The life of the cantaor Enrique Morente Cotelo, born in Granada, was always tied to cante (singing). As a child he was altar boy in the cathedral of his native city. From the beginning he showed a tremendous determination and ambition to learn from the great masters.
He grew up in an environment where everything was right for the development of this interest. “Cante begins when you are born into it, from hearing other people singing in your village, from hearing people in their homeland.
Groups of people who you hear meeting in a tavern and starting to sing, your hear them, and you start singing too: you hear your family, you hear that at family parties everyone sings and everyone drinks, and everyone dances and … apart from that, in the end, of course, you need a technique, you need a school, you need to learn. To get this, what you need.
What helps you most is enthusiasm and then, the sense to know who you have to learn from, and from what sources, where you can find good stuff. Then you are on your way.”
At the age of eighteen, he moved to Madrid, where he was known as Enrique El Granaíno (Enrique, from Granada). In the Spanish capital he would hang out both on and off stage with the biggest flamenco names of the time: Pepe de la Matrona, Bernardo el de los Lobitos, Manolo de Huelva and others. Very soon, he surprised the critics and the experts by his curiosity about and interest in assimilating and performing the most difficult flamenco cantes and styles, and also by his commitment to becoming a broad-based cantaor, without distinction of schools or geographical divisions.
In any case, Morente’s way, from the very beginning, was to be his own man. This, together with his feeling for the orthodoxy of flamenco and the high regard for cante as his essential driving force, as well as his mind-set, learned from the cantaores already mentioned, made him worthy of the title “young master of cante jondo” (deep song).
Non-conformity and faithfulness to the fundamental precepts of cante would from then on be the basic premises of his artistic career, as the cantaor himself explained: “I believe that everyone is conditioned to some extent by his circumstances. By this I don’t mean that what I am doing comes from any kind of compulsion. A man is both his personality and his circumstances. Within these limits, what you feel you have to do becomes your art.
Orthodoxy should be away of inviting you to explore new paths, new ways and, if everything you do is done with sincerity and honesty, it always makes you see new experiences and your mistakes help you open new windows.
When you try anything new, not everything will come out per feet, or even come out well. It’s always a risk: for me it would be much more comfortable to be always singing the malagueña of El Canario, etc., I get bored with always singing the same way, and I think that with orthodoxy, you have to take it and let it inspire you, make it grow, to do things which invite you to create new art“.
A professional musician from the 1960s on, he went along a path characterized by artistic and social inventiveness, always open to a dialogue with other musical traditions, and arranged for the introduction of the great poets of Spanish literature in the texts of his compositions.
At the time when his record “Homenaje Flamenco a Miguel Hernández” was released, the flamenco scene was stagnant, as much in musical as in literary and aesthetic terms. His contribution was a blast of fresh air, a salutary shock, which made concepts change, inspired new directions, and began the breakdown of the rigid formulas which were confining the art of flamenco. From that time on he created new melodies, unmistakable resonances, personal touches which added to the range of already-known cantos.
In the whole of the movement, which has been broadly called “new flamenco”, Enrique Morente was the cantaor with the most coherent vision of the path to be taken to encourage evolution. This had on more than one occasion led him to risk staging projects and shows where his participation, far from being limited to cante, extended to the roles of producer, director or actor. So it was that, in the second half of the 1960s, Morente took part in the staging of “La Celestina”, with pianist Antonio Robledo and his wife, the Swiss bailaora (dancer) Susana Audeoud. Shortly afterwards, these three brought to life the ballet “Obsession”, first performed by the National Ballet of Canada. Also with Antonio Robledo, Morente created the “Fantasia del cante Jondo para voz flamenca y orquesta’ first performed at the Madrid Royal Theater May 16th, 1986, with the guitars of Juan Habichuela and Gerardo Núñez, and the Orquesta Sinfonica de Madrid, conducted by Luis Izquierdo.
One of his boldest and most original artistic projects was the show “El loco romantico, based on Cervante’s “Don Quijote de la Mancha,’ first performed in Granada, in 1988. On September 15, 1990, at the Patio de la Monteria of the Reales Alcázares in Seville the “Allegro solea was first performed, as part of the VI Bienal de Flamenco, with the guitars of Pepe Habichuela and Montoyita, the piano of Antonio Robledo and the Orquesta de Camara de Granada, conducted by Micha Rachelevsky.
