Flamenco guardians preserve memory of a maestro of artform
He is delighted at how flamenco has reached out to an international audience in recent years. But he has reservations about the direction the music is taking.
“Flamenco’s changed a lot,” he says. “And I don’t know whether it’s changed for the better or for the worse. With all the new techniques and fusions, it’s worrying.”
He specifically points to the use of flamenco’s rhythmic variants, the palos. There are dozens of them, and to the uninitiated they add to the genre’s bewilderingly complex lore. But Maya believes contemporary performers are mixing and matching the palos with too much abandon.
Flamenco’s influence has also spread into pop. Ballad-singing heart-throb Alejandro Sanz has borrowed from flamenco, as has streetwise female rapper Mala Rodríguez. Elsewhere, the lightweight semi-pop songs of flamenquito – literally “little flamenco” – can often be heard on the radio.
“If I could ban people from watering down flamenco, I would do that,” says Joaquín San Juan, the director of Madrid’s legendary Amor de Dios flamenco school. “These things pull flamenco down, they trivialise it and drag it towards its death.”
Attendance at the school is strong. But Spain’s deep economic crisis is being felt in the flamenco world, with less funding for festivals, which struggle to draw top artists.
However, proving that flamenco can move with the times while staying true to its roots, a collective in Seville called Flo 6x8 have reacted to Spain’s financial crisis. They storm into banks, guerrilla-fashion, and stun queuing punters by singing songs about the evils of money.
This chimes with Joaquín San Juan’s view of flamenco culture. “Today everything’s about making money, about being successful,” he says.
“And flamenco is the opposite – it’s the point of view of the loser, not the winner.”
Although many of those in the flamenco world fret about the music’s purity and future, there are plenty of younger performers with outstanding talent. None of them, though, has yet managed to pick up where Camarón left off.
“Fifteen, 20 or 25 more years might pass, but I have no doubts that another great flamenco singer will appear and do something truly special,” says San Juan.
“But to do that, time has to pass. The memory of Camarón has to fade, and it hasn’t yet.”