Carmen Amaya:
Biography, discography, RealAudio and readers comments

Biography, discography, RealAudio and readers comments

Carmen Amaya
"Carmen Amaya"

"Recital de Gitarra"





The life and legend of Carmen Amaya.

Excerpt from the book "Carmen Amaya, Queen of the Gypsies". Author: Paco Sevilla.

1. Sabicas

In 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.

Sabicas 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".

On 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!".

Sabicas 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!".

I 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."

Shortly 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:

Sabicas 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...

I 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?"

I said to him, "Sí señor!"

"And your brother?"

"Tío, I donít know. Heís coming tomorrow."

"My daughter, Carmen."

"Please to meet you, hija!"

I 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...

The 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."

That 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 of dancing!"

Montañés continued:

El 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!".

Carmen 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!".

Carmen, 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!".

Now, 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:

Sabicas: 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?".

And 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.

Diego: 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!"

Sabicas: Immediately everybody knew who she was. She was a star. She swept everybody away.

Soon, 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.

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