Mateo's Blog

Tonight’s Debate: two commentaries

February 22, 2008

Hillary versus Obama:  who will it be and who’s better equipped to take on McCain?  I’m a flamenco guitarist—but I’m stepping out here and speaking my mind.  I’m also inviting my close friend,  Cesar Alberto Blanco (from Guatemala), to share his observations.  Me first!

Hillary needed to come up big.  She was very good.  She almost scored a knockout with her closing statement.  I think she also recognized that Liberals finally have two candidates they can really feel good about.  What a luxury!  We are all so sick of dirty politicking—we’re trying to see the “big picture.”  So, don’t take personal shots at your opponent.  Hillary is very qualified, brilliant, and would make a fine president.

Barack Obama is perhaps (or clearly…) less qualified than she.  But he can inspire.  He just seems a truly commited (and very eloquent) man—and he is nice.  I love his wife.  He came off as, probably, a little less “presidential” than Hillary but he, too, was very good.  She’s a fighter, he’s less of that, she has more baggage—he might have a tougher time with McCain.

Bottom line:  Obama’s on a roll and tonight’s debate didn’t do enough to stop that.  Barack Obama is the next President of the United States and—when reality hits home—on day two or three or ten of his term—we’ll all be there with him.  I’m counting on, for once, it won’t be politics as usual.

Alberto writes:

In the past months, most Democrats have been struggling to make up their minds to choose their next party runner for the White House.  They are not to blame since the two options they are given represent the finest the party has produced in the last two elections.

I, too, was puzzled.  Obama’s charisma and uniting message is so alluring and refreshing.  Clinton’s record and experience so reassuring. But, after tonight’s debate, I can safely affirm that Ms. Hillary Clinton has convinced me that she deserves the presidency because after the pandemonium that Bush has created, it will take an experienced and determined leader to clean up the mess.

I like Obama, but we desperately need clear solutions to the nation’s problems.

I have seen in the past two elections people voting their feelings and not their brains and  I think this time will not be different, but I know for sure that whether Obama or Hillary, anyone will be better for America than George Bush.

Hillary es mejor pero creo que Obama va a ganar.

Pumping Nylon in Minneapolis, Minnesota!

February 11, 2008

Recently, I’ve been doing a good deal of teaching from my home base in Minneapolis.  As the temperatures plummet to well below zero (!),  guitar aficionados find themselves cracking a sweat from my Sunday afternoon flamenco-guitar-technique-workout-class.

I just started a technique class for beginners.  It goes from noon until 1:30PM (every Sunday—I almost NEVER cancel the class…) and moves along slowly with great detail shown to the acquisition of proper (por derecho, se dice…) hand positioning in order to execute the myriad techniques required to play flamenco guitar.  These include:  rasgueo, picado, arpegio, alza pua’, tremelo, horquilla as well as left hand positioning.

At 2PM the advanced class begins.  It moves fast, it is fun, it is very lively.  We have palmeros and often a singer.  We do lots of exercises that cover all the above mentioned techniques.  We also play several solo pieces and do cante accompaniment.   I really love leading this group and watching each person’s amazing progress week to week.

I studied with El Entri in Cañarroto, Madrid (Spain) and run the class very closely along the lines of his classes, which he asked me to do.  Although I have studied with several great guitar maestros—I am grateful to each one—I believe his class is the best for the systematic and rapid development of flamenco guitar technique.  Plus, some of the pieces he taught me are great! Lastly, everyone is encouraged to create their own material, or “falsetas,”  in the time honored style of true flamenco.

If you are interested in participating,  either e-mail me at this site or call me at (612) 749-2662.  I welcome you to join us.

Mandragora [email protected] Center: Thank you!!

January 16, 2008

On January 12th we were in concert at the Hopkins Center for the Arts (Hopkins, MN).  There was a huge turnout and many many tango regulars came to support us.  Our heartfelt thanks to each of them.  Their aficion, enthusiasm and friendship is so important to the band.  The evening featured some stunning dance performances by Florencia Taccetti and her partner, Somer Surgit.  The entire time was an enormous high for me.  I can honestly say I live for evenings like this.

Tango is gaining popularity all over the world and it is easy to see why.  I have gone on and on about its merits in other posts—I will only say that playing tango guitar feeds my soul (and not just on empanadas, either).  Along with flamenco, I feel I am tapped in to some of the richest music/dance on earth.

Thank you.

