December 1, 2021
From Autonomies
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Suggest an idea for us to improve the cultural situation.

To eliminate the word culture as an institutional concept, to think it and live it as a daily and common experience.

Niño de Elche, El Cultural

… I betray my public constantly. I am immersed in a permanent process of metamorphosis, and as a consequence, my attitudes, my methods and my ideologies are continually reformulated.

Niño de Elche, El Periódico 

Reading the music of Francisco Contreras Molina, known as Niño de Elche, through Giorgio Agamben[1]

The western history of art is trapped in an aporia, caught between the poetic (poeisis) and the activity (praxis). In the first instance, art is centred in the work created, in the oeuvre, whereas in the second, in the activity itself, in the artist as agent.

In what may termed classical art, the activity is subsumed to the work created. By contrast, the modernity inaugurated with the Renaissance made the artist the source of art, its creative genius. Both have in effect been lost to a liturgical or performative “artistic machine” that sublates and ritualises both dimensions in the spectacles of museum art and the art market. Art is that which is displayed-sold and the artist is s/he who displays-sells art as defined by curators-merchants/dealers-investors.

This story or narrative of the history of art may be extended to the artes actuosae, arts which in contrast to the plastic arts, realise themselves completely in their execution, without producing an object. The work of performance arts is by nature ephemeral. And yet, even in its fleetingness, the same duality and aporia can be read. The anonymity of past performance is replaced by the performance of the artist, an artist so increasingly divorced from her/his work that the performance is increasingly declared a happening, either indistinguishable from other surrounding occurrences and events or necessarily commissioned and introduced as art for the general understanding of those in attendance.

And the same may be said of the history of music, of the many kinds of music today enmeshed in the same “machine”. Flamenco, like so many other so-called “folk music”, is condemned to play out this aporia in between flights of “authenticity” – it is either the real music or the real musicians (as defined by family, ethnicity, race and the like) –, with the leap to modernity impeded by the designation-identification of folk music”. But this music proliferates – in the “music industry” – in a time when the “folk” become increasingly scarce, along with its geniuses, and its audience can only then rely upon the marketing skills of the ethnomusicologists and music industry tourists to know what the true music of a people is; and this against the backdrop of howling and irresolvable controversies surrounding genuineness and cultural appropriation.  (The recent row over the Spanish singer Rosalía is exemplary – Rosalía y la idea de España, El Diario.es).

What if we were then to abandon the “artistic machine”, as Agamben proposes, and with it, “also abandon the idea that there is something like a sovereign human activity which, through the mediation of a subject, realises itself in a work or an energeia [the realisation or actualisation of an action] from which it draws its incomparable value?” (26)

The artist or the poet is not someone who has the power or the faculty to create, who one fine day, by an act of will or obeying a divine injunction …, decides, like the God of the theologians, knowing neither how or why, to execute a work. And in the same way that the poet and the painter, the carpenter, the cobbler, the flutist and in the end, every person, are not the transcendent owners of a capacity to act or to produce works: they are rather living beings who, in the use, and only in the use, of their members, like the world which surrounds them, have the experience of themselves and constitute themselves as a form of life.

Art is but the means where the anonymous that we call the artist, in maintaining itself constantly in relation to a practice, tries to construct its life as a form of life: the life of the painter, of the carpenter, of the architect, of the double bassist where, as in all forms-of-life, what is in question is nothing less than its happiness. (27)

And what underlies this possibility is nongroundedness, anarchy, the space where making and unmaking endlessly coincide, where orthodoxy is profaned, where appropriations and counter-appropriations become meaningless (¡Dejen el flamenco en paz!, El Salto Diario); in sum, “where thought again becomes possible” (131)

Within and against the tradition of Flamenco, the music and art of Niño de Elche moves within this space. Without pretending or proclaiming the music to be inherently radical or revolutionary – no music or art is –, Niño de Elche unmoors it from ethnic or cultural foundations, rendering it the changing form of his own expression.

What follows is a selection of words and music from Niño de Elche …

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The most revolutionary act is listening to yourself. When you do, everything around you already belongs to you, as if it were part of your own skin.

Do you consider yourself one more cog in the gear of the flamenco revolutionaries?

No not at all.

You were born already revolutionized …

It’s a label that doesn’t say anything to me: what is it like to be a revolutionary in flamenco? I still don’t know what it is.

Were not Camarón or Morente, to not go back further in time?

I have my doubts. If so, they were much less so than we think today [laughs].

Do you reduce them to mixers?

They were artists who did things with the tools at their disposal.

But, in their day, they were misunderstood in flamenco.

My opinion does not come from the prism of conservatives.

My work is a work in progress. I am less and less interested in the finished product.

As Paco Espínola asked Enrique Morente, why is flamenco on the left and flamenco artists on the right?

