A description of a great flamenco singer from the 1920s
This description of the great flamenco singer Manuel Torre is by the Irish writer Walter Starkie. He describes a performance that took place in the 1920s.
Many a time in Madrid or Seville the cantaor would be Manuel Torres, the greatest singer of Siguiriyas Gitanas, and one of the noblest Romanichals I have ever known. He was a tall, gaunt figure of a man with bronzed face and flashing eyes. His hair was jet black, but he had one white lock which gave a vampirish expression to his Oriental Wizard’s face. He was capricious and moody and if there were a number of guests he would postpone his singing hour after hour. Don Alejandro would ply him with glass after glass of Manzanilla, Sevillian friends would allow him to boast that his greyhounds were the best in the world, still the great singer would sit motionless like a grim oracle, impervious to all our tricks. At last after hours of waiting, in the grey dawn, when we were thinking of leaving and when the other singers were exhausted, then Manuel Torres would begin tapping the rhythm with his short style-stick, and beads of perspiration would appear on his brow and his copper face would begin to glow as though suddenly illuminated by the inner demon, the duende, whose arrival he had been awaiting all the evening. Then he would burst into the great song (Cante Grande) which is “Deep Song”, and we would listen enthralled to a siguiriya gitana expressing not mere natural suffering but a vague, everlasting pessimism – a tragic sense of life.
(Walter Starkie, A Musicians Journey Through Time and Space, Geneva, 1958, p.95.)