January 2008 Update from Minneapolis, Minnesota

January 8, 2008

Being snowbound in the frigid tundra isn’t soooooooo bad if you have exciting things to do (and heat….).  I’ll be here all month but I’m not stressing about it.  Here’s the latest:

Touareg—I decided to merge Rai Action Collective with Touareg when Malik moved to San Diego.  I do miss Malik a lot but this new group is fantastic!  We do a number of Amir Dyab tunes (Egypt) along with Rai from Algeria and Morocco.  We’re opening the new club called Zahtar (in Eden Prairie’s Lifetime Fitness complex) on January 14th then moving downtown to Martini Blu on Saturday, the 19th.  Do check us out!  And dance!

Mandragora—we’re in concert on Saturday January 12 at the Hopkins Center for the Arts,  a beautiful venue right on Main Street in Downtown Hopkins.  Florencia Taccetti is a world-class dancer from Buenos Aires who will join us along with her partner,  Somer from Turkey via Chicago.  Tix at the door and a 7:30PM start.

Later this month, on January 31st, Northrup Auditorium presents Estampa Porteñas tango show from Buenos Aires.  Mandragora is proud to be part of this show, as well.  A whole evening of activities are planned, starting at 7:30PM.

Lastly,  flamenco dancer Colette Illarde and myself are putting together a “cuadro flamenco” which you may have the good fortune to catch at La Bodega on a Friday evening this month.  Lots of flamenco aficion happening in Minneapolis!  My Sunday afternoon group flamenco guitar class is really taking off, too.  Call [email protected] if you want to get involved.

That’s it.  Thank you to all for your continuing support.  Stay warm, well and dry.

As 2007 Winds Down….

December 26, 2007

….one tends to turn a little reflective.  Looking back.  Looking ahead.  I think I sometimes tend to look back too much and then seek to live strongly in the present.  Looking ahead is not something I obsess about or even think about much—am I a grasshopper?

Sin embargo (I love that word:” notwithstanding.”  Used all the time in Spanish and only in written English, it seems.  To hear it used in a love song always cracks me up.) this has been a wonderful year for me.  I took my 15 year old son to Spain in April for his first time and he LOVED IT.  The Mandragora Tango Band had a couple of very nice tours, made some nice videos and recordings, and more than that, we had tons of fun making music together.

The first Flamenco Guitarathon in Minnesota history (impossible to prove, I know) was a big success as it built some nice bridges between all of us.  I have enjoyed (immensely) accompanying Rachel Milloy as she develops into an amazing flamenco singer.  Accompanying the cante is, to my mind, about as good as it gets anyway.

And so, as 2008 begins—I am excited to finally get a change in our government.  Yes,  but also I’ve a couple of ideas that are still a little vague that I want to pursue.  The first  is: to consciously infuse all my music with my spirituality, for lack of a better word.  Since trekking off to India while still in my teens and seeking through the culture of yoga/meditation/gurus/aryavedia/Sanskrit for two years and then continuing my practices for a dozen or more years after that—well, it does tend to influence one’s thinking.  A dozen years of rock-n-roll on the road tends to wield some influence, too.  A quarter century of flamenco involvement in Spain…. I am consciously trying to put it all together in a meaningful way and to express it in my playing.

Secondly,  I’ve been searching for a way to make one’s daily practice—arpegios, picados, rasgueos, alza pua and all the rest—become a meditation that yields better results in less time, yes, but that also serves as a source of inspiration, joy and relaxation.  This is an on-going process that I’m exploring through my group class in flamenco technique that meets every Sunday and is based upon the teaching of one of my finest mentors:  “el Entri” of Cañaroto, Madrid.

Even by attempting to articulate these processes I feel a step closer to actualizing them.  So 2008 will have its tours and travels and gigs and ups and downs but, I hope, even more than that.  Happy New Year everyone!


November 26, 2007

River of Goods is hosting an exciting evening for World Aids Day with Camp Heartland to benefit youth and children impacted by HIV/AIDS. It will be on Saturday, December 1st, 2007 from 7-10PM and features live music and dance with Rai Action Collective. There will be wine and appetizers and a silent as well as live auction. Admission is open to all and is by donation.

