Blas Martinez is a talented young guitarist in the early stages of his professional career. He lives in Sevilla and has participated in several guitar competitions, including the Concurso Talento Flamenco in the Festival de Guitarra de Córdoba, which he won in 2017.
The interview was conducted on February 20, 2018, in the Triana neighborhood of Sevilla.
I am Blas Martinez. I’m from a town in the province of Murcia [Spain] called Alcantarilla; it’s really close to the town of Murcia. I’m a flamenco guitarist and I started playing guitar when I was eight years old and flamenco guitar when I was fourteen or fifteen.
What is your greatest achievement in music?
I’d say up to now my biggest achievement is to survive by playing the guitar. That’s what I want to do, play the guitar and live from that.
You won that competition.
Yeah, the flamenco talent competition by the Fundacion [Cristina Heeren].
And you just played in another competition this weekend. What do you think of competitions? It seems like there are a lot of competitions in flamenco.
Yes, above all for singing. There are a lot of competitions for singing. My opinion of competitions is that they work well for getting your name out there, so that people know you. You can earn some money too, but they help people recognize you when they see you presented on a concert program, etc.
And how are they run? They tell you, for example, to play a Tarantas solo or something and you just have to do it?
Yeah, some of them, but it depends on the competition. There are competitions where they tell you to play a specific form and others where you get to present the program of your choice. For example, in the La Unión [competition] you have to play one of the Levante forms like the Tarantas or the Mineras or something, but apart from that it’s an open program. There might be two forms or so for the semifinal and then you sometimes have to send in a video or recording. Then if you’re chosen you get to move on to the finals. That’s basically how they work.
(Click here to learn more about the Concursos Talento Flamenco 2017)
What’s your opinion of the word flamenco? What does it mean to you and how has it been misused or misunderstood?
Flamenco is a style of music. It’s a music that has certain characteristics, that was formed in certain places under particular conditions. Has the word been misused? Yeah, I’d say so, but there’s no judge either. Flamenco is an art form, and, like any art, it’s there to inspire people and to give hope. You see this today because people are doing new things and introducing new elements. No one has the absolute truth as to what flamenco is or is not. One should have a certain base and knowledge that everyone shares. But from there each artist can express things and sees things in their own way.
There are many different types of flamenco artists, different personalities and such, so for you what does it mean to be flamenco?
It refers to a person’s way of being or to their spontaneity. But for me flamencos are those who sing, dance, and play. Someone can be really flamenco in their way of being, but later up on stage if they don’t play well they don’t play well, even if they’re the most flamenco person in the world.
What does flamenco need to continue growing, evolving, and maturing?
Culture, fans, respect, and working opportunities.
What is your opinion of contemporary flamenco guitar? Do you like it or do you prefer the more classic flamenco guitar sound?
Yes, I like what’s well done, but I don’t really see it in terms of time periods.
Style doesn’t have anything to do with quality.
Exactly, I like Sabicas, but I also like Dani de Morón, each for something different, but I like them both.
What do you think about how jazz has been used to advance flamenco guitar, flamenco harmony, and the approach towards improvisation?
There’s not really improvisation in flamenco. In flamenco you can improvise a little with the rhythm when you’re accompanying dance, for example. If the dancer raises the tempo or does footwork you can improvise with what you’re accompanying, or if you’re playing Bulerías you can play with the rhythm too. But real improvisation in flamenco? No, you don’t improvise. There’s improvisation in jazz because you have a chord progression that follows a particular pattern and you use that, but not in flamenco. That hasn’t really been introduced into flamenco.
Have you worked much with foreigners?
Yeah, a little bit.
Can you talk to me a little about that? Was it different somehow?
Different? Well, each person is different whether they’re from here or not.
Have you needed to communicate ideas differently because the people you’ve played with learned flamenco a different way?
That depends on the level each person has. Maybe a certain foreigner comes here and you don’t have to say anything to them because it’s all clear and things are fine. With others it might take more effort for them to explain themselves or maybe they have been in Sevilla less time and they’re really careful with how they do things. But in general it just depends on the level and the personality of each person. From there it will work one way or another.
Have you seen much racial prejudice in the world of flamenco?
Yes, I’ve seen some, including here within Spain. I’ve seen it between the Roma and other Spaniards and also between Spaniards and foreigners. I think it’s getting better though. But that discrimination has always existed towards foreigners when in actuality they have the most passion for flamenco.
Where is that seen the most, in the work environment, in the schools, in social settings, etc?
You can see it more or less everywhere, at a parties, at school.
Is it harder to work certain places if you’re a foreigner?
Yes, there are foreign guitarists working and working well, but it’s true that there aren’t many.
Why don’t we have more female guitarists in flamenco?
In classical guitar there are female guitarists. In flamenco I don’t know why we don’t have many. They’ve existed in the past and today there are some too, but there aren’t many. It seems the guitar has always been focused on men.
Do you think it’s simply a result of machismo?
It could be, because there’s machismo in flamenco.
Do you think there’s a drug problem today in flamenco?
Fortunately, I haven’t seen much of that. I know it exists and I’ve known people who’ve been involved at times. But, it’s true that flamenco often lives during the night when there are more alcohol and drugs around. In that environment it can be easy to find, not always but it’s out there. So if someone is weak, or maybe because of their personal circumstances, they fall into that world. I think it’s the same though everywhere and with all types of work.
For someone out there that wants to come to Spain and learn flamenco with a limited amount of time, with all the information available and the rich tradition it has, what’s the most important thing for he/she to prioritize?
I’d say to simply take advantage of the things that can’t be found in their country. If you have a cante recital, or a guitar or dance recital, you’ve got to go. Go to the peñas or to parties to get to know more flamenco people. That’s what I’d focus on.
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