments so appealing.
As with the others, the stage in this tablao has been the stomping ground for some of flamenco’s most astounding performers including Rafael Amargo, José Merce and Rafaela Carrasco.
Corral de la Pacheca has also played host to some of the previous masters like Juanita Reina, Lola Flores and Rocío Jurado.

The standard of flamenco in all of these places is of similar standard, although it is hard to honestly say which one is the best, for they all offer a pleasurable experience and a night of flamenco that will stay in your mind for long after the show has finished.
One can enjoy delectable cuisine in each of these flamenco tablaos, including the traditional Spanish Pallea, various seafood and fish, succulent meats and hams and, of course, some of the most palatable wines and sherries of the land.

They all claim to be the oldest or the most authentic and they all have an interesting history with regards to the performers that once adorned their stages and a trip to one of these establishments to see a flamenco show will leave most people spellbound. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

About Tony Bryant: A journey from youth to Andalusia.

I was born in London in 1961; just a few weeks after one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century took his own life with a shot-gun to the head. Incredibly, this was a man who had survived two World-wars and the vicious three-year Spanish conflict; as well as two plane crashes in as many days. 
Ernest Hemmingway was to greatly inspire me later in life, but before I was to become aware of this giant of literary genius, I was confronted with many life shaping hurdles that would alter and influence my life and the way I live it today.

My mother was one of nine children that were born of three different fathers, yet my maternal grandmother was legitimately married to just one of them; this resulted in a court appearance in 1938 during which she was accused of polygamy.
This, and the fact that my grandmother believed she possessed the power of the gypsy curse and lived through fear of irrational beliefs and superstitions, is the contents of a book I hope to one day publish. I descend, according to family lore, from gypsy lineage and the belief in superstition has subsequently run through my family until present day and although I do not live in constant fear of falling paint pots or black cats; I will refrain from placing my hat on the bed and become alarmed if a bird flies into my house. .
My paternal family was by no means superstitious, quite the opposite in fact; although it was surely from this line that I inherited my innate love of music.        
My paternal grandmother played the harp, mandolin, ukulele, spoons, and the jaws harp  . The latter was in fact the only instrument my father mastered, but his two brothers were adroit with numerous instruments that included banjos, harmonica, skiffle-bass, bagpipes, fiddles and combs..   
My mother is a pianist who also mastered the piano accordion and she still reads music and plays regularly today at the age of 81 and I have wonderful memories of regular family jam sessions when our small terraced house erupted with the wild musical grace of a Balkan Gypsy wedding orkestar.
I became the family’s drummer at the age of 10 (my first drum came from the body of one of my uncles old banjos that he had converted into a snare-drum) and by thirteen I was pounding the skins for a rock band whose members were students at my school; my introduction to the real world of sex and alcohol fuelled rock and roll came just a few years later.
At that time it was almost impossible for any down trodden kid to break into the world of rock and roll; that was until 1976, when the Sex Pistols hurled a string of four-letter abuse at Bill Grundy on live, prime-time television.
I, like so many youth of that era, was zipped along on a musical orgy of died-hair, ripped jeans and offensive tee-shirts during a pubescent revolution that shook England with the ferocity of a native uprising. There had been numerous musical rebellions in England prior to this, but Punk was the one that really made the youngsters realize that they could actually do something about the pathetic pit into which the once brilliant music scene in England had plunged.

I left school in 1977 - the Queens silver jubilee year – and because I had only ever dreamed of becoming a rock star; I hadn’t the faintest idea what I wanted to do, or more to the point, could do. I first worked as a shop assistant in an extremely old-fashioned iron-monger that sold nuts, bolts, washers and screws by the dozen, seed-potatoes and shallots by the ounce and paraffin by the gallon.
It was in this antiquated enterprise that I credulously learned that ‘skirting-board ladders’, ‘long-weights’ and ‘skyhooks’ did not exist but it was also a place where I learned the art of cutting keys without the assistance of an electric grinder, how to sharpen the cylindrical blade of a Suffolk-Colt lawnmower, and how to change the burner and mantle of a Tilley lamp.
I could tell the size of carriage-bolt by simply looking at it, measure (with-in inches) without the aid of a yard-stick and add-up in my head with relative ease; whatever happened to good old-fashioned intuition? I learned more in my time there than I ever did in school and it was this deep abyss of edification that I transformed from boy to man.

