Javier Limón, producer and songwriter. Flamenco interview
“Paco de Lucía
is the real flamenco producer”
Silvia Calado. Madrid, June 2005
Translation: Gary Cook
There's one name that's cropped up again and again
over the past few years on the credits of new flamenco releases.
And it isn't the name of a vocalist, nor of a guitarist, nor
of a 'palmero'. Javier
Limón, producer and songwriter, already left his
mark on albums such as ‘Lágrimas negras’
by Bebo Valdés and Diego el Cigala, ‘Cositas
buenas’ by Paco de Lucía, ‘Niño
Josele’, ‘La rosa blanca’ by Montse Cortés...
Now all the friends that have passed through the doors of
his studio feature on the album that launches his new recording
label: Casa Limón. After the first album ‘Limón’,
“a script tailored to fit actors and actresses”
such as Bebo Valdés, La Tana and Potito, will come
the solo projects: Niño Josele, Calamaro and La Negra,
one of the producer's discoveries. A multicultural approach,
keeping the equipment out of sight, friendship and ‘Haiku’
are the maxims of this self-confessed admirer of the maestro
from Algeciras, who he terms “the truly great flamenco
Javier Limón (Photo:
What does the Casa Limón project involve really?
What I did is round up all the regulars at my studio Casa
Limón, the ones that played on the albums by Enrique
Morente, by Luz Casal, by Calamaro, by Paco de Lucía...
it’s always the same guys: Piraña, Alain Pérez,
Niño Josele... It's like a team that grew slowly over
time with other artists like Elian Elías, Marc Johnson,
some jazz people, Carlinhos Brown... The group's starting
to take shape. And we've created this label to put on record
something that already exists.
One of your principles is multiculturalism, isn't
The basic cornerstones of ‘great music’ were
Brazil, Afro-Cuban music, jazz and later, via Piazzola, Argentinean
tango. I think that thanks to Paco de Lucía above all,
flamenco is another language, another cornerstone of great
music. And flamenco already has a broad enough vocabulary
to speak of any theme, you can make any classic a flamenco
tune now. The approach is to make world music, but always
with one foot in flamenco. This year I recorded in many places
- Bahía, Bristol, Bogotá, New York - and every
time you mention Paco
de Lucía or flamenco, people turn their heads.
I think it's going to work. Commercially-speaking I don't
know if it's going to work, but I don't care. I think selling
albums is something secondary, it's an issue that's quite
separate from whether the album is good or bad.
Javier Limón (Photo:
But paradoxically things you produced get labeled
commercial, and then they don't make the best-selling lists...
If someone writes me off as being too commercial, let them
listen to ‘El
Sorbo’ all the way through, then if they have the
guts let them tell me then that I'm too commercial. For example,
if I'd wanted ‘Lágrimas negras’ to be commercial
it wouldn't have a four minute piano solo on ‘La bien
pagá’. The truth is that later people started
saying those things. The same thing happened with albums by
Luz or by Calamaro or Paco. And Victoria Abril's album, which
is a simple project by a woman who felt like singing a few
tunes, comes out in Spain and doesn't sell at all. In France,
though, it sold seventy thousand copies in three weeks. Is
the album good or bad? Evidently the quality of the album
has nothing to do with sales figures. In flamenco it's certainly
true that there's an audience of ten to fifteen thousand flamenco-lovers
that always take the bait, but even then there are albums
by outstanding guitarists that have sold just one or two thousand
copies. OK, Paco is just on another level, but the next in
line - I don't know if he's from Córdoba or from Almería
- I don't think sells more than fifteen thousand copies. And
many of the big established names sell a thousand, two thousand
or three thousand. I think the quality doesn't bear any relation
to sales figures.
Paco de Lucía once told me. “When you make an
album you have to make your album, not your family's, nor
your friends', nor your customers', nor your recording company's.”
The selection of tracks, the choice of musicians, the studio,
the structures... You're making what you feel is right, then
later on once it's finished we're going to be able to defend
it no sweat. You have to be true to yourself. In any case,
on this album of mine, which is the first one on the label,
what I did was make a script, and later I called the actors
and actresses that fit best with each melody. The ones that
are on the album are all friends, there are no infiltrators.
What do your ‘actors and actresses’ have
in common, apart from the lemon in the photos?
Friendship. To me Paco’s been my idol since I was small,
he's like Maradona to kids that like football. Just meeting
him was too much. Then helping him with his album was too
too much. And the fact that he does a tune for me here is...
wow. We're all friends and they're all linked in some way.
Jerry González played with Josele and Los Piratas,
Bebo with Carlinhos... A real hotchpotch of friends. And my
basic group for the album is Paco's group: Niño Josele,
Piraña and Alain Pérez.
think to cling on to the four or five cantes by Manuel
Torre or Antonio Chacón from the turn of the
century and to say that they're the commandments is
What they all have in common is that they all know their
roots well, even Calamaro, a true expert in Argentinean tango.
I was with him in Buenos Aires and I couldn't believe my eyes
- the legends of tango worship him. He knows the tango inside-out,
as well as Argentinean samba, the chacarera and all of the
traditional Argentinean folk music. And Bebo, I don't need
to mention that he almost invented Cuban music! They all have
a deep knowledge of their music, that’s what unites
them. For example, to mix Guaguancó with flamenco you
have to know that salsa comes from the Guaguancó, that
Afro-Cuban music originates from Haiti, from Yoruba music
which, in turn, comes directly from Africa and it's in Haiti
where it got mixed up with “la malagueña”,
as Bebo calls it. You have to know that when you come to fuse
Cuban music with flamenco. I think these musicians are ideal
for making fusion because they have such a deep knowledge
of their roots that they really know exactly what's needed
at every moment. Bebo is amazing when it comes to that. When
he was making ‘El milagro de Candeal’, if he had
to do a fusion with Brazilian music, he remembered what common
African notes he had to play...
Working with Bebo must've been an incredible experience,
Of course - Bebo is a real character. And the fact is, as
he's so young and full of life, we don't realize how old Bebo
is. They told me that Carlinhos, Trueba and Bebo were in a
car and a song came on the radio. You can guess how old it
was, because it told the story of a horseman and his steed.
And the lyric went “pim, pim, cayó Berlín;
pom, pom, cayó Japón”. And these cities
fell for the Cubans of those days to poke fun at the Japanese
and the Germans in the Second World War. And just then Bebo,
who'd been sitting silently the whole time, piped up and told
them: “Hey, guys, here comes a solo of mine, I think”.
And there it was, a solo by Bebo from the forties. By the
sound of it Carlinhos and Trueba stared at each other in disbelief.
It's impossible to catch him out. I mean he played with Nat
King Cole, with Sinatra, with Josephine Baker... a true ‘capo’.