Q&A with Jorge "Flaco" Barral, one of the most charismatic and unique artists in Uruguay's early '70s rock and blues scene.

"I think it’s a kind of boomerang. Culture self-nourishes. Literature, especially poetry, has rhythm and rhythm is music; music is also made up of lyrics in the songs. It is almost a loving marriage. The symbiosis of music and literary tradition shook the world, something that reflects in the life and work of Kerouac."

Jorge "Flaco" Barral: The Art To Be Artist

Jorge "Flaco" Barral is one of the most charismatic and unique artists in Uruguay's early '70s rock and blues scene. He had played with highly rated bands s.a. Opus Alfa and Dias De Blues. Multitalented musician (bass, mandolin, guitar, bouzouki...), he played in the 60's on bands as "Opus Alfa", "Bisonte" and "Días de Blues". In 1973 he moved to Europe (Spain) where he played on the progressive rock and folk circles: Enric Herrera, Hilario Camacho, La Rondalla de la Costa...

In 1977 he founded Azahar, publishing "Elixir". On 1980 he left the band with Gustavo Ros to create Azabache . He also dedicated to technical work on Estudios Colores, where were recorded a lot of the first "movida" albums (Siniestro Total, 091, Derribos Arias, Las Vulpes, Glutamato Ye Ye, Alphaville...). In 1985 he joined Labanda (2) in their new stage, with J.-François Andre and Terry Barrios. In 1995 he left them to found "La Destilería".

Interview by Michael Limnios            Special Thanks: Hada Guldris (translation)

How has the Beats and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken? 

You are never sure of what your life would have been in other circumstances ... However, in my family home a lot of American music was played on the short-wave radio, so it was pretty much steeped in (or you could say ‘filled with’) black and white notes, haha…  and I also have a brother four years older than me, also crazy about music, although he is not a musician. I have been very lucky to have always been surrounded by good music and alternative views within our family, so when the counter-culture emerged, I let myself get totally swallowed up in it. I felt like a fish in water. On my personal website, which I’m afraid is quite outdated, I have a quote with a phrase in which I say that today I am ‘post-hippie, post-ego and post-blues’. Inwardly I am aware that inside I am still a hippie; my ego I’m overcoming (although if I still get onstage and perform, I guess it means that I still have one, maybe of the good kind, like cholesterol, hahahaha!), and although I always carry the blues deep within me, I also explore other musical trends.

As for my world view, it totally influenced me (R and B). I continue to believe that we should have a whole lot of love, and not hate between us, and that we could build a more positive, equal and healthy society. As for travelling the world, counterculture taught me not to be afraid, and to countless times: undertake new projects, change cities and start from scratch over and over again, to not deny the past, and find balance in my life and be satisfied with how everything has gone, even if you always think you could have done thousands of things better.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

Well, I have my own definition which will perhaps make its presence felt more in my next album, which I am already working on, with great peace of mind/ or calm… My sound would be the BluesyRagaDombe: a pinch of blues, a smattering of Indian ‘Raga’, seasoned with a little bit of Candombe (music of the enslaved African people who were brought to Uruguay, which has nothing to do with the candomblé.) My musical philosophy tells of my human experiences: earthly love; love, or lack of love, for couples; travel, that is, what you see that leaves an impression or which you enjoy, from which you make story, and also social problems, although I do not want to be a protest composer. Perhaps my creative impulse comes from thinking that a musician cannot be constantly copying, or doing covers, nowadays tribute bands are very common(which I hate, surely many of those in tribute bands have never heard those who they are paying tribute to). This popular ‘cut and paste’ limits a person’s investigation of themselves, of their interior world, and they end up not knowing who they are, musically speaking. This results in a body full of meaningless phrases. I have always, ever since my guitar and I became attached to each other, composed songs, even if I kept them in a drawer.

"How difficult to answer, there are so many things that would have to change ... To change the way our societies are sustained…but we have continuously tried to make those changes, so I mean, that’s nearly utopian. I would say that in many ways we have taken steps backwards." (Photo: Jorge "Flaco" Barral)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open mics, journeys and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

AyyyAyAy! There are so many I’d love to share that surely they wouldn’t let you publish the interview with them all included, hahahaha! ... Well, I will try to share two or three ...hmmmm1) The journey of ‘Days of Blues’(a power-blues trio, which I had in Uruguay) was a very curious one. We’re invited to play support for the support band, and it was to be our first public performance as Days of Blues. We play, and the audience are awestruck. When the second group comes on, the audience begins to shout “Days of Blues!", somewhat disrespectfully but they wanted us to carry on, and then the headline act comes on, and the same thing happens! We couldn't believe that reaction. Seeing that response, we rented a theater, and 10 days later we were doing our first headline show and it sold out! There were people left out on the pavement who couldn’t get in! 2) When I decided to leave the group and come to Spain, they threw me a farewell concert at the Novelty Cinema. To play bass, I always used a very large tortoiseshell pick. Well that day, which was my farewell concert, during the last song, that pick that was almost part of my body, escaped from my fingers and disappeared between the boards of the stage... It is as if a part of me had stayed in Montevideo forever.3) During my first months in Spain, I heard a singer on the radio who surprised me, and I said to my ex-wife, "Wow, how I like this Hilario Camacho, I would love to play with him sometime". I’d moved to Menorca, and was living in a country house, and one summer afternoon, as I was getting ready to go and perform at an outdoor barbecue, there was a knock on the door. I open it, and there’s this character who asks me if I am ‘Flaco’ the skinny musician. I say “yes” and he answers "I'm Hilario Camacho", I almost fell on my ass !!!! I tell him that I'm getting ready to go and play, that I can't receive him right now, and he asks me if he could join me on some songs…Wow! We jumped on the motorbike, went to get his guitar and ended up playing together. He ended up living with me for a few months, we worked on the album La Estrella del Alba and, thanks to him, I now live in Madrid and am grateful that he opened the doors of the Madrid music scene to me. The things that happen on the road!