However, music was my calling and during the 1980s I pursued my dream of becoming a rock-star but, although I made a few records with various groups and supported numerous named bands of that era, by the end of this magical decade, I realized that this was not to be.
I was unemployed and fed-up with bumming around on a shilling and I eventually saw sense and decided to seek a trade where I would actually earn some money. I did, in fact, enter into one of the lowest paid trades –hotel and catering - but working as a chef has been my main source of income ever since.
It was the wonders of the culinary world that gave me my calling for travel as I was soon searching for the Italy, Greece and Spain of the colorful cookery editions. I had been offered work in a restaurant on a small Island in the Ionian Sea that was once the surrogate home of the novelist and poet Lawrence Durrell; although due to a lack of winter flights and also a dearth of money; I decided to train and ferry hop my way across Europe in order to take my new position in a small Italian restaurant on the Island of Corfu. 
This was a magical, albeit nerving, journey; a trip into the unfamiliar, yet charmingly rural, Europe. My journey started in Calais, after a ferry crossing from Dover, and continued on a rattling old sleeper-train through France and thence to Milan, where, after not being called by the guard who had fallen asleep whilst on duty, I found myself bound for war-torn Yugoslavia.  After a panic-stricken few hours in an archaic train-station where I understood no one and no one understood me, I eventually arrived in town of Brindisi: The port was full of Albanian refugees whose pitiful faces transferred a wretchedness and misery that I had only ever witnessed in the ‘World at War’ documentaries on television, and as I eagerly boarded the small ferry that would transport me through new waters, I felt great sadness at the plight and worthlessness of this desolate race

I arrived on the island during a tropical rain storm; without a Drachma in my pocket and no idea of where the only person I knew on the Island actually lived. Fortunately, thanks to the benevolence and knowledge of an old farmer who transported me in an open back truck along with his dog and a duck, I was soon standing outside the picturesque trattoria where I was to be employed for the next twelve-months.
The restaurant was owned by a hackneyed Italian called Jackomo whose English had been learned from watching Hollywood movies; his wife spoke Italian, and Gaelic (as did he) due to her Welsh descent - hence the conversation often became garbled as it swopped and changed between  the three. 
After spending an exciting and mind-opening year on the island, I foolishly longed for England and all the normality’s that went with it and thereafter spent a non-eventful and extremely dreary few years back in England before I decided to head for Spain: It is here that I have stayed ever since.
I love Spain and its people, and it has been this wonderful country, especially Andalusia, that has inspired my first three books; one of which has recently been translated into Spanish - an honor for any foreign writer whose work is transformed into the tongue of the land he has chosen as his home.
It was in Spain that my career as a writer started to develop and my work has been intensified and enriched by the wonders of this great land and as Ernest Hemmingway once pronounced – “When a man feels at home outside of where he was born, it is where he is meant to be”. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Review of
Flamenco; an Englishman’s passion – Tony Bryant. Sol y Sombra Books
Publisher: - Sol y Sombra Books  (2012)
ISBN  978-0-9563132-5-6

This excitingly fresh flamenco book tells the story of how an Englishman first became interested in, and eventually addicted to, a culture that is so different to that of his own; an art normally only associated with the gypsies of Andalucía. The author starts his story with his own musical up-bringing in London and discusses the similarities that exist within the evolution of flamenco and other world music like jazz and the blues. He also takes us on a journey through some of the small villages and towns in Andalucía where he met some of the most influential flamenco artistes of Spain. The book includes some amusing tales and anecdotes of things that happened to him whilst he was researching the book, like the old man he met in Utrera who wanted to talk about an approaching game of football between Chelsea FC and Real Betis. The old guy was dumbfounded that this Englishman had no knowledge of football, yet knew more about flamenco than the average Spaniard. Another amusing tale tells how his “disgustingly bad” Spanish grammar caused some humorous confusion in a bar in Moròn de la Frontera. He also describes in great detail some of the flamenco parties that he has attended and how different these impromptu juergas are compared to the commercial type that is staged for the tourists who visit Andalucía. The main reason behind the book is to explain the two immensely different sides of flamenco; the glitter and sparkle tablao and theatre flamenco compared to the cante jondo, the deep songs that have existed in Andalucía for approximately 500 years. The book includes an in depth chapter concerning the history of flamenco; with the departure of the gypsies from India approximately 1,000 years ago right up until the present day. He has also included biographies of flamenco artistes who are considered to have played a major role in the evolution and preservation of this culture. Tony explains many of the myths and legends that surround this predominately gypsy art, like for example the legend of the bald rooster; a hideous bronze statue that keeps a vigilant eye on a small town in Seville. But this book will not only appeal to lovers of flamenco because the author also describes some of Andalucia’s fiestas and celebrations like Semana Santa, the festivals and the romerias. The author realized that there was much more to flamenco than just music and dance and he deals with all aspects of life in Andalucía, especially the people, as he believes that they are what makes flamenco so unique. Tony say’s that he basically cut himself off from the outside world to immerse himself in the world of flamenco mixing with gypsies and andalusians alike in order to get a true understanding. He also said that flamenco became “like a cuckoo”, pushing to one side everything else that was once important, to become a major part of his everyday life. Tony Bryant is a lover of the purest, duende fuelled, gypsy flamenco and he holds no punches when explaining why he feels that the orthodox side of this art is being destroyed by the commercial scene that is desecrating this age old culture. I think the words of the author best sum up what he truly feels for flamenco. “Flamenco is a contagious dance that is so passionate it will leave you spellbound or an outburst of duende fuelled song that tugs at your deepest emotions, or a light hearted bit of fun where nothing seems to matter and time is unimportant. Long may it continue!" Flamenco; an Englishman’s passion will appeal to anyone who has an interest in andalucian culture and art; and of course to those who have a penchant for flamenco.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

New set back concerning Spanish edition of book about El Pinini.

