TCG: Hello Miguel. Could you say something about how you became
interested in the guitar while also mentioning some of your early guitar
Hi Robert. Actually, it was my sister that
received a guitar for Christmas, while I got a recorder! After a while,
the recorder was not doing it for me, so I picked up her guitar and
started to pluck out the melodies of songs that I heard on the radio.
In those days, in Trinidad, Santana was very big, along with José
Feliciano. This is besides the usual Pop, Calypso and
Parang (Trinidad's version of Paranda) you hear on the radio. My
sister also received a book on how to tune and play the basic chords, so
I went through that as well. But my biggest influence in my early years
came from my godfather Kenny and his brother Ronnie Fortune. They both
played everything on the guitar and flute.
TCG: How did you develop your strong interest in the Flamenco guitar?
I remember I was about 11-years-old when I
had just finished dinner and went over to switch on the TV and I caught
the last two pieces of a guitar concert and immediately fell in love
with the style of playing. I turned to my father and said that I would
like to play like that! The guitarist on the TV was Paco de Lucia.
TCG: You were featured on several Flamenco guitar compilations released
on Narada starting with their Flamenco Fire And Grace compilation
in 1996. How did you get involved with Narada and any reflections taking
part on those compilation albums?
Narada had just signed Jesse Cook and he
was going to tour in the U.S. His usual guitarists were unable to go,
so he asked me help him out. One of the places where we had to perform
was Boca Raton, Florida. After our set, I hid myself in a prop room
back stage to practice a piece for my very first flamenco production
with Carmen Romero. This project was very challenging for me, so I
needed to practice a lot. By chance, one of Narada's producers happened
to be passing by and heard the faint sound of my guitar. He came in and
sat for a while, listening and asking questions on flamenco. I did not
know at the time that he was a producer - I thought he was a stage
technician. After the tour was over and I was back in Toronto, I got a
call from the president of Narada to do Flamenco Fire and Grace.
I was speechless! In my wildest dreams, I did not think that this
would ever happen!
At the time, I felt that I was not
ready. However, I was assured that my work would be well received and
that the album would only contain artists from North America. As it
turned out, almost all were from Spain! I first saw the album while I
was studying in Madrid and I was shocked because I was surrounded by
some of these same great guitarists that were on this album and I
considered myself a student!
Since then, Narada has graciously added my music to seven more albums
and it continues to be an honor to share these compilations with such
originally from Trinidad yet you seem so influenced by the guitar music
of Spain. How does the music of Trinidad and that part of the world you
originally come from influence your guitar work?
The music of Trinidad is all about the
groove. Rhythm has always been a big part of the culture. Very early
on, we understand how percussive instruments work together, even if it's
just beating out a rhythm on your school desk. Flamenco is the same,
however, more complex.
TCG: What Flamenco guitar techniques are the hardest to master and how
would you differentiate between Flamenco and classical guitar technique
There are two distinct techniques that are
the quite difficult and are the most necessary in expressing flamenco.
They are Rasgueados and Alzapúa. Rasgueados are strumming techniques
that utilize all the fingers of the right hand to create syncopation
within the rhythm and there are many different combinations. Basically,
the more combinations you learn, the better you are at developing
interesting rhythm. The Alzapúa is an alternating sweeping and rest
stroke thumb technique for playing melody, while maintaining a bit of
the harmony. These techniques are also what separate the classical
guitar from the flamenco guitar.
TCG: How has the Flamenco guitar style and repertoire changed over the
years and how would you describe the current fascination with Nuevo
Flamenco is a living art form and is
constantly evolving to express its generation, however, always in the
direction of the Cante (flamenco songs) and their associated
rhythms. Over the years, flamenco guitarists have gained more knowledge
in harmony as it applies to the Cante. Consequently, that
knowledge has been pushed even further in their solo guitar pieces and
in combination with very sophisticated syncopated rhythms. To the
average person, it can be very difficult to follow.
