Cult Classic: El Turronero-New Hondo.

All to often, music that was way ahead of its time failed to find the audience it deserves. It’s only much later when the music is reevaluated by a new generation of record buyers who realise and recognise the importance of the music. That has been the case time after time, during the last twenty years with obscure and overlooked albums being rediscovered. 

Belatedly, these albums are reissued and embraced by a much more knowledgeable and appreciative audience. They’ve a much more educated musical palette, and a  more eclectic taste in music than the record buyers who overlooked these lost genre classics and hidden gems first time around. As a result, many albums that failed to find the audience they deserved first time around, are being rediscovered by a new generation of record buyers. That is the case with El Turronero’s cult classic New Hondo which  belatedly is starting to find an audience.

When El Turronero released New Hondo on Belter Records in 1980, Manuel Mancheño Peña it was the seventh album of the thirty-three year old flamenco singer’s career. It began two decades earlier, when Manuel Mancheño Peña was just seventeen.

Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ was born in Vejer de la Frontera, Cádiz, on August the ‘15th’ 1947. However, Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ was brought up in Ultrera. He was brought up in the ways of flamenco, and eventually, eventually would become a cantaor, a flamenco singer. 

That was no surprise as Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ was singing from an early age. His parents sold nougats at fairs, and when Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ accompanied them, his mother would ask her son to sing? This he would do, and this was good practise for when Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ embarked upon a career as a flamenco singer.

Growing up, Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ immersed himself in flamenco music, and began listening to three of the most popular singers of that time, El Perrate Fernanda, Bernarda and Manuel de Angustias. Soon, Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ decided to emulate the three cantaor singers. 

That was when Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ first met the guitarist Diego del Gastor. He would accompany the aspiring cantaor, and when he moved to Madrid in 1963. The two months  Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ spent in Madrid were tough. 

The first person the young cantaor auditioned for told him he was “useless,” which would’ve knocked many young singer’s confidence.  However, Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ was made of stronger stuff, and this made him even more determined to make it as a cantaor. Fortunately, Gitanillo de Triana saw Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’s potential, and hired the young cantaor for two months. He sang each day until the club closed down. This was good experience for Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero.’ 

After this, Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ returned to Seville, where he spent a month at Las Cavas de Nemesio. This was good experience for Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero.’ However, it wasn’t particularly profitable and he was almost penniless. It was around that time that Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ met flamenco dancer Antonia Gades, and the pair would later travel the world. Before that, Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ was called up for military service.

Having completed his military service, Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ and Antonia Gades spent four-and-half years travelling the world. By the time, he returned to Madrid Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ had established himself as a flamenco singer. In Madrid he befriends Camaron de la Isla and also, flamenco dancer Carmen Montiel, and soon, the pair become a couple.

By the seventies, Manuel Mancheño Peña ‘Turronero’ had met guitarist and composer Paco Cepero and embarked upon a recording career as El Turronero.  His debut album Y Primero El Compás-Canta El Turrón was released in 1970, with Cantes Viejos Temas Nuevos following in 1973 and Huele A Romero in 1975. 

El Turronero was already a hugely popular singer and a familiar face at festivals across Spain. Audiences watched as the versatile El Turronero switched between flamenco palos, Bulerias, Debla, Fandangos, Romera,  Seguiriyas, Sevillanos, Soleares, Tarantos and Tentos. El Turronero with the help of Paco Cepero, started to update theme of cantes bringing the lyrics up-to-date and adding a progressive sound. Sometimes, the lyrics were full of social comment, and spoke for those that had no voice. This was dangerous in a dictatorship.

Spain started to change after the death of dictator Francisco Franco on the ’20th’ of November 1975, and gradually, the country became a parliamentary monarchy. As Spain started to change, its music industry moved from Barcelona to Madrid, which was also home to El Turronero.

In 1976, El Turronero released his fourth album Vente Conmigo, Niña which was an eclectic album that featured a mixture of Bulerías, Fandangos, Romera, Siguiriyas, Tangos and Tarantos. This was what El Turronero’s fans expected from him. He was a versatile and talented singer, whose progressive lyrics provided a voice for the Spanish people. To many the twenty-nine year old El Turronero was a hero who spoke for and to them.

By 1978, El Turronero was signed to Belter Records, which was Spain’s biggest record company. Belter Records and its imprint Olivo would be home to El Turronero for the next three years. In 1978, El Turronero released two albums, including Asi Lo Siento which was released on the Olivo label, which specialised in flamenco music. The other album El Turronero released was El Cante Del Turronero which was released on Belter Records. Just like previous albums, both albums were eclectic and showcased the versatile cantaor who it seemed, could do no wrong.

