Amparo Cortés is loved for her spontaneity, temperament and joie de vivre, and at the same time people sense a certain vulnerability in her singing. It is this vulnerability which makes her so very human and which brings her closer to her audience. This is not only apparent in her cante jondo repertoire, but also in the so-called lighter genres - and for good reason.
Amparo Cortés was born in one of the poorest quarters of Seville, El Cerro del Aguilla, in the kind of lodgings where it rained inside in winter and where the melting tar of the rickety roof dripped onto the mattresses in summer.
Hunger and cold were faithful companions and when she was 16 she moved to Brussels with her mother. Her father earned a meagre living as a singer and dancer under his artist's name El Gitanillo de Marchena. Sometimes he took his daughter on tour and that is how she met renowned artists such as El Gordito de Triana and Antonio Mairena who is still her favourite singer.
However poor, her family always had many visitors, including great cantaores such as Pepe Pinto, la Niña de los Peines, Pepe
Marchena and la Perla de Cádiz, or famous guitarists such as her great-uncle Melchor de Marchena. Whenever father Manuel El Gitanillo had earned some money, however, the whole neighbourhood had to join the celebrations. This involved dancing and singing, festive bulerías and sevillanas, later in the evening soleares too and eventually, nearing dawn, heartrending siguiríyas which made the whole family cry - something Amparo was never to forget.
During the years of Franco's dictatorship it was really only possible to sing flamenco amongst friends and relations. Flamenco was a complaint, and that meant protest which did not sound too good in a society where officially everything was supposed to be fine. Sevillanas were innocent though, as were other lighter genres such as rumbas and some popular fandangos which encouraged dancing rather than careful listening to the lyrics. Singing and dancing were as natural to Amparo as eating and drinking, and she was still a child when Pepe Pinto - at the time a famous fandanguero (a specialist in popular fandangos) and husband of the renowned Niña de los Peines - asked her father if he could take her on tour. However, Manuel El Gitanillo refused, for in his
eyes she was too young, and he thought the life of an artist was much too hard. He loved it when she sang, but she was only allowed to in his presence. Thus Amparo emerged as a full-blooded singer in the styles which were then popular: rumbas, sevillanas and cuplés. The crowds liked cuplés, a hybrid form between flamenco-copla and ordinary popular song - and general Franco did not mind it.
Authentic flamenco was hiding deep inside her, fed by her father's 'duende', the stifled complaint of her fellow-sufferers and of those great flamenco artists whom she met in and outside her home. That kind of flamenco, however, was only to emerge much later.
In Belgium she shared the life of so many Spanish immigrants and worked as a cleaner and in a textile factory, meanwhile singing with Wannes van de Velde, a Flemish folk-singer and very skilled flamenco guitarist. It took her quite a while before she could disregard her father's order not to become a singer, even though he had stayed behind in Seville where he died young. She gradually gained confidence, however, and today she is a well-loved and greatly admired flamenco singer.
Unlike most flamenco singers she writes nearly all her lyrics, as she did for her first cd, 'Sueños' (MWCD 4015), which she
recorded with guitarist Enrique de Melchor, the son of her legendary great-uncle Melchor de Marchena.
Ten of the eleven titles on the cd 'Candela' are also her own, while her Asturian husband,
José Delgado, did not write 'Recordando Asturias' - as could be expected - but one of the three sevillanas.
Flamenco aficionados do not consider sevillanas and rumbas as pure flamenco, and in this they are not necessarily wrong. Sevillanas are often more folklore than universal art and the Spanish rumbas, compared to the Afro-Cuban originals, sound very light indeed. Nevertheless, these genres also become flamenco when sung by a pure cantaor. Bulerías or alegrías, previously catalogued as 'cantes chicos' (small), as opposed to 'cante grande' or 'jondo', are just as 'grande' as other styles which are considered 'jondo' or deep, as long as they are sung by authentic flamenco singers such as Manolo Caracol, Terremoto de
Jerez or Rancapino.
This point is also proven here by Amparo Cortés. All her coplas exude homesickness for her native Andalusia and Seville, the town where she grew up. This is clear in, for example,
'Sevilla Me Falta' or in 'Seguiremos Adelante', but also in the 'Sevillanas al
Imbued with her childhood anxieties is the very poetic 'La Luna', here partly sung to the rhythm of the soleá: the moon as a
dismal, indefinable threat, which takes people away to unknown destinations. It is a reminiscence of one of her uncles who
suddenly disappeared, as she explained in an interview.
Amongst the many fandango styles, she opted for the lightest, the fandangos de Huelva, traditionally the most suited to dancing.
The leitmotiv, however, is again a heartrending homesickness where the words 'alegría' and 'morir', joy and death, are heard within a single verse.
In the same interview Amparo also expressed a dissatisfaction with the use of extraneous instruments - such as flutes and percussion - in 'deep' styles such as soleares and in the most 'jondo' song in the present selection, the minera, she does indeed sing to the sole guitar of Wannes Van de Velde.
'Recordando Asturias' is not flamenco and it is not an Asturiana (traditional song from the Northern province of Asturias), but a personal creation by Amparo which recalls the rich traditions of Asturias, the homeland of her husband José Delgado. To this
purpose she makes use of traditional bagpipes ('gaita') and a hurdy-gurdy which, as in a medieval song, supports Amparo's slow, dark and melancholic singing. This song is an exception in Amparo's repertoire, but through her husband also part of her world.
If the moon could play music, it would probably show a preference for the pale tone of the flute. That is why Stefan Bracaval introduces 'La Luna' on the flute, and this is another of Amparo's creations.
Miguel Muñoz and Amparo's palmas compete in a stimulating fashion with the percussion instruments of Chris Joris in the
sevillanas, bulerías and rumbas, which are all pre-eminently rhythmic genres.
Amparo Cortés experiences the flamenco of her youth in a very personal, creative and innovative manner. This is innovation which respects the essence of flamenco, rhythmically, melodically and also in the compact poetic strength, even though here and there a verse is lengthened ('Mira chiquillo que / yo no quiero que vayas', two verses in the minera which are in fact only one - known as a 'tercio alargado'), and above all she makes a continuous entity out of the otherwise discontinuous coplas. In
traditional flamenco each copla forms a world of its own, without a link to the following one. In Amparo's coplas there is continuity, but without damage to the synthetic compactness of each strophe - one of the main qualities of Spanish coplas. Perhaps excepting 'Seguiremos Adelante' - a suite of motifs around a basic idea - each cante here tells one story. And that is the story of Amparo: poet, cantaora and perhaps above all - to paraphrase a title by Unamuno - 'nada menos que toda una mujer', nothing less than a complete woman.