Manuel Soto Loreto was born in 1878 in Jerez de la Frontera, in the surroundings of the cattle ranches and vineyards where his parents worked.
He would frequent the areas of the Barrio Santiago and San Miguelin Jerez, where he would absorb the flamenco styles of Enrique el Mellizo and other great masters of that era. His main influence was his uncle. Joaquin la Cherna, and Manuel was said to be at his most magical when singing his siguiriyas.
Stories abound of Manuel Torres' strange eccentric habits, as do the legends of this man's magical powers of song; the duende (spirit) he possessed sent people into fits of strange and frenzied behaviour, tearing their shirts into shreds as if possessed by the black sounds of the song. Many stories have been written describing the long juergas (flamenco parties) in which Manuel would sing until his eyes were wild and crazy, his veins bursting from his neck as he tore at his shirt as if helping to release the pent-up suffering of which he was singing. These juergas were known as the "Black Nights" of Manuel Torre and there is no doubt that he was capable of singing with trance inducing results.
On the nights when Manuel Torre found the duende, or the dark sounds, his song would become unbearable, leaving the listener breathless. As if crying his pain through his song, driving it straight deep into the heart, his voice demanded attention, grasping at the listener's emotions with his melancholy lament.
Many stories have been told about Manuel Torre, a man who would use his song only as a means of expressing his emotions. One such legend tells of the day Manuel Torre sang a saeta to the Virgin de la Macarena, bringing the center of Seville to a grinding halt for two hours during the Easter celebrations. It is also said that he had a total disregard for money and although he earned well as a flamenco artiste, he died like so many before him, impoverished and lonely.
By the early twentieth century Manuel Torres had moved from his native Jerez to Seville, where he was contracted to perform at most of the top café cantantes (cafés with live music) although the café scene was not his preferred audience.
Manuel Torre was pure gypsy in every way and his singing was at its most profound when surrounded by only a few friends, and his beloved greyhounds, which would often accompany him to a juerga. Garcia Lorca said that Manuel had more culture in his blood, than anyone he had ever known.
But not everyone shared Lorca's love of the gypsies and their flamenco; one anecdote tells of the concern between Lorca's friends in Granada when news filtered back that the poet was mixing with the likes of Manuel Torre and other unsavoury characters from the flamenco scene.
But most flamenco aficionados consider him to be one of the main protagonists in the preservation of the cantes (flamenco songs) of Jerez de la Frontera and he is still considered to be one of the greatest innovators of flamenco song in history
He was said to have been a womanizer and he had a youthful relationship with Pastora Pavón. His first wife was the dancer La Gamba, with whom he had two sons, Tomas and Juan.
His second wife was Maria Loreta Reyes, with whom he had five daughters, all of whom were active at family flamenco parties, although none of them were professionals. One of these daughters, Tomasa Torre, married the Utrera singer El Perrate, connecting the Torre tree with that of El Pinini’s clan.
Manuel Torre is one of the most important and most discussed singers of the last century, unfortunately there are not many people alive who have witnessed this talent first hand, but he did record a number of discs. Although these Cd's would be far less inspiring compared to a live interpretation in a close juerga type atmosphere, they are an asset of cultural interest, much the same as Manuel Torre himself.
Recommended listening, Cd.
Grabaciones Historicas 1909-1931. Manuel Torre.