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The Fourth Stooge

Those comedians who mocked flamenco on TV in the days of Franco’s dictatorship, such as Fernando Esteso, Toni Leblanc or the Calatrava brothers, were funnier. At least they had charisma.

This year’s Bienal de Sevilla made history with last night’s concert by the celebrated Niño de Elche, but not in a good way, because it was a painful disgrace, one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen in this festival, and I’ve attended all its editions, so I’ve seen it all. Before this kid was born I was already attending Bienal festivals, from the Giraldillo award, won by Calixto Sánchez in 1980, to Mario Maya’s first Giraldillo del Baile in 1982 and Manolo Franco’s first Giraldillo del Toque in 1984. And I can say I had never before seen someone embarrass himself as much as last night at the Lope de Vega theater, a venue that should be sacred.

Antonio Zoido, the Bienal’s director, should have known better and refrained from inviting such musical monstrosity to a place that has been the stage for the greatest stars of flamenco, an art that Francisco Contreras Molina (Niño de Elche’s real name) hates to the point of ridiculing it whenever he has a chance, as it was the case yesterday with the presentation of his latest album Antología del cante heterodoxo.

We could say that it’s a pity that he’s wasting his talent, but the reality is that he doesn’t have any of the talent some people attribute to him, although he’s not stupid, either. Let’s say he’s competent. He’s unable to sing cante jondo, because he lacks the main thing, which is the gift of emotion. He’s plain, uncapable of evoking emotions, faking cante by disguising his voice. Why does he matter, then? He’s just not important, at least from flamenco’s perspective.

He might be relevant in this art if he took advantage of his limited abilities to do something acceptable. Yet, instead of doing that, he spends his time ridiculing flamenco and its artists, the great maestros and maestras. I don’t know if you would agree with me if you had been at the theater. Wasn’t him trying to imitate Menesewhen he talked? He came on stage wearing his street clothing, jeans, t-shirt and sneakers, and got changed on stage in full view of the packed theater. He was literally just wearing his underwear. That gave a hint of what was to come, talking a lot, offending flamenco and God.

Of course, all of that could have been bearable if he would then have given a great performance, but it was the other way around. I won’t even analyze what he did because this is not a show review, but an opinion piece about the presence of this man at the Bienal. Those comedians who mocked flamenco on TV in the days of Franco’s dictatorship, such as Fernando Esteso, Toni Leblanc or the Calatrava brothers, were funnier. At least they had charisma. But don’t get the impression that the public didn’t laugh with Niño de Elche, they certainly did, whenever he opened his mouth. It was a public with no interest in flamenco, of course. I didn’t see anyone I knew, and I mean it. The public were just his fans, who follow him because he’s the antithesis of flamenco, an art that many Spaniards don’t understand, and that many people consider outdated and uncouth, Niño de Elche among them.

That event doesn’t deserve any more lines. It was a black day for the Bienal and a monumental mistake of its director.

Translated by 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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