El Torta
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El Torta, cantaor. Interview

“Now I realize I have to
take the responsibility and sing well”

Carlos Sánchez. Jerez, August 2004
Photos: Daniel Muñoz

Juan Moneo Lara ‘El Torta’ is a natural, modest and honest man. Behind the external appearance of a shy, retiring type, lies a great cantaor. Twenty years ago he was already a respected vocalist. Even Camarón would go seek him out incognito to listen to him perform. The trials of life have stopped him getting the recognition he deserves, though this suffering only served to enrich his talents: “It led me to sing like real men sing.” So here he is today, ripping up shirts, putting an album together, giving his all on stage, in better shape than ever and itching to make some noise.

 

El Torta
   

Let's take a look back. Where do the 'familia de los Moneo' originate from?

They go way back. There was one guy they called Moneo ‘El Brujo’, who came from Puerto de Santa María in Cadiz province. 'The sorcerer', as they called him, was actually a cantaor. We're also related to a lot of flamenco lineages like the Montoya clan, the Agujetas family - my grandmother Moneo was from that clan. And then on the other side there's the Lara family, my grandfather Pacote. We've got royal blood running through our veins.

When and where did your artistic career begin?

When I was a kid. I'd be playing out in the square and when I used to see my grandfather, my brother Manuel and my uncle Luis de Pacote going inside the house. I'd drop everything and go and listen to them. That's where I started to get interested in this thing called flamenco. I guess I was eight or nine years old. The funny thing is that later I was really embarrassed about singing. The truth is I never thought I'd end up being a cantaor. All I know is I can get through to people. I spent time with Terremoto, with Borrico, with Mairena, with Camarón... The first time I performed it was at the bottle factory. My dad worked there and I went to give a recital at a party for the workers. Later on I went to Periquín's house - Niño Jero - and his dad heard me. That's when I started working at the Cuatro Muleros, where Tío Borrico and Terremoto were... A lot of people went there to hear me. I'd only be about seventeen.

What was flamenco life like back in those days?

It was really good. In those days you sang because you enjoyed it, because it didn't pay too well. You sang out of love for what you were doing. I used to slip out of my house to be with all the legends. Around that time I met Miguel de los Reyes and I went to work with him. It was odd because he was the guy who discovered Camarón. In Malaga, at the Taberna Gitana, I also had some great times with Los Chichos, Las Grecas...

Who were your influences?

I very much admired, and still do admire, Camarón. But in flamenco circles they always tell you you have to forge your own style. Like it or not, life brought me suffering. I'm a really sensitive person. That just served to enrich my cante. I always say I can sing in the style of Antonio Molina, or Agujeta, or Mairena, or Terremoto, or Antonio Machín... and in my own style too. Experience led me to sing like real men sing. These days there isn't much real cante around. The flamenco you hear these days is just ‘flamenquito’... a few gimmicks and a catchy rhythm is enough - there's no substance to it.

So where does the ‘El Torta’ thing come from?

Actually there are two versions. One is that I used to wait for this guy who wore glasses with really thick lenses, and who came along pushing a cart full of these kind of cakes called tortas. I used to wait for him to leave the cart so I could rob a couple of tortas. Later I'd go up on the roof and eat them with the girls. But then later on, according to my friend Diego de los Santos ‘Rubichi’, the ‘El Torta’ thing was a nickname his sister gave me because I was really evil-minded. She said to me I was more wicked than sargeant ‘Torta’, who was a Civil Guard here in Jerez - he could really give you a hard time if you got on the wrong side of him.

You almost always lived in Jerez, right?

 
"I missed the boat due to different circumstances, my modesty, my lack of experience"

Practically all my life, yeah. Twenty years ago, I was the one in the spotlight. The guys who are making it today were clapping palmas for me back in those days. That was when I topped the bill at the tablao Los Canasteros in Madrid. Camarón used to go there incognito to see me. And then there were the Méndez family, Paqui and Manuela, Moraíto, Periquín, Chicharito... I was the big name there. In those days I used to go to parties to sing for General Franco. Later I missed the boat due to different circumstances, my modesty, my lack of experience. I got a little upset and I came back to Jerez. But anyway, here I am, still going strong.

Do you think you have to leave Jerez in order to be successful?

I'll be honest. Looking back I realize you do. You should just come to Jerez on vacation. An artist has to go away, has to travel the world a little. And anyway, Jerez is full of artists, there isn't work enough here for everyone.

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