“Rosalía was a restless girl, who never stopped asking questions” “Rosalía is about effort, hard work, rigour, and curiosity”
“There was a growth of schools. Yet, we were the most eclectic” “We believed that flamenco belongs to everyone; it has no nation”
Rosalía’s concerts in Barcelona in December topped off a fabulous year for the young singer from Sant Esteve Sesrovires, and they coincided with the year-long celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Taller de Músics music school, where the rising star spent part of her formative years. We spoke to the founder and head of the Taller de Músics, Lluís Cabrera, about Rosalía’s time at the school and its four decades of history.
How did the Taller come about?
My former partner Fernando Hernández, and I had a book distributor, which we ran during the years of the Transition until 1979. Then, through Fernando’s wife, we got to know Américo Belloto, who was the lead trumpet in the Danish Radio Big Band, which was spending a season in Barcelona. He suggested we set up a music school.
What did you want to achieve with it?
There was a big gap in music education because, unlike in Europe and the US, music schools did not teach methods based on modern music, whether jazz, flamenco or Cuban music. We grew and ended up spreading like an oil slick around Barcelona’s Raval neighbourhood, adding different premises on three roads – Príncep de Viana, Recasens and Cendra. They were tough times. And even though we’re now asked to give talks, the truth is we never saw it as a community project or anything. What is true, though, is that we did help with the regeneration of Raval, which had a lot of serious problems.
Did you ever think of moving?
In 2009, we began work on Can Fabra, in Sant Andreu, so as to have studios for higher qualifications from 2011. But we’ve stayed in Raval, too. Firstly, because the law does not let you mix different educational levels of music in the same centre, and because we have invested a lot of money in those three streets. Sound-proofing premises, for example, is a very complicated matter.
Back in 1979, what was Barcelona like from a musical point of view?
There were a lot of musicians passing through and the Taller reflected that, as among its founders were Catalans, Canadians, Yugoslavians, Japanese, Germans, Argentines, Chileans, Andalusians, Galicians,... Barcelona was boiling. Ona Laietana was still going on in Zeleste on carrer Argenteria, where a music school opened, and there was the Aula de Vallvidrera. There was a growth of schools. Yet, we were the most eclectic, as we had people from everywhere.
Why did you go for flamenco?
I had the intuition that it could become a meeting point and could give results around the world. And though it might seem immodest to say so, I wasn’t wrong. We also thought we could have our own programme instead of being a franchise of an American or European brand of school. We believed a lot in our people, in those first teachers.
What was the programme based on?
On the combo, playing in a group. All human beings, through imitation, first learn to speak. Later, with the help of our parents and teachers, we learn to read and write. As music is also a language, we believed that this could be a good way to learn it.
Was there a lot prejudice against flamenco?
Yes, there still is, although less so now. It’s because of the dictatorship. The Franco regime, like all authoritarian nationalisms, tried to homogenise all identities, and they used flamenco for that. It’s something we still suffer from in Catalonia, but we believed that flamenco belongs to everyone; it has no nation. It’s art, and so it’s universal.
Why hasn’t there been more flamenco sung in Catalan, something that Enrique Morente spoke about a lot?
Yes, he did. He said that if he were Catalan, he’d sing in Catalan and Spanish. If there’s not more flamenco in Catalan it’s because the artists have still not chosen to take that path, but they will. Pere Martínez has a few things, and Miguel Poveda showed on ’Desglaç’ that a flamenco voice could be put at the service of Catalan poets.
How did ‘Desglaç’ come about?
Poveda is the son of linguistic immersion. He speaks and writes in Catalan, even though with his family, in Badalona, he uses Spanish. I asked him to come to La Central in Raval and buy a lot of poetry, and we left with a rucksack full. I thought we’d gone too far, but he looked through it, read it and chose from it. Comadira, Forcano, Margarit, Maria Mercè Marçal... Putting a flamenco voice to the work of those poets had never been done before, and Catalan intellectuals who had never had any interest in flamenco recognised that this was also Catalan culture.
What was Poveda like at the Taller?
He only attended a few classes of music language, but he showed himself to be a very hard worker. He has a throat and an ear for music that is out of the ordinary. He can spend three hours performing on stage! That might be more normal for rockers, but tell me which cantaor [flamenco singer], with all the pressure it puts on the vocal cords, is capable of lasting that long?
What was the high point of the Taller de Músics’ past 40 years?
The eighties. A whole generation of musicians came out of those Raval schools, which if you look now make up the jazz and flamenco teaching staff at the Esmuc [Catalonia College of Music]. Zé Eduardo, Lluís Vidal, the three Rossy siblings (Jordi, Mercè and Mario), the three Valencians, as we call them (Perico Sambeat, Eladio Reinón and Ramón Cardo), Albert Bover, Carme Canela, Gorka Benítez, Joan Sanmartí, Rai Ferrer, David Xirgu, Xavier Maureta, Marc Miralta, Jordi Bonell... I’m leaving plenty out, because there are so many, and they all came out of here. The growth was phenomenal.
After that, the Taller saw, to name a few, Sílvia Pérez Cruz, Salvador Sobral, Alfred García... and Rosalía.
Yes, Rosalía turned up at the Taller in February 2010. She was 16 and that made her one of the first underage pupils we had. Yet, she came with a maturity that was above the average for her age. She spoke English well, and in the first combos she was in she sang in that language. She was a restless girl, who never stopped asking questions.
How long was she there for?
She was at Raval for three years, and at Can Fabra, before going to Esmuc, she studied the first two years of the superior level. In the Taller she studied language, harmony, jazz combo, flamenco combo, composing, electric guitar, piano, vocal technique and, obviously, flamenco cante, with Chiqui [De la Línea]. Her family invested a lot of money, because they signed her up for everything.
What was she like in class?
Rosalía has great musical talent, but above all she is very hard-working. That’s something worth stressing because flamenco often comes across as just being about duende [the mystical state of emotion and expression related to flamenco performers]. Rosalía is about effort, hard work, rigour, and curiosity. She signed up for all the extracurricular activities at the Taller! She took part in Flamenkids, which we did with the Palau de la Música; in a tribute to Maruja Garrido that we did in the Ciutat Flamenco festival; in the closing event for the Year Espriu; in a show inspired by Carmen Amaya... In Catalan, before Milionària, she did Herois obscurs by Valentí Gómez i Oliver, in a Taller project from Temps Record. At the same time, she performed at JazzSí many times, and she came to hear artists that she felt she should know. She analysed everything. I remember Enrique Morente telling me: “Luisiqui, if there are no disciples, there won’t be any teachers!” And in that sense Rosalía kept the teachers on their toes. She handed in her projects on time, she would get to rehearsals half an hour early... Rosalía was sure that she wanted to sing for a lot of people and all the success she is getting is more than deserved.