Carmen Amaya
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Music for flamenco dance. Listening guide. Special feature

The sound of movement

Silvia Calado, April 2004
Translation: Gary Cook

It's a fact that's often overlooked in dance academies, but flamenco dance is inextricably linked to flamenco music. Underneath all the dazzling aesthetics, cante and guitar act as guide, inspiration and raison d'être of corporal expression - the dancer and the song are comrades in battle. To love flamenco dance is to love flamenco music. And before you get down to heel, toe and sole it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the sound that gives meaning to those steps.


La Macarrona at the Café Novedades de Sevilla with Niño Ricardo,
Baldomero Ojeda and Currito el de la Jeroma

A good starting point might be a few flamenco compilations. The first, of vintage cante, to get to know the roots of flamenco. A good example is the double album 'Grandes maestros del flamenco', full of legendary voices and guitarists of yesteryear, including Antonio Chacón, Manuel Torre, La Niña de los Peines, Manuel Vallejo, Ramón Montoya, Niño Ricardo and Miguel Borrull. As for the next generation, from the fifties onward, the best bet is a collection of the best quality remastered recordings from the vaults of Columbia, RCA, Zafiro, Iberofón, Vergara, Alhambra and Ariola. The triple CD 'Momentos cumbre de los grandes maestros del cante flamenco' takes a whistle stop tour of the key points of recent flamenco history, with every great figure from the period included, from Antonio Mairena through to Camarón, not forgetting Ramón Porrina, Turronero, Sordera, Fernanda de Utrera... the list is seemingly endless. As for modern-day flamenco, the most complete compilation might be 'Mucho flamenco', a double album featuring both established artists and promising newcomers to flamenco guitar and cante: Paco de Lucía, José Mercé, Carmen Linares, Cañizares, Enrique Morente, Pepe Habichuela, Remedios Amaya, Vicente Amigo, Estrella Morente, Arcángel, La Macanita, Marina Heredia...

The three titles mentioned here are complete catalogs in themselves, from which the listener can take his or her pick according to personal taste and preferences for musical styles, or artists whose music seems to fit best with their way of dancing. Bear in mind that most cantaores and guitarists, before they perform solo, spend years singing or playing 'para bailar', accompanying in dance companies or at flamenco tablaos. To cite a few examples, Chano Lobato was for years the voice behind legends such as Antonio and Matilde Coral, José Mercé spent many seasons as the cantaor of the Antonio Gades dance company, Chocolate sang for Carmen Amaya, as can be seen in the movie 'Los Tarantos', and even Camarón himself did his 'apprenticeship' on the Madrid tablao circuit, singing for dancers at these small informal venues before his meteoric career finally took off. And nobody knows quite how, but Manuela Carrasco managed to convince Chocolate to sing live for her as she performed a soleá during the première of 'Esencias' at the 2002 Festival Bienal de Sevilla. The most orthodox recordings of any of these artists could be useful to a bailaor.

It's also worth noting that most of the songs which have been danced to and which continue to be danced to today form part of a timeless popular folk tradition. Thus the inspiration which the lyrics provide the bailaor is the same as it was back in the days of Juan Mojama or La Niña de los Peines. There's the odd exception where bailaores get someone to write new lyrics expressly for a particular production, but for the most part the verses are chosen from the huge bank of folk poems. No royalties to pay, for one thing. So it wouldn't be a bad idea to start by browsing through the first collection of flamenco lyrics. This was put together by Demófilo - father of the poets Antonio and Manuel Machado - in 1881, although almost any cante flamenco album is a valid source, especially if the liner notes include a lyric sheet.


Guadiana with Jesús de Rosario
(Photo: Daniel Muñoz)

So what is the current state of 'cante para bailar'? The cantaores who currently accompany the leading figures of flamenco dance have a refreshing selection of discs to choose from. One of the vocalists best known for his work in this area is Guadiana. The cantaor from the region of Extremadura is a regular collaborator with the Antonio Canales company, as well as the songwriter for much of his music. It's no surprise to hear lines from his songs entering straight into the repertoire of his contemporaries. His latest album is a fine example: 'Brillo de luna'. The same wizard of baile flamenco has also worked on many occasions with cantaora Montse Cortés, whose recording debut is 'Alabanza'. The work of Segundo Falcón as a cantaor for dancers is also outstanding. He and Arcángel provided the voices behind most of the shows premièred at the 1998 Festival Bienal de Sevilla. For several years now the singer from Mairena del Alcor lends his services to Eva Yerbabuena, and their live performances together produce highly charged emotional moments. For the time being he has only one album on the market: 'Un segundo de cante'.

Another artist with a firmly established career in 'cante para bailar' is Enrique el Extremeño, who currently works with well-known companies such as that of Juana Amaya, Manuela Carrasco and Antonio el Pipa. The booming voice of this vocalist has been recently immortalized on the album 'Yo soy un pirata'. For a taste of cante from Jerez at the service of dancers, a disc by Antonio Malena is a must. This vocalist, together with bailaora María del Mar Moreno, performs wonders, especially when it comes to seguiriyas. Cantaora Mayte Martín embodies the neoclassical style, brimming with sweetness and sensitivity. She uses the repertoire from her own albums like 'Querencia' in performances alongside bailaora Belén Maya, in productions like 'Mayte+Belén' and 'Flamenco de cámara'. Another noteworthy female voice is that of Mercedes Cortés, part of the Cristina Hoyos company. She played an important role in this company's productions, including 'Tierra adentro'. The list goes on, but unfortunately not all those who work at singing 'para bailar' have recordings on the market. The market is crying out for recordings by Juan José Amador, a cantaor who is a key element for dancers such as Javier Barón, Juana Amaya and Merche Esmeralda. And then there are David Lagos and Rafael de Utrera, both yet to set foot in the recording studio... The gloomy state of the recording industry isn't on their side.

 

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