Sunday, February 24, 2013


Tomás de Perrate.


Tomás de Perrate was born in Utrera, Sevilla, in 1964 and although he was a relatively late starter in the world of flamenco, he has become one of the top performers on today’s flamenco scene.
He made his first appearance with other members of his family in the Christmas of 1999, on a recording named Utrera Cante la Navidad, which was a kind of traditional flamenco Christmas get-together where songs by the name of Campanilleros, were sung in a festive gypsy spirit. These songs are thought to have been the invention of Tomás’s grandfather, Manuel Torre, and Tomás is one of the best performers of these styles.

The son of the late El Perrate, one of Utrera’s greatest flamenco singers, Tomás can boast of a lineage that is overflowing with numerous masters of the gypsy flamenco, which includes Maria La Perrata, El Lebrijano, Gaspar de Utrera and Manuel de Angustias to name but a few.
His father had married Tomasa Torres, daughter of the mighty Manuel Torres; hence Tomas is the grandson of this illustrious singer from Jerez de la Frontera. Even though Manuel Torres had died more than thirty-years before Tomás was born, his style of singing would have been very much alive with-in the family of the Perrates.

Tomas’ paternal linage also relates him with numerous other renowned flamencos like the mysterious La Serneta, La Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera and Bambino. His family is also related to Los Negros de Ronda; a gypsy dynasty that includes the clan of La Malena. 

Tomás de Perrate’s first live performance outside of his native land was in France in 2001 when he performed at the Festival de Mont de Marsan along with Pepa de Benito. Later the same year he would make his first appearance at the Potaje Gitano festival in Utrera, and the sound of his voice and the purity of his songs astounded everyone.
It is true that the older generation of flamencos like Tomás’ father, were not that interested in taking their flamenco outside of their hometown; instead preferring to perform in the taverns and fiestas of Utrera.
However, Tomás de Perrate has experimented with his family’s flamenco custom and he performs a more commercial style of flamenco that is based on this tradition.
He understands the importance of his roots, but he believes one must be able to adapt to the reality of flamenco; yet he recognizes that one must never lose the respect of the art of their ancestors whilst finding their own path: He also realizes, as did his father, that his family’s flamenco legacy is not necessarily superior, nor inferior, to any others.

In 2006 he released his first solo CD named Perraterias; a collection of bulerias, soleares, siguiriya, and tangos, which as the title might suggest, was dedicated to the tradition of his father and his aunt La Perrata.
On this recording Tomás has the echo of his father when singing the bulerias and soleá and it demonstrates his great knowledge and flair with the primitive forms of this art.
Tomás is a natural with these styles and his voice vibrates with a chilling duende that is full of profound dark sounds that almost shake the room as he sings.
But he also mixes his flamenco with jazz and reggae and much of this first recording is a fusion of perfectly blended musical styles that are complemented by his coarse gypsy voice.
On an earlier recording, Tomás collaborated with his brother Gaspar de Perrate and Ana La Turronera, and this CD demonstrates he is capable of reproducing the family’s flamenco technique with ease.
Tomás de Perrate is one of the most respected singers on the flamenco scene at present and his earth shattering gypsy voice has earned him fans world-wide.
One wonders how it is possible for such a polite man, who speaks accordingly, to possess such a monstrous voice when singing; an echo that is normally only associated with the past.

40 years without Caracol


Forty years without Manolo Caracol


On February 24 1973, a chauffeur driven Mercedes in which Manolo Caracol was travelling, was involved in an accident and within hours word began to spread throughout Spain that Caracol, ”the drunkest, wildest, most argumentative flamenco of them all”, was dead.

Manuel Ortega Juárez was born in Lumbreras Street, Seville, in 1910 and he is remembered as one of the greatest singers of his time.
Monument of Manolo Caracol
His duende fuelled voice brought tears flooding down the faces of his audience when he was in the mood to sing; but there were occasions when he would refuse to sing at all.

His genealogical tree is littered some of the most illustrious bullfighters and flamencos of the 19th and 20th centuries and his roots can be traced back to El Planeta and Curro Dulce; two of the oldest noted flamenco singers.
The head of this massive gypsy tribe was Enrique Ortega; great-grandfather of Caracol, and the grandfather of the bullfighting legends Joselito and Rafael “El Gallo”.

Manuel was twelve years old when Don Antonio Chacon took him to Granada to participate in the Concurso de Cante in 1922 and the young singer was a revelation.
He soon began working in the flamenco troupes of artistes such as La Niña de los Peines and he made his first record in 1930 accompanied by the guitar of Manolo de Badajoz.

In 1935 he moved his family to Madrid and he spent the late 1930s and early `40s touring Spain in various shows: in 1943 he began a ten-year turbulent partnership with Lola Flores and together they took Spain by storm in a whirlwind career that was as controversial off stage, as it was on.