The following year, 1979, was a landmark year for Spanish music, which was evolving. Camaron had just released La Leyenda Del Tiempo, which nowadays, is regarded as the album that started the New Flamenco movement. Ironically, La Leyenda Del Tiempo was pilloried by critics who failed to see the importance of what was an important and innovative album where Camaron fused jazz, rock and flamenco. This was a game-changer for Spanish music. 

Meanwhile, El Turronero released his sixth album Mi Sangre on the Olivo label in 1979. Just like previous albums, Mi Sangre saw El Turronero flit between Bulerías, Fandangos, Romera, Siguiriyas, Tangos and Tarantos. This was the type of music that El Turronero had been making with Paco Cepero’s help since 1970. However, when El Turronero returned in 1980 with New Hondo, it marked the start of a new era for one of Spain’s leading cantaor singers.

As the eighties dawned, El Turronero was also ready to change direction musically. These albums features songs penned by flamenco guitarist Paco Cepero who played on the album. He played his part in the albums that El Turronero released between 1970 and 1979. Although each album was eclectic, and showcased a variety of different styles, by 1980 El Turronero had come to the conclusion that his music couldn’t stand still, and it had to evolve. 

Camaron had realised that a year earlier when he released La Leyenda Del Tiempo on 1979. Now El Turronero was about to follow in Camaron’s footsteps. However, this wasn’t a decision that El Turronero took lightly. He remembered what had happened to his friend when he released La Leyenda Del Tiempo. His innovative fusion of jazz, rock and flamenco incurred the wrath of critics who failed to understand the album.Neither did record buyers, and La Leyenda Del Tiempo failed commercially. Despite this, El Turronero made the decision to change direction musically on New Hondo.

This wasn’t the only change that El Turronero would make on New Hondo. On previous album, his friend guitarist and composer Paco Cepero had contributed a number of songs. However, on New Hondo Paco Cepero’s only contribution was Sufrimiento which he cowrote with José Carrasco Domínguez. The rest of the songs on New Hondo were written by two songwriters.  Juan Barcons Moreno penned Las Penas, Si Yo Volviera A Nace, Tiene Bigotes, Yo Soy Nube Pasajera, Navegan Mis Pensamientos and A Nadie Se Le Ha “Ocurrio.” They were joined by Eres Lava De Un Volcan, Y La Razón and Mis Venas which were written by José Carrasco Domínguez. These song became New Hondo, which was recorded in Madrid.

Recording of New Hondo took place at Estudios Belter, which was founded in 1965, and was one of Spain’s top studios. Taking charge of production was Juan Barcons who also played keyboards and added backing vocalists. The rest of El Turronero’s band featured some of city’s top musicians, including a rhythm section of drummer G. Martínez, Fernando Cubedo on contrabass and Max Sunyer on electric guitar. They were joined by percussionist Coco and acoustic guitarist Josep Maria Bardagí. One man was missing when New Hondo was released … Paco Cepero. He didn’t feature on his friend El Turronero’s most ambitious album.

Prior to the release of New Hondo later in 1980, critics had their say on the album that marked the reinvention of El Turronero. Just like Camaron’s 1979 album La Leyenda Del Tiempo, critics didn’t understand New Hondo. It saw producer Juan Barcons  and El Turronero set out to modernise traditional flamenco music. This was a controversial decision, and one that didn’t find favour with critics who failed to understand New Hondo nor its importance.

When Juan Barcons and El Turronero set out to record New Hondo, their plan was to record album that modernised traditional flamenco music. It had changed very little until relatively recently. This included Camaron’s album La Leyenda Del Tiempo in 1979. However, New Hondo wasn’t going to be fusion of flamenco, jazz and rock. Instead, it was an ambitious genre-melting album that drew inspiration from a variety of musical genres. 

For El Turronero his starting point on New Hondo was flamenco. Just like on his previous albums,  he switched between different types of flamenco, some of which came from different parts of Spain. Among them, were Bamberas, Bulerías, Jaberas, La Caña, Malagueña, Seguiríyas and Tangos. These types of flamenco were combined with a variety of musical genres from the sixties, seventies and early eighties. This included funk, psychedelia, rock and Philly Soul, which had provided the soundtrack to much of the seventies. So had disco, especially between 1976 and 1979. A feature of both genres were swathes of lush strings. They can be heard on several tracks on New Hondo. Disco also inspired some of the drums tones that featured on New Hondo. The other influence is boogie, which following disco’s demise in the summer of 1979, became a favourite of dancers and DJs. All these genres can be heard on El Turronero’s pioneering album New Hondo, which features lyrics full of social comment.

