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Miguel De La Bastide

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20th Century Guitar Interview

Feb 2004

TCG: Hello Miguel. Could you say something about how you became interested in the guitar while also mentioning some of your early guitar influences?

Hi Robert. Actually, it was my sister that received a guitar for Christmas, while I got a recorder! After a while, the recorder was not doing it for me, so I picked up her guitar and started to pluck out the melodies of songs that I heard on the radio. In those days, in Trinidad, Santana was very big, along with José Feliciano. This is besides the usual Pop, Calypso and Parang (Trinidad's version of Paranda) you hear on the radio. My sister also received a book on how to tune and play the basic chords, so I went through that as well. But my biggest influence in my early years came from my godfather Kenny and his brother Ronnie Fortune. They both played everything on the guitar and flute.

TCG: How did you develop your strong interest in the Flamenco guitar?

I remember I was about 11-years-old when I had just finished dinner and went over to switch on the TV and I caught the last two pieces of a guitar concert and immediately fell in love with the style of playing. I turned to my father and said that I would like to play like that! The guitarist on the TV was Paco de Lucia.

TCG: You were featured on several Flamenco guitar compilations released on Narada starting with their Flamenco Fire And Grace compilation in 1996. How did you get involved with Narada and any reflections taking part on those compilation albums?

Narada had just signed Jesse Cook and he was going to tour in the U.S. His usual guitarists were unable to go, so he asked me help him out. One of the places where we had to perform was Boca Raton, Florida. After our set, I hid myself in a prop room back stage to practice a piece for my very first flamenco production with Carmen Romero. This project was very challenging for me, so I needed to practice a lot. By chance, one of Narada's producers happened to be passing by and heard the faint sound of my guitar. He came in and sat for a while, listening and asking questions on flamenco. I did not know at the time that he was a producer - I thought he was a stage technician. After the tour was over and I was back in Toronto, I got a call from the president of Narada to do Flamenco Fire and Grace. I was speechless! In my wildest dreams, I did not think that this would ever happen!

At the time, I felt that I was not ready. However, I was assured that my work would be well received and that the album would only contain artists from North America. As it turned out, almost all were from Spain! I first saw the album while I was studying in Madrid and I was shocked because I was surrounded by some of these same great guitarists that were on this album and I considered myself a student!

Since then, Narada has graciously added my music to seven more albums and it continues to be an honor to share these compilations with such fine musicians.

TCG: You're originally from Trinidad yet you seem so influenced by the guitar music of Spain. How does the music of Trinidad and that part of the world you originally come from influence your guitar work?

The music of Trinidad is all about the groove. Rhythm has always been a big part of the culture. Very early on, we understand how percussive instruments work together, even if it's just beating out a rhythm on your school desk. Flamenco is the same, however, more complex.

TCG: What Flamenco guitar techniques are the hardest to master and how would you differentiate between Flamenco and classical guitar technique and performance?

There are two distinct techniques that are quite difficult and are the most necessary in expressing flamenco. They are Rasgueados and Alzapúa. Rasgueados are strumming techniques that utilize all the fingers of the right hand to create syncopation within the rhythm and there are many different combinations. Basically, the more combinations you learn, the better you are at developing interesting rhythm. The Alzapúa is an alternating sweeping and rest stroke thumb technique for playing melody, while maintaining a bit of the harmony. These techniques are also what separate the classical guitar from the flamenco guitar.

TCG: How has the Flamenco guitar style and repertoire changed over the years and how would you describe the current fascination with Nuevo Flamenco guitar?

Flamenco is a living art form and is constantly evolving to express its generation, however, always in the direction of the Cante (flamenco songs) and their associated rhythms. Over the years, flamenco guitarists have gained more knowledge in harmony as it applies to the Cante. Consequently, that knowledge has been pushed even further in their solo guitar pieces and in combination with very sophisticated syncopated rhythms. To the average person, it can be very difficult to follow.

