This post is Part 2 of Pedro Barragán’s interview. Click here to return to Part 1.
As the conversation continues, it touches on the topics of community, artistic style, musical education, and more.
The interview was conducted on February 07, 2018, in the Triana neighborhood of Sevilla, Spain. It will be presented over the course of several posts.
Did you start out right away with other people in the flamenco community?
No, I began more or less on my own because I didn’t have flamenco contacts at first. There was flamenco in my house, we did listen to a lot of flamenco, but unfortunately, I didn’t know other flamencos. Above all else, my first contact with flamenco was with some dance academies. However, what I was really looking for were singers and so I eventually ended up in Sevilla, where there are the most singers.
When you think of the flamenco community in general, which is big, what is the image you have? How do you see it?
Yes, it is big, but in reality, if you compare it to other musician communities like those of jazz, rock, and classical musicians, it’s actually really small. When you’re inside of it, it does seem large. I think the flamenco community might be a bit too self-conscious about being big and important somehow. I’m understanding this reality now because just the word flamenco signifies something different to those on the outside. It encapsulates musical works that for flamenco musicians are not flamenco. There is a type of divorce between flamenco and society. This is something I’ve been reflecting on lately and I think it comes from flamenco’s own self-consciousness.
When did you realize you were talented enough to work professionally as an artist?
Well, I don’t know if I’ve realized it yet! (laughing). I think I’m still asking myself that. But okay, jokes aside, I realized I liked the guitar so much that it could not only be my therapy, but that I could study it as much as was demanded. I could lock myself up eight hours a day and saw this didn’t make me unhappy, quite the contrary. I saw I had the capacity to work that hard, and that I had the concentration to study long hours. Work opportunities quickly emerged and that’s how things are still going today.
What have been the most difficult challenges so far in your career?
Well, the first challenge was that, to be able to live exclusively from playing the guitar. It was an insatiable dream, it was always there, and I’ve finally obtained it. I arrived in Sevilla as a student searching for some work. I ended up getting work and have made a life here from that. Therefore, it’s a dream that’s been fulfilled. Then came the professional challenges, such as playing for important flamenco artists, like when I worked with Carmen Linares or when I played for Chano Lobato. Those are moments when you find yourself in a position to move ahead and you have to ask yourself, “am I capable of doing this or not.” Ultimately, you end up working it out.
How long did you work with Carmen Linares?
I was glued to Carmen Linares for a quite a few years. She’s the artist with whom I’ve been on stage the most. I started with her in 2010 and the following years included a lot of intense work because she was doing many performances per year. I was one of the main guitarists that played for her shows. The last ones were in 2016, so six years in all.
Have you ever been, perhaps in a moment of frustration, to the point of wanting to quit music?
To the point of wanting to actually quit music, no, but I have had to reevaluate things at times. When you are 20 years old you have all the energy needed to dedicate yourself completely to the guitar and to move other things aside. It seems as if there are times when you consecrate the guitar such that you practically don’t care about your personal life at all. The moment arrives later when you reach a certain age that you want to develop other things in your personal life. You reevaluate, in one form or another, your way of understanding music and of understanding the guitar. At that point it’s not your entire life; it becomes part of your life. It’s totally fine if there are times when you don’t play so much, or you don’t study so much, or you don’t get that much work, because there are other things in your life. During those transitions from one mentality to the other I’ve had my crises. One can harm themselves by having a Peter Pan complex, by wanting to be a guitar student forever and by dedicating themselves to that exclusively. Life takes you other places.
When should a young musician start performing on stage? How do they know if they’re ready to really begin working?
I think you know with practice. If you get up on stage and have a horrible time, I suppose the moment will arrive when you say to yourself, “this isn’t for me.” Or you may realize that you still like working in music, but not as a performer. You might realize you want to do something else. But, if you get up there and like it and see that things are working, and it makes you happy, I think that’s it. The stage gives you energy and helps you grow. It also takes energy away from you, but if you can wrestle with all that magma and all that it implies, the audience factor, the emotions, the studies, the preparation, the rehearsals, then the proof is there. You can do it, because you are doing it.
Do you think you have your own defined style?