It is with great regret that once again I must inform of a delay in the publication of the Spanish edition of FLAMENCO, A time-defying heritage. ( Un Herencia del Tiempo)

This version of the book was due for publication next month (September) and was to be presented by the Tertulia de Flamenco y temas de los Gitanos de Utrera in October, but due to yet another  set back, it now appears as if this book will not be ready until April of next year.

This book has been constantly delayed for reasons beyond my control and although it was finished more than 18 months ago, a continuous stream of errors has delayed publication once again.
The book, which concerns the family of El Pinini and the flamenco tradition of Utrera, was originally presented to the Ayuntamiento de Utrera in April 2011 and after numerous meetings, the ayuntamiento agreed to finance the translation of the book from English to Spanish.
However, after a long delay (and no word or contact from the ayunatmiento) I was informed that they  had, in fact, withdrawn their offer of finance due to the current financial crisis.

After much thought and consideration (because a translation of this scale is by no means easy to subsidize) I decided to finance the project myself.
The translation was completed in January of this year (2012) and the book was then presented to a publisher in Utrera, who agreed to publish the work. Once again, after a long silence, I was informed just yesterday that this project has now been delayed until next year.

I have worked on this project for more than five-years,and yet it appears that it may be at least another six-months before we can see the finished result; if indeed it is ever published.
To say that I am disappointed is an understatement, but I can no longer waste more time or money on this project and although the book HAS been published in English, the Spanish edition hangs in the balance once again.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Remebering Federico

Remembering Federico: June 5 1898- August 19 1936

Federico Garcia Lorca was one of the most popular of Spanish poets and playwrights and he ranks among the greatest names of modern European literature.
There have been numerous books written about the life and works of Federico Garcia Lorca and almost as many concerning his murder; a shameful death that symbolized the savagery of the Spanish civil war.
Federico grew up in the town of Asquerosa where his father owned a sprawling farm and the young poet showed signs of brilliance in his early school years when his teachers remembered him as an “indifferent student who distinguished himself chiefly by coining puns and clever nick-names for his classmates”.
Lorca’s frequent boyhood visits to the Alhambra Palace tensed his soul and the poet had strong views and opinions about the re-conquest of Spain because he believed the soul of Spain had been lost by the expulsion of the Moors.
He was strongly influenced by Rubin Dario, whose fairy tale world of swans, roses and peacocks gave Lorca a spiritual guidance: he also had a fascination with death, which first appeared after his twentieth birthday because he realised that he could no longer fend off adulthood and death.
One of Lorca’s early poems was called “Dawn of the twentieth century” and in this he describes war as “failure of the soul and failure of god”. He believed that the world had lost its innocence and entered a brutal new era, and his own brutal murder at the outset of the Spanish civil war was to enforce his beliefs and concerns.
But it was in Madrid that Lorca really began to flourish and he was to make quite an impression on some of the capitals most illustrious artists. These friendships included Salvador Dali, Rafael Alberti and Luis Buñel: his intimacy with Dali prospered until they were almost constant companions.
Lorca had struggled to come to terms with his homosexuality and although he was open about his sexuality with close friends, with others, especially his family, he was evasive.
Lorca had an extremely intimate relationship with Emilio Aladren; a twenty-year old artist whom he had met in Madrid and whom he had become infatuated - Emilio’s youthful good-looks gave him an uncanny resemblance to the young Salvador Dali.
Lorca also surrounded himself with some of Spain’s most culturally esteemed people including the Manuel de Falla; he also had an obsessive friendship with the bullfighter, Ignacio Mejias Sanchez, the man whom Lorca dedicated his most famous poem.
On his arrival in America in the early 1930s Lorca was introduced to the Harlem jazz-scene, which he likened to the gypsy-flamenco of Andalusia, although Lorca was said to have been appalled at the racial abuse of the Negros.
Lorca wrote thirteen plays and nine books of verse in his nineteen year career and because in both acting and words he continued to demand justice for people of all races and origins, he edged closer to active political involvement even though he considered himself apolitical.  
His gypsies, his Andalusia and his ballads are all part of the baroque world of which Lorca immersed himself and his work evoked an almost reverie vision of a land that he lived and died for: his romantic and inventive writings, which relate to flamenco, archangels, landscape, love, death and of course, the gypsies, have immortalized him throughout the world.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Remembering Antonio Mairena. (Sept 1909 - Sept 1983)

This September will mark the 29th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest  flamenco singers that ever lived: He passed away in the sleepy town of Mairena de Alcor in Seville in 1983 and yet today he is still revered and remembered with great affection by those who have encountered his cante. This article is in memory of one the mightiest of them all; Antonio Mairena.

