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Fearing the critics in Seville’s Bienal festival?

Artists who are afraid of critics are not worthy of calling themselves “artist”. Do you know what Antonio Mairena once said? “We flamenco artists are lucky to have the right of being criticized, because in the old days we didn’t even have that [privilege]”. He was intelligent, without a doubt.

A few days ago, Antonio Zoido Naranjo, director of the Bienal de Flamenco, said that some artists refuse to perform in this flamenco festival of Seville because they are “afraid of the critics”. I can attest to this, so Zoido was not lying. Any artist who refuses to perform in the best flamenco festival in the world for such reason is clearly lacking a lot of self-confidence, or at least that is what people say. I am aware that some artists do not believe that the flamenco critics of Seville are equipped to judge the kind of shows that are performed in our days. Yet, they should say so openly, publicly, without any fear. My take is that there are artists that are not equipped to perform at the Bienal and are only featured because they have pulled strings through influential friends or links to political parties. If we speak clearly once and for all, it will be better for everyone.

I remember, for example, when José Luis Ortiz Nuevo was forced to assign the Maestranza Theater to Chiquetete because the latter had performed in the election campaign of the Andalucista Party, of which that director from Málaga was a member. Do you think that was a one-off? No, such things happen in every edition of the festival. One look at the program is enough to figure out which artists were invited due to their influential connections. Yet, there are worthy artists who must beg on their knees for the opportunity to perform in any stage, such as bailaor El Junco or cantaora Antonia Contreras. There are flamenco critics from certain media outlets who decide who performs at the Bienal and who doesn’t, and then even write the review of their shows. Flamenco critics have degenerated, so I am not surprised that some artists rather perform in the festivals of Jerez or Nimes, rather than in Seville.

«The minute that an independent, unbiased critic is published, the problems with the artists start. With the mediocre artists, that is, because Paco de Lucía was criticized a few times at the Bienal and he never said he was afraid of critics»

Artists who are afraid of critics are not worthy of calling themselves “artist”. Do you know what Antonio Mairena once said? “We flamenco artists are lucky to have the right of being criticized, because in the old days we didn’t even have that [privilege]”. He was intelligent, without a doubt. But then, critics who agreed with his perspective, the so-called mairenistas, would send their critics to Mairena for his approval before they were published. And whoever criticized that great cantaor from Mairena del Alcor ended up destroyed and ostracized by Mairena’s followers. I remember how a great star of cante trashed a show review by a critic at the Lope de Vega theater, telling him: “This is worthless, write something else”. The next day an article was published in a newspaper of Seville titled “The Great Night of Juan el Grande”. Something like that, because I am writing by memory.

The minute when an independent, unbiased critic is published, the problems with the artists start. With the mediocre artists, that is, because Paco de Lucía was criticized a few times at the Bienal and he never said he was afraid of critics. His biggest fear, though, was when guitarists of Seville watched his performance from the first row. That’s what he told me in Madrid, when he presented his album Concierto de Aranjuez (1991), before Félix Grande. “Riqueni and Manolo Franco would sit up close and would not take their eyes off my guitar, watching everything I do”, he told us. That was said by Paco, who was a god. And now there is some second-rate artist saying he won’t perform at the Bienal because he’s afraid of Manuel Martín Martín or myself.

 

 

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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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