Manolo Caracol was the first person to use orchestrated music as an accompaniment to flamenco, something for which he was highly criticized, and his once orthodox flamenco voice became lost in the copla styles that he sang with Lola Flores.
After his separation with Lola Flores, Caracol returned to what he did best, the cante jondo and he recorded an excellent flamenco anthology called Una historia del cante, which re-established him as one of the greatest flamenco singers of all time. 
In 1963 he opened Los Canasteros, one of the most celebrated tablaos in Madrid: it was in this lavish flamenco club that numerous up-and-coming performers made their artistic names. Camarón de la Isla was just one of many youngsters who left their customary village lifestyles behind to make good in the flamenco tablaos of Madrid.

Manolo Caracol loved to spend money and he lavished friends with gifts, and expensive parties that were said to have lasted for three days at a time.
Stories abound of these wild gatherings because he would invite the most extravagant of Madrid’s rich-set to mix with gypsy flamenco artists and prostitutes. During these juergas, his duende fuelled gypsy cante would leave people over come with an affecting emotion, but when he had finished singing the party would be over; as there was nothing left to be said.

He spent the rest of his life entertaining at his flamenco club in Madrid until that fateful day in February 1973.

Manolo Caracol was an artiste that was regularly criticized by the died-in-the-wool aficionados for defacing the art of flamenco by using numerous gimmicks during his whirlwind Hollywood style days with Lola Flores.
However, for most people, he was one of the true greats of flamenco because his voice, especially when the singing the soleares, siguiriyas and the martinetes, was unsurpassable.
As with his artistic partner Lola; he has gone down in history as being one of the greatest entertainers that Spain has ever produced.     


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Happy Birthday La Fernanda de Utrera 1923-2006


If she had still been alive, Fernanda Jiménez Peña, grand-daughter of the fabled El Pinini, would have reached 90 years of age on 9 February 2013.
Known throughout the world as La Fernanda de Utrera, this humble gypsy was undoubtedly the greatest female singer to ever grace the art of flamenco: although she died in 2006, she is still revered and remembered with much admiration by all who were touched by her incredible art.

One of five sisters born in the celebrated Calle Nueva in Utrera, La Fernanda’s heart wrenching style of cante was charged with an aching duende; her voice was what best described the true meaning of this art and one need look no further for a better example of it.
 It was the great Antonio Mairena that had noticed the wealth of talent that La Fernanda possessed and although her father was not keen for any of his daughters to become professional singers, Mairena convinced him otherwise.
La Fernanda quickly rose to fame together with her sister La Bernarda and they would forge an inseparable partnership that only ceased when La Fernanda passed away.
Although they remained in Utrera all of their lives, they took their art to all corners of Spain and they became revelations on the flamenco tablao scene in Madrid. By the 1980s their fame had spread as far as New York, where they performed at the International Fair in 1986. The sisters would regularly return to the flamenco scene in Madrid, where they were contracted to sing at numerous tablaos including Corral de la Moreria and Torres Bermeja, and this was a time when many of the greatest names of flamenco would rub shoulders in the same clubs.
La Fernanda was famed for quality rather than quantity and tended to stick to the soleares, fandangos, tangos and bulerias, yet it was the soleá with which her name would become synonymous.
 Her delivery was charged with a glowing duende and her afilla voice smothered the listener with a warming sensation, where as her sister’s style was full of arrogance and wildness, and charged with riotous jaleo and whip-lash rhythms. La Fernanda’s art however, was always far superior.La Fernanda first started to sing in her home when she was around twelve years old and her father was said to have been astounded as to how his daughter knew these old songs: he was even more mystified by the torn and cracked voice that she possessed at such a young age.She later claimed that god had blessed her with the knowledge of the cante and had bequeathed her the ripped and broken voice with which to sing it.
Most people who had witnessed La Fernanda first-hand conclude that although she would visibly move people during her festival and tablao performances, she only really sang to her full potential in the juerga atmosphere.Her voice was ferocious and jagged, yet when necessary she would sing so heart wrenchingly sad and her child-like, mischievous grin would be replaced by all the pains and sorrows of which she sang. When performing the soleá her voice was as saintly as a harp and as melancholy as a death chant, but there was something about her singing that made the listener feel a warm and glowing comfort.
 One of her last recorded performances was the Carlos Saura film, Flamenco in 1995, where she performed a moving soleá to the guitar accompaniment of Paco del Gastor - nephew of the legendary Diego; Fernanda’s habitual guitarist. Her voice was torn and drained and only a faint echo of when she was in her formative years, yet she possessed a magic that seems to develop when these great singers reach their prime.The last few years of La Fernanda’s life were spent in the confines of her home because she was suffering with Alzheimer and she slowly wasted away until she died in August 2006.When Mercedes La Serneta died, nearly one-hundred years previous in 1912, a dark cloud was said to have hung over the flamenco world: it would be fair to say that when La Fernanda died, the last remaining element of true orthodox singing vanished with her and it is improbable that there will ever be a female singer who could match the quality she possessed: she left a gaping hole that has never been filled.Happy 90th birthday La Fernanda!
 Read Flamenco; a time-defying heritage by Tony Bryant. Available from www.books4spain.comAlso available by the same author Flamenco; an Englishmans passion www.books4spain.com