Daniel Martinez is currently on tour to celebrate his 20 year anniversary as a flamenco guitarist, and ahead of his concert at The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh on 12th December, was kind enough to take some time out to answer this short Q & A about Flamenco guitar music and its history.
Daniel Martinez Q & As
1. You were born in Cordoba, a city in Andalusia, Southern Spain, a region that to many people is the home of Flamenco. Do you remember the first time you were aware of Flamenco music around you, or has it simply been a part of you always?
I have to say that I’m very lucky as my dad played flamenco guitar as a hobby when I was born, also my uncle always was signing fandangos (style in flamenco), so I grew up with flamenco rhythms and music all around me. Because I was in love with the flamenco rhythm and guitar, by the age of 7 I knew I wanted to learn properly so it was then I started in the Royal Conservatoire studying Flamenco Guitar from incredible maestros.
2. Traditional music often somehow captures the sounds, even the very essence of the landscape around it, is this true of Flamenco music for you?
Flamenco is a philosophy of life, it is very easy to express many types of emotions through flamenco; sadness, happiness, passion and we use it and live it in our day to day. Because of that, you’re right, everything within flamenco is connected to the landscape around me.
3. Are there obvious regional differences in not only flamenco guitar music, but also the songs and the dancing?
In flamenco there are many types of ‘palos’ (styles) and each of those palos sounds different depending which region it originates from. For example, an Alegria from Cadiz sounds different to an Alegria of Cordoba, Tangos from Malaga sound different to Tangos from Granada. These differences aren’t hugely obvious unless you are aware of them, but there are tonal differences as well as different lyrics and a different ‘feel’ to each one.
4. Often, traditional music is the unwritten historical record of both a region and the people of that region. Often too the music and songs are a history that many people, for whatever reasons, have tried to suppress or over-write over the years. Is this also at times the case with Flamenco music?
I know what you mean but actually we’re lucky enough that Flamenco is very pure and not a lot has been modified through the years. For example, Camaron de la Isla recorded a singer in his town trying to copy and imitate his original songs, and singers after Camaron did the same, etc. Saying that, flamenco is evolving all the time in terms of the guitar and dance; you can find some very contemporary flamenco dancers such as Israel Galvan, and when Paco de Lucia added other elements to his concerts and music such as cajon and other instruments, etc.
Vicente Amigo is my reference as his left hand is very fresh and new but he doesn’t break the flamenco key.
5. Flamenco guitar always reminds me of classical guitar, and by that, I mean a very strict adherence to style, technique and form. How many years practice does it normally take for even a talented musician to achieve a high standard of performance in this style?
I started when I was 7 years old and it was when I was 13 that I stopped imagining I’d study something else, it was then I knew how to play guitar in terms of the techniques and the tone of flamenco and that this was what I was going to dedicate my life to. After age 13, I continued perfecting my playing until I was 21 when I finished my studies after 14 years in the Royal Conservatoire of Cordoba. At 16 I had also started performing in tablaos (traditional flamenco venues) gaining experience playing with other flamenco musicians.
Flamenco music is very challenging because just when you think you know how to play the instrument, if you stop for 1 week, you lose speed and precision. So, I need to train every day for a minimum 3 hours, and sometimes I play for 6 hours or more…
Very hard but when I play my albums or my repertoire for festivals and theatres, it’s all worth it…
6. Music for me is often like “living archaeology” in sound as through it you can often hear many influences that tell the story of how people moved from one region to another. Flamenco music has obvious influences from Persia and that whole region. Is this an area of the music that you have explored in any depth.
There is a huge amount of information about the history of flamenco but I will try to summarise. Before the gypsies arrived, Spain had been conquered by Muslim, Jewish and Arabic people, so together with the Castellanos (the Spanish people already there too) this created an incredible and beautiful mix of cultures, and that’s where Flamenco was born.
Also, the port of Cadiz was the most important port in Europe at the time after Cristobal Colon had conquered America, so we received a lot of influence from Latin America and that has also become a part of our culture and music.
For the concert on the 12th I’m actually working on trying to show the variety of influences we have in flamenco from the East and the West, and of course, influences from Andalucia, Spain. Hopefully you will be able to see that during the concert!
7. You credit masters of the form such as Paco Serrano, Vicente Amigo, and Paco de Lucia as being major influences on your work. Are there any contemporary musicians that have attracted your attention that you would say are taking Flamenco music to maybe new places?
To be honest, Vicente Amigo is still the maestro that holds my attention with his new music. In my opinion, he takes flamenco guitar music to another level, using fusions with Celtic music in his CD “Tierra” where actually he played the premiere in Scotland, in the Glasgow Concert Hall. His left hand is exploring new ways of playing melodies in flamenco, more repetitive melodies as you can see in other styles of music like Pop, Rock, etc. And his right hand is percussive as flamenco has to be, but at the same time, his music is very delicate. I really like this balance and he is still my reference.
8. Often when I have come across Flamenco musicians such as Paco de Lucia, it has been through their cross-over work in the jazz arena. What do you think makes these two musical forms so compatible to one another?
Improvisation. Flamenco is very improvised, of course we have some rules, for example when the dancer is dancing, we don’t know the length of their footwork nor the intensity or the strength, so, we have to follow it very carefully. The next day the same dancer with the same footwork could sound completely different as I can change the chords in my playing which won’t affect the dancer’s footwork. The same with accompanying a singer, they are very flexible and we need to follow them just as it where a conversation. Paco de Lucia was a maestro doing it within Jazz, as was Tomatito with pianist Michel Camilo; there are artists that have been playing with fusion for a long time.
9. This current show is not just highlighting your Flamenco guitar skills but also giving an authentic package of Flamenco song and dance. Do you feel that, at last, a wider audience in the UK is finally accepting that Flamenco music has deep roots and is a musical language in its own right after too many years of all too often being misrepresented as almost a “holiday cabaret” genre?
Actually there are a lot of flamenco aficionados here in Scotland and the UK, and the proof lies in that this show is nearly sold out (800 people)! We have been touring in many cities from August, and every single show has been sold out (Manchester, Leeds, Dunbar Music Festival, Edinburgh Fringe). I and the members of my company are working very hard to put flamenco where it deserves to be in the UK; putting it in bigger venues and practising a lot of hours, thinking of every detail of our shows and performances, and putting my city and our place, Andalucia, on the stage.
Also, we received two awards during the Edinburgh Fringe 2019. The Festival Magazine included as one of the best shows within the music category and we are also so proud to say that same year we received a Herald Angel Award for an outstanding performance through the Edinburgh International Festival. I am so happy flamenco is being recognised in UK. You don’t have to speak Spanish to understand the emotion of the lyrics or be a musician to understand the rhythm and compas. Flamenco is a universal language because the audience can feel what the musicians want to express from the stage, and it is because of that that it is an official cultural world heritage.
The feedback we receive is fantastic, I absolutely love our audiences, we are so lucky. I remember one gentleman who was around 70 years old during 2019’s Fringe Festival (when were performing my production ‘Art of believing’ for the full run), coming to me after the show and he said: “this is the best flamenco show I’ve ever seen and believe me, I’ve been in Andalucia many many times and I’ve seen many festivals and tablaos”. I was so grateful and although I don’t think we are the best, everything we do we do with passion, love and knowledge and I think people can feel that from the audience.
10. If you were to sum up what Flamenco music means to you in one sentence, what would it be?
Flamenco is a philosophy of life, it is a way to express myself and an attitude to life.
Questions by Tom King
Answers by Daniel Martinez
Q&As (c) 2021
For More information on Daniel Martinez and his music and the upcoming concert at The Queen's Hall Edinburgh visit