I think I do, but when one thinks about oneself, it’s hard to know. These are the types of things that others help you see. When someone is listening to you and they say, “hey, that thing you’re doing there is really personal,” that’s when you know. If I closed myself off in a room by myself I would never realize I had a personal style. It’s the contact with others that shows you this. I think I do have my own personal style and it’s also something I search for. I search continually. My internal sensations tell me I haven’t found it yet, but according to my friends and those who’ve heard me, I’ve had it for a while.
I’ve heard some artists say that for them finding their style actually wasn’t difficult because it was so personal and natural, but that the hard thing was trying to escape it.
Yes, of course. I think that, in addition to music, all paths are personal. Right away, in the moment you listen to a certain style of music instead of another and within that style you listen to a certain artist instead of another, you’re being influenced. There’s a unique way these influences communicate and that makes an exclusive combination. You become the only person that likes a specific artist and then another specific artist and all in a specific order, so all these influences are determining your personality from the beginning. It’s true that when you’re in the middle of a period of training, you have to play or sing or dance what the school dictates. But, when you move into the professional world and you’re able to do more of what you want, then the personality you’ve always had comes out.
When did you start teaching?
I began working at the Fundación in 2005, but I was a teaching assistant. As a professor professor, I don’t remember.
Have you had many private students?
Yes, I’ve given private classes. But, the first group classes were with the Fundación.
What’s different about how you teach children versus adults?
The truth is that my experience has always been with adults. By adults I’m referring to those 16 and up. Right now, I’m teaching a course to 16-year-old teenagers, a group of 30. These are the youngest students I’ve had. The new thing here is that I’m teaching a class to people that aren’t interested in the class. That’s a new challenge.
Do you have your own children?
Yes, I have one son. He just turned three.
Do you want to be his music teacher?
(Laughing) I don’t think it’s too important what I want, what he wants is what’s important. Nah, but seriously, I don’t have even the smallest intention to persuade him to do this. I want him to do what he likes. If he likes music it will be easier for him because he’ll have it at home, but that’s it. I don’t think about obligating or persuading him or anything.
The concept of an actual school is something new in flamenco. How are the methods of teaching and learning of flamenco changing?
It’s a big question, I don’t know if I’ll be able to help with my response. The truth is that the formal teaching of flamenco is something very new. The Fundación [Cristina Heeren] is new, and in addition it brings the three disciplines of singing, guitar playing, and dance together into a single school. It also teaches all aspects of each of the disciplines. By that I mean they don’t just teach falsetas (short guitar solos), but they also teach technique, the entire trade. Students learn how to accompany and everything else. Also, the professors are active artists. It’s a really ambitious project and is oriented towards training professionals. This is something absolutely new, something that has never existed in flamenco before. How was it before? I don’t really know, because there are few points for comparison. The traditional teaching of flamenco was a maestro of the guitar that would teach students in his house and he would just teach what he knew, using a spontaneous and improvised pedagogy.
Or the family.
Or the family, of course. This is what musical styles with an oral tradition have; they pass the art form down this way. Flamenco is the way it is thanks to this. Flamenco has its particularities precisely because it’s used this way of teaching throughout its 200-year existence. If it wouldn’t have been this way, we would be talking about a completely different type of music. Now, how could this affect flamenco in a future, and we don’t know if it’s a distant or near future, where flamenco is learned directly in the conservatories or schools instead of in the streets and in the taverns? How much will this change flamenco? That’s something we don’t know. Perhaps this is what gives flamenco it’s attractiveness. We’ll have to see. In either case, to me it seems like something positive. Flamenco has generally been limited to those who have contacts within flamenco. The fact is that, if you had flamenco at home, then you had much better chances at being able to dedicate yourself to this professionally. There would be many more opportunities for you than for someone without those contacts. This [new way of teaching] is democratizing flamenco more, it’s allowing it to open up and to broaden it’s reach much more.
It’s getting easier to become part of this community.
Exactly, and flamenco is becoming more permeable in the sense that it’s becoming more open to outside influences as well. If musicians from other types of music start studying in an academy or a school like the Fundación to become a professional flamenco artist, they bring with them all they knew before to contribute in a new way. All this really interests me. What will be the consequences of all this? It’s impossible to know.
This post is Part 2 of Pedro Barragán’s interview. Click here to return to Part 1.
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