Saturday, March 23, 2013


Lágrimas negras para Bebo.

(Black tears for Bebo)
 
The legendary Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés, famed as the founder of Latin Jazz, died at the age of 94 in Stockholm, Sweden, on Friday 22 March 2013.
 Born in Quivican, Cuba in 1918, Ramón Emilio Valdés Amaro became a central figure in Cuba’s golden age of jazz, and he worked as a pianist, bandleader and composer in clubs such as the world-renowned Tropicana Club in Havana.  
Valdés also played a central role in the development of the Mamba and he became one of the most sought after jazz pianists of the 1950s, performing with some of the greatest artistes of the era, including Nat King Cole and Woody Herman.
 After Fidel Castro’s victory in 1959, Valdés left Cuba believing that there was no place for him there after the revolution: he left his wife and five children behind and fled to Mexico City with the singer Rolando Laserie.
He lived for a brief period in the USA but eventually moved to Stockholm, where he was instrumental in the propagation of Afro Cuban and Latin Jazz music. He was to spend almost thirty years in exile in Stockholm, marrying again, and living a life of relative anonymity. Bebo earned his living a as pianist in the lounge of a hotel in Stockholm for more than twenty-years, before being persuaded to record again in 1994: This recording, Bebo rides again, was to re-launch him and his music, and was soon receiving world fame once again.
He went on to participate with Madrid born film-maker, Fernando Trueba, in the Latin jazz documentary called Calle 54 in 2000: it was during the filming of this celebrated documentary that he reunited with his son Chucho for the first time since leaving Cuba.
 In 2001, he received a Grammy for the recording El Arte de sabor, however, one of the highlights of his new-career came when he teamed up with the Madrileño flamenco singer Diego el Cigala, to work on what was to become the award winning Lagrimas Negras.
Lagrimas Negras reached double platinum sales figures and was awarded five Spanish, and two Latin, Grammy awards. He toured extensively with El Cigala to promote the Cd, giving sell out performances to audiences worldwide, and they received rave revues and acknowledgements where ever they went.
 Bebo continued to play the piano long after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and he spent his final years living in Benalmadena in Málaga; often in the company of his son Chucho, from whom he had been estranged for almost forty years, before music brought them back together.
A documentary about Valdés called Old man Bebo, won its director Carlos Carcas, the prize for Best New Documentary Filmmaker at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. Bebo’s music was again featured in a Fernando Trueba film, Chico y Rita, which was loosely based on Bebo’s life, and this animated film was nominated for an Oscar in 2012.
His last studio album, which he recorded with his son, was aptly named Bebo y Chucho Valdés; together forever, and on this recording,  father and son, both giants in stature and in music, performed classics from the Cuban canon, including many of Bebo’s compositions.
He was one of the greatest jazz pianists of his era and his music had touched people around the world, especially in Spain where his fusion of Cuban jazz, coupled with the gypsy-flamenco voice of Diego el Cigala, made him a house-hold name.
He was the BB King of the piano, a man who shared his birthday with the late John Lennon, and a musician who earned an equal respect with whomever he performed: a gentle giant of Cuban music whose nimble fingers will be greatly missed from the keys of world music.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Flamenco or Flamenco?


Flamenco or Flamenco?


Why does flamenco appear to be so confusing to so many people when first confronted with it?
Could it be, as is often claimed, because the gypsies keep their art closely guarded so as not to let the gachos into their mythical world? Or is it because today we have such a wide variety of music that all comes under the heading of flamenco.
Much of the confusion surrounding flamenco exists because we cannot be certain about much of its history due to the lack of positive evidence, and much of the misperception has formed from conflicting theories and notions. The theory concerning the gypsies is totally unfounded because they are extremely proud of, and entirely willing, to share their art with the rest of the world.
However, a lot of the perplexity lies with the huge variety of music that is now classified as flamenco; some of which bears little or no resemblance to the flamenco that has been cultivated and preserved in the lower regions of Andalusia.