What do you miss most nowadays of the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future?

I believe, if I’m not mistaken, that we have lost our way. Really very little has been learned from the 1960s / 1970s. Without a doubt, it was the best point in modern music, whether it be called Blues, Rock, Folk, etc. in all their varieties. It was a true creative explosion, a true explosion of subtlety, of melodies both vocal and instrumental, it was amazing! That’s what I miss, that inner strength to express to the world the beautiful, the fucked up, the enjoyment, the love ... that´s what I miss. I miss that people go to a concert to be filled with music, to be filled with journeys, to be filled with sensations and not on their fucking phones taking photos to prove that they had been at this or that concert. I miss culture…they are zombies, they do not know where they are going, or where they come from ... Hopes, mmmmmm I don’t see positive changes, I am unable to glimpse anything. Perhaps the hope is in "world music", which is now permeating general tastes more, but honestly, I see it as very difficult. Our music is in the underground of the underground. I talk a lot with colleagues about the music scene in general, and everyone is worried by these times, and unable, like me to catch a glimpse of something more hopeful. But I am always positive and I know that in the middle of the silence someone will step on a twig and the noise will be immense. I wish for that sound to be loaded with beautiful melodies.

"As for travelling the world, counterculture taught me not to be afraid, and to countless times: undertake new projects, change cities and start from scratch over and over again, to not deny the past, and find balance in my life and be satisfied with how everything has gone, even if you always think you could have done thousands of things better." (Photo: Jorge "Flaco" Barral, RAZA c. late 1970s)

If you could change one thing in the world/people and it would become a reality, what would that be?

How difficult to answer, there are so many things that would have to change ... To change the way our societies are sustained…but we have continuously tried to make those changes, so I mean, that’s nearly utopian. I would say that in many ways we have taken steps backwards.

What touched (emotionally) you from Jack Kerouac? How does the underlying philosophy of "On The Road"?

Of course, what moved me was his freedom, true freedom: ‘I do what I want when I want’, or at least that is what he projects ... I did not meet him in person, hahaha. I think that there was a total break with the establishment, with the rigidity of American families, which translated into the Uruguayan society within which I grew up, which had similar values, though perhaps we were a little more free and with less prejudice. There are a few books at that time that blew our minds, but obviously Kerouac was closest. We all wanted to have experiences and the road was very appetizing; a physical and mental journey, where you leave aside the inconsequential things and you have to live intensely because in a few days or months it will be over and you will have to create a new story/reality. Therefore, he planted the seed of our restless bums. Search! Enjoy the moment! This will never happen again, it’s once in a lifetime! 

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music?

There are so many, an infinite number, but there are some important pillars…

-When you are joining a band, you have to be very careful with your ego. It’s best to learn how to compliment one another’s strengths, because in the long run if there’s one who feels undermined or undervalued, they’ll eventually explode, and they could be a key part of the team; the one that gives that groove to the songs, without whom the songs will lose their charm and the group will sink.-Another: drugs, like anything in excess, lead to ruin.-Never neglect your surroundings, they are as important if not more important than your profession.-Never believe you’re the center of the universe; where once they might have laid a red carpet to welcome you, when you are no longer of interest, they’ll have you enter through the service door.And as for the strictly musical: the most important thing is silence. A second’s simple silence can give a totally unexpected richness to a song. Less is more. We usually fill and fill and, in the end, too many notes can create a cacophony... less is more.

"My musical philosophy tells of my human experiences: earthly love; love, or lack of love, for couples; travel, that is, what you see that leaves an impression or which you enjoy, from which you make story, and also social problems, although I do not want to be a protest composer. Perhaps my creative impulse comes from thinking that a musician cannot be constantly copying, or doing covers, nowadays tribute bands are very common(which I hate, surely many of those in tribute bands have never heard those who they are paying tribute to)." (Photo: Jorge "Flaco" Barral)

What led Latin America in the 1960s to be the center of Folk/Rock enquiry and experimentation?

I think on the one hand we were influenced by the currents that came from the US, England and Europe. May '68 in France, the hippie movement, Indian music brought to us via the Beatles and Ravi Shankar, psychedelia, were all important... but let's not forget the waning of popular folk songs, "the Americas united will never be defeated". Obviously that popular song tradition did not have much to do with me, I placed myself between symphonic rock, power blues with groups and, at a certain level, with folk music. But we were living through very very difficult times which led to dictatorships, so there was much to say, much to change, there was a lot more road to travel.

What is the impact of Rock, Folk & Blues on the literary tradition, and on the socio-cultural implications?

I think it’s a kind of boomerang. Culture self-nourishes. Literature, especially poetry, has rhythm and rhythm is music; music is also made up of lyrics in the songs. It is almost a loving marriage. The symbiosis of music and literary tradition shook the world, something that reflects in the life and work of Kerouac.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine. Where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Woodstock.  I don't think it's necessary to explain why ...

Jorge "Flaco" Barral - Home

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