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Jesús Méndez and Diego del Morao. 2005 Festival de Jerez
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Jesús Méndez, flamenco cantaor. Interview

“When my family heard me sing,
my father tore his shirt open”

Carlos Sánchez. Jerez, June 2006

From the Méndez clan. A jewel among the inexhaustible supply of artists emerging from Jerez. A fruit that ripens with the wisdom of age. Shy and modest. Jesús Méndez became one of the most promising newcomers to emerge from the Jerez cante stable, and is now reaching one of the finest moments of his life. At just twenty-one years of age he's had the privilege of singing for great artists such as guitarist Gerardo Núñez and bailaor Javier Barón. Now he's just about to fulfill another of his dreams: his first album. The young artist from Jerez is currently immersed in the recording of an album with which he aims to conserve the roots of his homeland. To this end he's backed by Gerardo Núñez himself, by Moraíto, Chícharo, El Bo, Manuel Valencia and many others.

 

Jesús Méndez (Photo: Daniel Muñoz)
 

Jesús Méndez. What does it mean to be born with that surname?

A huge responsibility. All the Méndezs from my family had spectacular careers. With that surname I can't fail them. Although I don't mind telling you that reaching the standard of La Paquera is something really impossible. I'd be satisfied with just doing what I'm doing right now, working with first class, top quality artists, seeing a bit of the world and doing what I like best: singing.

What impact does that responsibility have?

In my case, it helps me to grow. I try to keep my surname ever-present, so that I never aim lower than the family members who went before.

Has cante always been present at home?

Always. Ever since I was small I've listened to cante flamenco at celebrations of holy communions, weddings, christenings and fiestas. In fact, my father was a professional singer for a time, but he had to give it up because back then flamenco didn't have the status it does today. Even so, he managed to win the Premio de la Bulería at the end of the seventies.

And was it him who instilled cante into you?

Never. Nobody ever instilled anything into me, and nobody ever told me that cante should be one way or another. Besides, I'm really shy and I was embarrassed about singing. In fact, I never sang at a party until I was seventeen. Before that I'd never open my mouth to sing, not even in the shower. It happened at a very intimate family gathering at my Uncle Eduardo's home. He started singing, I was listening to him, but there came a point when I couldn't stand it any more and I had to stand up and sing for him. To me, my Uncle Eduardo was one of the best cantaores I've heard. My feelings just overcame me then and I started singing. When my family heard me sing, the birthday cake hit the roof, the TV set fell off the shelf and my father tore his shirt open. When I finished singing I took my motorbike and I went home. I felt really calm and relaxed. Shortly afterwards my Uncle Eduardo died - he was the one who made me start singing.

And when did you decide that you wanted to make a career in cante flamenco?

It was down to my guitarist friend Miguel Salado. He told me that the Peña D. Antonio Chacón was organizing something for promising newcomers. So Luis Márquez, the president of the peña got in touch with me, and he encouraged me to take part. That was when I got up on stage for the first time. It was an incredible experience. My whole family was there and, I don't know why, that day the peña was full to overflowing. When I got up on stage my legs were trembling. I'd never before felt before that kind of nerves. But it was a beautiful experience. I remember that my cousin Kina Méndez accompanied me, and that gave me a lot of support. It was a very informal, intimate thing in spite of all the people that were there.


Jesús Méndez with Merche Esmeralda (Photo: Daniel Muñoz)

Did you rehearse for that performance?

The truth is I fished around a little for a soleá and a martinete. At that time, I didn't know the cantes too well.

And before you were seventeen, what did you plan to do with your life?

Well I was working as a waiter at my father's restaurant. I used to help him out. But my life changed overnight - it all just happened so fast. It was a really weird thing because I'd never before thought about being an artist. My way of thinking changed totally. I never got embarrassed anymore. It was time to worry about cante and sing wherever they asked me to.

And where were your first recitals?

At first they were at private parties. I also went to the Feria de Sevilla and the Feria de Málaga, to gradually ease myself into things. At those places you get knocked around a little, you're sure to be subjected to a fair share of mockery. But then the vocalist Juan Granados called me for the courses that Gerardo Núñez organizes in Sanlúcar. I went there to sing to the students so they could dance to upbeat festero styles. Out of that experience grew a really good, trusting working relationship with Gerardo. Later I found out that he was coming to take part in the Jerez Autumn Festival and I called him to tell him he could count on me. He replied that on that occasion he already had Vicente Soto lined up, but that when something else came up he'd call me. And that's just what happened. He called me for Tangier. I remember that I had to take a boat and I was so scared of taking a boat on my own that I went to Madrid with them to all travel together by plane (he laughs).

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