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Extremadura, an alternative dimension

With “Desde mis Entrañas”, Miguel Vargas has taken on the noble task of protecting and preserving the cultural resource that is flamenco from Extremadura, more fragile than ever in these difficult times.

Some five decades ago, the tectonic plates of flamenco began to shift and slide when Paco de Lucia awakened us from our long flamenco hibernation.  “Why should we speak with ten words when we can use a thousand?”, thus spake the genius from Algeciras.  And since great music was coming from his guitar, we rubbed our eyes, snapped to attention and followed the Pied Piper. Flamenco got a face-lift and in a short time the man himself would observe that flamenco guitar had become infected with what he humorously referred to as “the Paco virus”.

So let’s take stock… As far as distinguishable schools of flamenco guitar go, aside from Paco, in very broad terms, we’ve got the punchy Jerez sound, the powerful pulse of Granada, and the unmistakable aroma of Morón de la Frontera as interpreted by Diego del Gastor and his people.  Great guitarists throughout Spain and the rest of the world, but the well-defined schools of flamenco guitar are these.

However, there is another distinct alternative dimension just beyond the frontier of Andalusia.  Flamenco from Extremadura has a unique unashamed sweetness laced with melancholy.  Far from the typically aggressive flamenco of the mainstream, Extremaduran flamenco communicates its message with a gently trotting seductive rhythm, unexpectedly flattened notes and a predilection for the luminous C and G chords that characteristically sprinkle the most representative forms.

 

Portada de ‘Desde mis entrañas’, del guitarrista extremeño Miguel Vargas.

 

Despite his relative youth, Miguel Vargas (Beja, Portugal, 1956), is considered to have given form and entity to the Extremadura guitar sound.  Traditional song-forms attributed to the Verdino family, and which had for decades been accompanied by the tapping of canes, acquired an unmistakable aroma and dimension in Miguel’s guitar.  His first recording, “Desde mis Entrañas”, recently released, is a tribute to his late son, Domingo, a powerful emotional stimulus that permeates each moment of the guitarist’s eloquent understated style. 

Cuerda pelá, single-note thumbwork, which in Extremadura is called punteo, the absence of contemporary harmony, and a predilection for “por arriba” (Am, G, F, E) are also trademarks of Diego del Gastor, and yet, you could never mistake one style for the other, each has a potent and unique personality. 

After Porrinas de Badajoz (José Salazar Molina), one of the first professional flamenco singers from Extremadura, triumphed in Madrid in the 1950s, flamenco fans went on to discover the fresh sound of Marelu, Juan Cantero, Ramón el Portugués, Guadiana and other singers from the region who migrated to Madrid.  Singers in the capital at the time, such as Juan Villar and Turronero, latched on to the sound and incorporated elements of it in their repertoires.

Familiar but different sounds, a kind of flamenco we considered “from the fringe”, began to circulate in the mainstream, thanks in large part to Camarón, whose delivery and countenance were perfectly suited to this canastero flamenco that had existed for decades in intimate gatherings, weddings and livestock fairs in Extremadura.

“Desde mis Entrañas” is a labor of love colored by Miguel’s cultural pride and the personal loss of his son.  His music is an alternative dimension with stylistic shading that speaks of families and oral tradition from a time when flamenco was not a professional path, but a way of building and preserving an identity.

The recording includes the warm rich voice of veteran cantaor Guadiana for fandangos and jaleos, the pride of Extremadura.  Popular singer Potito adds his personality with soleá and some contemporary bulerías, and young Francisco Escudero, Perrete, interprets his vision of soleá with a clean honest delivery and creative melodic paths.  And in all three singers, melisma that leads always to Extremadura.

Also on the recording is Miguel’s son, guitarist Juan Vargas, with the percussion of Ramón Porrina and José Jiménez who is on bass as well.

With “Desde mis Entrañas”, Miguel Vargas has taken on the noble task of protecting and preserving the cultural resource that is flamenco from Extremadura, more fragile than ever in these difficult times.

 

El guitarrista extremeño Miguel Vargas. Foto: Jean Louis Duzert

 

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Jerezana de adopción. Cantaora, guitarrista, bailaora y escritora. Flamenca por los cuatro costados. Sus artículos han sido publicados en numerosas revistas especializadas y es conferenciante bilingüe en Europa, Estados Unidos y Canadá.

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