“”La leyenda del tiempo” didn’t revolutionise flamenco”

Interview with Kiko Veneno

(By phone)

What’s in your new album, “Dice la gente”?

Speaking physically there’s a nasty bit of plastic. Vinyl records were good plastic, fine like plastic table mats. I like pointing out that it’s nasty, there are good plastics and bad. Nevertheless, it appears in the future that plastic is going to be rare.

Inside that nasty bit of plastic there’s a flamenco party. An example of which is the track “El duende”. Would you say it’s the most flamenco track on the album? How did it come about?

Well, for God’s sake, if I don’t get this answer right I can’t go on (he jokes). This track was intended for an earlier album, “El hombre invisible”, just like “La rama de Barcelona” and a couple more tracks. At the time we didn’t have the patience or the knack we needed to get to where we wanted to with the tracks.

This time I’ve taken my time with it and have worked out what I wanted to say. And what I wanted to do is to play with flamenco beat, with alegrías, without bad intentions but taking it to a kind of acoustic folk guitar pattern. And then adding some flamenco fantasy, which it has in spades. At the end of the track Israel Galván has added a fantasy like something out of a western.

What has working with Israel Galván been like?

Israel Galván is one of those performers that I say have “outgrown flamenco”. He has gone so far that flamenco performers don’t want him anymore. Many of them don’t even understand him. As you know Israel has been a flamenco performer all his life; it’s not that flamenco has become too small for him, you can’t say that, but he’s researching other things.

I find it very funny when people say that he doesn’t do flamenco anymore, that what he does is not pure. Come on! Enough stupidities! Yes, I’m in favour of purity and essence but everything has its place.

Apart from “El duende” and the collaboration of Israel Galván, what else is flamenco on the album and in your music?

There are flamenco elements like the essence of the lyrics, the search for pure emotions, the rhythmic pattern.

There are flamenco elements like the essence of the lyrics, the search for pure emotions, the rhythmic pattern … all of those are flamenco elements. “Lo tengo to y no tengo na”(I have everything, yet nothing), “paso por to, pero por eso no paso yo” (I’ll do anything, but I won’t do that). These are very unsynchopated, schematic flamenco phrases, true sentences in four words that hold the world, philosophical tomes in three words that can only be achieved in flamenco and Andalusian poetry .

My way of writing is very influenced by popular Spanish poetry, of which flamenco is the true finished product. Apart from that in each album I try and include a flamenco phrase . On the album Veneno it was the phrase “veneno que tú tomaras, veneno tomaba yo” (poison which you will take, the poison that I took) and on this one it’s “dice la gente” (people say) which Camarón sung on one of his first albums and some which I have now taken over, like companies do (he laughs).

One of the phrases that most defines you as a flamenco musicians on this album is “nos hicimos músicos/ buscábamos lo último/ y nos quedamos con lo único” (we became musicians, we looked for the latest, we kept the only thing worth keeping).

That’s right. Flamenco like any other culture runs the risk of becoming fetishist. Many flamenco performers tend to believe that flamenco is something special, which it is of course, but not because you say it is. Flamenco has essential and marvellous music, but as soon as it’s at its purest and you have no time for anything else, you’ve ruined it. Flamenco like any other culture runs the risk of becoming fetishist

(Kiko Veneno enters to room speaking on the phone. He hangs up, takes off his jacket and while he takes a seat, continues with his discussion, face to face)

Flamenco is like blues, like classical music, it’s a wonderful music, but people are trivializing it with absurd formulas and dogma . With this “I’m pure, he isn’t”. It’s like with Israel Galván, some say he isn’t good anymore because he’s started to do strange things. Enough with “it’s not flamenco”. Of course it’s not flamenco, it’s gone further than flamenco, it’s something wonderful and universal.

His Apocalypses (El final de este estado de cosas) was a cultural event of unheard of proportions . Although, I am just as happy with a seguirilla sung by Terremoto with Manuel Parilla on guitar. That for me is also the height of world culture. But, of course, those who try to live off others’ purity are just making the most of closed mindedness.

And, just like what occurred with “La leyenda del tiempo”, many who today criticize impurity, tomorrow will say it’s a masterpiece.