Orthodox village flamenco
The flamenco scene of today has joined the ranks of every other commercial music and the artistes earn thousands of Euros from CD sales and concerts, whereas the performers who have adhered to the more orthodox style of flamenco continue their art almost unnoticed by the outside world.
Flamenco is not solely music and dance, it is a way of life and a simply part of the daily routines of the andalusian gypsies, but this way of living is rapidly disappearing in the turmoil of contemporary Spain. Today’s artistes live a life of comparative luxury in contrast to the squalid conditions that their fore-fathers endured, and their modern style of flamenco has altered considerably compared to the palo secos ( unaccompanied styles) that their ancestors sang.

The great divide in flamenco started back in the 19th century with the introduction of the cafe cantante, the predecessor of the modern day flamenco tablao.
These clubs were the first establishments that the public could go to enjoy flamenco, but the flamenco that was performed in them had been altered and remoulded in order to make it acceptable to the uninitiated.
Until this time, the gypsies held the monopoly where flamenco was concerned, but with the introduction of the fandangos - a more polished and sweeter style of light flamenco originating in the province of Málaga - the gypsy songs were pushed into the background and almost eliminated.
The café cantantes were introduced around 1850 and lasted until approximately 1910 but by this time flamenco had been altered beyond recognition.
The café cantante era is remembered as the golden age of flamenco, although it was this period that almost destroyed the purer side of the art: The period between 1950 and 1985 can however be considered as flamencos second golden age.
Gypsy cante
This is when the flamenco festivals began to flourish, the first being the Potage Gitano in Utrera, Seville, in 1957, and these festivals became the platform from which many of the gypsy masters performed their art.
Artistes such as Antonio Mairena, La Fernanda de Utrera and Camaron de la Isla helped to restore some faith in the orthodox flamenco and the festivals are still predominantly reserved for the aficionados of the cante jondo.
Flamenco started to change drastically during the 1970s and much of this new flamenco sound was pioneered by Camarón de la Isla and Paco de Lucia.
Their partnership was 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.
Camaron’s 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 a rock-legend status in the eyes of the younger generation.

Today flamenco presents itself in many different forms and although the average person may not like, or understand, the orthodox styles like the martinetes or the siguiriyas, they will often be enticed by the tangos, alegrias and bulerias.
Flamenco fusion has become extremely popular over the past twenty years and now flamenco is melded with pop, rock, jazz and reggae music, and the name flamenco covers as much music as can be found within the bracket of ‘rhythm and blues’.
El Cigala, the famed gypsy singer from Madrid, has mixed his rough gitano voice with mastery of the Cuban Jazz Pianist, Bebo Valdes. El Pitingo has fused his vast flamenco knowledge with gospel and soul, creating what he describes as soulerias, and Miguel Poveda, who, unlike the others, has no flamenco background, has demonstrated that whilst he is one of today’s most conventional flamenco singers, he is also capable of lending his voice to the traditional music and poetry of Cataluña.
José Mercé is another gypsy singer that possesses the earth-shaking cry of a monster when singing siguiriyas or martintetes, but he has also recorded flamenco versions of pop songs like Mammy Blue and his concerts are no different to any other rock gig: José became the next legend of flamenco after Camarón’s untimely passing and today he is one of Spain’s top entertainers.   

As with the song, the flamenco dance also has two completely different facets and although many will be dazzled by the talents of Joaquin Cortes, Farruquito or Antonio El Pipa; to understand and appreciate the art of the jondo dance is a different matter altogether.
Soulerias - Pitingo
This type of dance will not normally be witnessed in a flamenco tablao or any other commercial establishment but that doesn’t mean to say that one will not witness good flamenco dance in a tablao.
The style of flamenco dance performed in flamenco tablaos and theaters has been mixed with classic Spanish dance and ballet and this style has to be choreographed, whereas the spontaneous dance of the gypsies is not rehearsed but performed because it is second nature to them.
It is true that flamenco possesses a strange and mysterious seduction that seems to induce all who are confronted with it and one must remember that it is the rhythm of the performer’s heart that dictates his dance and the sediment in his blood that produces the song.

It doesn’t really matter what style of flamenco you prefer – the orthodox cante jondo or the ‘New Flamenco’ – because you will eventually succumb to its magical allure because all music that has this name attached, evolved in the soil on which Andalusia now stands. 

