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Grandpa and Antonio Mairena

-Grandpa, this September will be the 35th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest cantaores of the 20th century, Antonio Mairena. How time flies, right? -It flies pretty fast, Manolito. I attended his burial and it was something to behold. Half of Spain’s flamenco aficionados came over, and the streets of the town were like rivers of sorrow. It’s something I’ll never

-Grandpa, this September will be the 35th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest cantaores of the 20th century, Antonio Mairena. How time flies, right?

-It flies pretty fast, Manolito. I attended his burial and it was something to behold. Half of Spain’s flamenco aficionados came over, and the streets of the town were like rivers of sorrow. It’s something I’ll never forget. After the burial, I came back to the city’s main square, Plaza de las Flores (now called Plaza Antonio Mairena) and in a bar across the square there were aficionados crying, saying it was the end of cante gitano. Among them, there were politicians and artists who were very close to this master. It was natural, because Antonio was a great star, one of the best cantaores in recent memory, and there was a lot of sadness.

-Not the best, grandpa?

-That’s a matter of personal tastes. Cante is very diverse and it has many different trends and nuances. Each aficionado has their own, very personal opinion about this. Some people say that, indeed, Antonio Mairena was the best cantaor in flamenco history. I think it’s a barbarity to say such thing, yet those who truly believe it have the right to voice their opinion. Mairena was a top artist for twenty years, while Marchena and Caracol were top artists for fifty years. However, those twenty years when Mairena was the leading flamenco artist were very important in flamenco. Not just because of him, but also because of other masters such as FosforitoLebrijanoMeneseChocolate and Morente.

-Do you consider yourself a mairenista, grandpa? Do you share Mairena’s ideology?

-No, I don’t. I greatly admire Antonio Mairena, but being a mairenista is something else, and I don’t relate to this ideology. There’s Antonio, and then there’s the fanatical, intolerant mairenismo. They are different things. He was an amazing cantaor, wise, with an extensive knowledge of flamenco and a boundless passion for this art. His voice was a torrent of Gypsy-ness. However, his legacy was controversial in some aspects, although it was very positive in others, without any doubt. Part of his negative legacy has clearly damaged his reputation. Mairenismo has been disastrous for flamenco in some aspects. Yet, the legacy of Antonio Mairena, from a musical point of view, has been great, although it wasn’t perfect. Then again, no legacy is perfect, not even Chacón’s.

-What about his festival? This year’s lineup doesn’t seem very appropriate, does it?

-Not at all, I won’t even try to say it nicely. If Antonio could get out of his grave, he’d run them out of town. I don’t understand how they can come up with such lineup for the 35th anniversary of his death. I’m going to tell you something, and I don’t care what people think: when are they going to bring Perico El Pañero to this festival? He would have been perfect for this year. He’s one of the few cantaores left in Spain who still perform in the Mairena style, with his way of singing and dancing, sharing his commitment to traditional flamenco. There’s so much talk about Mairena’s Gypsy-Andalusian cante, and the one who really knows about this is left out. Go figure.

-The same happens in other festivals, doesn’t it?

-Sadly, yes. In Dos Hermanas, in La Puebla, in Morón, in Lebrija… They’ll ruin part of flamenco history, the era of the summer festivals, an era defined by Antonio Mairena, incidentally.

-And what do you think is lacking in Mairena’s festival, in your opinion?

-Brains, Manolito. That’s precisely something Antonio had to spare, as he was an intelligent cantaor with very clear ideas. All his legacy will be ruined by those who decided the lineup for this year. Not just the lineup, but other things as well. Last year it was the 100th anniversary of Frijones, one of Antonio’s icons, and nothing was done to celebrate it. Yet they brought someone to talk about the petenera and Perro de Paterna, I don’t remember if it was last year or the year before. Should I go on?

-And this year they’ll bring in Arcángel, after the controversy in that show of his, where Mairena was portrayed as a sinister, hooded figure.

-Well, that wasn’t too bad, it was just a show. Arcángel doesn’t quite fit in the Festival de Mairena, but the same can be said of others in previous editions. That controversy is now history, let’s just hope that the public embraces him as such a good cantaor and artist deserves, regardless of personal tastes.

-I’d like you to give a lecture about Antonio Mairena in the town of Mairena, grandpa. Would that be possible?

-No, it would not be possible, and it’s not something I’d like to do anyway. I’ve talked about Antonio Mairena all over Spain, and even in other countries. But never in Mairena, and a lecture is out of the question. It’s not possible because if I talked about him, I’d say things people wouldn’t like. I’d love to give a lecture about Pastora Pavón (Antonio’s teacher), and also about her brother TomásManuel Torres or Juan Mojama. But not about Antonio, of course.

-I understand grandpa.

-Glad to hear, Manolito.

Translated bt P. Young

 

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Crítico de flamenco, periodista y escritor. 40 años de investigación flamenca en El Correo de Andalucía. Autor de biografías de la Niña de los Peines, Carbonerillo, Manuel Escacena, Tomás Pavón, Fernando el de Triana, Manuel Gerena, Canario de Álora...

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