Historic flamenco article. ‘Granada. El Concurso de Cante Jondo’ (1922)

Granada. El concurso de cante jondo

Literal transcription from the magazine ‘Nuevo Mundo’ in Madrid. Article signed by Federico García Sanchíz and published on June 23rd, 1922

Contestants of Granada's Cante Jondo Contest (Photo Revista Nuevo Mundo, 1922)
The honking of car horns reaches my hotel room, with its prolonged lament through the forest of La Alhambra. The whining sounds intertwine, gabble, shape a disturbing gibberish. It could be said that it was after two nights of cante jondo; that is, of not interrupting the whines in the red hill; infected, maddened, how many instruments could imitate the desolate modulations winding in a cantaor’s throat, breaking out into the classic sobs of primitive Andalusian song. But it doesn’t happen that way. The rain, suddenly pouring down over the fiesta, forced the crowd to break up, so that the endless line of cars which were waiting came unraveled, and the claxons resounded from there like hunting horns. And this is how the famous Contest ends. The thicket now deserted, the hint of water will feign the guitar, and the sighs of cuckoos replace the cante jondo. It’s a serenade to the moon, tenaciously concealed behind the clouds. The moon, so sought-after, however, that for it not to be missing, one didn’t hesitate for this cante ritual, already mysterious and bewitching in itself, to be held on the 13th, and Friday on top of it. Fortunately, no misfortune afflicted the crowd with terrible symptoms. The zambra slid calmly and frivolously beside the danger, like next to the wizened, ferocious Spain of Zuloaga, the true one laughs and flourishes. The final downpour doesn’t go beyond a big flamenco joke, amidst friends who have been joking around a bit...

The Contest, in short, came down to listening to professionals, which anyone can find in the dressing rooms of a café, and to the pharaonics of Albaicín repeating once again the caravaneering they usually serve up to tourists at the little theater of this Palace Alhambra Hotel. As regards to the contestants, old people or children. Cante jondo looks like a home for destitute old folks and orphans. Attending the fight were several precocious kids, ready with a gramophone, and a contemporary grandfather of Silverio Franconetti, and blind grandmother, both personages of picturesque pathos. Where is the man or woman in their prime, the only ones able to be tormented and express the drama of cante jondo? That cante jondo which must have been born in the heart of a desperate female, jealous and in heat, a widow hardly married, and not resigning herself to fatality.

Excerpt from‘Granada. El Concurso de Cante Jondo’.
Drawing by Tono (Revista Nuevo Mundo, 1922)

Then, you might ask: didn’t anything exemplary and extraordinary happen at the Patio de los Aljibes? I’ll always remember the saetas by a nephew of El Gallo, the bullfighter; some instants by the aforementioned old man; and in a special way, the voice, style, mask, dynamism and ecstasy of Manuel Torres, nicknamed Niño de Jerez. I’ll also remember the guitars by Amalio Cuenca and Niño de Huelva, who didn’t press the guitar against their hearts in vain. And I’ll remember La Macarrona, an ounce of gold amidst an adulterated, chromolithographic band of gypsies. Yeah. Unforgettable is so much yearning, faints and vehemence, echoes of distances in race, time and space; fervor and superstition; a simple seduction of sound; rhythms linear in the flesh; very fleeting visions in flashing silhouettes; an ensemble of diverse expressive modes, absolute but fragmentary, since they look like pieces of a huge broken organism, like fabulous bones speaking of fame gone by. Who will manage to repair the destroyed architecture, reorganize the liturgy which vanished, set back afloat the submerged Atlantis? At least, at the Patio de los Aljibes inventory has been taken of what we still preserve, and a new reconquest has been sworn over the ruins, precisely in the land where reconquest has a Eucharistic meaning. Manuel de Falla and his romantic, generous group try and return to the people their psychology and to intensify the artistic music with suggestions of a nearly mythological, Byzantine-gypsy soul. And they started their work on Tuesday the 13th of June, at La Alhambra in Granada. The moon didn’t attend, but the place was swarming with gnomes, fairies and even the devil. A huge box-office hit. Not an empty seat. And it was a disciplined, cultured audience dominated by women, many of whom were wearing 1830 dresses, and others were in old trousers, and all of them with that poise which is the privilege of women from Granada. With fans, the crowd rumored and fluttered, unless suddenly a copla paralyzed them with its emotion, like the entomologist’s pin paralyzes butterflies.


More information:

Flamenco? The Contest

Historic flamenco interview with La Niña de los Peines, cantaora (1935)

Historic flamenco interview with Antonia Mercé ‘La Argentina’, dancer (‘Nuevo Mundo’, 1931)

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