QUEEN OF THE GYPSIES:
The life and legend of Carmen Amaya.
from the book "Carmen Amaya, Queen of the Gypsies". Author: Paco Sevilla.
the years prior to 1936, Sabicas made a number of solo recordings that demonstrated
the mature technique of the twenty-years-old guitarist. Much of the material would
remain unchanged for the next two decades and appear on records made in the 1950s.
The playing is much cleaner than that of Ramón Montoya or others of the
time, with rich, pure tones and brilliant speed in the picados. Sabicas
has brought the tremolo to a level of perfection that would not be surpassed for
fifty years. The melody lines of his tremolos were complex, employing trills and
difficult changes on the inner strings, and his bass-lines were equally innovative.
And he could play tremolos very fast in an alegrías, farruca,
or verdiales, with no loss of clarity. In numbers like the soleá
he showed his mastery of the upper reaches of the guitar neck, made more difficult
by his placement of the cejilla at the third fret for almost all solos.
Evident in these early recordings is the extensive use of tapping on the guitar
face, a trademark of Sabicasí playing through-out his life.
also showed an early interest in developing solo versions of some of the more
trivial flamenco rhythms, those that other guitarist did not deem worthy of attention.
In thee first recording, he created a garrotín that contains most
of the melodies he would play for the rest of his life. Many credit Sabicas with
changing the key of the garrotín to C-major, from the more typical
A-major. But, in fact, Luis Molina had accompanied La Niña de los Peines
in C as early as 1910. In the same category of trivial folk music developed into
solos by Sabicas are his recording of campanilleros and a malagueñas
based on a fandango from the province of Almería. He also recorded
danza mora, an Arabic-flavored music that would become his specialty and
that he would record in many different forms. Sabicas single-handedly developed
this Moorish dance for the guitar, but he did not invent it. Previously, Miguel
Borrul had recorded "Danza Arabe".
his meeting with Carmen Amaya, Sabicas said, "We met when we were both children
in Barcelona. I went to work there and I saw her dance one day Ė she was very
young too. I became friends with her and her family." "I met Carmen
in a restaurant called Casa de Manquet. There on the dock, where all the sailors
used to go. A singer took me there, telling me, ĎCome, youíll see someone danceí
I went in. The flamenco atmosphere was great. There was Carmen, very young. I
was stunned to see what she could do... her hands, her feet... She carried everyone."
"I saw her dance and it seemed like something supernatural to me... I never
saw anyone dance like her. I donít know how she did it, I just donít know!".
has gone to Barcelona to record for the Parlophón Record Company. Apparently
he spent considerable time there, probably in the Villa Rosa, for his brother,
Diego, said that they tried to get him to marry one of the Borrull sisters. Seeing
the potential in Carmen, Sabicas approached her frustrated father: "Look,
Chino, you know that I have some understanding of these things. Your little girl
has something very serious within her, but among these people who neither know
nor care about this, she isnít going to do anything... You have to take her to
Madrid. There are people there who know about all of this and they will know how
to look at her!".
didnít take much to convince El Chino, but, according to Sabicas, the father told
him, "We canít afford to go!" To which Sabicas replied, "Donít
worry about the money. Just go! Iíll be there for you."
thereafter, El Chino and Carmen left the small family flat on Calle Nueva and
headed to Madrid. In the capital, some small contracts came their way, enabling
them to survive and even send a little money home to Barcelona. The two shared
a room in run-down pension and went largely unnoticed in that big city.
Many year later, Sabicasí brother, Diego Castellón, described this period
in the only interview he ever granted. He told Meira Goldberg in 1989:
had advised Carmenís father that they should go to Madrid, that there would be
more ability to understand her dance and more of a flamenco atmosphere in which
she could earn more money, and she would stand out much more. And that is how
it was. Some three or four weeks later they appeared in Madrid. Sabicas had told
them not to worry about money Ė something would turn up...
met her in the Puerta del Sol. They were staring at me, they knew me by sight.
El Chino greeted me, saying, "You are Diego, arenít you?"
said to him, "Sí señor!"
I donít know. Heís coming tomorrow."
to meet you, hija!"
told them to come the following day to Café Madrid, which was where all
the artists went, there in the Puerta del Sol. For sure they would see Sabicas
when he arrived in the morning from his tour with La Niña de la Puebla...
next day Ė or perhaps that same day Ė Sabicas saw them and brought them home.
