This post is Part 2 of Alejandro Granados’ interview. Click here to return to Part 1.
As the conversation continues, it touches on topics such as artistic and personal authenticity, technique, and education.
The interview was conducted on March 16, 2018, in Madrid, Spain, at the Amor De Dios: Centro De Arte Y Danza Española. It is being presented over the course of several posts.
What was your first experience with music?
It was through my parents. They both danced, and I was with them on tour since I was little. I was there in the theaters with them, although it was more to play. I would put on my dad’s dance boots and dress like them and fetch water for those who came backstage sweating and needing to change their clothes. It was a game, but I was in constant contact with that world. I was with older people, guitarists, singers, and my parents’ friends also, not so much with other kids.
What has helped you most in your development?
In terms of actual instruction, I didn’t have much time to study because I had a lot of work. I did study classical dance, ballet, before flamenco though. Since all the maestros were friends of my parents, it was easy to just go into any of their classes. I’ve also had the opportunity to observe and get to know some really interesting people throughout my life. That has helped a lot. I also think that every individual plays the guitar or sings or dances according their own way of being. As I’ve moved forward and have grown as a person, I’ve done the same with my art, with my dance. That’s what has helped the most, having a personal direction in life. The art then follows.
When did you realize you had the talent necessary to work as a professional artist and how did you decide to pursue this as your career?
It never really hit me like that, I just liked it more than anything else. I couldn’t get out because flamenco was well-suited to my personality. My way of being went well with flamenco and so I never stopped to think about whether or not I had talent. I just liked it a lot and wanted to keep going.
And so after all these years, what has been the best part of life as a professional flamenco artist?
Wow! Like I said before, when I was younger, I had a lot of work. I earned a lot of money and traveled a lot and had a certain success. However, personally, I wasn’t a conformist so I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. Now, there isn’t much work and my whole body hurts, but I enjoy myself more. I got to know [Mikhail Nikolayevich] Baryshnikov well. He was one of my lifelong heroes in the dance world and he liked flamenco. When I was spending a lot of time in New York City, he would come to see me and we’d talk and he’d say, “It’s a shame that when you’re young, you have all the strength and ambition and desire, but you don’t really know what you’re doing. Then when you’re older, [it’s the opposite], and you have to just laugh at yourself.” In my case, it’s right now that I feel most content with what I’m doing.
What have been the most difficult challenges in your career?
I’ve done a lot of theater work where I’ve had to play specific characters. I’ve always liked that type of interpretive work. Maybe because of my look or my personality, I’ve done a lot with the Greek tragedies and a lot of [Federico Garcia] Lorca. I once did Medéa, the theater work by Manolo Sanlúcar and Manolo Vargas. That was tough to interpret. However, the only real conflicts I had are those within myself, not with others.
What is your greatest artistic achievement?
Learning to dance (laughing), because I didn’t know anything! I was a DJ. I loved music and was always in a club. For me, learning to dance, or at least being able to make a living from flamenco has been the biggest achievement. You never actually stop learning in flamenco or in anything else. You just have your present moment and that’s it. I could have said something a little more substantive there, but I prefer to leave it like that. I’ve worked with the Navajo Indians in Taos, New Mexico, for many years and they always speak to me like that. I prefer to respect the culture of the red road (smiling).
What are the main characteristics of your style of dance?
I’ll tell you based on what people say in the reviews and such. They say I’m very flamenco, masculine, with a lot of punch, that I dance well to the singing, and that my dance is well grounded, heavy. My most important reference was always Farruco. His personality and persona were a good fit for me. Mario [Maya] used to watch him, and Mario and I were good friends. Güito was an [important reference] too, but Farruco’s style was a better fit. I really focused on him in the early days.
What is the contribution you’d like to make to the world of music?
Right now, it’s to share what I’ve learned in life. If I can share it with young people, better yet. Providing a strong reference for young artists, or for people from around the world, is an important responsibility. After that, at another level, it’s a whole different story. [To make it], you need to be connected. You need to have good political relationships and all that. That comes at a price, especially if you’re not well-known, but I’ve never cared much about all that. I’ve always been a bit of an outlaw. However, returning to your question, it’s to share through my teaching and through my dancing. Luckily, there are still people out there that want to see me dance and who enjoy my dancing.
What would you recommend to someone who wants to start a professional career in flamenco?
I think you know perfectly well that even if you have talent, you still have to work. One has to work hard, period. After that, I strive to transmit, with the use of technique, the nature of my persona and personality. That’s the real work, the execution is something entirely different for me. It has value and I respect it, but I prefer artists that are transparent, that perform how they really are.
Performing in a tablao is the first professional work for many flamenco artists. Can you talk to me about the world of the tablaos?
I began in the tablaos as well. That’s where I learned the most about flamenco because it’s in a small space where you’re in close contact with friends and other artists. There’s also something very energetic about the tablaos. Normally, you work on your ability to improvise more in that setting. There’s a different type of preparation behind the big theater shows. [In the tablaos] you search for different resources and the different ways to go about constructing your dance and your artistic path. Right now, the tablaos are kind of the only thing left. There are no theaters; well, there are theaters, but you have to self-produce everything now. Not everyone has the money self-produce theater shows. People are having to return to the tablaos again. There’s also a different format now. Before, I liked the cuadro (group) concept. There was more money around so there were more people in the cuadro. Right now, the cuadro concept doesn’t exist. Now someone comes out on stage, then another person, then another, then another, then another. There were a few people doing the palmas (clapping) and such, but there didn’t used to be this thing with the women coming out with the flower in their hair and the whole world doing palmas. It used to be something different. More people sang, and they also did comical things. There was a different type of expression that’s being lost. But now the young people have to return to the tablaos because there’s no money around.
When did the need to start self-producing shows begin?
