Manuel Soto Sordera was born in 1927 in the Barrio Santiago, the very core of the gypsy population in Jerez de la Frontera.
He was born in a Casa de Vecino, or tenement block, which were typical dwellings for the underprivileged, where family life was centered on a courtyard that was shared by ten or fifteen families, most commonly gypsy.
These patios were used for communal cooking, where three or four families would eat out of the same stew pot, which would contain the most basic of foods consisting of beans and vegetables and the odd scrap of meat when they were flush. There would also be a communal toilet and washing area, and the patio or courtyard would be the center of family life. Half naked children would cling to their mothers whilst the men would be doing anything from cheering fighting cocks in one corner to a drunken gypsy juerga in another.
El Sordera’s childhood was spent between the squalor of the casa de vecino in the winter, and on the many farms that surround Jerez de la Frontera where his father and other family members worked during the summer.
It was at the nightly juergas that were held in the farm workers dwellings that a young Manuel began to learn the cantes from a distant past. These places were the breeding grounds for many of the flamenco styles that we know today.
Laborers would ease their worries with wine and cante, occasionally accompanied by guitar but most often only by the rapping of knuckles, clapping, and boisterous jaleo.
After he completed his military service El Sordera pursued a career as a flamenco artist and he began to perform in the bodegas and bars of Jerez, as well as the feria where he would rub shoulders with Tio Borrico, and Terremoto de Jerez.
From here he went to Seville where he knew he could earn a more steady income, performing at El Guarjiro, a popular flamenco tablao at that time. By the mid nineteen fifty’s he was working in the tablao El Duende, in Madrid, but his biggest break came when Manolo Caracol hired him for his exclusive club Los Canasteros. At this time, Madrid had a very illustrious flamenco scene and many of the struggling Andalucían artists headed for the capital to earn a decent living.
After this his career took off and he became one of the top cantaores of his time, excelling with bulerias and the siguiriyas of Paco la Luz, as well as his Fandangos de Gloria.
He appeared at many of the flamenco festivals sharing the bill with artistes such as Camarón de la Isla and El Lebrijano, and he was one of the preferred singers of the great dancer El Farruco. His bulerias were powerfully explosive, the most profound, shuddering gypsy cante, and his vibrant stomping tangos, in which his voice winds around the driving rhythm, were sung from the heart and gut.
El Sordera had a vast repertoire of cante flamenco, which has been preserved by his sons Vicente Soto, José Soto Sordita, Enrique and Manuel Soto and his nephew José Mercé.
In the barrio Santiago in Jerez de la Frontera there is an area known as
Carpenteros, which is where the Association Cultural Flamenca de Manuel Soto Sordera can also be found. This association was founded by a group of artistes, many of whom were family members of the late singer, and was inaugurated by Manuel Soto in the year 2000, but since his death in 2001 the peña is looked after by his son, Jose Soto Sordita.
A lot of the areas flamenco activity takes place here and during Christmas they organize the popular and very traditional flamenco zambomba festival.
Recommended viewing and listening.
Dvd. Rito y Goegrafía del Cante vol 11.
Cd. Grands Cantaores du Flamenco, vol 16.
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