River of Goods is located at 2475 Doswell Ave in St Paul, MN. Doswell is the frontage road at Como Avenue and Hwy 280. Call 651-917-3838 or visit www.river of

Rai is a synthesis of traditional North African rhythms and modalities with Spanish flamenco, hip hop and rhythm and blues. The Collective was formed in 2001 by flamenco guitarist Scott Mateo Davies who sought to more closely examine the roots and influences of flamenco. Through performance of classic works and originals: of Rai, Flamenco, and Middle Eastern music and dance, the Collective seeks to expose the similarities while celebrating the differences between these important cultural traditions. (I found this last paragraph on google. The group has been inactive for 2 years and is reforming for this very special event.)

This will be a very special evening and I strongly encourage everyone to come out and catch this reunion of talented musicians from all over the world.  The performance space is lovely and the acoustics should be great!


November 16, 2007

On music:  “Music is more than a wife, because you can divorce a wife, but you can’t divorce music.  When you marry music, she’s your love forever, and you’ll go to the grave with her.”

Accordion vs Bandoneon: “The accordion has an acid sound, a sharp sound.  It’s a very happy instrument.  The bandoneon has a velvet sound, a religious sound.  It was  made to play sad music.”

Bird:  “Some people tell me that when I play…I sound like Charlie Parker.  That comes from the way I feel the music.”

Swing:  “Swing is everything!  If you don’t have swing in music you have nothing.  And the tango in itself doesn’t have swing.  No matter the context, the tango must express ‘camorra,’ which is how its roots are preserved.”  ‘Camorra’ is a fight, quarrel, rumble.

Revolution in tango:  “When the water doesn’t run, it rottens.  Tango that doesn’t run, it rottens.  I have a great respect for the old tango, the primitive tango.  But I must do it in my own way.”


November 8, 2007

I have just learned of the passing of Donn Pohren.  He was, besides being an extremely charming and brilliant man, an important author and flamenco aficionado.  His books include “The Art of Flamenco”,  “Lives and Legends of Flamenco”, “A Way of Life”, and “Paco de Lucia and Family”, among others.  Although born in Minneapolis, MN he lived in Spain since 1953 and was married to dancer Luisa Maravilla.  To my knowledge, they had one daughter.  He was named “flamencologist” by the Catedra de Flamencologia in Jerez de Frontera and is the only non-Spaniard to have received this honor.  He is the person most closely associated with the Moron de Frontera/Diego del Gastor scene as he owned and ran a finca there for eight years.

I met him on one of my first trips to Madrid, at Cafe Silverio in Malasaña.  He invited me to play tennis with him and we did, a few times.  We also shared wine and tapas and I listened carefully to his stories.

He died on November 5th, 2007 and his loss will be deeply felt by many.  I invite readers of this post to send their thoughts and reminiscences.  Rest in peace, Donn Pohren.


November 3, 2007

Presented by the Minnesota Guitar Society.

Friday December 7th, 2007 at 8 o’clock PM

Sundin Hall on the Hamline University campus in St. Paul

Call 612-677-1151 for tickets and reservations (they are always reasonably priced….)

See the Guitar Society’s web page for bios and more information (

I’ve been asked to help coordinate this unique event. I’m just starting to focus on it now and I surely welcome any input from YOU, the public, as to what you’d like to see/hear. For example, how about a big bulerias jam with all 6 guitarists, palmeros and singer on stage at once? There will be no dancing as Sundin’s Hall doesn’t allow it. Fantastic acoustics and great sight lines guarantee an exciting evening of flamenco. Hasta prontito!


October 27, 2007

Red wine—I like big, juicy, fruity, intense reds like malbec, bonarda and garnacha.  Valdepeñas reds are also perfect (Señorio de Llanos is my favorite).

White wine—good to add a white for every 3-4 reds.  White rioja is great and inexpensive.  Nothing too sweet—albariño if you must.

Brandy—a cheap and intense Spanish brandy like Magno or Fundador.  Don’t be stingy with it; a half bottle or more for every 4 bottles of wine.

Fruits—ripe and juicy fruit like peaches, cherries and mangoes.  Oranges of course.  Chop the fruit up finely and toss it in.

Orange juice—instead of sugar if it needs sweetening.  Nothing like fresh-squeezed!

Cinnamon—stick or powdered, just a little.

That’s it.  Serve it cold and/or over ice and with a little sparkling water if you want effervescence.  We made it almost everyday this past summer and it puts such a nice glow on a beautiful day.   We’re making it tomorrow—that’s the inspiration for this post—and we’ll continue right on through the winter.  Y porque no?  (I can’t figure how to type that upside down question mark)