The perception of Nuevo Flamenco (New Flamenco) in Spain is
completely different to that in North America. In Spain, it means
flamenco of today, or of this generation. In North America, it means
Rumba or something like it. I consider the Nuevo Flamenco we
hear in North America to be more Latin guitar, because I've been
hearing this style of music since I was a kid in Trinidad from
guitarists like José Feliciano... even from my godfather. However,
Rumba is not considered by flamencos (flamenco artists) to be
a true flamenco palo (form). The name originally came from Cuba,
where the real thing exists today and is quite different. The
difference between Rumba and flamenco is like drinking an
inexpensive table wine as opposed to a very fine
Reserva Rioja. There is so much more depth and color to
flamenco. However, because Rumba is easier to understand and
play, and has an infectious beat, it is very attractive to people here
in North America
it's a great
place to start your journey into this art form.
For the record, I do enjoy dancing,
playing and listening to Rumba. There is some great stuff out
there! My only bugaboo is when people confuse Rumba with
flamenco, as I feel it's important to have respect for an art form
that's centuries old and takes many years to master.
TCG: What is the biggest challenge you face in recording a new album of
Flamenco guitar music in this day and age?
The biggest challenge that I face is having my own
voice, while respecting the boundaries of flamenco.
TCG: Could you say something about your Flamenco music and dance
performance company with Carmen Romero in Canada? How do you like Canada
and how have the Canadians been reacting to all your Flamenco
This is something that's very close to my
heart. Flamenco does not seem to be complete or fulfilling unless it
has all the ingredients. In Carmen's company, my music is put into
context. With the song and dance, it's so much more gratifying to be
involved in its performance.
Canada is a great place to live! I would much prefer to live outside
the city, where there is less noise and the scenery is better. However,
if I did not make the move to immigrate to Canada, I would not have had
the opportunity to pursue the guitar to this extent. Canadians love the
guitar in all styles, so they are very receptive to what I'm doing.
TCG: Your two solo albums, El Cambio and Siento are modern
masterpieces of instrumental Flamenco guitar work. How would you compare
those two albums (to each other) and what kind of album are you
interested in following with next?
The first thing that stands out would be the sound
quality. El Cambio was my first project and while it sounded
good, I was not as knowledgeable in the studio as I am now, so Siento
sounds much cleaner and richer. There is definitely an evolution
regarding the compositions between the two albums. However, I just
focused on hearing more guitar, and not settling for less, by giving
myself more time to produce Siento. The next one will have more
TCG: I saw that you credit Jesse Cook in the liner notes of your 1998
solo album. Could you say something about your musical friendship with
Jesse Cook and any other guitarists that have an influence on your
playing and writing?
Being both based in Toronto, Jesse and I have
known each other for a long time and have collaborated on occasion. On
El Cambio, Jesse offered to mix one of the cuts at his studio,
which had more capabilities. Subsequently, I played a short solo on one
of his albums. However, I must mention jazz giant, Martin Taylor, whom
I had the pleasure of double billing with in Singapore last year. After
spending close to a week with this guy and having long conversations
over cocktails, I learned more about this business than I had in my
previous ten years...as well as admiring his compositions and stage
persona! The knowledge behind the playing makes all the difference for
TCG: What do you look for in a Flamenco guitar (construction-wise) and
can you mention your favorite guitars and guitar builders?
The first thing I look for is a sound. It
must have warmth with a bite to it! If the guitar sounds good, then I
look at playability. It must be comfortable enough to pull off the
flamenco techniques, but not too low an action to sacrifice its sound.
The last thing I look at, and the least important, is the label. I
only own two flamenco guitars, a Ramirez (rubia) and a
Pedro de Miguel (palo santo), and they are my favorites.
TCG: Will you be coming to the U.S. for a performance in the future?
I love playing in the U.S., but since 9-11, it has
become increasingly difficult to perform there. However, some things
are in the works and I hope I will be making some appearances in the
near future. Your readers can keep updated on upcoming performances by
checking my web site from time to time at www.labastide.ca.
TCG: Thanks Miguel!