El Turronero sets the bar high with the album opener Las Penas, which would later become a cosmic disco classic. It’s one of several tracks that feature  lush sweeping, swirling strings. They’re combined with La Caña style of flamenco, funk and soulful harmonies as El Turronero delivers a soul-baring vocal. This is followed by the psychedelic funk of Si Volviera A Nacer which is another of New Hondo’s highlights. It features an electric sitar and an impassioned vocal from El Turronero as he transforms flamenco and takes it in a totally new direction. 

The tempo drops on Tiene Bigotes which features sweeping disco strings. What doesn’t change is the emotion and passion in El Turronero’s vocal on this Tanguillos. 

Dancing disco strings return on Yo Soy Nube Pasajera, where a funky bass helps propel the arrangement along and harmonies accompany El Turronero as he seamlessly switches to the Bamberas style of flamenco. Still he breathes life, meaning and emotion into this hook-laden dance-floor filler.

There’s another change of style on Navegan Mis Pensamientos, where soulful harmonies set the scene on this example of the Alegrías style of flamenco. El Turronero copes admirably with one of the most complex arrangements on New Hondo. It features a slapped bass and rock inspired guitar as El Turronero complies power and passion. In doing so, he demonstrates his versatility and talent. The tempo drops on A Nadie Se Le Ha “Ocurrio,” as El Turronero tackles a Bulerías on this hip shaking fusion of funk and boogie. El Turronero then delivers one of his most heartfelt, emotive and soulful vocal on Eres Lava De Un Volcan which is an example of the Jaberas style of flamenco. Then on Sufrimientos, which features a laid-back and lushly orchestrated arrangement, El Turronero accompanied by harmonies adds the finishing touch to a beautiful ballad.

It’s all change on Y La Razón a Seguiríyas, where the bass adds a tough, funky sound as El Turronero combines power and emotion. Meanwhile, disco strings sweep and swirl as El Turronero continues in his mission to reinvent flamenco. Closing New Hondo was the ballad Mis Venas Malagueña which is a Malagueña, a type of flamenco from the Andalusia region. Just like on so many other tracks on new Hondo, it features a vocal masterclass from El Turronero, who showcases his versatility and as he copes with another change of style and closes this genre classic on a high.

Sadly, when New Hondo was released in 1980 by Belter Records, the album wasn’t well received by critics. To make matters worse, the album failed to find an audience and sold badly. It a similar case when the future cosmic disco classic Las Penas was released as a single in 1980. The single failed commercially and soon, found its way into bargain bins. 

Now  forty years later, and New Hondo has been rediscovered by a new generation of record buyer and is regarded as a cult classic. Similarly, Las Penas is a cosmic disco classic and favourite of DJs and dancers. Original copies of New Hondo and Las Penas are rarities and change hands for large sums of money. That’s no surprie as it’s the most ambitious album of El Turronero’s career.

By then, El Turronero was an experienced cantaor singer with a legion of fans across Spain. They travelled to see him in concert and at festivals, and bought his albums. That was until his ambitious,  groundbreaking and genre-melting album New Hondo, where El Turronero set about reinventing flamenco. As a starting point, he took a number of different styles of flamenco and combined this with boogie, disco, funk Philly Soul, psychedelia, rock and social comment. Then when El Turronero fused several genres, the result was the cosmic disco classic of Las Penas and the psychedelic funk of Si Volviera A Nacer. They’re among the highlights of New Hondo, which marked the reinvention of El Turronero and flamenco.

Not everyone welcome the reinvention of El Turronero, who was one of the most popular cantaor singers of his generation. His fans didn’t want him to change direction, and liked his music the way it was. El Turronero could’ve continued to churn out similar albums year after year. This would’ve been a popular and decision amongst El Turronero’s legion of fans, but would’ve been soul-destroying for a singer of his calibre. Just like Camaron who had he released La Leyenda Del Tiempo a year earlier in 1979,El Turronero style was ready to reinvent his music and indeed flamenco.

At the back of El Turronero’s mind was that changing direction risked alienating his fans. Sadly, that was the case, and New Hondo was his least successful album El Turronero had released. However, El Turronero was willing to take that risk, as he determined to change direction musically and hopefully reinvent flamenco. Sadly, it was a decision that didn’t payoff in the short-term.

Eleven years after the death of El Turronero in 2006, his groundbreaking and genre-melting album New Hondo is receiving the critical recognition it so richly deserves. New Hondo was a landmark album from El Turronero and  had the potential to transform the future of flamenco music. New Hondo followed in the footsteps of Camaron’s 1979 album La Leyenda Del Tiempo and  both albums are regarded as game-changing albums. Especially  El Turronero’s New Hondo, which is regarded as important, innovative and timeless genre-melting album from a true musical pioneer who was willing to risk his popularity to transform flamenco music.

Cult Classic: El Turronero-New Hondo.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: