Historical hints (C.10): Ramírez and flamenco

Jan 16, 2018

Historical hints (C.10): Ramírez and flamenco

The romance between Ramírez guitar makers and flamenco dates back, as long as my family memory can remember, at the time of my great-grandfather José Ramírez I; when the flamenco guitarists of his time (the end of 1800) asked him to make a guitar with enough power to express themselves in Flamenco tablaos and singing cafes that were becoming fashionable at the time.

And the thing is that then flamenco guitars were small, adequate to make true the sentence that states ‘to listen to authentic flamenco, those that fit under an umbrella’. Those meetings usually consisted of two guitarists, two flamenco singers and two enthusiasts, although sometimes it was allowed that two guitarists and three enthusiasts attended the meeting.

But the voices of those guitars were not made to be used in big auditoriums, where it was impossible to hear them together with the palms, the dancing and singing of a flamenco group. And that was how my great-grandfather created the Tablao guitar, that nowadays we have constructed again using the most accurate techniques, and it is surprising us with its brightness and power. In fact, it was its beauty and sound features, so flamenco, what enthralled Miguel Ángel Cortés, who plays his Tablao guitar in such a magic and talented way and he is becoming very fond of it, something we enjoy and appreciate.

However, it should be added that there is a classic version of the Tablao guitar, such as the one used by Agustín Barrios, Mangoré.

But let’s continue with the flamenco version of this Tablao guitar; it was taken up by Manuel Ramírez, that was José’s younger brother and disciple. His intention was to further develop it until he could create the instrument that is the basis of the modern flamenco guitar, with a few changes in relation to the original one.

After his death, his officials went on using Manuel’s stencils, even when later they became independent. We are talking about nothing less than great guitar makers such as Modesto Borreguero, Domingo Esteso and Santos Hernández. It was Santos Hernández that timidly added some small changes on the stencil of his master Manuel.

From my ancestors, before my father, this is the most I can remember now and that I can tell here.

José Ramírez III and flamenco

However, about my father, José Ramírez III and about his passion for flamenco, I have quite a lot to tell. I could start by saying that flamenco was for him something I could describe as one of those Victorian passions, intense and of course nocturnal, it gave him great satisfactions, and it has always anchored deep within his heart.

It is a fact that the flamenco parties that he promoted enjoyed a great reputation, because of his generosity and great disposition, as he never limited the expense or the time required to enjoy a good night with its necessary sunrise in the company of guitarists, flamenco singers and palmeros (rhythmic hand clappers); they made magic with the time and turned on the soul until its surrender.

And as he says in his book Around the guitar:

‘I have been and I am a fan of flamenco, it seems easy, but ultimately it takes a lot of years of commitment to be able to understand a part of what this art means and hold the title of “fan” that flamenco people hardly give’.

I remember one day, I should be seven years old, it was eight in the morning and I went with my school uniform and my school bag to take the bus; when I went to the living room I saw my dad with three other gentlemen, all of them were quite serious, in their suits but with no ties; they were sitting with solemn dignity, when my father saw me he told me: ‘Amalia my daughter, make us a coffee’.

I had never prepared a coffee in my short life and I didn’t want to miss the bus to school, I said yes and I ran downstairs. I think, not without reason, that that morning when he came home before I went to school, he would be there after enjoying one of his memorable flamenco parties. After the years I learned to see it as natural that my father was made of pieces of night, and that the unmanageable world of flamenco was among his favorite weaknesses (or strengths, depending on your point of view).

He appreciated the talent of the flamenco artists in such a way that he provided them a special treatment, with first class guitars that he called ‘professional guitars’ and that he sold below their cost of construction, because he knew that flamenco people usually couldn’t afford to buy one of his guitars. Finally we had to stop selling the guitars at these prices, for reasons that are easy to understand.

Ramírez and the flamenco parties

Flamenco parties were quite usual at home and as usual our dear friend Serranito was involved in their organization and he would bring my father’s favorite artists. My brother and me, being kids, used to stay until sleep overcame us, the same as my mother, that even when she was able to stay up a little bit more, she was born to live with light and wake up early in the morning. And that was something that would make her give in to sleep, leaving my father enjoy his flamenco passion while she went to sleep peacefully.

One memorable party was the one organized in the cellar of our house up in the 1970s. The Reyes brothers, el Faíco, el Moro, Enrique Morente and of course Serranito were present, among others.

