Cante Jondo: Flamenco at its Purest and Most Fiery

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I am thinking about flamenco because there is a flamenco festival coming to LA this weekend.    After 10 years Vicente Amigo is finally returning here.  It’s this weekend at The Redondo Center for the Performing Arts, in Redondo Beach.  Amigo performs Saturday, then Adam Del Monte, Nino de los Reyes and Teatro Flamenco perform on Sunday.  (p.s. Vicente Amigo was spectacularly good).  So was the paella created for the occasion by Joe Miller, who runs Joe’s Restaurant on Abbott Kinney and the wonderful tapas bar in Santa Monica, Bar Pintxo.

And I just learned, at the great Vicente Amigo show last night (3/24) that the great Manuel Agujetas will make a rare appearance here in May.  Here’s a link I was sent.  He is one of the godfathers of cante jondo.  Look at his video below.  His son Antonio–the prison flamenco entry–is a fine singer as well.

I am reminded of an amazing album that came out in 1998, called Two Cries of Freedom:  Gypsy Flamenco from the Prisons of Spain.  It is the most powerful of flamenco styles:  cante jondo, or deep song.    Here’s the story behind the cd:  Various local governments throughout Spain, working with local flamenco clubs, decided to have a contest and find the best inmate singers in a national contest.  The winners would receive 5,000 pesetas, a record contract for one cd, and a reduction of the sentence being served.  150 inmates auditioned for the competition.   Two of them, José Serrano and Antonio “El Agujetas” won the contest.  He is the son of Manuel Agujetas, the elder statesment of the raw, visceral flamenco style called cante jondo.

Among gypsy flamenco families in Spain, often mistrusted by the larger Spanish public–for the same reason gypsies have met discrimination throughout Europe–that they are foreigners, don’t live in the cities and tend to stay together and outside of mainstream society—there is a tradition that if a family member commits a crime, another–often younger–member of the family will take the fall and serve the prison sentence.

I’m not sure if that was the case here, but this cd is a good example of maximum duende, maximum intensity, purified by the fire of suffering and alienation.   Suffering and alienation that goes all the way back to 1492, when Spain expelled all Moors and Jews after the reconquista.  Watch this video of Manuel Agujetas and believe.

Here is a clip of Antonio Agujetas, son of Manuel, who won the prison contest.  He may have died, according to an aficionado friend, but I can’t confirm this one way or another.