Monday, March 11, 2013


1973; the year Diego left

Diego del Gastor - 1908 - 1973

There have been a few people within the world of flamenco that have demonstrated what the true meaning of this art is all about and these elite few are the ones that have shown us that flamenco is far much more than  just music; it is for sure a way of life.
No one demonstrated this more than Diego Flores Amaya; probably the most flamenco of all flamencos! Stories abound of Diego’s eccentric ways, especially of the thousands of pesetas in lost earnings after storming out of paid juergas angered by comments or actions that he saw as derogatory to the gypsy race.
Known throughout the world as Diego del Gastor; he was a simple guitarist who was born in Arriate, Málaga but had gone to live in Gastor, the town from which he took his artistic name: when he was just ten years old he went to live in Morón de la Frontera - and the legend was created.
He was gypsy to the core; a man who treated the lower classes and outcasts with as much time and respect as anyone else and he only asked that the gypsies be treated in the same way.
There have been many guitarists whose technical ability far exceeded Diego’s country style, but he played from the heart and each note was so meaningful because he was not interested in showmanship or virtuosity. His style was simple, but simple only in the way that it was not overly cluttered with too much going on, a fault that many of today’s flamenco guitarists are guilty of.
There are a few videos that show Diego accompanying some of flamenco’s greatest singers, and if you watch some of this old footage you will appreciate just what flamenco meant to him. It is moments like these that make the art of flamenco seem so worthwhile.
He was a favourite guitarist of La Fernanda and La Bernarda de Utrera as well as Juan Talega, whom he accompanied on many occasions.
Diego played almost exclusively at private juergas in and around Morón de la Frontera; avoiding the commercial scene that was taking place in the tablaos of Madrid at that period.
He was a shy man, and is said to have avoided other famous guitarists, but he did meet the Sabicas, who travelled from Madrid to Morón in order to present him with a guitar; which Diego was apparently reluctant to accept. Diego’s guitar was a means of expressing deep feeling and it was not what he played, but how he played it. Diego believed that maestros like Sabicas and Niño Ricardo would find his style too old fashioned, but these guitarists had a respect for Diego’s playing simply because it was so original and pure.
His creations were most often spontaneous, invented on the spur of the moment in true flamenco fashion, and it is known that Diego preferred to play a battered old guitar, which he would make come alive to produce the most poetic falsetas.
Diego del Gastor’s style was pure and deep, his playing full of long breaks and his timing was innate, especially when performing the siguiriyas, soleares, and bulerías. Diego lived for most of his life with his mother in Morón de la Frontera, a town that has become something of a shrine to him.
He died in Morón de la Frontera on the 7th July 1973; the very day he was to be honoured at the town’s annual flamenco festival. 
Diego del Gastor lived for the flamenco juerga lifestyle, enduring many sleepless nights fuelled by the consumption of much alcohol, and he lived this life to the full. Towards the latter part of his life, his doctors warned him to change his lifestyle by cutting out the all night drinking and flamenco sessions, advice which he chose to ignore.



Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Fernando Peña Soto-El Pinini (Lebrija, Sevilla 1863 - 1932) fue un legendario cantaor de flamenco que fue patriarca de una de las dinastías más grandes e ilustres de la historia del flamenco.Las ramas del árbol de esta familia están cargados de algunos de los grandes nombres del flamenco, como La Fernanda de Utrera, Miguel El Funi, Pepa de Benito, El Lebrijano e Inés Bacán.Este libro cartas de su linaje genealógico desde el siglo 18 hasta la actualidad, y se verá que la mayoría de los artistas flamencos más reconocidos en Andalucía se acerca a una enorme familia.“Herencia del tiempo” trata no solo de los gitanos andaluces en el flamenco, sino se refiere tambié a su forma de vida, sus costumbres y rituales, y por supuesto, su música y danza.Muchas personas son conscientes de las costumbres gitanas que declara que todos los gitanos son primos - este libro demostrará que esta afirmación bien puede tener algún fundamento.