'Los Tientos'
Excerpt from the book "Método de guitarra, Aires Andaluces" by Rafael Marín
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Rafael Marín, the guitarist and theorist
who never was (or so some wished)

Alberto García Reyes. Seville, November 2002
Translation: Gary Cook

In flamenco there is now a central debate over whether or not it's important to have formal musical training. Some insist that a knowledge of solfa can be detrimental to the authenticity of flamenco. Others, meanwhile, firmly believe that the Conservatoire can give you knowledge that makes all the difference to composition and performance alike. And somewhere in between these two schools lies Rafael Marín, a nineteenth century guitarist who, for chronological and social circumstances, learned the ropes according to two schools of thought: that of Paco el de Lucena, who taught and greatly influenced his style, and that of Francisco Tárrega. How would he resolve the conflict between flamenco and classical schools?

Herein lies the answer to a long-running historical battle which is still raging today: purist guitar players have always scorned flamenco tocaores, considering this a second-rate genre. Rafael Marín, who was familiarized with both, chose flamenco in his artistic career. What did he see in it? Probably much greatness, so much so that he tried to explain it using music's technical terminology. And from the heart: "I can faithfully say that the guitar is truly Spanish, and whilst it can be used to perform marvels of serious music, it was not made for this purpose. The guitar was made for regional Spanish airs, and above all for the Andalusian airs, for which worldly instrument can imitate the strumming used in Soleares, Malagueñas and even in Aragon's traditional Jota Aragonesa?"


But this was to be his downfall, to be considered a flamenco musician by classical musicians, and a classical musician by flamenco musicians. This drove him into obscurity and few today are aware of this legendary transcendental figure. The researcher Eusebio Rioja summarizes the reason for this in a few words: "This amnesia possibly originates with the chapter Fernando el de Triana dedicates to the history of flamenco guitar in his well-known book 'Arte y artistas flamencos' (...) By failing to mention Rafael Marín except as a member of the wave of professionals who followed Paco el de Lucena, Fernando el de Triana perhaps unconsciously initiated Rafael Marín's unjust silence, which has continued to the present day. Perhaps his extreme 'purism' -limiting by its very nature- led him to sidestep Rafael Marín's 'diverse school', containing indiscreet and evident classical flavors". It's an opinion that has to be taken seriously.

But time is the only judge, and a century later the status quo is still in place. Almost exactly a hundred years ago the artist published the first edition of his Instructional Method for Guitar using Music and Coding, a foundation in the study of flamenco. The artist, who according to Domingo Prat's 1934 'Diccionario de Guitarristas' was born on July 7th 1862 in El Pedroso (Seville province), had been in Paris performing at the 1900 Exhibition, and on his return the work was commissioned by Marcelino García. He was unsure whether to accept, but finally decided to take on the task, and in just fourteen days it was finished. Back then he was regularly seen at guitarist Santos Hernández's informal gatherings at his workshop on calle Aduana, and it's likely that many of the ideas to be found within the pages of the book surged from conversations and discussions at these meetings. According to cantaor Pepe el de la Matrona from Triana, the book has been a source of inspiration for leading figures such as Ramón Montoya, Luis Molina and Manolo de Huelva.

The fact of the matter is that Rafael Marín lays down, without intentionally doing so, the theoretical foundation of flamenco guitar. Furthermore, he manages to transcribe the falsetas from musical scores into a coding system easily understood by those who hadn't set foot inside the Conservatoire. The method has its limitations, as there are musical elements which simply can't be explained on paper, but Marín adds footnotes where he tries to give the reader a rough idea of the true sound that each piece should have. To do so he also offers the golden rules of how to position your hands, and goes into detail about the correct positioning of the guitar with respect to the body - still in a barbero style, as it wasn't until recently that Paco de Lucía changed this norm. He sketches out the basic premises for understanding solfa, time signatures and accents, and patiently explains techniques such as ligado (joining two notes with a single movement), tremolo ("repeating the same sound two, three, four times…") and picado pizzicato technique, as well as the correct use of the cejilla, which is inserted to set the pitch of the fundamental keys on the guitar neck.

