Sunday, December 1, 2013

EMILIO EL MORO - The singer of seven voices

There have been many notable artistes with-in the history of flamenco and some of these extraordinary characters stood out, not only for their mastery of the flamenco, but because of their wild antics or strange life-styles. There has also been a few whose dress-sense made them instantly distinguishable because they deviated from the traditional gypsy attire of polka-dotted shirts, neck-scarves and the tight-fitting traje corto.
El Cabrero (the goat-herder) has often been labeled the ‘Clint Eastwood’ of flamenco because of his practice of wearing a cow-boy hat and boots, whilst El Carrete de Málaga often performs in top-hat and tails, complete with walking-cane and white gloves, and for this he has become known as the ‘Fred Astaire Gitano’
There have also been numerous singers who have used flamenco as an underlying theme for their act and yet some of these performers were frowned upon by died- in-the-wool aficionados who accepted nothing less than pure, unadulterated cante jondo.
One singer, who tried desperately, yet unsuccessfully, to break into the serious flamenco scene in Spain, was Emilio Jiménez Gallego – Emilio El Moro – one of the most unusual flamenco singers of the last century. Emilio was an admirer the Marchenismo School of singing and could sing the fandangos as good as any, but he was advised, by the famed guitarist Niño Ricardo, to shed this aspect and find a direction of his own: this he would do by peppering his performance with complements of Arabic song, which enriched his already unique voice, and also by mixing his music with an element of stand-up comedy. 
His act would include playing the guitar behind his head or singing with a cigarette in his mouth, or playing a fandango on the guitar with just one hand: one of the pranks that would earn him resounding recognition was his ‘guitar solo’. For this he would place his guitar on the floor in the middle of the stage and then disappear into the wings for a few minutes; effecting at first confusion, followed by unconstrained laughter as the joke became evident.
He would also (in a similar way to the great British prop-comedian Tommy Cooper) appear on the stage and not utter or sing a word; instead he would sit in a chair, light a cigarette and behave in a manner that would have his audience rolling in their seats.  

Pep Pinto, La Niña de los Peines & Emilio El Moro
Born in Melilla in 1923, Emilio became one of the most entertaining singers of his era and his style was so distinctive because he was the first, and certainly the only, notable flamenco singer to hail from North Africa: his ability to sing a single syllable whilst moving between several different notes in succession earned him the nickname of the ‘singer of seven voices.
Emilio was one of twelve children and although he was raised in Melilla, both of his parents were natives of Málaga.
A keen fisherman who spoke five languages, Emilio was a flamenco aficionado from an early age and entered many competitions on radio Melilla singing fandangos, soleares and tientos. In fact, flamenco had no boundaries as far as his knowledge of song styles was concerned. Although he won several singing competitions in his youth, he was never able to break into the andalusian world of flamenco, and so spent his early years working as a painter and decoratorfor his father’s business.
After finishing his military service in 1946, Emilio went to Madrid where he was looked after by relatives and family friends. He arrived in the capital with just“a battered old guitar and a bar of chocolate”- and an unreserved determination to succeed on the flamenco scene. He was contracted to perform at various venues in Madrid but he failed to make an impact on his audience and after numerous endeavors to attain acknowledgement as a serious flamenco singer, he eventually decided to play on his Moroccan roots and started to dress with an artistic personality that would eventually gain him success in Madrid.
The people of Madrid were intrigued by his bizarre false beard and eccentric Moroccan attire, but it was the peculiar Arabic tone of his flamenco that quickly made him the talking point of the flamenco scene in the capital. 
He was hired to sing in the show ‘Sol de España, but before he undertook the contract, he wanted desperately to wed his childhood sweet heart – Pilar Saugar Moral. The service was held in the church of San Miguel in Madrid but unfortunately there was no time for a honeymoon as Emilio had to leave directly after the reception to begin the tour.
Emilio was to begin a run of great success and he was soon demanding a whopping 250 pesetas for a single performance – a considerable amount of money for a flamenco singer in that time!
At first he would be billed under numerous names including Emilio de Melilla and El Moro de Melilla, but he would eventually adopt the artistic name of Enrique El Moro and shed his fake beard and turban (a look that often likened him to the zany master of disguise played by Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther movies) in favor of a more debonair look of tuxedo and fez.
Clowning around wit Laurel & Hardy
What really catapulted him to fame in Spain, and eventually the rest of the world, was his ability to take a popular song and masterfully change the lyrics whilst giving them a uniquely personal touch. His ability to adapt the works of Juanito Valderrama, Conchita Piquer and Juanita Reina, and his comical imitations of Lola Flores and Manolo Caracol, would eventually lead to him gaining a reputation as the humorous prankster of flamenco.
However, the secret of Emilio’s success was his ability to sing wonderfully well and his repertoire of flamenco songs, coupled with his parodies of popular Spanish songs, was to ensure him great fame and recognition. He recorded his first LP record in 1952and he would record more than forty albums during his career and he would also appear in several movies.
His style was original and there has certainly been no other of his kind; he was a singer who could take such diverse songs as ‘Yellow Submarine’ or the hits of Julio Inglesias and make them slap-stickily flamenco.
Even though his popularity waned in the late seventies, he continued working in tablaos and night-clubs until his death in 1987; although he spent most of his later years living at his country retreat in Alicante.
Emilio had undergone an operation for cataracts and was staying in the house of his sister at the time of his death. He had attempted to light a cigarette on a small gas oven (used by his nephew who worked as a dental technician) and because he had not fully recovered from his operation, he misjudged the distance and the flame caught onto his clothes; rendering him with 60º burns to the arms and chest. Despite the gravity of his injuries, Emilio is said to have joked with the medics in the ambulance en route to the hospital, however, he suffered a stroke and died a few weeks later. Emilio was interred in a family plot in the town of Monforte del Cid in Alicante.

During his forty-years as an entertainer he was to work and befriend numerous world-renowned artistes, musicians and Hollywood stars and he obviously had a resounding effect on many of them: Emilio was unique and there has never been another who could recreate his extremely personal style of comedy-infused flamenco.

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