First part of the biography of Antonio Mairena as a tribute to his figure 40 years after his death. He was a great cante and a crucial researcher of pure flamenco, of forms and styles that could have disappeared without his contributions. Mairenismo continues its work, not without criticism and opposition.
Mairena of Alcor
(Seville) 7-11-1909. The artist explained that, in reality, he was born on the 5th.
Seville, 5-11-1983 (heart attack)
Parents and siblings
Parents: Rafael Cruz Vargas and Aurora García Heredia
Siblings: Curro, Juan Mairena, Manuel, Angelita, Águila, Rosario and María Josefa.
Antonio Mairena, whose real name was Antonio Cruz García, was born on September 7, 1909 in the Sevillian town of Mairena de Alcor. That same year, also in Seville, Manolo Caracol arrived in the world, Things of life, the two would be linked forever.
From a gypsy family, his mother was a great dancer, especially for tangos, as Antonio himself would point out years later. His father, also a great lover of flamenco, would take the cantaor for saraos and parties that would give him the opportunity to learn from great artists of the moment. One of them was the cantaor Manuel Torre (El Niño de Jerez, praised by Lorca). This Jerez would become his main reference for life.
The Jerez Manuel Torre was a cantaor of those who reach the soul, very sharp, a gypsy who expressed pain like no one else. His seguiriyas are iconic, as is his fickleness. For some experts, overrated; for others, among the best in history.
A childhood that marked his personality
Antonio’s ancestors were from Utrera, coming to Mairena looking for better opportunities. Rafel, his father, was a blacksmith. The forge in which he worked would be the second home of a young Antonio stealing part of his childhood. Being the eldest of six children, it was custom as well as necessity.
Being the eldest of six children, it was custom as well as necessity. Antonio accompanied him to parties and saraos in Seville and listened attentively to the singers, absorbing their shapes and sounds like a sponge. In addition, the head of the Mairena family was a close friend of figures such as Manuel Torre or Joaquín el de la Paula. And these singers would be his first teachers without having proposed it.
But what hurt the cantaor the most was not having been able to study. In his memoirs, he would explain that he went to school only three years and intermittently. He wanted to correct this lack throughout his life, and was not only self-taught, but a very dedicated student when he could afford night classes.
Antonio Mairena decides his path
Mairena wrote his memoirs and, therefore, we can know some of his feelings during his hard childhood. He felt in his flesh the harshness with which the Roma people faced their marginalization and poverty. And how this was expressed in songs that he listened attentively while hammering in his father’s blacksmith shop.
And he remembers that moment when he decided his destiny, back in the year 20. At parties, the famous dancer Faíco performed. Antonio, from his mother’s knee, felt the urge to let go for a tango, one by Pastora Imperio. Faíco was excited about the child’s art, which was a surprise even for his parents.
Despite the desire, the lack of money left him without performing in the emblematic Granada Contest of 1922. It is also true that, for his father, Antonio’s 12 years were not suitable for introducing himself. In that contest, Manolo Caracol did participate and won with El Tenazas.
Meanwhile, the “de Mairena” would climb his first tablao encouraged by his father in 1923. It was in Carmona and the place was called Casa del Moro. It was his professional baptism.
In 1924, already with 14, he could go to the Feria de Alcalá de Guadaíra to compete for first place. He got it for seguiriya and soleá, and got 20 hard prize. Joaquín el de la Paula was part of the jury and gladly gave the money to that little boy he called Rafael’s Child. The nickname “de Mairena” was given to him by Manuel Torre and, in that contest, Manuel won.
“(De Manuel Torre says…): “I fell in love with his way of sounding, his echo, his way of singing”, in Revista Triunfo.
“My father was very fond, but he sang absolutely nothing.” In Confessions of Antonio Mairena.
Late 20s, start researching
Like many other aspirants, Mairena began performing for friends and family, and continued through taverns and not very exemplary sales. He also ran a bar in Carmona.
The death of his mother in 1928 left him devastated. His father rebuilt his life and he took his two sisters and his maternal grandmother, to whom he was very close, to live with him.
Nineteen twenty-eight also represents his first steps in the investigation of ancient songs. It would be through a relative, Diego el de Brenes; the object of study, the flamenco jondo of El Nitri, quite unknown, despite the rivalry with Franconetti that gave so much to talk about.
