Obituary: Dolores Jimenez Alcantara

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The Independent Culture
THE SPANISH Civil War lies awkwardly athwart the history of flamenco, seeming to throw up a barrier between the glories of the classical period and what is still misleadingly thought to be a watered-down, commercialised version of a great music, got up for tourists. The reality is more complex and the continuities more secure. No single figure more clearly represented flamenco's ties to the past and its engagement with a new, international audience than Dolores Jimenez Alcantara. "La Nina de la Puebla", as she was known, was still performing in her 90th year; she died after collapsing on stage during a recital.

It was a career which had extended for 70 years. Jimenez won a talent contest in 1929 and rapidly acquired a reputation within Spain for a clarity of diction and flexibility of articulation which remains unique. It is appropriate that the song most closely associated with her is "Los Campanilleros" ("The Bellringers"), since her own delivery, especially when heard at a distance or caught fleetingly through a wall, almost resembled a carillon.

She was not perhaps the most emotionally expressive of flamenco singers but her technical facility and range of repertoire were unsurpassed. In later years, having secured a substantial audience, and aware that her voice was ceding some of its bell-like clarity to a browner, more lived- in tone, she delved ever deeper into cante hondo, the brooding, soulful flamenco of Andalusia.

Like many flamenco singers, Jimenez took her stage name - "The girl from Puebla"- from the village of her birth, in 1909, some few miles from Seville. Sevillanos still believe that cagebirds blinded with hot wire sing sweeter. Jimenez lost her sight by accident, when caustic eyedrops were applied to her newborn eyes, setting up an untreatable infection. Her father, who was the village barber in Puebla de Cazalla and reputed to be a talented singer, arranged for her to be given singing lessons and later for her to be sent to Madrid to study music and, after learning Braille, to pursue the passion for literature which lasted all her life.

Jimenez was a forcible, glamorous presence, fashion-conscious and physically stylish, her blindness undetectable behind tinted glasses and unguessable from her elegantly composed wardrobe. Her film Madre Alegria ("Mother Joy") helped to give flamenco a post-war reputation for glamour and colour, and like Om Kholsoum, the diva of the Arabic world, Jimenez was well-served by radio, her clear, intense voice cutting through atmospherics and crossing national boundaries.

In 1933, she married the singer Luquitas de Marchena (Luca Soto Martin), with whom she had five children, two of whom are now flamenco performers inheriting what was for Jimenez a hard-won comfort with stage performance; initially and instinctively she preferred intimate chamber settings.

Ironically, Jimenez was to have received the Spanish Gold Medal for the Arts from King Juan Carlos this week, underlining a long delay in official recognition of flamenco. The sheer length of her career, her enormous technical range and sheer elegance guarantee her place in the history of European music.

Brian Morton

Dolores Jimenez Alcantara ("La Nina de La Puebla"), singer: born Puebla de Cazalla, Spain July 1909; married 1933 Luca Soto Martin (five children); died Malaga, Spain 14 June 1999.