If it hadn’t been for her father, a railroad guitar fan who loved flamenco and who encouraged her to embrace cante, Carmen Linares might never have set foot in a tablao. At 69, she can boast of having performed on the highest stages, from Carnegie Hall in New York to the Cité de la Musique in Paris. Among her milestones is having sung Miguel Hernández, García Loca and Juan Ramón Jiménez, while she has dared with ‘El amor brujo’, by Falla. On August 30 she will close the ‘Veranos de la Villa’, in Madrid, with a concert at the Cuartel del Conde Duque that includes many of the classic themes from her repertoire.
-How were your beginnings?
-When I was very young, my father was transferred to Ávila. He was very noble and very fond of the guitar, and he always accompanied me playing. He acted in a kind of ‘troupe’. There were two comedians, José and Fidelín, a girl who made modern songs and a conjurer. When I was 17 I went to Madrid and started my apprenticeship. I started singing for the dance in a company and toured the United States by bus on a four-month tour.
-Have you given everything to flamenco, but has flamenco been generous to you?
-Absolutely, it has given me the opportunity to travel a lot, to know other thoughts and ways of life. And huge satisfactions on stage. I need to sing, it is the way I fulfill myself and I empty myself.
-With your green eyes and your appearance, you did not comply with the stereotype of a racial cantaora that was carried then. Did you ever see her as an intruder?
-As much as an intruder, no, but they were surprised. As soon as I started singing, it was not so shocking. I have always been clear that I am who I am and I am not going to dress up. Except when I sang for the dance, I have never worn faralae costumes. When I started my solo career I always tried to wear something that would highlight my flamenco style: a little shawl, a vest, a jacket.
-To truly sing I chose Ramón Sijé, by Miguel Hernñandez, do you have to have lost someone?
-In my case, I have lost loved ones and I know what that suffering is like, but I don’t think that to sing the fatigue of hunger, for example, you have to pass it. I can imagine it. It is a matter of sensitivity and empathy. Putting yourself in the place of others is a life lesson.
-What do you think of purists, of those who want to sit down and say what is allowed in this art and what is not?
-There must be everything in the Lord’s vineyard. I have a lot of respect for purists. I really like tradition because without it you cannot advance. You have to know how to look back and drink from the sources, but that does not become a prison. It is very important that an artist be oneself and not a copy of others. It is necessary to know the tradition to be able to fly. As Juan Ramón Jiménez said: «Roots that fly and wings that take root».
-There is a cliché that flamingos are partying people. Have you been to a lot of sprees?
-As far as I could. When I was in the Chinitas cafe in Madrid, we celebrated our parties. One might say that “Camarón is singing in Torres Bermejas”, and that’s where we were going. The parties are a ritual, you don’t know what it enriches to listen to people in ‘petit committee’, out loud. In a place where there is no artistic responsibility, things are done that do not appear on stage. Because of my motherhood, I haven’t been to many parties. Then there is the association of flamenco with alcohol, but whoever is drunk drinks anywhere.
-Do you experience a kind of trance when you do your best singing?
-No, it’s more of a communion with the guitar. You go out on stage and little by little you get into work, first with a light cante, a party tango. You have to warm your voice. Logically I am not going to start with a seguiriya. It also depends on the audience. If I see him distracted, I change the repertoire.
-Alfredo Kraus or Plácido Domingo were amazed at how you, flamencos, place your voice without it breaking.
-Yes, it caught their attention. They have their lyrical technique to avoid hurting themselves. I have not had singing lessons, but I know what not to do. I take care of myself, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink cold things the day I have to sing, I try not to catch a cold three days before the performance … The natural voice is very beautiful, it gives warmth and reaches directly to the heart.
-What other music do you like?
-Fado, Brazilian music, copla. I adore popular music. I have done something for zarzuela, always in the key of flamenco. I entered the world of classical music with ‘El amor brujo’, by Manuel de Falla, with the accompaniment of a symphony orchestra.
– Enrique Morente and you have been nail and flesh?
-He has been a colleague by profession and almost part of my family. I got married, he got married and our children were friends. My husband and I are godparents to his daughter Soleá. Enrique has been a genius of music and flamenco.
-And did you become friends with Camarón?
-Shrimp was very shy and did not open. He was a great person; I have been lucky enough to share the stage with him.