from the book: Tomatito "La Guitarra Gitana de Tomatito"
AND HIS GYPSY GUITAR
the guitar is synonymous with two names in particular, Antonio de Torres Jurado
and Julián Arcas Lacal. In practice, the flamenco guitar itself is centered
on two gypsy families, that of Miguel de Almería, also known as Miguel
"El Tomate", and the "Josele" family. Niño Miguel and Antonio Fernandez
"El Tomate", both professional guitarists, are the sons of Miguel "El Tomate",
but the brightest star in the family firmament is Fernandez Torres "Tomatito",
born in Almería in 1958, one of the best-known performers of the "toque
gitano" today. His style is rhythmic and elegant, and characterized above all
by his absolute mastery of the compás. A guitarist without "compás"
may play his own music which may have some flamenco characteristics, but it will
never be genuine. Over and above his technical ability, his inspiration and imagination,
a guitarist is of no interest to the "aficionados" if he loses control of the
"compás". Tomatito not only has an innate sense of rhythm but the compás
is engraved on his subconscious with the result that he plays it without having
to think twice. And, paradoxically, those "toques" where he is most at home -
the "bulería", the flamenco "tangos" or the "bulería por soleá"
- are precisely the most demanding for "tocaores" and "cantaores" alike. To see
him, the "Pope of the bulería" as Juan "Habichuela" once dubbed him, play
either in private or at a flamenco meeting, is undoubtedly an unforgettable moment
in this music. How can one man have so much flamenco feeling in him, as though
he sleeps, breathes and eats the "compás?" It is hardly surprising that
his guitar has adapted so well to the people of Cádiz.
What is more, as
an artist he directly inherits the gifts of two Gaditans (citizens of Cadiz),
themselves worth their weight in gold, and past masters of the rhythms of Andalusia.
He was the first to recognize the gifts of Paco
de Lucía and Camarón
de la Isla, with whom he has share both stage and recording studio since the
end of the 1970s. While Paco de Lucía has had a decided influence on his
playing, Tomatito has imbued it with a gypsy-style marked by greater use of the
right-hand thumb, and the boundless energy which makes his playing so brilliant.
For the same reason many other guitarists, whether gypsy or not, have adopted
the same style, thus forming a veritable school based on the gypsy "toque" as
played by "San Paco de Lucía", as Tomatito calls him, or "St. Paco". It
is a striking instance of the mutual exchange between the master musician who
drank in flamenco with his mother's milk, and the disciple who, as guardian of
the temple, restores the music to its gypsy origins.
As an acclaimed
"tocaor" over the years, Tomatito and his guitar have been solicited by most of
the best-known contemporary flamenco singers, including Camarón, José
Mercé, Pansequito, Enrique Morente and Carmen Linares. And when I write
of him as a remarkable "tocaor", this implicitly refers to another vital element
that is fundamental to good flamenco playing. As pointed out by D.E.Pohren, a
perfect accompaniment is of prime importance to the flamenco guitarist, and is
in fact an art in itself. A good accompanist will know all the songs and dances
so well that he can follow the slightest whim of the performers, knowing when
to stop and when to include "falsetas", adapting to their mood and accompanying
them to the climax. And an accompanist capable of all these things will have a
decisive influence on the performance of the others. There is no doubt that no
"tocaor" has followed these precepts better than Tomatito himself with Camarón.
For despite his current predilection for solo guitar work, Tomatito has not bid
farewell to his other, "tocaor" half, and continues to work on stage and in the
recording studio with the successors of Camarón, such as Remedios Amaya,
El Duquenque, El Potito, El Cigala and Montse Cortés.
Right at the start
of his career in the 1980s he formed what was to become the most famous of flamenco
duos with Camarón, and then, taking the path prepared for him by Paco de
Lucía, performed with accompanists such as Antonio and Juan Carmona (Ketama),
Antonio Canales and El Duquenque. He is now surrounded with gypsy artists in his
groups who thus represent the more ethnic aspect of group flamenco as initiated
by Paco. Tomatito can therefore be seen as the bridge between Paco and Camarón's
generation and what the media have incorrectly labelled "New flamenco", or "Young
Spanish musicians", such as the jazz artists Alameda and Chano Dominguez.
has clearly established his career as a solo guitarist and flamenco temple guardian,
he remains very much a man, a gypsy of his time.
Spain has been
witness to a great number of major events over the past few decades. It is hard
to remember that this country, a committed member of the European Union, modernizing
fast and with an open view on the world, was but a short while ago a country closed
in on itself, a spiritual enclave of unprogressive catholicism. After so much
introspection and the repression of free thinking as practiced under the Franco
regime, today's flamenco players - like all of Spanish society today - are turning
their attention to the music that is taking place beyond their frontiers, be it
jazz, blues, rock, pop, rap, electronic, reggae, classic, salsa, bossa-nova, Argentine
tango or fado. Music in Spain today, encouraged by an active recording industry
and lively music societies is a veritable melting post of all cultures. Without
turning his back on his gypsy identity - indeed, more determined than ever to
make his own voice heard in the multicultural mosaic of contemporary Spain and
Andalusia - Tomatito is swinging open the doors of the temple to admit other forms
of music, including, for instance, the Argentine guitarist Luis Salinas and the
pianist Michel Carmilo, at the same time giving expression to the lives of third
and fourth generation gypsy artists, to their way of life and their feelings -
people who feel and live life to the full!
Torres Cortés, Almería, October 1998