Allow me to present myself: my name is David Peña, and my artistic name is ‘Dorantes’. I was born in Lebrija in the province of Seville. I’m a pianist and composer – you could say that I’m a flamenco pianist and composer, but I prefer to take a more universal approach to my music, although I know that flamenco is in my blood and in every part of my mind and my heart.
I was born into one of the two families – the Peñas and the Perrates – that played a role in the birth and evolution of this musical form, and who have been among the most important in the history of flamenco in Andalusia.
Flamenco has always been transmitted orally, heart to heart, skin to skin, experience by experience, from the elders to young people. It’s our form of communication, almost on a level with the standard language of spoken words. The medium we use to express ourselves is more than music, and our gatherings are much more than a fiesta; it’s more like an act of communion.
As a fortunate heir to this music, I understood from the start that it would set me apart from many other universal composers and pianists, that I would enjoy the opportunity of having a language of my own, an audio aesthetic burned into my soul, the capacity to improvise from another perspective, my own way of feeling sound, my way of playing with it, and a thousand other things that come together in my mind and my heart, often becoming a volcano that was difficult to control.
I also knew that my additional preparation needed to come from musicians in other disciplines such as classical music. That’s where I acquired and expanded my knowledge of harmony and composition and practised my piano technique in order to be able to express my work with all the breadth it needed. This is because the piano is not a common instrument in flamenco, and there was really nowhere to draw from that could satisfy my thirst for knowledge. Any musical culture that wishes to develop and progress should always aim for a universal musical idiom and the daily discipline to achieve individual goals. There is no doubt that these two levels make up my identity – and this is when I return to my definition of myself as a musician.
This is the flamenco I hear at home, a flamenco which is rich in detail and avoids exaggeration, music which is sweet and bittersweet, melancholic, elegant, happy, as festive as it is tragic, always paying attention to the sounds to avoid disrupting the subtle aesthetic. Our elders have always taken special care to communicate to us – more through their attitude towards life and their day-to-day existence than through words – that elegance in art can only be present if there is elegance in life. An example of this upbringing is the creation of small established codes to define certain people at certain gatherings who can’t understand this communal lifestyle; we call them insonrribles, a term for someone who is tactless and out of tune with others.
We seek fluidity through music; we like to let ourselves get carried away by the moment, knowing and hoping to reach sublime moments that reinforce our identity – our identity as Gitanos. I think that’s why we treasure those family moments so much, and reject anything that is forced or contrived. It’s as if in Bach’s The Art of Fugue, the rhythm of life and music were playing in subtle counterpoint, creating true moments of avowal and evoking emotions in others, while always – and here I repeat myself – prioritising elegance and subtlety.
So it cannot be any other way: Flamenco is a way of life, a way of feeling.
Every time I take on a composition, I am seeking not only a structure for sound but also the reality of my identity, with the expression and the aesthetic determined by the coordinates of my heart and the very core of my being, my blood and my influences, my memories and truths. The two should be balanced upon the point of a needle rather than a rock. My music should be like a legacy archive for those who succeed me.
Throughout history, flamenco has always attracted musicians from other genres, such as Manuel de Falla, Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados and Joaquín Turina. In flamenco they all found a fountain from which to drink and thereby enhance their own work, and thus they managed to give it a unique identity, a kind of national character, which was quite different from other musical trends in other parts of Europe.
Occasionally – in some cases successfully and in others less so – they tried to adapt their music to give it the expression, the aesthetic and the mixed rhythms of flamenco. They were conscious of the potential and richness of flamenco, of the truth hidden behind a different harmony, of a rationality and culture that comes from the earth and from the root rather than from superficial sprouting buds.
On the other hand, theatrical flamenco must be differentiated from the domestic variety. Nowadays, flamenco as a spectacle benefits from a high level of performers and creators, and it can even exist alongside other musical genres on large stages and in prestigious venues.
The opportunities for communicating easily has brought faraway places together, allowing this music to open up to other forms and aesthetics. The result is a musical product of exceptionally high quality, comparable to jazz and classical music, but by maintaining the warmth of its purity, expression and intuition it counters accusations of becoming too academic. A rather interesting equilibrium is now being achieved between these two points of view, something that I hope does not disappear but rather continues developing, because it makes all the difference.