Antonio Cruz García was born in Mairena de Alcor (Seville) on the 5th September 1909 and he is among the greatest and most respected cantaores of all time. Like Silverio Franconetti before him, Antonio Mairena, as he was artistically named, was a singer of great knowledge and affection for the orthodox styles of song.
Born of gypsy parents, Antonio grew up, like so many others, in the surroundings of his family’s blacksmiths and was influenced by singers like Joaquin de la Paula and El Niño Gloria.
Antonio had wanted to perform in the 1922 Concurso de Cante Jondo but was forbidden from taking part by his father due to the family’s lack of money and the fact that he was just thirteen years of age at the time.
In 1924 he was to appear on stage for the first time in a competition that was held in Alcalá de Guadaira; winning first prize in the siguiriya and soleá sections. At the early stages of his career he was known as Niño de Rafael but by 1930 he had become ‘El Niño de Mairena’. He dabbled with flamenco opera but this was not for him and Antonio Mairena dedicated his efforts to the fiestas that were held in Seville’s Alameda de Hércules district, at that time the centre of flamenco activity.

He was approached by the great dancer Carmen Amaya to accompany her on a tour of America but Antonio declined the offer, preferring to stay in Seville, although he did accompany her on other occasions when she returned to Spain.
He became much in demand by the flamenco dancers because of his enormous command of the rhythm and his profound knowledge of flamenco song.
He appeared with Pastora Imperio in Madrid and also toured with Antonio el Bailarín, which gave him the recognition that would eventually lead to him receiving the third coveted golden key of flamenco.
The key was awarded in 1962 and, unlike El Nitri or Manuel Vallejo (The first two singers to receive this award) whom many believe were not justified in receiving this achievement, Mairena was awarded this trophy for his outstanding knowledge of the cante, his determination to preserve the art of the cante jondo and, of course, his amazing singing qualities.
Antonio Mairena revived many old and forgotten styles of cante and he was also responsible for discovering so many distinguished flamenco singers who had previously never sung outside the confines of their own homes.
Unlike many of the old singers whose voices were never recorded for prosperity, Antonio recorded many discs, his first in 1939. He was also a great admirer of Juan Talega, from whom he accumulated many old styles of siguiriyas and deblas, and many believe that if it were not for his efforts, numerous old song styles would have been lost and forgotten for eternity.

Antonio Mairena also turned his hand to flamencology (flamenco theory) and together with the poet Ricardo Molina, co-wrote what is considered to be the flamenco bible, Mundos y Formas del Cante Flamenco.
He remained active in the world of flamenco for all of his life, although not in the commercial scene of the theatres and clubs, but in juergas and festivals in lower Andalusia. He dedicated his life to the promotion of the gypsy cantes, although he was well versed in all styles of flamenco - probably more than anyone else of the twentieth century.
He excelled in the lesser-known styles such as toñas, deblas, carceleras and martinetes, and his powerful, versatile voice lent itself well to bulerías, tangos and fandangos.
The town where Antonio Mairena was born is something of a shrine to his memory: Other towns in Andalusia have clubs, festivals and monuments dedicated to dozens of different artistes, but in Mairena de Alcor just about everything has Antonio’s name attached to it.
He also had two brothers who were confident singers of flamenco, Manuel and Curro Mairena, but their names have been somewhat overshadowed by their brother’s.
Antonio died in his place of birth on September 7 1983 but the locals still talk fondly of him as if he was still with them today.
There is little question in the minds of most flamenco aficionados that Antonio Mairena was one of the greatest singers that ever lived.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Introducción del Libro sobre El Pinini - Herencia del tiempo

En los últimos treinta años el flamenco ha trascendido más allá de los humildes barrios gitanos del sur de Andalucía extendiéndose a fronteras que sobrepasan el suelo español.
Japón disfruta de una de los mayores tablaos flamencos fuera de España, e incluso en Inglaterra se pueden encontrar peñas flamencas y academias de baile en muchas de las ciudades más importantes.
Continuamente se nos recuerda el creciente interés por el flamenco que existe en lugares como Londres, donde numerosas revistas y publicaciones, sitios web y libros prometen enseñar el arte del baile flamenco o la guitarra en "tan solo unos pocos pasos fáciles de seguir".

El teatro Sadlers Wells de Londres acoge una vez al año un festival de flamenco, durante el cual artistas como Antonio El Pipa o Sara Baras deleitan al público con su genialidad, y un sin fin de estrellas del mundo flamenco hacen de Londres obligada parada en sus giras.

Mantengo un contacto permanente con personas que se han quedado cautivadas por el flamenco, gente que vive fuera de Andalucía y España, pero gente que ha tratado de instruirse y formarse sobre el flamenco dentro de las posibilidades ofrecidas en sus ciudades en Inglaterra.

Muchas de estas personas se quedan fascinadas ante el talento y la valía de bailaores como Joaquín Cortés o Rafael Amargo y ante la amalgama de artistas que han hecho de este arte una cultura mágica y deslumbrante.

