Keepers of the Flamenco: Remembering Lorca and Camarón; Praising Cañizares

Federico García Lorca

In Spain, 2018 is the “Año Lorca”—celebrating both the 120th anniversary of poet and playwright Federico García Lorca’s birth and the 100th anniversary of the publication of his first work: Impresiones y paisajes. The Centro Lorca in Granada has an exhibition, under the title “Una habitación propia: Federico García Lorca en la Residencia de Estudiantes, 1919–1936,” which includes some 5,000 items including letters, paintings, music scores, souvenirs, and clothes that were found in the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, where Lorca lived as a student in the company of Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel. (The Residencia was established not only to provide accommodations for students, but also as an intellectual/cultural center of learning which would further nourish their university studies).

1. Lorca Exhibition 2018

Lorca was neither a gypsy nor a flamenco artist, yet his life was intrinsically interwoven with the flamenco world during his lifetime, and continued so after his death during the Spanish Civil War. Many flamenco singers have been inspired by his poetry and also by the popular songs he collected and noted down for future generations. Among these were the flamenco forms of bulerías and seguidillas. It was his desire to conserve the traditions of the past that led Lorca to work with Manuel de Falla and many other artists (along with the bullfighter Ignacio Sánchez Mejías) to organize the first Concurso de Cante Jondo in Granada in June 1922—the earliest national competition for flamenco singers.

Lorca would harmonize the songs he collected and, in 1931, he recorded some of them for Colección de Canciones Populares Españolas, accompanying the singer La Argentinita on the piano. In 1965, a young Paco de Lucía made a recording of these exact songs with the guitarist Ricardo Modrego: Doce Canciones de García Lorca para guitarra (Polygram Iberica). The titles of these songs are well known now, such as Los Cuatro Muleros, Anda Jaleo, and Café de Chinitas.

On June 5, 2018, we celebrated the birth of Federico García Lorca 120 years ago. June also saw the release of a documentary film by Alexis Morante called Camarón: Flamenco y Revolucíon (Karma Films) about the flamenco singer Camarón de la Isla (José Monge Cruz; 1950–1992). This welcome release comes after a string of
television documentaries that have appeared on Spanish television since June 2017, marking the 25th anniversary Camarón’s death, including Canal Sur’s Camarón: La Garganta de Dios (Camarón: The Throat of God), and their three-part series Camarón (Revolution), directed by José Escudier, and El Legado de . . . Camarón de la Isla (The Legacy of . . . Camarón de la Isla), directed by Alberto del Pozo.


Words and music were the lifeblood of both Lorca and Camarón, and their creativity was built on a respect for artists who had come before them. Combining this with their own genius, the two created art that endures and continues to give great inspiration to us all. One of Camarón’s finest recordings, although very controversial at the time of its release, was titled La Leyenda del Tiempo (1979) and featured lyrics from Lorca’s dramatic work Así que pasen cinco años, which was subtitled La Leyenda del Tiempo (1933). La Leyenda del Tiempo is the opening track on the album; the other tracks with words by Lorca include Romance del Amargo, Homenaje a Federico, Mi niña se fue a la mar, and Nana del Caballo Grande. This album, produced by Ricardo Pachón, was a landmark recording not only because of its adventure into nuevo flamenco, but also because it was the first time that Camarón was not accompanied by Paco de Lucía on guitar. As the film Camarón: Flamenco y Revolución notes, the friendship and collaboration between the two changed the history of flamenco forever, but on La Leyenda del Tiempo the accompanist was the young guitarist Tomatito, who remained Camarón’s guitarist until the singer’s death 13 years later.

Both Lorca and Camarón died too early: Lorca was assassinated in Granada at the start of the Spanish Civil War in August 1936, and Camarón died in July 1992 from lung cancer brought on by heavy smoking. Their work lives on, of course, but it’s hard not to wonder what further works of genius they would have produced had they lived longer.

The year 2018 has also been an important one for the flamenco guitarist Juan Manuel Cañizares. In February, he released his latest solo recording, El Mito de la Caverna. Cañizares has a depth and breadth of experience in the flamenco world like no other. He performed alongside Paco de Lucía in his Sextet for ten years before releasing his first “solo” recording, Noches de Imán y Luna, on Mario Pacheco’s ground-breaking Nuevos Medios label in 1997. (It was Pacheco who coined the term “nuevo flamenco” at the beginning of the 1980s.)

On Noches de Imán y Luna, Cañizares’ guest collaborators included the flamenco dancer Joaquín Grilo, the flautist Domingo Patricio, and the bassist Carles Benavent. It was a powerful contribution to the nuevo flamenco scene. Even more exciting was his next album, Punto de Encuentro (EMI-Odeon, 2000) with guests Mike Stern on electric guitar, singers Pastora Soler and Enrique Morente, percussionist Guillermo McGill, and Paco de Lucía. We had to wait until 2010 for Cañizares’ next album, Cuerdas del Alma, and then another eight years for El Mito de la Caverna. However, in between all of these, Cañizares has been releasing recordings of what is usually considered Spanish classical guitar repertoire: Suite Iberia: Albéniz por Cañizares; the sonatas of Scarlatti; the music of Manuel de Falla; and most recently, the music of Enrique Granados—three CD recordings including Danzas Españolas Op. 37, Valses Poéticos, Seis Piezas Sobre Cantos Populares Españolas, Dos Gavotas, and Los Majos Enamorados. Cañizares made all of his own arrangements for these recordings, and when the arrangements called for two guitars or more, he performed the other guitar parts as well.

With all of this under belt, it comes as no surprise that the only guitarist on El Mito de la Caverna is Cañizares, who plays both first and second guitars and is accompanied by the palmas of his touring ensemble: dancers Charo Espino and Angel Muñoz, and Pastillo y Pistacho. As with all his solo recordings, the compositions are written in traditional flamenco forms.

The title track is rhythmically and structurally a seguiriya, but with extended harmonic ideas. His Soleá por bulerías, called Extraña Belleza, has an edge to it created by the juxtaposition of Phrygian harmonic progressions with extended harmony. And the titles he has given to his pieces give some idea of the philosophical thought behind the compositions: Isla de los Bienaventurados for the bulerías, Desierto nevado for the Habanera flamenco, La Callada luna for the tientos, ending with a rumba called Fantasía. The guitar playing throughout this recording is energetic and technically superb. Cañizares has absolutely tight and crisp control over rhythms, he uses articulation to create a broad range of timbres, and his fast picado passages are clear, expressive and thought-provoking. He has something to say in El Mito de la Caverna and he says it brilliantly.