A particular allegiance to the terpsichorean arts might mislead to the biaised view that flamenco is dance. But, of course, it is also song; percussion, delivered by the clapping of hands and the tapping of feet, as well as through a whole variety of strange-looking drums; and the true form is nothing without a guitar or two. Flamenco generally brings all of these elements together into one collaborative fusion; but, in some scenarios, such as on this auspicious evening, just one of these arts will be the shining light.
Drumming and palmas (the hand-clapping inherent to flamenco rhythm) featured notably throughout Vicente Amigo’s concert, which also included a brief explosion of dance; but this ninety-minute tour de force was all about el guitarra.
It would be wrong to label Amigo’s innovative style as “flamenco”. While he is a superb flamenco guitarist – who, at 48, is now widely regarded as one of the greatest of the current generation – there are so many other classical, jazz and Celtic influences wafting through the extraordinary aural journey of his latest album, Tierra (Earth), which constitutes the lion’s share of this concert’s dozen-or-so musical numbers.
So, this is an odd review for me. Hardly any dance, coupled with crossover music that goes well beyond the esoteric enigma of flamenco. For sure, the anguished drama of traditional flamenco is less evident in this lyrical suite of songs, all composed by Amigo, which – taken together – presents a consistent rhythmic flow through the concert. Perhaps, the only downside to this is an occasional similarity of tempo and melody being passed like a baton from one number to the next. A uniformity that is pleasantly reinforced by introducing most numbers with a gentle pattern of palmas, soft brushstrokes on the drums (by Paquito González) and, sometimes, the hoarse, whispering vocals of Rafael de Utrera.
The title track from his album, Tierra, played midway through the concert, and the closing number (Roma) have the lingering impact of great melodies that just keep growing to arrest one’s consciousness. I liked them so much that I bought the album the very next day.
The solitary dance number came very late in the programme. After completing the ninth song, Amigo introduced the five members of his band, describing the barely-evident palmista, El Choro (Antonio Molina), as a bailaor (dancer), which seemed odd, since El Choro had not yet risen from his seat. Anticipating the audience’s surprise, Amigo added ‘un poquito’ (“a little”) to the description!
With thick black beard, dark, brooding eyes and long hair slicked back and pulled up into a high bun, when eventually rising to dance his solitary number, El Choro (dressed all in black) delivered a barrage of intense bursts of zapateado (furiously fast footwork), punctuated by the regular pauses and macho poses that release the spirit of the matador into flamenco.
Like so many in the rarefied world of flamenco, El Choro learnt his art at the feet of his father – also known as El Choro – and this lifelong study was well evident in neat and highly disciplined footwork. Unsurprisingly the “Choro” clan is rooted in the flamenco heartland of Andalusia, hailing from the maritime city of Huelva – situated on the Gulf of Cádiz (Amigo comes from the nearby city of Córdoba). While the close technical control and intense dramatic impact of the younger El Choro paid allegiance to this familial legacy, his portliness and overt weariness at the end of a single solo suggested a possible lack of stamina for a longer gig. Nonetheless, one burst of El Choro is a flamenco equivalent of the sugar rush!
But, back to the main attraction and – meaning no disrespect to El Choro or any of the other four members of this band of amigos – the audience had come for their Amigo, calling out to him between numbers and regularly breaching the fourth wall with the personal rapport that sets flamenco apart from other theatrical forms. The simple set was arranged as for any musical concert, the only embellishments coming in the changing colours of the backdrop, from the deep blue and purple hues of a cloudless Andalusian sky on a fine, spring morning, to the earthy orange of sun-baked soil, with swirling cones of smoke, apparently sucked upwards into narrowing beams of light. Simple, maybe; but a meaningful evocation of the flavour of southern Spain.
I came to this concert, knowing Amigo to be one of the finest flamenco guitarists, perhaps even on the cusp of inheriting the mantle of “the greatest”, vacated by the death (almost exactly two years’ ago) of Paco de Lucía. Amigo has an effortless, easy style and crystal-clear tonality, amply demonstrated in the diverse fluctuations of the opening Solo, performed alone on the stage. The broadening of his musical horizons and the adaption of the style of flamenco guitar to absorb so many other contemporary and classical influences must place him in the very top rank of all virtuoso acoustic guitarists: truly, Amigo is un Leyenda de la guitarra.