Sin embargo, hay personas de este reciente ejército de aficionados a los que, además del flamenco, les interesa también el estilo de vida de los gitanos, de una cultura tan antigua y tradicional como ésta.
Andalucía es pieza esencial de la cultura flamenca como también lo son las gentes que la representan sencillamente con la rutina diaria del pueblo andaluz, en especial del pueblo gitano, que sellan el flamenco más puro.

En mi opinión para entender el flamenco de manera fiel a su esencia hay que convivir con esta raza y ser partícipe del estilo de vida que eso conlleva.
Igualmente, me inclino a pensar que para apreciar y valorar de verdad la cultura flamenca tal y como se concibe, uno debe tratar de ser testigo de primera mano en los alrededores de una antigua bodega o en el salón de la casa de alguien donde el flamenco nace de la mano de gente común y corriente que ni son artistas ni tienen la mínima intención de llegar a serlo.
La cultura del flamenco se ha fraguado y conservado así en los hogares de los gitanos y gitanas que cantan y bailan mientras hacen sus faenas diarias.
Esta forma de vivir no pretende crear artistas comerciales, de hecho, los padres de muchos de los grandes artistas no querían en absoluto que sus hijos se dedicaran a ello.
Muchos de los gitanos que vivían en pequeños pueblos y aldeas se ganaban la vida como carniceros  o trabajadores del campo y para ellos el cante flamenco suponía un medio de relajarse tras un día de trabajo.
Este fue el caso de la familia del protagonista de este libro – Fernando Peña Soto.

A Fernando se le conocía comúnmente como Popá Pinini, y aunque su leyenda se asienta en el hecho de que él fue el patriarca de una de las sagas más importantes en la historia del flamenco, fue un humilde carnicero que hacía su vida en Sevilla.

Como su voz nunca llegó a ser grabada no existe evidencia alguna de que este hombre fue un excepcional cantaor, ni tampoco vive nadie actualmente que pueda confirmar y demostrar con certeza que recuerdan su cante.
Existe una sola fotografía de este hombre sencillo que nació en un pueblo pequeño al sur profundo de Andalucía, y si se le preguntaran a la mayoría de los españoles, incluidos buena parte de los aficionados flamencos, probablemente no sabrían quién fue.

Sin embargo, muchos flamencólogos y aficionados incondicionales podrían contar que El Pinini era abuelo de La Fernanda de Utrera, una de las grandes cantaoras flamencas, y que era también bisabuelo de Inés y Pedro Bacán. Igualmente muchos saben que La Perrata es prima de La Fernanda y que también está emparentada con Mercedes La Serneta, pero son pocos los que, no siendo de raza gitana, conocen los lazos y  parentescos.
Mi propósito ha sido intentar de encajar todas las piezas de este intrincado y enrevesado árbol genealógico, y demostrar que este clan gitano es una de las más distinguidas familias que se asocian al flamenco, o de hecho, a cualquier otra cultura musical.
Las ramas de este árbol genealógico están cargadas de algunos de los más solemnes y enigmáticos artistas flamencos de los últimos doscientos años, y por tanto creo que es de razón que todos ellos queden registrados en una obra como esta.
Esta extensa saga puede desmembrarse o descomponerse en tres ramas o linajes: los Pinini, los Perrate y los Peña de Lebrija, incorporando y añadiendo los apellidos Bacán y Funi, y fundando, como se verá, una gran estirpe gitana.

Introduction - A Time-defying Heritage


Over the last thirty years flamenco has worked its way out of the small gypsy districts in the lower regions of Andalucía and spread its branches to countries far away from Spanish soils.
 Japan has one of the biggest flamenco scenes outside of Spain and even in England you will find flamenco clubs and dance schools in many of the main towns.
 We are constantly reminded of the upsurge of interest in flamenco in places like London, where numerous magazines, web-sites and books offer to teach the art of the flamenco dance or guitar in a “few easy to follow steps”.
The Sadlers Wells theater in London presents a flamenco festival once a year, during which artistes like Antonio El Pipa or Sara Baras will delight audiences with their brilliance, and countless flamenco stars make London a must-stop on their world-tours. 
I am in regular contact with people who have become interested in flamenco; people who do not live in Andalucía or Spain, but people who have tried to learn about flamenco in the comfort of their own towns in England.
 Many of these people are dazzled by the talents of dancers like Joaquin Cortes or Rafael Amargo and the mass of other artistes who have transformed the art of flamenco into a glitzy superstar culture.
 But there is few of this new army of fans that would be interested in the traditional gypsy-family style of this age old art.

Andalucía is as much a part of flamenco as are the people that perform it and it is simply the daily routines of the andalucian people, especially the gypsies, who will inspire the best flamenco.
 It is my belief that in order to understand flamenco correctly you must live among these people and participate in the life style that is attached to it. 
I am also inclined to believe that in order to truly appreciate flamenco as it was intended you must witness it first hand in the surroundings of an old bodega or in someone’s living room where it is performed by everyday people who are not artistes and who have no intention of ever becoming one. 
The flamenco culture has been moulded and preserved in the homes of the gypsies who would sing and dance whilst attending their daily routine. 
This way of life was never about producing commercial stars, in fact the parents of many of the greatest performers did not want their children to become flamenco artistes at all.
 Many of the gypsies in the small towns and villages were butchers or farm labourers who used the flamenco song as a means of unwinding or relaxing after a day’s work.

