Last February, the Lope de Vega Theater in Seville hosted a special concert. The Sevillian guitarist Rafael Riqueni celebrated his 45 years of profession. A greater celebration could be seen on the faces of the devoted attendees: that of seeing and enjoying the fully recovered artist. These are the first images of the documentary that bears his name and covers the last 12 years of his life, the story of a process of improvement that cannot be understood without the help of music.
From the brilliance of those images, we go back to the humble dependency of the teachers at the Amor de Dios Dance Academy in Madrid: Riqueni organizes his belongings and explains to the camera that the room is not his alone, but that “he sleeps many nights.” over there”. The year was 2011, and the time that had elapsed since then until the aforementioned concert nourishes this film that, directed by Paco Bech, also from Seville, has been presented at the recent Seville European Film Festival, which ended on November 29.
Rafael Riqueni, 61, revolutionized the six-string scene due to his precocity and creativity. He won the two main flamenco concert guitar nationals, in Jerez and Córdoba, when he was only 14 years old. In just a decade he delivered some recordings that would become cult works: Child’s play (1986), My time (1990), Seville Suite (along with José María Gallardo del Rey, 1992), and Crystal Alcazar (nineteen ninety six). Behind them, her voice would fade away. A bipolar disorder, aggravated by the suicide of his father and certain addictions, made him almost disappear from the map.
His fall took him to the aforementioned dance academy, where its director, Joaquín San Juan, gave him shelter and protected him. He was there when Bech, who had a special fascination with his music, heard that the guitarist was preparing new songs for a recording. He had not done it for 15 years and, immediately, the idea of making a documentary about it struck him. He went to Madrid, but when he arrived, he discovered a reality that went beyond what he could have imagined: a sick musician in a worrying state, who had practically abandoned a guitar that he wanted to take up again, but that resisted him.
Far from giving up, Bech acknowledges that the fascination he felt for Riqueni pushed him to continue recording. Furthermore, he had the perception that the guitarist wanted to get out of the hole he found himself in, something that they agreed “had to be a two-way thing.” They set about it and the work continued. They had only had sporadic contact in the past, but the relationship began to work. “It was hard at first,” admits Bech. He idealized the idea of recovering his career and he wanted it, but the road was never easy.
The director uses the simile of a boxing match to describe the process: “When it seemed like we were making a comeback, with periods of certain improvement, there was always a blow that forced us to start again. “The past raised many objections to what we were doing: pending cases, the indifference of the industry, relapses or interference,” he says. The documentary covers Riqueni’s time in several expensive centers that did not provide him with improvement: he even fell into depression after the death of his admired Niño Miguel, with whom he shared a room in one of them.
The year 2014 was crucial: a change of doctor and medication along with the retreat to the Sierra de Huelva, where the musician could lead a healthy life, away from everything. In that natural environment, Riqueni miraculously improved to the astonishment of his own doctor, Dr. Leonsegui. In the images of him he is seen calm and happy, recovering his guitar.
The return seemed close. Riqueni made an appearance at the Seville Flamenco Biennial that year and, despite the time that had passed or perhaps because of it, he was received as a hero. But along the way new blows were encountered again in that fight for life. The past took its toll again in the form of pending cases and Riqueni had to go to prison. Contracts and projects are going to waste, such as the concert that was going to inaugurate the 2016 Biennial.
Despite these repeated problems, Bech admits that it never crossed her mind to quit: “I always continued recording, in a different way for a documentary that was already going to be different. “I didn’t want it to be a flop movie and I kept hoping for the full recovery of his career.”
The long time it took to make the documentary—12 years and more than 500 hours recorded—caused the director himself to almost co-star in it, although he defines himself as “a secondary character.” In a sort of making of Orally, he explains the multiple vicissitudes he experienced and the functions or decisions he had to make, which went beyond those of a simple director. Riqueni is aware of all this and expresses his gratitude: “What he has achieved is very strong. He has saved me, he has gotten me out of drinking and he has restored my health,” but, above all, he highlights that it has provided him with the way of life he has.
The guitarist was finally able to see the result of so many years at the screening that took place at the last In-Edit Festival in Barcelona, at the beginning of November, where the film obtained a special mention. “It was very hard,” he admits, “but I liked it.” “I was very bad and I didn’t play anymore. The time in the mountains gave me a lot of peace, but it has taken me ten years to get in shape and recover everything I had lost: the touch, the pulse, the depth, the roundness of the tremolo… ” Regarding music and his ability to compose, he acknowledges that it was always there, but that it was difficult for him to put it into practice.
The guitarist’s stabilization came little by little, with the distrust of the promoters: “We did concerts in Seville and the reviews were excellent, but we couldn’t go beyond those geographical limits,” Bech complains. The songs on the album Maria Luisa Park They were ready to record, but there they found indifference from the industry and they were forced to start alone. Finally, in 2017 the work was released, published by the Universal label, and became one of the most notable albums of that year. Four later he would deliver Inheritancewhich, with flamenco styles, is another example of that compositional brilliance.
On the long road to recovery, they would still encounter a penultimate obstacle, the pandemic. Fortunately, once passed, Riqueni’s career has accumulated a hundred long concerts, which have taken him to international festivals and capitals such as Paris, where he has become a regular, either alone or with the dancer Rocío Molina, who performed him. claimed for his guitar dance trilogy. The director wants to thank her for her support, which is that of a devoted fan, like Estrella Morente, who went to prison to give a concert with him and with whom he has just released a joint album. We cannot forget the unconditional support of Cristina Heeren, patron and architect of the flamenco support foundation that bears his name, without whose contribution perhaps Riqueni’s current stability would not be possible.
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