I don’t know if flamenco is on the left. It strikes me as a lighthearted, romantic and prejudiced appreciation [laughs]. And the flamenco artists, on the right? They are conservative in some respects, although they cannot be spoken of as a unitary collective.

I am referring to the tradition of political and social letters: from Curro Albayzín al Cabrero, through to José Menese and many others.

But there are also ultra and macho lyrics. I don’t think many of them are on the left, as I understand it. A revolutionary lyric can sound different, depending on the mouth that is reciting it. The extremes can even use the same tools, something that I love [laughs].

What is the left today?

I would vote for the left, if the left existed, Antonio Orihuela would say? Today there may be no left …

Niño de Elche, Público (09/02/2017)

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On some occasion, you quoted Gustavo Bueno: “Define yourself to start talking.” Who is Niño de Elche?

The “ex flamenco” thing serves me very well. From that point, now … I mean, I am something related to flamenco, but there is a displacement in the concept. “Ex flamenco” speaks about a transit. I live on the fringes of flamenco (although we still don’t really know what it is), I live in the residues that flamenco leaves, although I take a lot of seasonings from it.

You say that flamenco is an oppressive entity.

Yes, flamenco as a socio-political logic. But flamenco is capable of the best and the worst, like Spain (laughs). It can be the most oppressive in the world and the most libertarian. That is the paradox of flamenco, its heterodoxy.

What are the oppressive legacies of flamenco that remain in the popular imagination?

The popular imagination has flamenco positioned as macho, as conservative … and there is a large part of that, but that is flamenco as a socio-political logic: the beings that make up flamenco. Flamenco, as a musical genre, doesn’t have to be like that. The good thing is that there is the reaction to all that. I myself am a reaction to conservative flamenco but also to progressive flamenco.

What is progressive flamenco?

The most formal, the most white labeled, the politically correct. Then there is also no longer conservative flamenco, but fascist flamenco, where there are many other paradoxes. A fascist attitude within flamenco can also be an anarchic attitude, and it can be combined. I always said that it was like a kind of anarcho-fascist artistic expression, which is very close to the avant-garde.

Do you still consider yourself a revolutionary or have you already tired of that concept?

I have never felt myself to be a revolutionary.

But you have talked about revolution.

More personal, yes. A personal revolution that is enclosed in small things, as Serrat would say (laughs). In small gestures, right? Not so much a full-scale revolution. That maybe when I started reading Rosa Luxemburg or Lenin I imagine that yes, I wanted this thing about the revolution more, but now I believe more in the small revolutions that affect you directly and that in some way affect others as well. .

Have you come to understand collectivism as gregariousness?

It is difficult for me to trust, in general … there is always a percentage of trust, in general, if not what we would do here. What happens is that the conceptions of the collective can be unraveled in many ways. There are people who take the collective as a religion, as a party. I am more about talking about the common, which does not have such defined borders.

Can activism be done through music?

Yes, but not always the same (laughs). Well, I think that from music or from art (I like to talk more about “art”), it is difficult to engage in a monolithic activism. You have to do critical activism. I myself am experiencing it. There are subjects about which I was very monolithic four years ago and today, because of the readings or studies or my concerns, they have become more gray. There is a small displacement of the conception of things.

Have you ever had problems demonstrating politically?

Yes, normally it is not liked. What grates the most about my position is that my political ideas can change.

You come from anarchism.

I have drunk a lot from anarchism and, above all, from the anarchist attitude, which is a very interesting philosophy. But I also drink a lot from the liberal world. As political notions, we would say, that I can read Mussolini and find inspiration there. I do not know. It is that art works in other logics, outside of the social.

You say you are a queer artist. How does it manifest itself in art?

Apart from dealing with gender issues, which I treat in a more or less concrete way, the most queer thing I do is try to erase separating lines of musical genres. It is a way of being, of practicing: blurring genders. We don’t know where flamenco ends and rock begins. The LGTB collective, which is more established in the genders (gay, lesbian, etc.) sometimes does not understand this, but things are grayer than we think. Something more random than sexual relations or the conception of gender, I don’t think that its there.

How can you do feminism from flamenco?

Feminism has so many layers and so many conceptions. It interests me as a philosophical conception but if we do not carry it over to the genders: if we do not understand that feminism is a question of women and the remaining men. There is a reflection by Paul B. Preciado and I think that is the crux of the matter: if we understand feminism as issues that concern only women and that can only be worked on from the feminine, we miss out on a critical, social and political field upon which to struggle that does not suit us at all. We are more familiar with established feminism, the one proposed by social democracy, but flamenco has had a lot of feminist dimensions, more radical acts: Ocaña occurs to me in this instance. It is not so much the gender issue, but the tension that this creates with the conservative and here, everything that queering raises appears.

Hey, why do you say that you wouldn’t vote for Podemos again?

It is that I am not going to vote again, in general.

