Pitingo, flamenco cantaor. Interview
“I’d rather be criticized
the way Camarón and Enrique Morente were criticized”
Silvia Calado. Madrid, December 2007
Translation: Joseph Kopec
‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’,
in principle, has nothing to do with a bulería.
But if Pitingo steps in, it seems like anything can be
turned into flamenco. That’s what the Huelva-born
cantaor upholds in ‘Soulería’, a show
which is booming at the box office and which “takes
flamenco to people my age”. The show, which puts
twenty-five people up on stage between gospel singers,
rockers and flamencos, will be released on DVD next year,
shortly after his second solo album comes out. He has
announced that on the recording songs like ‘Yesterday’
are side by side with tarantas by the Habichuela family.
And that more than ‘soulerías’, “now
they’re ‘pitinguerías’ ”.
He isn’t planning on getting off that ship.
Pitingo (Photo Daniel
The smoke from the roast chestnut
stands contrasts with the ice cream shop which now occupies
the hall. But the din from the street is comparable to
that inside the Teatro Häagen-Dazs Calderón.
It might even surpass it. This afternoon it’s time
for the rehearsal of ‘Soulería’. And
nearly thirty people swarm around on stage, the pit, the
streets, the seats... Technicians, assistants, friends,
and of course, artists. A gospel choir coming from New
Orleans, a rock band, flamenco guitarists, clappers, vocalists
and box drum players... and at the front, Pitingo. During
this stint, it’s time to adjust a song by... Nirvana?!
But what is ‘Soulería’?
The one who defines it best is José
Manuel Gamboa - producer of his first album -, of course.
But the word itself means soul with a bulería beat.
And now there are ‘pitinguerías’, which
are follies of mine.
What does the show have to offer?
There’s a bit of everything. The
show starts with a trilla. And people who come have the
chance to listen to the usual cante, without any madness.
And from there we go on to ‘Georgia on My Mind’
by Ray Charles. The concept of the show is that: parts
with flamenco and parts with pure gospel. There’s
a granaína, a soleá, a fandango... And there
are songs as famous as ‘Killing Me Softly’,
‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana, ‘Let
It Be’, ‘What a Wonderful World’ by
Louis Armstrong... There’s a lot of variety, there’s
something for every audience. And everything’s been
adapted to flamenco styles. For example, ‘Wonderful
World’ goes por soleá. And there are songs
por tangos, por bulerías and even por fandangos
de Alosno, which we do with the gospel choir and it turns
out brilliant. More than one person isn’t going
to understand it, that’s normal; but little by little
I think it’s going to be accepted by everyone.
Pitingo (Photo Daniel Muñoz)
Being such a varied repertoire,
what was the work choosing the songs like?
We did it between Alejo Estivel, Juan
Camborio and me. We fought over it, we shouted at each
other, because each of us wanted to stick in a song, but
we reached an agreement in the end. Ha ha ha. The concert
is just as easily up, then down, then up, then down and
afterwards up, up, up, until the end. We also intend to
do a gypsy Christmas carol mixed with ‘Silent Night’
which they do a capella. Everything’s, well... ‘soulería’.
And the music?
There’s guitar, a chorus... and
then, percussions, electric bass, hammond, drums... There
are twenty-five of us up on stage.
Has it been hard for the gospel
choir to absorb flamenco?
At first, when they arrived from New
Orleans, they came wondering where we were going to stick
them in. But then they flipped out. It had to be explained
to them that por bulerías (and he marks the beat
on the table with his knuckles) a soul song could be done.
Las Bautista are going to do a song alone por bulerías
which is by Whitney Houston. And they freak out because
they’ve only listened to soul, funk... with a normal
beat, tango stuff. When all of a sudden, they see a soleá
or a seguiriya, and their jaw drops. In the end we got
along really well, with a lot of affection, and they cried
like crazy when they left. They were already looking forward
to coming back; we’re all going to spend Christmastime
together. They say we’re gypsies with a black soul.
Pitingo with Gospel Black
of New Orleans (Photo Daniel Muņoz)
And the thing is that ‘Soulería’
was already on the bill in September. That is when it
premiered and when it was recorded for its upcoming release
on DVD. Now it’s back on the bill in Madrid, with
such success at the box office that it’s had to
be extended. And to do so, it even changes theaters. From
November 30th to December 7th, it’s on the bill
at the Teatro Calderón. They then move on to the
Teatro Bellas Artes, where they’ll be starting on
December 10th... “until we don’t know when”.
The public will decide.
Do the gospel singers take part
in the flamenco cantes?
Oh yeah, they take part in the bulería
‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’, which is mixed
with cantes by La
Perla. The refrain is Bobby McFerrin’s por bulerías
and then it goes on to La Perla’s cantes, the ones
(he starts singing them) “partying with
the Habichuela family one day, trán, tracatán,
tracantín, trán, trán”. And
all the rest is traditional. Let’s say that the
refrain is the novelty.
Pitingo (Photo Daniel
Who took care of coordinating,
of making sure all the pieces fit together?
Juan (Camborio) and I. Before the choir
came, we’d been working for three months. Musically,
we prepared everything ourselves, although Alejo also
took part. For example, ‘No Woman No Cry’
is por tanguillos, and of course, to transfer those lyrics
to tanguillos and for them to also sing to that beat was
hard for us. The thing is that they take it that way:
tá-tacatá-tacatá... (he hums
it, marking the beat). And the bulería is
a little hard for them... quite hard. But it was solved
by explaining to them when they have to come in. They
wanted the compás to be explained to them, but
even if I told them one, two, one two three, four, five,
six, seven, eight, nine, ten, they weren’t going
to get it. They had to understand the sense of it and
they waltzed into it. They do it as if it were por tangos,
but they stick it in bulerías. It was really hard
for us, but I think it’s really well-done.
But, no matter how much you explain
it, it seems impossible to imagine Nirvana in flamenco
and in soul...
Doesn’t it? Ha ha ha.
That just what I used to say. It was Alejo who wanted
to include that song. I listened to Nirvana and I couldn’t
see it; I told him that I couldn’t do it, that they
seemed phenomenal to me in their thing, but I couldn’t
see it. Alejo encouraged me to try. In the end, we changed
it completely. You can see it’s the song by Nirvana.
The truth is that we’ve turned all the songs around.
And singing in English?
I’ll say! A little bit... well,
like Raphael, if you know what I mean. Ha ha ha ha.
But not ‘indegueto’ (‘in the ghetto’)...
not that. Ha ha ha.
How do you manage for that mix
to preserve the ‘flamencura’?
Oh yeah, it preserves it. I like to settle
down and go to ‘flamencura’, to the classical.
I do the granaína without embellishments or nonsense,
I do the trilla, I do the soleá with its three
sets of lyrics and its change before moving on to ‘Wonderful
World’. The fandangos de Huelva are fandangos, fandangos.
And then, I do the grand finale, like everybody, singing
and dancing por bulerías. They’re always
details. We want to respect flamenco... and turn into
flamenco the songs which are not.