That research beginning would feed him with his contacts with gypsy artists who, like him, wandered between venues and flamenco operas looking for a living. He examined forgotten or disappearing forms of those singers. He also went through more luxurious and more prestigious venues, such as the Kursal Internacional in Seville, accompanied by Javier Molina. Pero no cuajaba en ninguno.
He had little or no success in those scenarios. But it didn’t fit into any. More of fandangos than seguiriyas.
He organized a singing contest commissioned by a brotherhood of Mairena, taking Manuel Torre with him. After the performance of this, Mairena, who should be the following, said: “Distinguished audience: After Manuel Torre’s performance, it is impossible to sing again… The show is over.” The year was 1930.
Antonio becomes great by arrows
In the Holy Week of 1933, he had a magnificent opportunity to emerge. He was proposed to replace El Gloria in the Tertulia Sevillana, directed by Juan Belmonte and Rafael El Gallo. As it was Easter, his singing was by saetas. He embroidered them. It was carried on shoulders and they say that even the brothers of the procession of the Christ of the Gypsies stopped to listen to him, which ended with a good fine for the poor costaleros. He stopped being Raphael’s Child to be Antonio Mairena.
He stopped being Raphael’s Child to be Antonio Mairena. Carmen Amaya meets her at a party. The dancer had already heard of him and wanted to listen to him personally. Surrendered to the singing of “de Mairena”, she invited him to participate in María de la O, the film she was shooting. From this experience arose more possibilities for collaboration, but they were marred by the outbreak of the Civil War. Carmen went into exile in the U.S. and Antonio could not follow her. He had to stay to help his family. A pesar de ese trabajo breve, la bailaora y el cantaor se hicieron buenos amigos, y años después se volverían a ver.
There is no agreement among his biographers on whether or not Antonio fulfilled his military service, but what was known is his republican affiliation. Despite that brief work, the bailaora and the cantaor became good friends, and years later they would see each other again.
Antonio Mairena also sing “ligero”
While great figures of the time acted with a more commercial style (Manolo Caracol, Valderrama and even the Niña de los Peines), he would continue to “stumble”, as he wrote in his memoirs. A day before the outbreak of civil strife in Spain, he acted with the guitarist Melchor de Marchena in a charity function held in the land of Antonio.
It was something punctual, but he had to sing some style of those he criticized. Moreover, he would do it in his first four slate recordings in the early 40s on the “advice” of the record house (La Voz de Mi Amo), leaving aside the jondos songs that he carried under his arm. That experience took him away from the recording world for a while until Columbia offered to record “his way”.
The tablaos were the auction
The 50s were the boom of the tablaos. Some artists, such as Bernarda de Utrera, Chocolate or Fosforito, avoided those who had a less knowledgeable audience and bet on their more orthodox flamenco even if it was in small places.
Some artists, such as Bernarda de Utrera, Chocolate or Fosforito, avoided those who had a less knowledgeable audience and bet on their more orthodox flamenco even if it was in small places. With Pastora he forged a relationship of mutual trust just when Mairena had just lost his grandmother, almost a mother to him.
I would act in the tablao Villa Rosa and in the Samba cabaret, again from stage to stage. And, just then, Carmen Amaya returns from abroad. It was the year 1949 and the dancer hired him for her company in the show of the Fuencarral Theater. Again, bad luck or fate intervened so that Amaya had to attend to family matters. Fue, de nuevo, una relación breve.
It was, again, a brief relationship. He admired her and, at her death (1963), he had some resounding words for the Catalan: “He has been the greatest genius that dance has given”.
About 1950, with the company ofTeresa and Luisillo, would travel through Europe and Africa, in addition to recording a couple of more albums. When she met Antonio the Dancer through Valderrama, things changed drastically Lara Mairena.
Although, precisely, that meeting occurred when the cantaor had already expressed his discomfort at the fact that the cante had submitted to the dance. This was not an obstacle to accompany El Bailarín for 10 years around the world.
Going on the poster of the most famous flamenco dancer on the planet gave him the definitive accolade to consecrate himself as a cantaor. The Key to the best singer was about to come…