Pedro Sierra
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“Guitar records have to be different to what's been done so far”


Pedro Sierra, flamenco guitarist. Interview

“You can't build a present or look to the future
without going through the past”

Carlos Sánchez. Seville, January 2006
Translation: Joseph Kopec

Despite the difficulties imposed by the record market, Pedro Sierra is one of those enterprising artists who go beyond the mere work of composing or performing. The guitarist has set out to self-manage and self-finance his production at his own studio and with his own label. ‘Nikelao’, the second album by the Catalan musician, is the product of his personal desire to do something different. A risky proposal in which he combines the three basic disciplines of toque, recovers old-time cantes and includes the baile of the exceptional Sevillian artist Israel Galván. All of it builds a new formula aiming to create a line to follow in the most immediate future.

Pedro Sierra (Photo: Daniel Muñoz)

‘Nikelao’ (which means ‘nickel-plated’), is that how shiny your new album has turned out?

The title says it all. When this work was advanced on January 13, 2005 at Seville's Flamenco Thursdays, it was called ‘Fragua Sonora’. But as a result of what happened that day, I took back up this record and new ideas started springing up, new concepts. It turns out that at that same time the presentation took place of the Agencia Andaluza del Flamenco (Andalusian Flamenco Agency) - a body depending on the regional Andalusian government - and for that reason, very few people came to see my show. The truth is I got a little dizzy with the titles. I jotted down all the ones I thought of on a sheet of paper. And in the end I remembered some lyrics by Duquende that talked about the “niquelao (nickel-plating) of the chair” and I liked it.

What would you like this album to contribute?

I'd like it to be food for thought for guitarists to start thinking that guitar records have to be different to what's been done so far. The idea of including old-time cantes might open the breach a little to other young people who are starting to listen to cante. You can't build a present or look to the future without going through the past.

Is it a risky album?

It could be described as risky in the sense that I take out the old-time guitarists to stick my guitar in for those great cantaores. I also see it as risky in the seguiriya I do with Israel Galván. Making a sonorous baile without an audiovisual isn't something typical. On the other hand, it feels clear and has a lot of nuances.

Even he himself was surprised by the end result of the seguiriya, wasn't he?

He himself was surprised. A few days ago Israel was commenting to a friend how much he'd liked it because it had many nuances. We're really happy with the result. It's a work both of us did at the same time. We created it as we went along.

What arises from the Sierra-Galván-Pavón triangle?

The Tomás Pavón thing's curious because when we were doing it, Tomás' cante fit anywhere we put it. That means Pavón had the rhythm down pat. He sang perfectly.

Does the guitarist always have to be on the edge of a cliff?

It's not nice to say so, but the guitarist is the first in line, is the best-prepared one. He has to know about cante, baile, his facet as a soloist, other types of music… He has to be up-to-date on everything. The guitarist is flamenco's intellectual.

"The guitarist is flamenco's intellectual"

Is too much demanded of you?

A lot is demanded of us for the little pay it gets. It's the least rewarded. Sitting on a chair, we have to show a lot of things. We can't play with the esthetics of the baile or the message of the cante.

Do you feel underappreciated?


Pedro Sierra (Photo: Daniel Muñoz)

Of course. We're the immigrants of flamenco because we always have to be away from our region or our country. You have to go and do concerts or teach courses in other countries. It's not that we're begging, but you have to make up formulas all the time for guitar to be successful.

Is there any flamenco without guitar?

I can't conceive of it. In fact, there's the theory that flamenco came out of the forge. But it's been demonstrated that it wasn't like that. The first evidence of the existence of flamenco is with a man with a guitar in his hand. Flamenco without guitar couldn't exist. In fact, the guitar is the instrument which defines Spain.

On the record three disciplines concerning toque can be discerned: as a soloist, accompanying cante and accompanying baile. Is it a must for the guitarist to go through all of these aspects?

It's a must from my point of view. You can see straightaway if a guitarist who's doing a concert knows how to accompany baile or cante. The guitarist's inspiration comes from cante. Most of the melodies have come from there. The three aspects have to be combined. If I devoted myself to working as a solo guitarist, things being what they are on the current scene, I'd be starving.

Why does the flamenco guitarist, unlike in other types of music like classical music, have to be continuously creating?

"We've gotten into the swing of composing obligatorily without having the need"

It's something curious I've been investigating. A classical musician might spend thirty years studying a piece by Manuel de Falla. On the other hand, a flamenco guitarist has to do his flourishes. I don't know if that's due to the model imposed by Paco de Lucía. Since then, people have wanted to have their own trademark. Before, the old-time guitarists had no choice but to come out with their own flourishes because they didn't use to have any influence from other flamenco guitarists. For example, Diego del Gastor who lived in Morón, and Niño Ricardo who was in Seville. In just sixty kilometers you can appreciate the great difference there was in one's toque compared to the other's. There weren't the communications or the media there are now. Nowadays, we all want to create our own compositions. We've gotten into the swing of composing obligatorily without having the need. We could be playing things by Sabicas, Niño Ricardo or Paco de Lucía himself. In ‘Nikelao’, besides my own compositions, I wanted to notice older things. That's the case of the seguiriya. There I base myself on the classicism of the old-timers.

