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Reviews/Music

Flamenco maestro still in command

18 October 2019

Review: Paco Pena, Ensencias ·
Regal, October 11 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

It’s been my joy and privilege to see the giants of Spanish instrumental music, Jordi Savall and Paco Pena, in one year (and squeeze a music-rich trip to their homeland in between)!

Savall’s musical interests range across Europe and the Americas to encapsulate the Baroque, before and beyond, while Pena stays close to his native Andalucia, and flamenco.

But, like that magnetic province, flamenco absorbs so many influences  — Arabic, Jewish, gypsy and ancient Spanish folk music —that are integral to its own wide, sun-browned, olive-drenched world.

Pena has been at it a very long time (he’s been a professional musician for 65 years and an international star for 52 of them), and there isn’t a trick of the trade he hasn’t mastered.

One of them is to respect your age; so, at 77, he’s careful to surround himself with artists who can steal his show, and skilled musical colleagues that let him lay back a little.

On this tour that artist is the celebrated flamenco dancer Angel Lopez Munoz, and his compadres are the marvellous guitarists Jose Luis Fernandez Losada and Rafael Montilla Recio and the singer Rafael Planton Heredia.

The maestro steps into the spotlight throughout the show with gorgeous solos, but often provides tempo and structure for those around him. We are rewarded by exquisite playing from the other guitarists, especially Recio, who added some fine improvisation to the band’s solid core.

Pena himself insists that the song, and its singer, are at the heart of flamenco, and Heredia evokes the pain and struggle that hard times in a hard country bring. He’s not as dark or elemental as Granada’s amazing Juan Pinilla, but he fits this company like a glove.

There’s an understood vaudevillian drama to a flamenco “show” that’s the same whether it’s in the tourist traps of Cordoba (Pena’s home town) or the world’s concert halls — and it’s all about the dancer.

Imagine a building site. The musicians are the brickies, toiling to erect the building, and the dancer is the interior decorator, dropping by to admire his handiwork in his too-tight party clothes.

They plough on as he taps and flounces, spins and bows. In his early pretty turns the dancer is out of place (a little ridiculous even) as all that grunt goes on behind him. If he gestures to the players, they bury their heads in their work.

There’s only one way he can win their respect, and our admiration. He must work even harder than them. The sun must beat on his handsome head as fiercely as it does on their grizzled ones. He must sweat as much as they do.

Munoz, who is tall, dark and very handsome (and in far-too-tight clothes) plays the part to perfection, and, after interval, the stage is his.

He smoulders, his boots flash, his arms reach skywards, sweat pours from him like the spring from which the mighty Guadalquivir rises. The bull is slain, the musicians beam at their shared triumph and we are on our feet even before its all over.

And Paco Pena, who has seen it all before but is not tired, or tired of it, at all, smiles knowingly as the theatre explodes in applause.

Pictured top: Paco Pena, who has been a star for 52 of his 65 professional years.

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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