The perception of Nuevo Flamenco (New Flamenco) in Spain is completely different to that in North America. In Spain, it means flamenco of today, or of this generation. In North America, it means Rumba or something like it. I consider the Nuevo Flamenco we hear in North America to be more Latin guitar, because I've been hearing this style of music since I was a kid in Trinidad from guitarists like José Feliciano... even from my godfather. However, Rumba is not considered by flamencos (flamenco artists) to be a true flamenco palo (form). The name originally came from Cuba, where the real thing exists today and is quite different. The difference between Rumba and flamenco is like drinking an inexpensive table wine as opposed to a very fine Reserva Rioja. There is so much more depth and color to flamenco. However, because Rumba is easier to understand and play, and has an infectious beat, it is very attractive to people here in North America and it's a great place to start your journey into this art form.

For the record, I do enjoy dancing, playing and listening to Rumba. There is some great stuff out there! My only bugaboo is when people confuse Rumba with flamenco, as I feel it's important to have respect for an art form that's centuries old and takes many years to master.

TCG: What is the biggest challenge you face in recording a new album of Flamenco guitar music in this day and age?

The biggest challenge that I face is having my own voice, while respecting the boundaries of flamenco.

TCG: Could you say something about your Flamenco music and dance performance company with Carmen Romero in Canada? How do you like Canada and how have the Canadians been reacting to all your Flamenco innovation?

This is something that's very close to my heart. Flamenco does not seem to be complete or fulfilling unless it has all the ingredients. In Carmen's company, my music is put into context. With the song and dance, it's so much more gratifying to be involved in its performance.

Canada is a great place to live! I would much prefer to live outside the city, where there is less noise and the scenery is better. However, if I did not make the move to immigrate to Canada, I would not have had the opportunity to pursue the guitar to this extent. Canadians love the guitar in all styles, so they are very receptive to what I'm doing.

TCG: Your two solo albums, El Cambio and Siento are modern masterpieces of instrumental Flamenco guitar work. How would you compare those two albums (to each other) and what kind of album are you interested in following with next?

The first thing that stands out would be the sound quality. El Cambio was my first project and while it sounded good, I was not as knowledgeable in the studio as I am now, so Siento sounds much cleaner and richer. There is definitely an evolution regarding the compositions between the two albums. However, I just focused on hearing more guitar, and not settling for less, by giving myself more time to produce Siento. The next one will have more Cante.

TCG: I saw that you credit Jesse Cook in the liner notes of your 1998 solo album. Could you say something about your musical friendship with Jesse Cook and any other guitarists that have an influence on your playing and writing?

Being both based in Toronto, Jesse and I have known each other for a long time and have collaborated on occasion. On El Cambio, Jesse offered to mix one of the cuts at his studio, which had more capabilities. Subsequently, I played a short solo on one of his albums. However, I must mention jazz giant, Martin Taylor, whom I had the pleasure of double billing with in Singapore last year. After spending close to a week with this guy and having long conversations over cocktails, I learned more about this business than I had in my previous ten years...as well as admiring his compositions and stage persona! The knowledge behind the playing makes all the difference for me.

TCG: What do you look for in a Flamenco guitar (construction-wise) and can you mention your favorite guitars and guitar builders?

The first thing I look for is a sound. It must have warmth with a bite to it! If the guitar sounds good, then I look at playability. It must be comfortable enough to pull off the flamenco techniques, but not too low an action to sacrifice its sound. The last thing I look at, and the least important, is the label. I only own two flamenco guitars, a Ramirez (rubia) and a Pedro de Miguel (palo santo), and they are my favorites.

TCG: Will you be coming to the U.S. for a performance in the future?

I love playing in the U.S., but since 9-11, it has become increasingly difficult to perform there. However, some things are in the works and I hope I will be making some appearances in the near future. Your readers can keep updated on upcoming performances by checking my web site from time to time at www.migueldelabastide.com.

TCG: Thanks Miguel!

No, Thank You!