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by Daniel Muñoz

Winners of the contest of Las Minas 2003

Estrella Morente
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"Festival Nacional de Cante de las Mina. Antología"

Estrella Morente
"Mi cante y un poema"




La Unión (Murcia, Spain), 6th to 16th August 2003

The mines with an inexhaustible supply of fine flamenco

Silvia Calado Olivo. La Unión, August 2003
Photos:Daniel Muñoz. Translation: Gary Cook

The train hauls slowly across the Castilian plateau. The August sun beats down with a vengeance. Only when the river Segura begins to lap at the scorched lands approaching Spain's East coast, do specks of green begin to smatter the countryside. We're entering into fertile territory now, and the tourists on the train can already smell the sea air. Aside from crowded beaches, mud packs for the skin, water close to boiling point and towering beachside hotels, La Manga del Mar Menor has one other attraction to lure holidaymakers in summer: the Festival Internacional del Cante de Las Minas, which has been declared an event of national importance for tourism. And in a way the colorful crowds who squeeze through the doors of the former market building at the mining town La Unión testify to the attractiveness of this option. With forty-three years of experience behind it, this is an event sure to provide relief from the harsh midsummer heat with late nights (carrying over into early mornings) of first rate flamenco. Antonio Gades doesn't call it "the most significant festival for flamenco" for nothing... it isn't Andalusian but it certainly feels like it is. And this is how it went...

Matilde Coral, Chano Lobato and Juan Habichuela

"A los pies de un soberano, lloraba una cartagenera..." (A woman from Cartagena lay weeping at the feet of a king). At the request of Matilde Coral, Chano Lobato sang 'mineras por bulerías'. And this little detail, a kind of tribute to Unión, showered divine honors on the former market building dubbed the "Vatican of cante". That Saturday evening, on August 9th 2003, the veteran trio comprising the 'bailaora sevillana', vocalist from Cadiz and guitarist Juan Habichuela from Granada, made history, not just in terms of the festival itself, but for the flamenco arts in general... three legendary figures who show astounding wisdom as they perform. Evidently they didn't go wild up on stage - as they themselves quipped "these days we only perform when the doctor lets us." But here they are, up on stage again, using their artistry not only to prolong their lives, but to prolong the genre as a whole. What better way to "be able to pass on our history to the new people?" A lesson for all of us. With plenty of pauses, "no fussing, no crazy stuff," Chano Lobato, Matilde Coral and Juan Habichuela wove together a repertoire featuring tangos, soleares, alegrías, fandangos de Huelva, tanguillos and bulerías. And a sprinkling too of those anecdotes that make the spoken word the fourth pillar of flamenco: Hannibal, their trip, their medication, their nerves… And inspiration flowed from the stage, with moments of dazzling brilliance that neither age nor weakness dared deny them.

Somewhere around half a century younger, and a decade on from winning the 'Miner's Lamp' award, Miguel Poveda took the evening from strength to strength. The Catalan vocalist, the other side of the coin from the veterans before him, oozed attitude and aptitude. Immaculately dressed in white and accompanied by Chicuelo on guitar, he brought songs from Cadiz, songs from mining towns; along the way serranías from Malaga and from Huelva, stopping off in Jerez 'por bulerías' and bringing seguiriyas from the depths of his soul. El Londro and Encarna Anillo backing him with 'coros' and Nacho López on percussion gave him a boost when the rhythm demanded, and his sister Sonia de Poveda provided a splash of (green) color with her dancing. In this, his "second home," Miguel Poveda offered a set which leaned toward classicism, though his effortless spiraling vocals verged on the baroque. His throat, warm-sounding, with well-controlled bursts of power. The audience at his second home were unstinting in their praise.

Miguel Poveda

Estrella, the shining star

Without a doubt, though, it was Estrella Morente who caused the greatest sensation in the audience. The old market was never so full, nor so full of expectation as it was that evening of Monday August 12th. The line to get into the impressive modernist building snaked into the distance from sunset on. The cries of "ole" and "guapa" were already brewing. A scene which brought to mind Josefina Carabias's interview with Niña de los Peines, and her astounding popularity. Now cantaor Enrique Morente's daughter appeared, as if transported from another era, fully aware right from the start of the auspiciousness of the occasion. Her hair straight out of a painting by Julio Romero de Torres, fan clasped tightly, white flamenco dress, embroidered silk shawl… and a striking voice which gushes forth like a fountain. She sings, she rests… she sings, dances, sings, stands firm… she sings, sitting for a final verse, her heels tap out the 'desplante', she sings again, clutching her dress... fully aware of her beauty, her powers of seduction, of enchantment. A generous measure of classical cante, with a dash of more cutting edge style, and perhaps a little too much traditional 'canción española', romanticism and bullfighting creep into her repertoire. Tracks taken from her albums, well-known traditional songs and new material in the form of cantiñas, cantes de levante, tangos, traditional bulerías and 'bulerías acancionadas', soleá, a lullaby, and even a paso doble. And she performed them, in the true sense of the word. With her on stage are Montoyita on guitar, plucking here and there in his accompaniment, El Negri on percussion, and Antonio Carbonell, Victoria Carbonell and Remedios Heredia backing them with 'coros' and 'palmas'. Not the best team she's ever put together. The cantaora from Granada draws on the past, sketches out the future, and uses her gifts to give a shattering performance, deserving of the crowning glory. She not only knows how to fill a stage with vibrancy, she brings wisdom, consciousness, gives life to her songs, and there's that twist of transgression which moulds her individuality. Estrella, the shining star, cantaora and artist supreme, a delight to watch.

Estrella Morente


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