Antonio Rey, flamenco guitarist. Interview
“Guitar is now at the point
old-time is going to become modern”
Silvia Calado. Madrid, January 2007
Neither in Jerez, nor in Madrid,
nor in Seville. Antonio
Rey learned how to play the guitar out there in the
big wide world. He was just a nine-year-old boy when his
father, cantaor and tocaor Toni Rey, went off to Mexico
to work at tablaos, galas and theaters. And he took him
with him... straight to the stages. That was how “I
at least learned the bases of rhythm and technique, accompanying
cante and baile”. Five years later, he made a stopover
in Jerez to leave for a tour of Japan with Yoko Komatsubara.
And in the land of the rising sun he found another school.
“I spent a year in Tokyo and since there were several
tablaos, I went in search of all the guitarists who were
going there to work, like Miguel Iglesias, who taught
me a lot of stuff. If Manuela Carrasco came for a week,
then I went after them. Joaquín Cortés came,
and I went after his guitarists. I was nicknamed ‘the
Spy’. I was always after them picking up on their
falsetas. Ha ha ha”.
Antonio Rey (Photo Daniel
He was already seventeen when he got
to Madrid. He performed at Casa Patas accompanying his
sister, bailaora and cantaora Mara Rey, unaware of the
presence of an ‘observer’: Antonio
Canales. The Sevillian bailaor signed him up for his
company, where he discovered another school; that of Cañorroto.
“When I saw that way of playing, I flipped out.
I hadn’t seen that in my entire life, that such
great technique, that really true devotion to guitar,
hours and hours, besides that musical quality”.
The one acting as a guide for him was David Cerreduela,
but he stresses that “you mustn’t forget El
Nani, David’s father, who is one of the creators
of this school, or El Viejín, Ramón Jiménez,
de Rosario or Los Losada”.
And there, while he was broadening his
knowledge, he began an intense phase dedicated to accompaniment
and composing for baile. The guitarist relates that he
worked “with Rafael Amargo, Rafaela Carrasco, Manuela
Carrasco, Farruquito... and also doing the music for
‘Romeo y Julieta’ and ‘Tierra’
by the Nuevo Ballet Español, and music for Andrés
Marín, who has helped me a lot”. And he doesn’t
mind the contrasts or the styles: “I would just
as easily play for Manuela Carrasco, the most flamenco
artist in the world, as for a pop group”. The question
was to grow in this profession. And there was a lot to
learn at the baile school: “Above all, to value
flamenco and enjoy flamenco without the need to put on
a play. I think that to do flamenco, you don’t have
to jump off a diving board. You watch Manuela Carrasco
dance... and that’s the flamenco I like, just like
that. I dance por soleá, you accompany me and let’s
go. Nowadays there are really complex, really heavily
rehearsed shows, but everything’s a little more
-Is it demanding to play for
-“And more so for Farruquito.
With Manuela, you know more or less where she’s
going to lead you. But with Farruquito, the thing is that
you don’t know which way he’s going to go
and many times you like him dancing so much that you even
forget you have to play. He’s flamenco at its purest;
you don’t know what he’s going to do, he never
sets up anything. He’s one of my idols, he’s
collaborated with me on the album, we’ve done the
bulería ‘Tacones y bordones’ together,
which he recorded on a tiny little board we found in the
garbage... He worked wonders. I’ve learned a great
deal from them, especially how to be up on stage; never
to relax, to be a little tense, but knowing how to enjoy
Antonio Rey (Foto Daniel Muñoz)
Then the time comes for him to perform
up front and he does so by taking part in several contests...
and winning them. “A friend of mine signed me up
at La Unión. And it was an important point because
you go there without anyone knowing you, and you come
and you even appear on the TV news”. But it wasn’t
a traumatic experience for him: “I already had the
experience, in theory, of facing a solo on stage because
at the tablao, my father always used to put me up front
at the beginning of the show. And I’d more or less
overcome that bashfulness. I took it as if I were working,
not as a contest”. And he acquired a taste for it
and signed up for the one in Hospitalet de Llobregat,
“where I also won first place”. It was harder
to face the Flamenco Guitar Contest of Jerez, since the
jury consisted of none other than maestros like Gerardo
Núñez, Serranito and Manolo Franco. “After
playing there, you’d get up in front of anybody...