This was certainly the case with the family of the subject of this book - Fernando Peña Soto.

Fernando was known locally as Popa Pinini and although his legend is based on the fact that he was the patriarch of one of the most important families in flamenco history, he was a simple butcher who made his living in Seville.
His voice was never recorded so therefore there is no concrete evidence that this man was an exceptional singer and there is not anyone alive today who could honestly declare that they could remember his singing.

There exists only one photograph of this humble man, who was born in a small village deep in the lower region of Andalucía, and if you were to ask the average Spaniard, including a good crop of the flamenco fans, they probably would not know who he was. 
There are, however, many flamencologists or died-in-the-wool aficionados that will be able to tell you that El Pinini was the grandfather of La Fernanda de Utrera, one of the greatest singers in flamenco history, and that he was also the great grandfather to Inés and Pedro Bacán. There are also many who will know that La Perrata is the cousin of La Fernanda and that she is also related to Mercedes La Serneta, but there are few who will know how they are related, other than because they are of gypsy origin.

It has been my intensions to try to piece together this intricate family tree and demonstrate that this gypsy clan is one of the mightiest families to be associated with flamenco, or in fact, any musical culture.

The branches of this genealogical tree are laden with some of the most majestic and most inspiring flamenco performers of the last two hundred years and I believe that they need to be documented together in one volume; something which, apparently has never been done before.

This huge family can be separated or broken down into three sections: Pinini, Perrate, and the Peñas of Lebrija, which incorporates the names of Bacán and Funi, and as we shall see, they are in fact one large family.

A Time-defying Heritage by Tony Bryant is available from

Friday, June 15, 2012

Twenty-years without Camarón de la Isla.

Twenty-years without Camarón de la Isla.

In the early hours of the morning of Thursday July 2 1992, one of the most venerated gypsy singers in the evolution of flamenco uttered his last words: “mother of god, what’s wrong with me?”
The news of his death vibrated around Spain and gripped the nation in a similar manner to when Franco had died 17 years previous; however, unlike the latter, Camarón de la Isla, who was just forty-one when he died,  was about to become a martyr.

Camarón had climbed to the very top of his profession and became the very first flamenco singer of rock-star status; selling more recordings than any flamenco singer at that time. Yet like numerous young musicians who become superlative, he stumbled on the slippery path that fells many of them. Camarón’s life had been tarnished with drugs, scandal and lawsuits, and the events of the last two years of his life certainly filled newspaper columns, although not with stories of his brilliance, but of prison, non-appearances at concerts and his rapidly failing health.
Years of drug and alcohol abuse, and his 80 a day Marlborough addiction, attributed to his early demise; yet today twenty years after his death, Camarón de la Isla is still hailed as the greatest flamenco singer that ever lived.

Within hours of the sad news of his passing, Spain would witness an extraordinary outpouring of grief and the people of San Fernando entered a period of uncontrolled lamentation for the boy whose name was derived from the fact that he had the physique of a shrimp.
One-hundred thousand people are said to have attended his funeral and the riotous scenes that took place outside of the cemetery in San Fernando appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world: his tomb has since become a shrine to which pilgrims continuously flock.  
His death also brought him a saint-hood in the eyes of most Spanish gypsies, and the commoditization that follows the demise of most rock idols would soon take the image of Camarón to a level unforeseen in his life.
Suddenly this humble andalusian gypsy was transformed into a national treasure and his effigy was turned into a religious-type icon that more resembled Jesus el Gran Poder, than a gypsy flamenco singer.    

José Monje Cruz – Camarón de la Isla - was once a young gypsy who had an incredible talent and an even more extraordinary voice which he groomed and matured in the streets of San Fernando and many people would agree that this was when he was at his best.
His voice was full of dark gypsy emotion with incredible range and unreachable depth and in his later years he gained an earth shattering cry that made the muscles of ones stomach ache with anguish.
Born in San Fernando, Cadiz, on the 5th of December 1950, his teenage years were spent in the company of flamencos and bullfighters and it was the corrida that was to be his first true vocation, although this was a career that was very short lived and his love of flamenco soon replaced his lust for the bullfight.
His career began in venues such as La Venta de Vargas, along with his lifelong friend Rancapino, and his first professional performance is reported to have been in La Taverna Gitana, in Málaga, with Miguel de los Reyes.
At the age of fourteen he appeared in the movie El Amor Brujo, alongside Antonio Gades, and at sixteen he won first prize during the IV Festival de Cante Jondo in Mairena de Alcor, Seville.
After his triumph in Mairena he was invited to perform at the Caracola festival in Lebrija along with El Lebrijano, El Perrate de Utrera and El Turronero, and he went on to perform at numerous other festivals and peñas in lower Andalucía. However, he would soon head to Madrid because at this time the capital was fast becoming a hive of activity where many of flamenco’s elite performed.
His first job in Madrid was at Torres Bermejas where he performed as a palmero but it was in Los Canasteros, a smart flamenco club owned by Manolo Caracol, where Camarón started to make people aware of his outstanding qualities as a flamenco singer.

