If it hadn’t been for her father, a guitar-loving railroader who adored flamenco and encouraged her to embrace cante, Carmen Linares might never have stepped on a tablao. At 69, she can boast of having performed on the most lofty 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 Falla’s ‘El amor brujo’. 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 of her repertoire.
-How were your beginnings?
-As a very young girl, my father was transferred to Ávila. He was very noble and very fond of 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 a modern song and a conjurer. At the age of 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 doing a four-month tour.
-You have given everything to flamenco, but has flamenco been generous to you?
-Absolutely, it has given me the opportunity to travel a lot, meet other thoughts and ways of life. And enormous satisfactions on stage. I need to sing, it is the way I perform and empty myself.
-With your green eyes and your appearance, you did not meet the stereotype of racial cantaora that was carried then. Did they ever see you as an intruder?
-As much as an intruder, no, but they were surprised. As for when I started singing, it didn’t crash as much. I have always been clear that I am the way I am and I will not dress up. Except when I sang for the dance, I have never worn faralaes costumes. When I started my solo career I always tried to wear something that would highlight my flamenco: a shawl, a vest, a jacket.
-To sing with truth, 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 go through it. I can imagine it. It is a matter of sensitivity and empathy. Putting yourself in the shoes 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 vineyard of the Lord. I highly respect 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 tracing of others. It is necessary to know the tradition of being able to fly. As Juan Ramón Jiménez said: “Roots that fly and wings that take root.”
-There is a topic that flamingos are party people. Have you attended many partying?
-As far as I can. When I was at the Chinitas café in Madrid, we used to celebrate our parties. One said maybe “Camarón is singing in Torres Bermejas”, and we were going there. The parties are a rite, you do not know what enriches listening to people in ‘petit committee’, out loud. In a place where there is no artistic responsibility, things are done that do not come out on stage. Because of my motherhood I have not been to many parties. Then there is the association of flamenco with alcohol, but he who is drunk drinks anywhere.
-Do you experience a kind of trance when you give your best singing?
– No, it is rather a communion with the guitar. You go out on stage and you gradually get involved, first with a light cante, a party tango. You have to keep warming up your voice. Logically I am not going to start with a seguiriya. It also depends on the public. If I see him distracted, I change the repertoire.
-Alfredo Kraus or Plácido Domingo were amazed at how you flamencos put their voices without breaking them.
-Yes, it caught your attention a lot. They have their lyrical technique so as not to harm themselves. I have not received singing lessons, but I know what I do not have 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 goes directly to the heart.
-What other musics do you like?
-Fado, Brazilian music, the song. I adore popular music. I have done something for zarzuela, always in a flamenco key. I entered the world of classical music with ‘El amor brujo’, by Manuel de Falla, with the accompaniment of a symphony orchestra.
-Have you and Enrique Morente been meat and nail?
-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 would not open up. He was a great person; I have been fortunate to share the stage with him.