For all the
dramatic spectacle and virtuosity in flamenco—the flashes of movement and color
by the dancers, the dazzling runs and powerful strumming on the guitar—at the
beginning was the word.
While much of flamenco’s history is in dispute—including the origins of the
word flamenco—many flamencologistsagree that el cante, the singing, is the quintessential component of flamenco
(perhaps, but not necessarily always, accompanied by palmas, or handclapping).
The role of the guitar evolved from modest accompaniment in the early part of
the 19th century to solo instrument a century later.
“The guitar in the cante jondo (deep
song) must limit itself to keeping the rhythm and follow the singer,” wrote
poet Federico García Lorca, a student and champion of flamenco, for his
conference “Arquitectura del cante jondo” in 1932. “The guitar is a background
for the voice and must be strictly subjected to the will of the singer. But
because the personality of the guitarist is often as strong as that of the cantaor, the guitarist must also sing,
and thus falsetas (solo guitar
phrases) are born, the commentaries of the strings …”
Over time, however, exceptional musicians such as Ramón Montoya (1880–1949),
Niño Ricardo (1904–1972), Sabicas (1912–1990), and the indispensable Paco de
Lucía (1947–2014) elevated the technical quality and expectations built on that
modest role and expanded the vocabulary of the guitar in flamenco—and with it,
the sound of the entire genre.
Vicente Amigo is part of that continuum.
With his virtuoso technique, distinct sound, and expansive approach, he is
redefining the sound of flamenco in the 21st century. But he has decided to
walk a fine line between tending to the tradition and following his artistic
curiosity—opening flamenco to the larger world of music.
He is a poet of the guitar. He has a personal, warmer, rounder-than-standard
flamenco sound; muscular yet less aggressive; focused and precise. He also
favors a melodic approach with a greater use of space and well-placed,
impeccably clean runs. If at times he sounds as if he’s trying to turn the
guitar—once a servant to the singer—into a vocalist, it’s because he might be.
One of his main objectives on his pop-influenced Paseo de Gracia (2009) was “to sing with the guitar,” he
acknowledged. “I tried to sing with the guitar the melodies that the guests
then sung; I tried to make my guitar my vocal chords.”
As a composer, he is a melodist with a knack for catchy lines. And while he
certainly knows his palos (styles
within flamenco), he might draw upon popular forms or Celtic music for
inspiration, as in his latest recording, Tierra
(2013), which includes some of the songs featured on this evening’s concert.
Not surprisingly then, he has not only found common ground with some of the
great masters of flamenco, but also with jazz musicians and pop stars. Having
grown up with the classic sound of flamenco, he clearly feels free to explore,
adding to his sound, as needed, a variety of timbres, including strings, horns,
drums, accordions, and keyboards.
None of this has endeared him to purists.
Amigo shrugs them off.
“I do not like to carry the flamenco flag,” he said in a 2012 interview for Easy Reader News in California. “I like
to carry the flag of music, of art, of my feelings. It is what brings everyone
together, into my world. I don’t expect an audience to know about flamenco. It
is a question of expressing yourself. Within the flamenco world, one artist may
think another does not play the true flamenco—but for me, it is just a matter
of expressing myself. That is what art is: expressing yourself. And I prefer to
speak about flamenco as art.”
Besides, even the most dedicated flamenco purist would have to concede Amigo’s
unimpeachable credentials, including his apprenticeship and work with the great
guitarist and composer Manolo Sanlúcar, his collaborations with transcendent
artists such as Camarón de la Isla and Enrique Morente, and his work with
distinguished singers such as José Mercé, El Pele, and Diego el Cigala.
“The way I create music is I go out and see what I discover,” he added in the
same 2012 interview. “There is a base in flamenco; every music has its base,
the basics. But music is all about going out and seeing what you discover.”
As for his interest in other genres and combining them with flamenco, “I’ve
always been interested in fusions,” he elaborated recently. “We ourselves are a
blend of our father and our mother—how could we be against it? Besides, one of
the wonders in music is that it’s open-ended, infinite, and where you least
expect it, you may find something that enriches you as a musician and as a
is an independent music writer and critic based in Miami.