He invited them to eat and offered them the necessities... Later, one night, he
took them to Villa Rosa, the cathedral of flamenco, where there were all the great
cantaores, the great guitarist. Father and daughter went, and everybody
was in a private room in a juerga. Sabicas said, "Come in, come in!
And the girl, too!" And he said, "This is a girl from Barcelona who
dances very well."
night has become legendary. Here is the popular version, related by Salvador Montañés.
He mistakenly placed it in Café Sevilla (more likely, Villa Rosa) where
flamenco artist gathered before work. One evening, Sabicas appeared in the café,
greeted El Chino with a slap on the back and Carmen with a kiss on the cheek,
and addressed those gathered there, "Look here, you have among you a catalán
gypsy who does very well and knows all you could want to know about this business
Peluco hears Sabicasí remark. El Peluco is another of those who claim to know
everything about flamenco. And it is true that El Peluco, a cantaor with
knowledge and feeling, "Currela lo suyo en esto del flamenco" [roughly,
"knows what he is doing in this thing of flamenco"] as he himself says.
But he is passionate, and upon hearing Sabicas, his guffaw is tremendous as he
says, "A catalana? She has to be fraud!".
is seated to the left of Sabicas, and at her side, El Chino. Pelucoís comment
does not sit well with Carmen. She rises abruptly, faces the cantaor, and
says to him, "Fraud? Watch this...!" Carmen Amaya, the catalán
gypsy, breaks into a dance, while Sabicas and El Chino hum some ancient verses
of soleares under their breath and their hands beat on and caress the marble
tabletop. El Peluco opens his eyes in amazement. Carmen is dancing for him! There
is no sounds of guitars, only an audience who knows about these things. Carmen
improvises. Suddenly, El Peluco rises from his chair and, to the amazement of
the rest, leans against a wall and, while beating his head forcefully against
it, cries out wildly, "Fraud, fraud?... I called her a fraud! That is what
it means to dance, girl!".
without stopping, comes close to El Peluco, corners him, drives him crazy... The
spectator, astonished, stand on the chairs and tables in order to see the spectacle
of El Peluco crying and bleeding from the wound in his forehead that he got from
hitting the wall. The impassioned gypsy girl, such a little thing, has kicked
off her shoes and is dancing, spitting fire from her eyes, all because they have
called her a "fraud". Meanwhile, a voice sound a cante, a profound
cante, that speaks of passion, of mountains, sun, and bramble patches [zarzales].
Carmen Amaya, the catalán gypsy, dances to the rhythm of that cante.
El Peluco shudders and continues singing. El Peluco sings for Carmen Amaya and
Carmen Amaya dances. But now Carmen has forgotten that they had called her a "fraud",
she has forgotten El Peluco, she has forgotten everything. Carmen Amaya now dances
for herself. In reality, Carmen Amaya never has danced for anybody!".
thanks to Molarskyís interview of Sabicas and Goldbergís interviews with his brother,
Diego, we have first-hand testimony concerning that unforgettable night. Surprisingly,
their accounts support many aspects of the popular legend:
One day I was in a juerga with a group of gypsies of the Villa Rosa, and
I saw her mother and father. I went over to the father and daughter and embraced
them. I said, "What are you doing here?" I asked them to come in. Then
I saw that Carmen was dancing in her chair. She wanted to dance. Two or three
excellent bailaoras came out to dance, and then I gave my guitar to Carmenís
father and said "If it is okay with you?".
I said, "Now, Carmen Amaya, a catalán gypsy, is going to dance
a little." And she went to the stage. She danced. One man hit himself against
the wall and cracked his head open. The plates and tables were all over the place.
Sabicas said, "Come, niña, dance a little so these people can
see you!" And when they saw her dance they were stunned and put their hands
to their heads. She danced por alegrías, por soleá,
and I donít know what... "how can this be? It is a miracle of God!"
Immediately everybody knew who she was. She was a star. She swept everybody away.
word spread through Madrid and of course everything became distorted. They spoke
of a wild juerga, a big fight, a drunken orgy. And, clearly, Carmen Amayaís
name was on everybodyís lips. Work began to come her way. Diego Castellón
recalled: "There was a cabaret called El Alcázar where Carmen got
her start. Everyone came to see her and everyone was talking about her. It was
a cabaret, with canción singers and this and that, and then she
did her thing... with her father playing for her, and later her brother Paco.
And she always dressed in white pants. And her father also dressed in white."
Before long, the
impresario (manager) Juan Carcellé contacted El Chino.