Camarón made his first record in 1969 accompanied by the guitar of Antonio Arenas but it was an introduction to Paco de Lucía that would launch him on the road to international stardom.
Their partnership was to be a milestone in the history of flamenco because they altered and changed the rules of the art and they embarked on a quest that was to turn the flamenco scene on its head: for a period of ten years they were dominant on the festival circuit and they released a string of recordings that revealed the strange musical chemistry that existed between them.
His early work with Paco produced some of the finest flamenco ever recorded and his later albums with Tomatitio paved the way for a revolutionary new flamenco style that would gain him his rock-legend status in the eyes of the younger generation.
These later recordings would fuse numerous different musical modes and his ground-breaking album, La Leyenda del Tiempo, on which Paco de Lucia returned into the partnership, demonstrated just how pioneering Camarón had become with regards to flamenco song and rhythm.    
Camaron recorded tirelessly throughout the 1980s producing such classics as Paris 1987, Soy Gitano, Vivire, Te lo dice Camarón and Como el agua.
Rabo y potro miel, which was to be his last studio album, came just before his death in 1992, but like most music legends that die young, an array of compilations are still being released today.

He was awarded a posthumous 4th Llave de Oro del Cante nine years after his death because his voice and contribution to flamenco is still very much alive today and in 2005 his life-story was preserved in a movie named Camarón, La Pelicular and this resulted in a new influx of fans that have continued to help keep his legend alive.

He has been labeled the “Mick Jagger” and the “Picasso” of flamenco and yet he was said to have been the victim of a system that failed to nurture his talent and his demise became just another clichéd ‘live fast die young’.
But is Camarón de la Isla just another dead legend like Elvis, Hendrix or Holiday, who make more money today than they ever did when alive. The answer I suppose is yes, but José Monje Cruz is still very much alive today because his image and his music have been kept afloat, not only by his millions of adoring fans, but by his people - the gypsies of Andalusia.

Had he have still been alive today he would have been in his sixties, and of course, he would still be singing flamenco and he would still be adulated because he was Camarón de la Isla; the gypsy god of flamenco!

There have been numerous performers whose way or mode of singing flamenco far exceeded Camaron’s and it would be an injustice to say that Camaron was the greatest singer that ever lived. It would be more correct to say that he was the most famous, if not the most controversial, and he certainly was an incredibly talented young singer who will be remembered as the person responsible for bringing flamenco to much wider audience than it had ever had before.
His capabilities with the tangos, alegrias and bulerias was astounding and his voice on works such as Soy Gitano was  limitless; his presence could be felt before a note ever left his mouth. In his final years however, his once magical grip and command of the cante was obviously fading with his health.

The scenes that unraveled during Camarón’s funeral back in 1992 demonstrated that his memory would survive for centuries because, although the wailing and sobbing is synonymous with gypsy weddings; it was rare for a gypsy flamenco singer to be the subject of universal mourning: Felix Grande summed up the scene with the words “Camarón is dead, but not dead”.

Camarón’s passing gave the andalusian gypsies their first deity; but maybe Camarón should be remembered and valued for his music and his art, and not for the legend that was created when he died.

Tony Bryant. 2012.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I have recently added the Google Translation gadget to my web/blog site.
The content can now be read in Spanish, as well as numerous other languages.
Fortunately, this gadget is far superior to most of the on-line translation services.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Master of the baile flamenco

                                   Vicente Escudero.

He was to make a considerable mark on the history of modern Spanish dance, yet Vicente Escudero Urive was probably the most controversial flamenco dancers ever: His refusal to conform to tradition and his disregard of the compás made him the subject of much criticism.
It is a fact that if you do not possess compás, then you will not perform good flamenco, but Vicente Escudero had compás, only he refused to be restricted by rules and regulations.

Born in Valladolid in 1887, Vicente danced what he termed his ‘dances of life’, which, as he claimed, was to dance to the sound of the wind or to the rhythm of machinery: One of his specialities as a young lad was the ‘Train dance’.
He frequently toured with young bullfighters and this dance was inspired by the many times he travelled as a stowaway listening to the rhythm created by the varying speed of the wheels on the track.

It was said that the young Escudero had little knowledge of the flamenco rhythms and this caused problems for him because he could not perform the palmas in correct time. Many guitarists refused to work with this lad, because although he had determination, he lacked respect and often showed it.
Vicente fought constantly with guitarists in these early years, often obnoxiously declaring that he did not need the guitar because he could perform better without them.
A superstitious man who believed that a hat placed on the bed would bring imminent death, Vicente was also in constant rebellion against dancers who performed to a routine sequence. “He who dances knowing in advance what they will do is more dead than alive”, he would say.
He believed that to copy was simply stealing and he criticized many dancers for not having personality or the ability to improvise in their dance; referring to most of his contemporaries as “Mechanical bailaores”.

