Sal's flamenco soapbox

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About me

about me - and my emu friend

Hint: I don't have feathers
Let me summarize my life in a few words.
I am a nobody and proud of it.


About me

I played bad classical guitar for years, then one day I bought a Carlos Montoya record and started to learn flamenco - It was about 1985. I was struggling with rasgueados for a long time and just wanted to hide myself away to give me time to develop a good technique. But nothing turns out the way you plan it. At least it doesn't for me. I've been planning to win a major lottery for years but that hasn't happened yet. The local dancers started to notice me and I learned the basics of rhythm from playing for classes. I soon realized I could not have learned that stuff on your own, despite my best intentions. There is much more to flamenco than playing fancy runs and making a lot of noise on the guitar.


Because the dancers I worked with naturally wanted to perform their pieces, they looked sweetly in my direction. I must have been pretty naive because it never occurred to me that the end game of all the dance classes was to go public. When I turned to run, they grabbed me by the short and curlies before I could get very far and tied my shoelaces together. I did not think I was ready for public performance, but there is no escaping determined females. I was basically pushed onto the stage, ready or not. I was terrified by all the blank faces in the audience staring up and thinking negative thoughts about me (or so I thought). I know now that wasn't true but I couldn't help thinking they were all expert aficionados examining every mistake I made and making unkind subjective judgments abut me. Of course my focus on what the audience was thinking didn't help because I was more aware of my mistakes and limitations that anyone else. This resulted in more uncalled for blunders because I was not focusing on my music. In the bigger venues, I couldn't even see the audience because of the glare of the spotlights. But I knew they were there like hungry wolves waiting for me to make a mistake.


It's hard to keep out of sight if you play flamenco

sal 1986

The way it panned out, I had to play complex solos to start the shows and also to fill in time while the girls changed costumes. I love sitting in dark corners on stage where I am out of sight. Performing complicated solos center stage was not easy for a shy, self conscious person. No matter how prepared you think you are, stage fright can set in big time on the night and really stuff up a good number. It was pretty daunting for me at first. In retrospect, this was the best thing that could have happened as it gave me valuable experience in live performance.


Many theatre shows, weddings, outdoor fiestas and wild flamenco parties later, I was beginning to get used to it. I also discovered why flamenco guitarists hold the guitar up high, rested on the thigh, instead of between the legs like a classical guitarists. It's because when you play in a crowded room you are squished up against the wall and you really have no choice. A couple of times I took a break from it all, once for 5 years. I did a bit of busking in markets, played solo in restaurants and taught private students at home.


I was becoming a cliche for other people's fantasies

Even though most of what I play is classical style music with a bit of ragtime thrown in for fun, I discovered I was branded forever as a flamenco guitarist with nowhere to hide. I would be billed on the café chalkboards as "live flamenco guitarist" despite my protests. As it turned out, nobody yelled out during their meal, "Hey buddy! That's not flamenco", even though it wasn't. I realized nobody really cares. Most punters don't know what flamenco is anyway. As long as I played a couple of Rumba numbers that sound vaguely like the Gipsy Kings, the customers could walk away and tell their friends that they heard some flamenco while they enjoyed their meal. Who am I to argue. So I was able to relax and just play what I liked. For the record, I do what I do simply because I enjoy it, not because I'm an expert.


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