Around the same time as the real estate crisis, 2006 or 2007. It was pretty radical, the taxes on everything went up. You can’t take five or six musicians with you anymore, because you couldn’t pay their taxes. You can’t maintain a group or company or anything.
Do you like to teach?
Now, yes. I always try to get them to understand that the dances por Soleá and por Siguiriya are the mother [forms]. You connect first with the mother, because the food mom makes is the best, because it’s from mom. I also make sure that they learn to dance to the singing. We always have singing here [in my classes]. If we don’t have a singer present, I sing. I also make sure to have live guitar, because [the students] need to understand how to interpret each different dance form. They need to know that even if they use the same steps, the interpretation is different. I try to work on all of this.
Have you also taught children?
Children? At times, but teaching children is really heavy. It’s a wonderful thing, but wow! They’re blessed little goats, but they’re crazy. They have so much energy. It’s complicated with kids because you can’t talk to them like a kid. You’re an adult and know more than them, but you also can’t talk to them like adults either, because ultimately, they’re just kids. I’m 50/50, because it’s tough. It’s also beautiful. When it’s all said and done, it’s a lovely thing. It’s special. It’s difficult because they’re just beginning to discover the world and they’re little heads just can’t concentrate on anything. You just have to know how to move ahead little-by-little, showing them the medicine so that they’ll keep taking it.
Do you have your own children?
No, I never got there.
What are the qualities and characteristics you look for in your artistic collaborators?
I like flamenco singing a lot. Basically, I always try to work with rough, nasty singers, both in terms of the sound of their voices and their way of being. I like savage people, well-grounded to the Earth and very natural. With the guitar I can be a little more flexible because there’s a musical part that interests me a lot. [I like] Ramón Amador, Rafael Rodríguez, Miguel Pérez, guys who are real guitarists (gesturing). I like them a lot. I like guitarists that are traditional, but that have open minds. I’ve put together many shows with Rock musicians, Blues musicians, etc., and so I like traditional guys because I think they’re good, but not because I’m traditional.
Can you talk to me about your way of rehearsing and what you do to ensure you have productive rehearsals?
If I have a lot of people dancing, I’m quite strict. Things need to be thought-through and complete. If it’s only for me, since I’m a pretty anarchic person, I basically don’t rehearse at all. However, I do get together with the musicians and I listen to them, to how they play and how they sing. I feel them out and when I get a good sense of them, we move forward.
Do you think that many flamenco artists over-perform?
And why does that happen?
Because there are many things, many sensations that are part of this game of performance. To be truly honest and natural is quite difficult. It’s just hard. Many people are influenced if they know there are other artists watching. Others just get really nervous. We all get nervous, but you have to create your own habitat up there in the most natural way possible. Yes, there are certain stereotypes and certain ways of doing things that are overdone.
What are the fundamental ingredients for a good flamenco show?
Good artistic direction, that’s the most important thing. You can create a good show with artists who aren’t very good and vice versa. The artistic directors, the person or people that construct this thing [are most important].
What is the approach and attitude that you have in terms of your technique? How do you value technique?
Technique is also behind what seems to be very simple. What we tend to call technique refers to complicated execution and that’s not necessarily the only thing that requires technique. Someone who dances really slow por Soleá has to have good technique. At times we get confused regarding the concept of technique. We think if someone does eight pirouettes or a really fast picado on the guitar that they have a lot of technique. But, to play a slow Soleá or Siguiriya demands a lot of technique. The concept of technique is relative. I see it more as “execution,” that the execution is either more or less complicated.
What do you think about the word flamenco? What does it mean and how has it been misused or misunderstood?
As Manuel Molina would say, flamenco is a bird with long legs (laughing). Nah, I don’t know, and I’ve never really worried about it either, nor have I studied the roots of the word. I think that we all know what that word means when someone sings, dances, or plays the guitar. Today, you can present yourself in many ways because people are doing such modern shows, but we all know when something is flamenco and when it is not. I don’t think we’ll ever come up with a clear concept though. If I tell you that some show isn’t flamenco, the person who did it will say that for them it is flamenco. Fine. After the Festival Flamenco De Jerez there were many people complaining that the shows there weren’t flamenco. There are then people who will say that flamenco must evolve. Okay, well that’s another conversation that could take two thousand years. What must evolve? I think everything is already created. What happens is that fashions change, trends change, the times change. It’s the same as with politics. The Senate is the same as when the Romans were around with their white robes; the concept is the same. It’s corruption. Today they just wear modern suits and ties. What should change never does. What changes is the way people try to make money or become famous. They search for different avenues. If I had to dance with a giant potato tortilla on my head, I’d tell you its innovation! There will always be much discussion though because there’s a lot going on within the same [artistic] space.
The idea that flamenco is a lifestyle, many people talk about this. It makes sense to a certain extent, but not everyone in flamenco has the same lifestyle. It has to be something deeper.
It can be a way of living. That definition is part of it, but it’s not just a way of living. Rather, it’s that a way of living can also be flamenco, but flamenco is not simply a way of living. The word flamenco covers much more than just a way of living.
What does it mean to be flamenco?
For me, Tina Turner is flamenco. The great Blues artists are flamenco. That term is given to things that seem authentic, that in some way or another approach what is basic and natural to the land and to life in general. So, a way of behaving can be flamenco. A certain lifestyle can be flamenco. A Native American Indian in Oklahoma can be flamenco. Inside that term is a way of expressing your feelings and what is close to the most authentic thing possible, which is contact with the earth and with nature. I think that’s the most basic. Behaving like a little animal is as well. There’s a certain difference, because we [humans] have other concepts, but ultimately we’re all just little animals.
This post is Part 2 of Alejandro Granados’ interview. Click here to return to Part 1.
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