Where is flamenco guitar at the moment?

It's in its golden age. You shake a stick and out come a hundred guitarists, who play well moreover. The thing is that these new talents have to be instilled with the liking for the old, for old-time things. There's a lot to listen to. That's one of the flaws of today's guitar together with wanting to create. Everybody wants to create and that's not possible.

Day by day it gets harder to identify the toques…

That's another of flamenco's chronic illnesses. We've had a lot of influence from other musical styles such as jazz, bossa nova, classical music... However, the character of the toques hasn't managed to be preserved. If the guitar is playing soleá, it has to sound like and keep the expression of the soleá.

On this album you recover old-time cantes by Pavón, Mairena, Morente and Marchena. Why those cantaores?

It was something by chance because I had more. But I didn't want this work to be a record with ten cantes on it. If this is successful and it opens up a line, I've already got more things ready. I have something around with Fosforito and with Chocolate.

What did you feel on accompanying those maestros?

Well, it was a feeling of complete satisfaction. It's a very great feeling to have been able to accompany those great cante figures. I really enjoyed myself with Mairena and with Marchena. I realized the quality each one has there, despite being two totally different extremes. You realize there that there shouldn't be any ‘mairenismo’ or ‘marchenismo’. Siding with one or the other is harmful to flamenco.

What would you highlight about Mairena and Marchena?

About Mairena, his personality. Listening to him coldly, you start to think that if a cantaor came out now with his qualities he'd be a huge hit. As far as Marchena, I'd highlight an intonation bordering on perfection. At that time there wasn't all the information we have now to reach those extremes.

As Morente is still an active cantaor, why did you choose an old recording of his?

He asked me that very same question (he smiles). When he called me he told me to go to Granada to record whatever I wanted to. I didn't know how to say no to him, because I wanted something old-time. I consider him a great maestro. Asking him to collaborate would be something normal everybody does on every album. That wasn't my idea. When he accepted my proposal, he was the one to choose the cante he wanted me to include on the album. I wanted the petenera, but he decided on the malagueña de Chacón.

Did he use to sing better before?

No, it was a different timbre. Morente has tremendous faculties.

What was the technical work like to pull out all those cantes?

Very laborious. I spent a lot of time on it; nearly six months' work. To do this you've got to listen to all of these artists' discographies. Because there were cantes I couldn't remove the guitar from. If I left the voice alone, there were noises to eliminate. Next, you have to move the voice for it to fit in the right places and square it off with the metronome. It's very painstaking work. But thanks to that, I've fed on cante. I've gained knowledge.

Fending for yourself at a studio is complicated, isn't it?

I've always liked that facet. In fact, at the age of fifteen I already had a four-track. Nobody would have thought of buying one. I remember that it was brought to me from London because it wasn't sold here. I've always been fond of recording. I was among the first to have a recording studio.

Aren't there any young cantaores who inspire you the way the old ones do?

Of course there are. There are young people who are coming on strong and who are going to provide a lot to talk about in the future. For example, José Valencia is going to be a really important pillar. He has tremendous faculties. He's the best-prepared cantaor at present.

Can't the fact that you've accompanied those artists have the consequence that attention isn't paid to the other part of the album where you play as a soloist?

"I can't compare with someone like Paco de Lucía, so I had to seek other formulas"

It really doesn't bother me. That's why I did it. The first part is my compositions I created for this album. They're all new. In fact, I'm really happy with what I've done. Records nowadays have eight or nine songs. I can't compare with someone like Paco de Lucía, so I had to seek other formulas. In fact, before the album's come out I've already had offers to apply this idea with other cantaores, even with one who's still alive.

Are you planning on doing a show with this record?

Yeah. This album is conceived for working. This is my letter of introduction. We all know that flamenco records aren't chart hits. When recording, I always think about the live show. In fact, I recorded the songs as if it were live. With this work we want to provide a completely different guitar concert format to what's out there. I can't move around on the same circuits as Paco de Lucía or Vicente Amigo. We'll see if we can take it to Barcelona, Córdoba and Seville's Bienal.

If I'm not mistaken, have you created your own record label?

That's right. I've created a label which I aim to follow a line with that says something, that contributes something. I want to back young people and not-so-young people. I can let you in on the fact that I'm doing a record for Manuel de Paula, who hasn't recorded in twenty-five years. I've also got a record in the planning stages for José Valencia and Antonio Villar.

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Flamenco guitarist Pedro Sierra releases his second album ‘Nikelao’

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