Never again?

I hope not.

Life is long.

Or short, depending on how you look at it (laughs). No, no. I’d rather have other crises. You have to choose between crises, and I have already had the crisis of choosing a political party. It has nothing to do with not voting for Podemos or not voting for anyone because of a lack of affinity with people from Podemos or from any other party, the PSOE, PP or Ciudadanos. Now I don’t feel like playing that game. I will join others. But the thing is that before thinking about who to vote for, I prefer to watch football, which is much more interesting.

You said “if there was a real left-wing party, I would vote for it, but there isn’t.”

Of course. As if there were a right-wing party, which in Spain I don’t think there is either.

Everything is a hybrid?

Yes, because we are very intoxicated by our 20th century, which is not easy. Or if there really was a social democratic party: that would be more consistent with what we long for as citizens right now. But since there isn’t, I don’t vote.

We make art.

Of course, my critical sense and my way of proposing is different. Voting carries a responsibility that I could not assume. There are people who are very critical of these abstentionist positions, but each one has their place and their way of understanding. Things that belong to our personal and social schizophrenia. Although, be careful, there is also a discourse on abstention: about how important abstention is in reaction to the state structure that we have.

Niño de Elche, El Español (01/03/2018)

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Flamenco anarchy

Finally, when the announcement by the new Andalusian government to make the dissemination of flamenco a flag is mentioned, Niño de Elche takes out the artillery. “The problem in Andalusia is not a government of the PSOE or the PP, hopefully! It is a sociological problem. And in that sociopathology, everyone uses the flag of flamenco equally, which is a tragedy for flamenco itself.”

“The idea they have of flamenco is a romantic, nationalist –and therefore sectarian– idea, far removed from what the practice of flamenco tells us throughout its 150 years of history. But they don’t want to learn from it. They are delighted that there is an Agencia del Flamenco, an Institute and whatever comes next, and that money is spent on Andalusian ballets. But all that is straw. Luckily, flamenco continues on its way, it is an art without purpose, without identity, so liquid that it slips out of their hands, “he adds. “Even if they put it in the Statute of autonomy, in a fascist way, even if the PP and Vox take it as a flag. They are all the same rubbish, they don’t know, they don’t care to see how it works. They are determined that flamenco works the way they want it to. But they can already pay two or eight million euros: luckily, the agents of flamenco will always be freer than all that. “

And he continues: “They want to remove all that anarchic part of flamenco, they try to institutionalise it, to make it in their image and likeness, but they are not able to lock it up. They try to sew it up, but every six months the seams rip. It has always been that way, unexpected. Unless these people were extreme nationalists, to the point of putting flamenco in schools to educate their children, I would say that at least they are coherent. But they only use it as a slogan, and behind a slogan at the top there is always fundamentalism, and therefore below, social fascism “.

Niño de Elche, El Diario.es (25/05/2019)

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In your day, you became the target of criticism from those who consider themselves guardians of the orthodoxy of flamenco. How do you feel about your current place in that genre?

Some time ago I decided that I am no longer flamenco, but ‘ex-flamenco’, and that for me is irreversible; after all, I am afraid that there are vices and conservative ways of thinking that unfortunately will not disappear from that world. On the other hand, it is also true that irrationality and folly is part of what gives flamenco its reason for being. It is a world of passions and delirium, and trying to think about it with reason and logic is to lose sight of the very meaning of its existence.

How much of a desire for confrontation is there in your artistic project, not only against the orthodoxy of flamenco but against conventionalisms in general?

Previously, I was much more reactionary. Today, instead, I am simply trying to generate parallel realities. I guess that’s enough to arouse hatred and skepticism. As soon as you create something that cannot be cataloged or labeled, you risk being attacked by institutions, critics, programmers, the public, and even your colleagues. But I do not want to fall into victimhood, and I am not a follower of cursed and misunderstood poets. I have always created with the objective of reaching people, of uniting people, of contributing to society. I think it is about the side of my personality that is most left-wing.

Niño de Elche, El Periódico (07/11/2021)

Two excellent interviews are worth reading in the entirety: Niño de Elche: el golpe que necesitábamos (El Salto Diario – 24/01/2019); Extending Borders. An Interview with Niño de Elche, by Virginia Lázaro Villa (A*Desk – 09/08/2018)

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Niño de Elche’s discography is already quite rich and extensive, and it would be absurd to post it all here. The music is available on different platforms.

As regards flamenco, there is perhaps one extraordinary album that stands forth, which we do share below: Antología del Cante Flamenco Heterodoxo

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[1] All references are to the french language edition of Giorgio Agamben’s collection of essays published under the title, Création et anarchie: L´oeuvre à l’age de la religion capitaliste (Bibliothèque Rivages: Éditions Payot & Rivages, Paris, 2019).




Source: Autonomies.org