No, that’s not it. I agree more with what Paco de Lucía was saying the other day. He said that the album didn’t revolutionise anything. And it’s true, we believe what we are. The flamenco fetish is that “La leyenda del tiempo” was revolutionary for flamenco. I find that very flattering but it’s not true. All that “La leyenda del tiempo” did was to add drums and an electric guitar.

The great revolution came with Paco de Lucía sitting down next to Camarón and drawing out thirds and making new melodies The great revolution came with Paco de Lucía sitting down next to Camarón and drawing out thirds and making new soleá melodies, mixing seguirilla with bulería, the same way they sung bulerías in soleá but slower, putting tangos to soleá and bulerías, shortening or lengthening vocals, making new melodies, new lyrics… That was the great revolution. “La leyenda del tiempo” is an anecdote. Let’s leave aside the clichés.

I have the impression that flamenco performers have been living off clichés since Camarón came along. When Camarón came out with “rin, tin, tin” all the idiosincrasits in Seville who were “mairenistas” (followers of Antonio Mairena) – and that is like saying you are a follower of the dictionary or the encyclopaedia – looked down on him just as they are doing now with Israel Galván.

And now look, many now say unashamedly that Camarón was the greatest. One can have a change of heart but not without first recognizing past mistakes. Flamenco performers have been living off clichés since Camarón came along

We have to be clear, Mairena did not bring anything new to flamenco. He was a great compiler, the great testamentary of flamenco, but as a vocalist or a creator he did not bring anything new. But Camarón, however, like Caracol in his day, was a creator, a visionary.

And how do you see flamenco today?

Like a still lake. It’s too flat and plain. Before flamenco was alive, there were twenty or thirty vocalists with their own material, with their own lyrics. And three or four popular guitar schools, one from Seville, one from Jerez, one from Cádiz, from Morón. But after the Transition to democracy Spanish cultural life has become shorter and shorter.

The rush towards democracy and modernity has taken us to nothing . We have really achieved very little. We have eaten many bollicaos and gotten very fat, but in terms of quality and of value we have a long way to go.

Flamenco is about rebellion and creativity. It’s about sincerity and indomitable characters such as Terremoto. It is something from poor quarters, from bohemian life and, especially, from the countryside. The flavour of earth, of the vine, of wine and roots, and nature are all part of flamenco .

Flamenco is about rebellion and creativity We have totally left behind the countryside, we have gone to featureless cities, we have emptied rural Spain, we have drowned in apartment blocks… Basically we have abandoned all that was ours. And of course, that way, living in featureless neighbourhoods and cutting ourselves off from our roots, it’s very difficult to maintain a popular art form .

So what happens now? Well instead of having 30 great vocalists there are just two or three . What vocalists are doing their own repertoire and have a personal style? Well there’s José Mercé, who is doing great things and I think is marvellous, and so is Isidro Sanlúcar; Remedios Amaya, who is one of the best performers but isn’t a creator; Duquende, who’s fighting on; Pitingo, who could be doing good things but doesn’t seem to want to … Which vocalist wants to innovate from inside flamenco and create new palos and rhythms?

The important thing about flamenco is its essence, little things with a lot of soul, and with little musical decorations The important thing about flamenco is its essence, little things with a lot of soul, and with little musical decorations. We have completely abandoned that. The thing is that the tree has very deep roots and that’s why, although now we are going through a bad patch, we hope that soon someone will come along and water it.

Speaking of creators. As the creator of the “sonido venenoso” that people like Los Delinqüentes and Muchachito have inherited, what would you say defines your style?

I would define it as connoisseurs of flamenco, of our land, and at the same time connoisseurs of universal popular music, from the Rolling Stones to African music. Mixing all of that, and adding flamenco’s flair. Taking the essence, but also the lip, the spark and the carnival freshness.

A few drops of street philosophy are essential. The stage set must be energetic. And more than anything a positive and happy view of life. A free and limitless music, with the only condition of not missing a beat.

(The interview ends with a sentence and a sign: “Ooof, the more you talk the more you make mistakes, that’s what my mother use to say “)