He composed the music for Martin Recuerda’s work “Las arrecogidas del Beaterio de Santa Maria Egipciaca, collaborated with Miguel Narros on”Edipo Rey, taken part in the staging of Macama Jonda, and wrote the music for the film “La Sabina” by Jose Luis Borau, among others. Equally important were his musical creations ” Misa flamenca ” and the “Requiem, first performed in the biennial in Seville in 1994.
The diversity of all this unceasing activity did not cause his standards to fall – quite the contrary: the common thread in all he did was his self-critical attitude and his consciousness of the professionalism and dignity to be found in the service of cante as the cantaor’s own words demonstrate: “It is us, the professional artists of flamenco, who have to make cante flamenco, and nobody else, Flamenco, like any other art, is an art of professionals, although there are many people who peer at us, with a look as if to say: What interesting little creatures! or maybe: Oh! What music the people are playing! and so on. And people often think that maybe you have to have fingers swollen from picking potatoes to be able to play the guitar with feeling.
Look, picking potatoes is every bit as worthy as playing a guitar. But I can tell you that a man -with fine, sensitive fingers is not going to be able to make a go of picking potatoes: and I can also tell you that a man with fingers swollen from picking potatoes is not going to be able to play a guitar because he hasn’t got the manual dexterity and he hasn’t got the dedication.
This is a profession like any other which you have to dedicate yourself to completely. It is an art of professionals: so if you have to record in the morning, you record in the morning: of course it’s very difficult and you do it better at night or in the afternoon, because your voice is not ‘awake ‘ in the morning: it’s sleepy: your voice wakes up “when you’ve walked about a bit, when you’ve moved about: but that doesn’t mean it has to be four in the morning. I’m very self-critical. Terrible.
The “worst. I’m always angry “with myself, you don’t do -what you-want the-way you “want to. I do “well today the things I used to dream about ten years ago. I am the Morente “who I -wanted to be, ten years ago. I am not the Morente of here and now“.
In the late 1990s, Morente worked with the famous Bulgarian Voices “Angelite” choir to seek the common bonds between flamenco and Bulgarian folk music. Both music styles use the Phrygian scale. He receives all kinds of similar new proposals constantly and has to think carefully about which ones he would like to carry out.
On “Omega”, he collaborated with the Granada rock band Lagartija Nick to adapt poems by Federico García Lorca and by Canadian singer songwriter Leonard Cohen.
In 2001 he recorded “Enrique Morente en la Casa Museo de García Lorca de Fuentevaqueros”, a set of songs based on the poetry of Federico García Lorca.
Another interesting release of Morente, El Pequeño Reloj, saw the light in 2003. Whereas the second half of the CD is a more or less random collection of songs, the first half of the record comprises a surprising series of songs which are broken in two parts: in the first part of the song, Morente’s voice is superimposed on top of old 78 r.p.m recordings of old masters of the flamenco guitar like Ramón Montoya, Sabicas or Manolo de Huelva, while the second part is a modern development of the same palo, with the side guitar of the young and innovative guitarist Niño Josele.
Enrique Morente died 13 December 2010.
The Morente family dynasty continues with a new generation of flamenco performers, his daughters Estrella and Soleá Morente, and his son Kiki Morente. Soleá is considered one of the best new flamenco singers.
Cante flamenco (Hispavox, 1967)
Cantes antiguos del flamenco (Hispavox, 1969)
Homenaje flamenco a Miguel Hernández (Hispavox, 1971)
Se hace camino al andar (Hispavox, 1975)
Homenaje a Don Antonio Chacón (Hispavox, 1977)
Despegando (CBS, 1977)
Sacromonte (Serdisco, 1982)
Cruz y Luna (Zafiro, 1983)
Esencias flamencas (Auvidis, 1988)
Morente – Sabicas (BMG Ariola, 1990)
Enrique Morente en la Casa Museo de Federico García Lorca de Fuentevaqueros (1990)
Misa flamenca (BMG Ariola, 1991)
Negra, si tú supieras (Nuevos Medios, 1992)
Alegro, Soleá y Fantasía del Cante Jondo (Discos Probeticos, 1995)
Omega (El Europeo Música, 1996)
Lorca (Virgin, 1998)
El pequeño reloj (2003)
Morente sueña la Alhambra (Virgin, 2005)
Pablo de Málaga (Discos Probeticos, 2008)