Except Paco!”, he exclaims with conviction.
than anything else, Gerardo Núñez
has given me advice. He gave me complete freedom"
Núñez, who back then was sponsoring
talents with ‘La
Nueva Escuela de la Guitarra Flamenca’ (‘The
New School of Flamenco Guitar’), noticed him. And
he offered to produce his first solo album, which has
just come out with the title ‘A través de
ti’. “I recorded it at his house in Tres Cantos,
those unforgettable afternoons with Carmen Cortés’s
little cups of coffee. They’ve been really nice
to me. I’m really grateful to them; they’ve
helped me make my dream come true”, the guitarist
points out. Though he contributed something more than
just technical means to him: “More than anything
else, Gerardo Núñez has given me advice.
He gave me complete freedom. But he did step in when it
was time to check things: this is a little bit out of
tune, the timing’s a bit off here... They were little
details, but they made all the difference”. And
he even contributed his guitar! “I even recorded
with his guitar, which sounded better than mine”,
he recalls thankfully.
Antonio Rey (Photo Daniel
He got to the studio with the album still
rather shaky, as he recognizes. But the desire to record
was too much for him. “I wanted to die because I
didn’t have any songs finished; what I had were
ideas and I started putting them together like a jigsaw
puzzle, I started doing beginnings and ends, but I wasn’t
sure at all about it”. To help himself, “I
bought myself a little home studio, the typical Pro Tools
and a Mac, and I more or less got the songs under control
there. Even so, I hadn’t finished the songs, but
I wanted to record... I couldn’t tell him to wait
a year for me. So I went with a sword but no armor”,
he admits. But what at first appeared to be a disadvantage
worked to his favor: “I was lucky to get to the
studio with the songs open and be able to seek their endings
there, always with help from the sound technician. I worked
as I went along. And I think it was better, because if
you have everything so tied down you don’t let your
soul have any freedom”.
And moreover, he wasn’t alone...
but quite the contrary. A lot of artists stopped by the
studio and left their contribution. “Guadiana
brought magic with his voice, Bernardo Parrilla added
the violin, Farruquito stuck in footwork, I had Leo Triviño
and El Londro on cante, who I love...”. And curiously,
he also wanted to share with other guitarist colleagues,
“since I like guitar a lot”. One of them brought
Jerez soniquete, “Diego
del Morao; I’m one of his greatest admirers”.
And the other, the secrets of Cañorroto, in the
duel por bulerías entitled ‘Con mi amigo
y maestro David Cerreduela’. So he made his references
clear: “It isn’t just Cañorroto, but
he did mark me in one period. I’d listened to Paco,
Manolo, Vicente, Gerardo... but I hadn’t listened
to that such personal school. But always maintaining my
distance, because copying doesn’t contribute anything.
But I always really go for Andalusia, I die for Jerez
soniquete”. But also for the Granada enchantment
Habichuela, as the rondeña ‘Al Tío
Pepe’ shows: “My mother and my father, who
are very good friends of his, always used to talk to me
about him. They insisted that I listened to him. Of course
I was really young and I used to listen to more modern
stuff like Vicente’s, stuff more from my era. But
when I heard him por rondeñas, it was etched on
my memory. He’s one of the most flamenco guitarists
left nowadays, a real wonder”.
always really go for Andalusia, I die for Jerez
That rondeña is part of the section
of the album which he has reserved for just simply solo
guitar. But he also shows another facet of more arranged
songs, more for all audiences. “I tried to make
a flamenco album, but for example, I open with a rumba
for people who might not stand a soleá so much,
to provide a bit of a contrast”, he comments. A
song in which he gathers a band of musicians of different
origins such as “Cuban contrabassist Yelsi Heredia,
drummer Joaquín Migallón, who plays a lot
with O’Funkillo and Raimundo Amador, Irapoan Freire
on trumpet, who has played a lot with Vicente Amigo...”.
But he listened to his father’s advice, telling
him “not to record with so many instruments. Everybody
does the same thing; they bog down everything with vocals,
And he laid down a condition: “Record
whatever you want, but do three songs for me with old-time
guitar”. He ended up agreeing with him, reflecting
upon phrases of the type: “The way you gain respect,
especially on your first album, is by playing flamenco”.
That’s what he’s done, playing soleá,
taranta, rondeña and seguiriya. “And then
I did the rumbita and three bulerías... I overdid
it a little with the bulerías!”. But it was
the best framework for sticking in the collaborations;
“we think the bulería is wonderful, nearly
all of us are really comfortable playing bulerías”.