Coding system

Once all of this basic guitarist's terminology is out of the way, the artist's truly great contribution begins: the coding system. In fact this system is easy to grasp at first glance, but there are many finer points which make playing a little more tricky. Basically, the author sketches out a stave consisting of six lines, one for each string of the guitar. Along each of the lines are written numbers from left to right. For example if a three is written on the top line, this means that the finger should be pressed onto the third fret. Instead of a formal time signature, each repetition of the compás is separated by a bar, and within each segment there are also subdivisions marked with curved lines. A compás can be broken down into two, three, four or more parts, each with a certain number of notes. Marín clearly denotes when and where the left index finger should be positioned to act as a cejilla, in order to play a particular chord or picado scale. He explains in detail many other things which we don't have room to detail here (that's what the book's for), and there's no doubt as to the tremendous effort the musician has made to put all the finest details of playing guitar down on paper, and above all the ease with which he explains the concepts.

Nonetheless, one of the most striking sections of the book is the chapter entitled "A short history of flamenco". In it, Marín tells an anecdote seldom included in studies on the origins of this art form. "I think that flamenco must come from the gypsies, but the next logical question is a trickier one: Who bequeathed these cantes to the gypsies? Here there are no clear answers, but I have a tale to tell which might well shed some light on the matter. If my memory serves me well, in 1881 or 1882 a worker at a very small café on plaza de la Cebada (it was called Café de Naranjeros) used to play the guitar there. Around that time a group of Moorish Ambassadors came to Madrid, and several of them came one night to this café, where a young man from Jerez also sang excellently, particularly seguirillas and martinetes. One of the Moorish party, who spoke good Spanish, started a conversation with me in the interval, and after speaking about various things he said to me, "What do you call the music this young man just sang?" "Siguirillas gitanas" came my reply, upon which he told me that in his country they sang the same -the music, that is, as the lyrics were naturally in his own language- and promptly struck up a song in his own language, which with the exception of the lyrics was the same music. Did these people leave these airs here during their stay in Spain, or did they take them away with them when they left? I think the former is more likely, and it is not only seguirillas, but other styles of cante too are theirs".

The petenera also derives…

The author adds many other interesting contributions when he classifies the flamenco styles one by one, with the characteristics of the guitar work in each. In this section he makes comments such as "the jabera has its male partner, its complement in other words, which learned folk refer to as rondeñas del Negro". Curious indeed. And here's another "The petenera also derives from a woman, they say, with that very surname; but there's no doubt that its origins lie in paño moruno, an ancient vocal and guitar style, as in el Punto de la Habana. There is also a petenera called Bola del Fillo". And there's more: "The geliana is a beautiful alegría style, which without a doubt is Moorish." (Antonio Mairena later made the "discovery" that it was in fact a soleá. Could it have been a personal invention which he proceeded to endorse with the old name giliana?) Back to the classification: "Caña de Curro Paula: everyone has taken to calling this Caña del Granadino, but this is not the case - its inventor is Curro. It's sung libre, and as such it can be very drawn out, depending on the singer's abilities." (Whoever said the caña was a strictly-defined palo leaving no room for creativity? Here we have some evidence to the contrary. And anyway, whatever happened to this Caña del Granadino? How come it's disappeared if in the 19th century "everyone has taken to calling" it that? Could it be the granadino gitano or the granadino castellano? Could it be that Curro Pabla, the famous brother of El Fillo and Juan Encueros, created the toná liviana? Probably not, because if that had been the case, it's reasonable to expect that we'd be left with the legacy of the style).

Whether or not all the claims Rafael Marín makes in this work are true, one thing's for sure, that it makes you wonder why writings by other authors like Fernando el de Triana or Demófilo are more widely appreciated. They should all be considered equally. All of them. Especially now that this Guitar Instruction Method is so easy to get hold of, since Córdoba City Council published an edition in 1995 to celebrate its Concurso Nacional. A hundred years ago Rafael Marín offered transcendental information on guitarra jonda, and at the same time raised issues which should have been addressed long since regarding the very core of flamenco. A century has passed. The wounds have healed now. Let's talk about them once and for all.


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