The relation with Flamenco started previously and since childhood with my grandfather as he played Las Jotas we now know how La jota (Xota) belongs to Arabic tones and roots from the diaspora of the expelled Moors from Valencia, up towards the lands from where my grandad was born. So, it is not so surprising I linked those childhood memories with an amazing attraction to either Flamenco or any Arabic sounds including the Sephardi sounds and the Andalusí.
In the Spanish Francoist fascist regime into which I grew-up, Flamenco will be part of our "folklore" and called "Español" as part of a series of dances called Spanish folklore coros y danzas. We also had a sort of celebrity culture that will subsume many Gitanos and no-Gitanos of the times like Lola Flores who became like the mother Flamenca by TV and all the Spanish yellow and pink Magazines that were imposing their presences.
At the same times we will also start to realise how our own so called "traditions" (be this playing guitar and singing or dancing between us in family meetings or in our little villages "fiestas") was also subsumed under the folkloric terms and those were culturally more and more separated by its spectacle. The distanced use of such habits, left quite a reduced tradition for younger generations, who by contrast would be fully immersed in UK's and USA's Pop icons, their music, their film industries actors and role models and all of it once more via a TV channel of national supervision with only two channels.
With the Francoist politics of Tourism we also realised we were made a sort of "exotic" land, and we were visited and observed by white half-naked people in shorts every summertime. People who will get drunk, vomit and make so much noise, people for whom we where just "the Natives".
Bars and only tourist amenities invaded our coasts and our beach seasides, and many toys, postcards, and all of the typical souvenirs were part of a "psychic separation" between our reality from inside and habits as traditions that felt natural to become more and more a sort of self-conscious identity we could "imitate" or reproduce for the foreigners. On many occasions to be able to eat and to have a job.
Being such, in these cultural backgrounds my own grandfather and our family of immigrants from my mother's side, for example, became assimilated as an inner crypto-exotic element of our mixed identity as family. Not to say that the "other side" it also belong to the crypto jewish forcibly converted Jewish from Catalonia. It was unknown to us yet , of "why" was it that the connection to Flamenco felt so real and intense.
It was around 1977 that a series of sounds started to be more present in my life. I was familiar with a series of musicians and producers at the time from the Zeleste scene (a music bar of big proportions that hosted the progressive, jazz, and fusion bands of the times) would play and perform with some of the flamenco figures as Camarón de la Isla.They called their collaborations a "fusión", and this would produce a few new ways of performing and interpreting flamenco. I was in close contact with some of the musicians that played such roles in the times, which gave me a sense of being part of a special cultural event in which fusion, as principle became the tool for getting away from repression and fascism.
Noting that since the 70's that I know that what is considered Flamenco Puro is jealously guarded by the theorist from Andalucía which support the idea that the Spanish Gitanos based here for centuries are the sole authors of it. This generates quite a polemic situation, also its very complex to approach this sounds and music feeling it belongs to anyone beyond racial definitions.
But the message of the origins of Flamenco has been proven and in fact it came out from a shared experience of persecution and this would include Gitanos but also Jews and Arabs, Moriscos in the Hispanic lands. Those various tones and musical structures should explain then why we do share roots and have tones or modes in common.
In the 70's I was a dancer and with intentions of expanding my practice to production and choreography, and ironically while living and studying contemporary dance in London between 1979/83, I meet this flamenco guitarist Pepe el de la Linea (from Cadiz) on a great small hidden bar where actors and dancers like me hangout off Tottenham Court Road. With Pepe and his mates, I had many nights of witnessing first hand how spectacle, show, and real-life will melt and mix. I was asked to be part of a group and proposed by one of his friends to be a dancer with them, which goes to tell, how easy it is for many of us, descendants of Arabs or Jews in Spain is to look like a "gypsy". It was then when became aware of how easy was to fake and pretend to be a flamenco as in Federico García Lorca's essay about El Duende, but this is another story that I am including on my ongoing research about Flamenco.
It was around 1985/6 when I started to produce watercolours, drawings.. those were in a way attempts at including my self as part of a context that was not only of my experiences with and of flamenco's performers and friends, but other quotidian scenes like cooking or just lying under a tree watching the stars.
In 1988 a journalist friend, who had made a great documentary on the Jóvenes Flamencos, invited me to Seville, whereas a consequence of the folks I meet then, I would stay for three years, from 1988/91.
It was then when I was introduced to many essential figures from the flamenco scene in Seville.
In this recent documentary from minute 29 there are the main people I meet and had great times with too.
In La Carbonería de Sevilla I was introduced to Paco Lira, to his son Pisco, and their cousin, the infamous Juan el Camas (who was very close to Camarón de la Isla). Paco Lira, had been one of the directors of the independent and anti-fascist establishment theatre company La Cuadra de Sevilla. He was a very active figure on cultural and flamenco related resistance during our Francoist dictatorship. After meeting him, he invited me to live in the "buardilla" of la Carbonería ( his amazing bar/living space and flamenco meeting space) and to be part of a painting show, of the next Bienal de Flamenco de Sevilla on its site.
With Carles Bosch I also went to Jerez de la Frontera, where I was introduced to the barrio de Santiago and some of the vecinos... like Jero, el Niño Jero and others. Meeting during those months Mario Pacheco (Nuevos Medios) who died recently, and who was a producer of much of "fusión" style flamenco music. I asked him to photograph the project (fashion catalog of artistic orientation) that I did feature Antonio Carmona, who then was still the percussionist of Ketama's Nuevos Flamencos and Mario's productions.
My life and the experiences that followed in south Spain were part of a pesquisa about my own cultural or even ethnic roots. The fact we all were in any case just coming from under the same fascist thumb, should give us a clue on how the cooperative and horizontal relations of fusion in those times, at least between artist, were if not perfect at least very honest and straight forward respectful relations between folk of different ethnicities and social backgrounds.
It was during the '80s that an intense self-exotisation and further claims of "the pure" as the real deal came about. To have come to the notions of today which are that all of us "white" Spaniards (needed so much to clarify what means this?) have stolen the Flamenco from its one and only makers "the Gitanos". At the moment there are such claims going on in the music and flamenco's scene. We wonder what the spirit of the '70s would ever represent under this light. There is much work to do these days in all directions for research and our own identity politics. As for where there is something to gain in capitalist terms even race and the pure is not innocent, in this case, the echoes of the cast system from which the Gypsies originate.. resound sadly under their claims.
Here there is a link to a blog started at a different point but that are research-based and including more works. FellahMengu started as a line of research that consolidates the series of works ideas and production since started in the 1980's