Now then, he has “tried for them to be different
by exploring, for example, in three-time rhythm, in which
you often go por bulerías, but it doesn’t
sound like you’re going por bulerías. You
can play so much with that rhythm...”. A game which
has been contributed to by first-rate percussionists such
as Ramón Porrina, Sabú, Cepillo, Paquito
Sanlúcar, El Negro and Diego Álvarez. “There’s
percussion but without wanting to bog it down. It’s
there riding in the background, but without pounding the
guitar; they’re listening to me”.
Antonio Rey (Foto Daniel
That communication, that exercise in
listening, is what the new period opening up in his career
is going to be about. But it isn’t going to mean
slamming the door on what he has been doing up until now;
accompanying. And on this subject, he states that “being
a concert guitarist has been my dream, but I’ve
never felt like anything. I like guitar so much that it’s
all the same for me to play for dancing or for singing,
or as a soloist. You obviously go out in search of a goal
and it would be my dream to go on playing solo, but I
wouldn’t like to give up playing with people because
you learn a lot and you have a really good time. For you
to be followed is really nice, but it’s also nice
to follow somebody else and listen, to have to accompany
a cantaor you’ve never heard before and you find
just the right point accompanying him. I’ve never
felt like a specific type”.
If he’s asked what his contribution
to the flamenco guitar scene is going to be, he says with
conviction that “it’s all been done already”.
And he jokingly calls himself “just another artist
Encyclopedia”. He adds that his intention is
to play flamenco, not to lead guitar down another road
or to another field. “Your way of seeing flamenco
is contributed because it’s all really heavily investigated,
although it isn’t finished... it never will be”.
And he admits that “it’s really hard to make
up something new. You can play with another sound, apply
another technique... but in the end, you’re playing
bulerías”. Aren’t there any surprises
in store for us, then? And he answers that “nowadays
guitar which contributes and startles you, as I say, I
think just Paco can do it; he’s the only one who’s
laying down the rules and saying now you play like this
or now you play like that. And everyone else is behind.
That’s still like that”. And the future is
now clear to him: “We’ll have to go back.
My father says that guitar is now at a point where playing
old-time is going to become modern in the end”.
like guitar so much that it’s all the same
for me to play for dancing or for singing, or as
And he’s thankful that there’s
Manuel Parrilla, Diego de Morao, Manuel Morao, Pepe Habichuela...
who, in his opinion, “are guitarists who are upholding
the essence of what playing flamenco is without having
to do chords or other stuff, but rather soniquete, rhythm,
accompanying, good taste, and above all, sounding flamenco”.
He sums it all up to that: “After all, flamenco
is flamenco. I see a play with strange, abstract superchoreographies...
but when you catch a kick, a marking or a finish.... I
think that’s flamenco”. That doesn’t
mean he disagrees with opening up, with influences, but
with nuances. “Contribute whatever you want, but
having enough of the other stuff, of the flamenco flavor.
That’s what Paco
de Lucía has, who plays ‘Ziryab’
which is like a modern song, but then he goes like that,
starts doing soleá, with that flamenco timbre...
And that’s why I think he stays up there and he
is and will be one of the greatest pillars of flamenco
guitar”. And he thinks the same about Tomatito
yes, who does ‘Spain’ with Michel Camilo,
There’s no more effective incentive
for a guitarist... than another guitarist. “I get
together with other colleagues a lot; I’m the type
who grabs things and I like to meet up with people. I
get together with Diego del Morao or David Cerreduela
a lot to share what each of us is doing”. And the
thing is that he’s reached the conclusion that “you
can’t learn alone. You can improve your technique
and get to know yourself, but in flamenco, since it isn’t
written in a score and there are many maestros who haven’t
recorded, you have no choice but to learn from them”.
And he relates that the other day he was “at El
Viejín’s house and I listened to him
play the guitar a little bit... and out of everything
he’s played, you hold onto something and you can’t
wait to get home with it to use it to put together something.
I think that’s how we flamencos feed one another”.
So Antonio Rey doesn’t stop taking part in the most
varied projects. And while he’s getting ready for
the presentation of his album at Seville’s Teatro
Central in March and a tour with his group in Mexico the
following month, he’s working as musical director
of the live show of the album ‘Olala!’ by
actress Victoria Abril, besides accompanying bailaor Juan
de Juan, cantaor Rafael de Utrera, cantaora La Tana...”.
Courage, first and foremost. And one last confession before
getting back to his rehearsals: “I’m not afraid
to get involved in different projects, as long as I’m
allowed to be me”.