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Grandpa and the summer festivals

-Grandpa, the season of the towns’ flamenco festivals starts in a few weeks. You used to love them, but you haven’t gone to any festival in the last few years, why is that? -Yeah, I haven’t gone to any of these festivals for years. I enjoyed them so much in the 60s and 70s, that now they bore me to death.

-Grandpa, the season of the towns’ flamenco festivals starts in a few weeks. You used to love them, but you haven’t gone to any festival in the last few years, why is that?

-Yeah, I haven’t gone to any of these festivals for years. I enjoyed them so much in the 60s and 70s, that now they bore me to death. It’s not that there aren’t any good artists (there are), but for many years they’ve fallen into a routine. In my time, it was different, specially the atmosphere, which was very familiar, filled with flamenco buffs. I don’t know why exactly, but I remember those years with a lot of nostalgia.

-How did those summer festivals get started, grandpa?

-Look, Manolo. After the 1936 Spanish Civil War, some artists and entrepreneurs wanted to bring back the glory days of the Ópera Flamenca, which flourished between 1925 and 1936. Yet, the country had changed, and by the mid 1950s, some artists, aficionados and intellectuals understood that a new era should begin. It was the time to bring back the traditional flamenco, without the sparkles and refinements.

-Was it easy, just like that?

-It wasn’t as easy as you may think. There were other circumstances. Like the new national flamenco contests, such as the one in Córdoba(1), for example. A new generation of flamencologists and intellectuals had been born, and they decided to contribute. There was a new vinyl discography (it’s first records are now prized jewels). Great flamenco anthologies were released. It was the dawn of the peñas flamencas, which started as meeting places for flamenco buffs, and today are very influential in this art. Professional flamenco critics appeared, with their own newspaper columns and radio programs. All of that created a fertile ground for the festivals.

-Grandpa, that’s all hardcore history. How were those first festivals, the ones in Utrera, Arcos de la Frontera, Mairena del Alcor, Morón de la Frontera, La Puebla de Cazalla, Puente Genil, Écija, Los Palacios, El Puerto, etc.?

-They were wonderful, Manolo. On the same stage you could see Mairena, Juan Talega, Perrate de Utrera and Fosforito, joined by a constellation of young promising artists such as Lebrijano, Paquera de Jerez, José Menese, Manuel Agujetas, María Vargas, Terremoto, Trini España, Matilde Coral, Farruco, Rafael el Negro, Morente, Camarón, Paco Cepero, Enrique de Melchor, etc.

-What about Caracol, la Niña de los Peines, Marchena, el Pinto, Vallejo, Valderrama or Canalejas?

-They were such a part of the previous era that they were unable to adapt. Caracol, by then, was worn out, a genius focusing on his tablao in Madrid, Los Canasteros. Vallejo died in 1960, alone and forgotten. Pastora Pavón retired and her husband, el Pinto, focused on his business and seldom performed. Marchena found himself sidelined and he wasn’t a big fan of the towns’ festivals, in their new format. Valderrama, who made a fortune in the theatres with his own company, also languished. He once told me that Antonio Mairena “sent us all to the basement” 

-Was Mairena the creator of the summer festivals in their present form?

-Nope. Everyone says that, but it’s not true. He played a crucial role in them, though, with the support of a now-deceased promoter, Jesús Antonio Pulpón, whose great work in behalf of flamenco at that time shall one day be recognized by historians. Mairena saw in this new movement the opportunity to start and lead a new era for flamenco, and he did just that. He became the big shot, like you kids say today.

-That was because he was awarded the Golden Key in Córdoba, in 1962, right?

-Of course. Although before that he already used to perform in the Potaje Gitano de Utrera(2) and was preparing the coup, to use a political metaphor very much in vogue these days. Without Mairena and his work, the summer festivals would have been something else. He came to power and he ruled, sometimes with an iron hand, particularly in his festival, Mairena’s(3), which became the model for all others.

-Are you coming with me this summer to El Potaje, El Gazpacho and La Caracolá de Lebrija?

-I don’t have that much energy these days, Manolo, but I might give it a shot and join you. Yet, I don’t think I’d be able to stay up until dawn as I used to do fifty years ago, when I’d leave home one Friday and be back the following Monday, broke and tired like a stray dog. Your grandma was very patient with me, poor thing.

-Did grandma like flamenco too?

-Nope, her style was more like Marifé and Juanita Reina(3)

-So she liked elegant flamenco.

-Have some respect, kid.

 

 

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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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