The party took place smoothly, leaving everything fit in naturally in its moment and place. We ate, drank, chattered, listened to the flamenco singers and to the guitarists and enjoyed the extraordinary flamenco dancer el Faíco, a charming man that lifted the mood and maintained it up all night long, with an everlasting energy.

And the dawn broke as if a magician had entered into scene and there was a hush of anticipation among the master Morente; up to this moment he had enjoyed the party as anyone else, reserving himself – as we all knew – for the climax of the party. And he started to sing, the way he did, that way that was only his, that entered directly to your veins looking for the heart. While a reverential respect invaded the place, bringing time, thoughts and half said phrases to a halt. Then I caught el Faíto crying like a little boy, silently, listening to the master singing.

José Ramírez and his relationship with the great flamenco artists

I can tell that my father had a friendship with the great Sabicas, he almost always played a Ramírez, the same as many other flamenco artists that he met during his lifetime. I was very young, and the things I can tell about these times in many cases – in my mental archives – lack a name, a place even a date.

Sometimes my father took my mum, my brother and me to some flamenco tablao, and afterwards on occasions, he would ask a certain guitarist, at the end of his act, to meet us in a separate room to play only for us. And that was the way I met the really young Manolo Sanlúcar, even though I was a little girl I was enchanted by his art, in that room of a tablao whose name I can’t remember, but I could never forget him or didn’t want to.

In fact, Manolo went to my father’s shop quite usually to wait for him and try some guitars. And the truth is that he always played a Ramírez, after a lot of years, unfortunately, it was stolen from him and that was a real shock for him and for us all. Well, Manolo was someone my father really loved, and the times I have met him he has greeted me quite warmly.

My father was also a great admirer of Paco de Lucía. I remember one night when he came home to have dinner with Casilda Varela, they were then dating, and he was playing for us. It was a special night, fantastic.

Some years later, my mother and I were invited to their wedding in Amsterdam, in 1977. Long after this, a common friend of us – Paco’s and ours – told me that a couple of times Paco sent him to our shop with the purpose of buying guitars for him.

Apparently, when Paco was still a boy, his father and my grandfather José Ramírez II, exchanged some words that didn’t leave them a good memory; that created an enmity between both patriarchs, that like everything else in life, had implications for everyone coming afterwards. But the same as my father admired Paco’s art, did Paco admire my father’s, the guitarist and guitar maker one more time were looking for that bond that satisfies them both, although sometimes there are also difficult love affairs in the art of making music and creating the instrument to express it.

The Ramírez House and its relationship with Serranito

Víctor Monge, Serranito, was the one that occupied an especial place in my father’s heart. Víctor’s father and mine were friends, and due to their friendship Víctor’s father asked mine to take care of his child when he died. And soon after, this is what happened, in such a way that Víctor’s father died and my father kept his promise and became a father for Víctor, and Víctor a son for him. And over the years they became mates in their nocturnal wanderings.

It is well known that these great guitarists, Víctor, Paco and Manolo made history revolutionizing the art of flamenco, although they were influenced by previous solo guitarists such as Sabicas, Manuel Escudero and el Niño Ricardo. Víctor Monge, Serranito was the pioneer of the three of them because he opened the way in the sixties creating a different style that laid the foundations for a new concept.

One day Víctor tried a classic guitar, such as the ones used by Andrés Segovia, and he was so delighted by its power, sonority and touch that he told my father that this was the guitar he needed for the way he played. So that was the first guitar that my father ‘flamencated’, and it was for Serranito, and he still preserves it as a treasure while I write this words.

My memories of Serranito go back to the age of seven more or less, when I was fascinated by him and I already saw him as an extraordinary being full of light; maybe I was ahead of my time to the things that later on the world would recognize as art and talent, and of course uniqueness.

And nowadays, many years later, he has also succeeded in conquering the hearts of my niece and nephew, Cristina and José Enrique, they had the good fortune to know him and enjoy his company in many occasions. Well, he is part of the family, so it is not surprising that he has been and still is in our lifes over three Ramírez generations.

For all that said so far, it is obvious that in Ramírez we’ve always had a special bond with flamenco and we still have it. So we have made the reedited version of the aforementioned tablao guitar, the “Serranito” guitar whether the flamenco way professional or the special line for students that has his name, and other flamenco guitars for professionals that nowadays are played by our friends such as Miguel Ángel Cortés, José Luis Montón and Raúl Mannola.

Article written by Amalia Ramírez

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