It was this arrogant attitude that made him unpopular with other artistes, but in the minds of the general public Vicente was a prodigy.
Regardless of the opinion of numerous dancers of that time who scorned what he did, Vicente Escudero was one of the most natural dancers to ever grace the art of flamenco; his stubborn, non-conformist attitude to the dance made him the very substance of true flamenco. He was a pioneer in every sense of the word.

Although he himself was not gypsy, he spent much of his early childhood in their company and this gave him a similar attitude towards the dance. This was to dance how you feel at that particular moment with little or no respect for polished academic rules. He was a strong believer that men should dance as men, as he felt that the male dance had become too effeminate.
He drew up his own set of rules that related to the posture and gesture of the male dancer and these rules became known as the ‘Ten Commandments of flamenco’

He toured around the country performing his unconventional style of dance in cinemas but, although he worked rigorously, he was still yet to be taken seriously in Spain.
Vicente left Spain and went to Portugal in order to evade military service and after this he went to Paris, where he appeared at the Olympia theatre.
He was an admirer of Antonio de Bilbao, but it was an introduction to the dancer La Argentina that would set him on the route to national stardom. La Argentina was the one who channelled his drive and trained him as an artiste.
In 1924 he presented his Spanish ballet company in Paris along with Carmita García, his leading dancer, with whom he would be attached, on and off stage, for the next forty years.

He began to frequent the cafes of the Montparnasse district of Paris and he soon became submerged in the surrealism that dominated the artistic world of Paris and he quickly began to live the life as the authentic local bohemian.
It was at this time that Vicente got the inspiration to paint and draw pictures that reflected many of the aspects of his dance.
He lived in the ‘atmosphere of pure art’ for three years and he was strongly influenced by the work of Picasso, a man he regarded as his friend and “the most interesting painter of modern times”.
It was during this period that Vicente rented a small theatre from the French courtesan and cabaret dancer, Emilianne d’Alencon, which he called the Curve theatre, but the venture was short lived. Although he had gained a cult following from the artistic circle of Paris, he said that he felt as though he was dancing for his own benefit because the seats would rarely be filled. 

In 1925 he was called upon by La Argentina to dance in her production of Manuel de Falla`s El Amor Brujo and over the next decade he became one of the most important male dancers of his time.
In 1930 he returned to Spain where he tried to establish himself in the hearts of the Spanish public.
He had spent the majority of his career outside of Spain, because like many artistes of this period, his art was little understood in his native land.
In 1934 he went to America with La Argentina and her sister Pastora Imperio, where he conquered the American public with his genius.
The Americans considered him the greatest dancer in the world and it seemed that from this point forward Vicente could do no wrong.  
In 1940 he created some controversy by becoming the first person to ever dance a siguiriya; the deep song of the gypsies considered, at that time, too sacred to be danced. Vicente Escudero believed that all styles of flamenco could be danced so long as they were performed with feeling and understanding.

Vicente’s dance was influenced by the environment in which he moved and when he danced his body became almost feline.
During the farruca his long fingers and nails would ferociously snap at the rhythm, his long arms would be held high above his gnarled face as he glided across the stage with the subtlety of a cloud.
When dancing alegrias his arms would rise up like the minaret of a mosque, his hands moving gracefully; his feet precisely accenting the rhythm.

However, Vicente’s life was divided between dance and his love of art and he used painting and drawing as a way of creating his dance: “I paint it and then I dance it” was how he once described his work.
In 1947 he wrote the first of two books on the subject of flamenco dance: Mi Baile is an account of his life that tells of the struggles and triumphs of one of flamencos most controversial figures.
In 1950 he produced his second book, Pintura que Baile and he also tried his hand at acting, appearing in several films both in Spain and Hollywood.
He performed in the film With the east wind, along with Antonio Gades and Imperio Argentina, although he believed that on film a dancer could not express himself spontaneously.
Antonio Gades was one of many who followed Vicente’s style of dance and the two became personal friends and worked together on numerous occasions.

After the death of Carmita Garcia in 1963 Vicente started to wane because Carmita had been his constant companion and she was one of few that stood by Vicente throughout his career.
Vicente gave his last public performance in Madrid in 1969. He retired to Barcelona; a city that he found artistically inspiring and a place where he continued to paint until his death in 1980 - at the age of ninety-three.
He was said to have valued only three female dancers of his era - Carmen Amaya, Regla Ortega and Pastora Imperio, and only one male - himself!

Vicente was also a competent singer of flamenco and, as with his dance; his cante represented his own personality. He recorded at least one long-play disc and several 7inch singles; although today these are extremely hard to come by.

Vicente Escudero will be remembered as the boy who could not clap in time that went on to become one of the most legendary figures of modern Spanish dance.
He was responsible for developing a high level of sophisticated dance, a dance that did not always conform to the tradition of flamenco and a style that was, for best part of his artistic life, hugely criticized.