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Riqueni, portrait of the flamenco guitarist who came out of the drinking pit to return to music

2023-12-08T19:27:52.674Z

Highlights: Riqueni, portrait of the flamenco guitarist who came out of the drinking pit to return to music. A documentary collects the 12 years of the Sevillian artist's struggle against his illness with its ups and downs and a process of overcoming. The Lope de Vega Theatre in Seville hosted a special concert last February. The film has been presented at the recent Seville European Film Festival, which ended on November 29. The documentary recounts Riqueni's time in several expensive centers that did not provide him with improvement.


A documentary collects the 12 years of the Sevillian artist's struggle against his illness with its ups and downs and a process of overcoming


The Lope de Vega Theatre in Seville hosted a special concert last February. The Sevillian guitarist Rafael Riqueni was celebrating his 45 years in the profession. On the faces of the devotees in attendance, a greater celebration was perceived: that of seeing and enjoying the artist fully recovered. These are the first images of the documentary that bears his name and covers his last 12 years of life, the story of a process of overcoming that cannot be understood without the help of music.

From the brilliance of these images, we go back to the humble dependence of the teachers of the Amor de Dios Dance Academy, in Madrid: Riqueni organizes his belongings and explains to the camera that the room is not only his, but that "he sleeps many nights there". It was the year 2011, and the time that has 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 with his precocity and creativity. He won the two main national flamenco guitar concerts, in Jerez and in Cordoba, when he was only 14 years old. In just a decade he delivered recordings that would become cult works: Juego de niños (1986), Mi tiempo (1990), Suite Sevilla (with José María Gallardo del Rey, 1992), and Alcázar de Cristal (1996). After them, his voice would fade. A bipolar disorder, aggravated by his father's suicide and certain addictions, made him almost disappear from the map.

Rafael Riqueni, on a bench in the Sevillian town of Gines, on November 28. Alejandro Ruesga

His fall took him to the aforementioned dance academy, where its director, Joaquín San Juan, gave him shelter and protection. He was there when Bech, who was particularly fascinated by his music, heard the guitarist preparing new songs for a recording. He hadn't done it for 15 years, and he immediately got the idea of making a documentary about it. He went to Madrid, but when he arrived, he discovered a reality that surpassed imagination: 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 admits that the fascination he felt for Riqueni pushed him to continue recording. In addition, he had the perception that the guitarist wanted to get out of the hole he was in, something that they agreed "had to be a matter of two". 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," Bech admits. He idealized with the idea of getting his career back and he wanted to, but the road was never easy."

The director uses the simile of a boxing match to describe the process: "When it seemed that we were coming back, with periods of certain improvement, there was always a blow that forced us to start again. In the past, there were a lot of objections to what we were doing: pending cases, the indifference of the industry, relapses or interference," he says. The documentary recounts Riqueni's time in several expensive centers that did not provide him with improvement: he even fell into a depression after the death of his admired Niño Miguel, with whom he shared a room in one of them.

Image by 'Riqueni'.

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, he is seen calm and happy, recovering his guitar.

The return seemed near. Riqueni made an appearance at the Seville Flamenco Biennial that year and, despite the time that had elapsed or perhaps because of it, he was received as a hero. But along the way, new blows were crossed 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 being ruined, such as the concert with which he was going to inaugurate the 2016 Biennial.

Despite these repeated problems, Bech admits that it never crossed his mind to quit: "I always kept shooting, in a different way for a documentary that was already going to be different. I didn't want it to be a film of a flop and I held out hope for a full recovery of his career."

The long time spent making the documentary – 12 years and more than 500 hours recorded – meant that the director himself almost co-starred in it, although he defines himself as "a secondary character". In a sort of oral making-of, 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. It has saved me, it has taken me out of drinking and it has restored my health", but, above all, he stresses that it has provided him with the way of life he has.

Riqueni, portrayed in the Sevillian town of Gines, on November 28. Alejandro Ruesga

The guitarist was finally able to see the result of so many years in the screening that took place at the last In-Edit Festival in Barcelona, at the beginning of November, where the film won a special mention. "It was very hard," he admits, "but I liked it." "I was very sick and I didn't play anymore. The time in the mountains gave me a lot of peace of mind, 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 admits that it was always there, but that it was difficult for him to put it into practice.

The stabilization of the guitarist was coming 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," complains Bech. The songs on María Luisa's album Parque were ready to be recorded, but there they found the indifference of the industry and were forced to start on their own. Finally, in 2017 the work was released, published by the Universal label, and became one of the most outstanding albums of that year. Four years later, he delivered Herencia, which, 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 it was over, Riqueni's career accumulated a hundred long concerts, which have taken him to international festivals and capitals such as Paris, where he has become a regular, either solo or with the dancer Rocío Molina, who claimed him for her trilogy of dance for the guitar. The director wants to thank her for her support, which is that of a devoted fan, as is 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 foundation to support flamenco that bears her name, without whose contribution perhaps Riqueni's current stability would not be possible.

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Source: elparis

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