To speak of the Montoya family is to speak of art, tradition, legend and character. The Montoya family tree has many branches and today we’re going to take a look at just one as an example of how flamenco traditions are passed on from generation to generation. This is a long post but there’s no way to make it shorter without losing its essence. Settle in, then, for a chance to get to know la Familia Montoya a little better.
ANTONIA LA NEGRA
Antonia Rodríguez Moreno, was born in Orán (Algeria) in 1936; her mother was from Jerez and her father from Triana in Seville, deep flamenco roots that combined to produce an artist of exceptional “jondura” or depth in the strictest flamenco meaning of the term. She grew up hearing her father sing and mesmerised by her mother’s dancing and so it was no surprise that, like many gypsies who seem to suckle the essence of flamenco more than mother’s milk, by the age of five she was already a reasonably accomplished singer! The family moved first to Tangier in Morocco before finally settling in the barrio of El Tardón in Seville by the time Antonia was sixteen. Here she met and married the bailaor Juan Montoya, with whom she had six daughters. Two of her daughters are the backing singers and palmeras in the following clip.
La Negra has a voice that could fire up a blast furnace and yet has softer almost mellow, honeyed tones that together summon the duende that is needed to transmit the essence and feeling and art, without which flamenco cannot really connect with its audience.
In 1972 together with her husband, Juan Montoya, and her daughters she started the Familia Montoya. Juan was a great bailaor but was never really prepared to make the sacrifices that becoming a leading figure would entail. His dance numbers were invariably spectacular but too short, leaving the audience hanging on for more.
In the mid eighties they called it a day and Antonia and Juan carried on with a couple of their daughters, relying on Antonia to draw in the crowds and other members of the family carried on basing their shows around another of the daughters, Carmelilla, a bailaora of extraordinary talent as can be seen in this clip.
In 1992 the group got back together to perform in The Andalusia Pavilion of the Universal Exposition held that year in Seville.
Here is a much earlier clip of the family together at a fiesta in Utrera just up the road from Seville. As well as Moraíto and Raimundo Amador, we can see a very young Camarón on guitar here! It’s revealing to see the way he looks lost in admiration at La Negra when she’s singing, learning from her, lapping up the very essence of the art she so effortlessly displays.
LOLE Y MANUEL
Without doubt the best known and most successful of la Negra’s daughters is Dolores Montoya Rodríguez the cantaora known simply as Lole. Together with her husband Manuel Molina Jiménez she formed the popular Flamenco Nuevo duo Lole y Manuel in 1972. At the beginning of the seventies flamenco was enjoying a new popularity it hadn’t seen for decades, opening new doors and reaching out to a new, younger and very different audience. Lole and Manuel were among the first to head in this new direction and their influence and relevance in defining this new direction cannot be overestimated. Here is one of their earliest hits.
Lole started out dancing at the tablaos in Seville. Manuel had been playing guitar professionally from a very young age and at twelve was already a member of the trio “Los Gitanillos del Tardón” along with Chiquetete and El Rubio. This was a marriage made in heaven, artistically at least. Here is a later live recording of, perhaps, their best known song, Todo Es de Color.
The duo’s “hippy-flamenco” image, the lyrical content of their songs, their exploration of the Arab roots of flamenco-andalusian culture, their willingness to investigate and try out fusions of genres, all led to a heady combination that produced four ground-breaking albums published up to 1980. Here is Romero Verde.
Sadly, in 1980 they separated and from then on their recorded works and live performances have been few and far between. Manuel has released a solo album called Calle del Beso and in 1994 they got back together to record “Alba Molina” dedicated to their daughter, Alba. They also released a live album called “Una voz y una Guitarra”. Manuel has been working with the Bailaor Farruquito since 2003.
Lole and Manuel’s daughter, Alba Molina, was born in Seville in 1978. She started out as a teenage beauty queen but fortunately her flamenco roots didn’t take too long to catch up with her. She released her first album on which her father played in 1997. It was produced by her partner at the time, Alejandro Sanz, and won her the “Best New Artist” category in that year’s Music Awards. But it is with her family where we can see her flamenco heritage. Here she is singing bulerías with her father in the project “Molina, Alba y Manuel”
Alba had a daughter in 2001, a great-granddaughter for La Negra.
Her musical career is varied and she has worked with artists across genres. We will see more of her when we explore the world of Flamenco fusions in more depth. She is currently working with Vicky Luna of Las Niñas and the guitarist Ricardo Moreno, touring a show where they fuse jazz, blues, flamenco and Latin rhythms.
And here, to end, the three generations together. Grandmother, daughter and granddaughter upholding and transmitting the tradition. Bulerías from La Negra, Lole and Alba.