Tomas el Nitri
Tomas el Nitri, considered one of the most important singers in the history of the cante flamenco, was born in Arcos de la Frontera some time around 1830 and died in 1890.
There are as many myths as there are question marks surrounding el Nitri`s life, stories like the one of his demise after choking on his own blood while performing a particularly difficult siguiriya or the mystery surrounding the golden key he received in 1862.
He lived through flamenco’s golden age and is remembered as being an excellent siguiriyero, a singer of the siguiriya.
He was a pupil and cousin of El Fillo who taught him the secrets of cante jondo, but this is not all that el Fillo shared with el Nitri. The legend states that when El Fillo died, his nephew Tomas took up with Maria la Andonda, El Fillo`s widow.
This flamenco legend was an eccentric gypsy who was prone to frequent black moods, a change in his personality that made him want to chant the deep mournful cries of the gypsy siguiriya.
Tomas el Nitri`s moods of depression are said to have greatly enhanced his style; when down, he would sing siguiriyas, and when he was high, he would sing the bulerias.
El Nitri was an adversary of, and constantly compared to, Silverio Franconetti, another siguiriyero of great worth at the time, and their rivalry was infamous. El Nitri is said to never have sung in front of Franconetti, a non-gypsy, so as not to bequeath him with one shred of his knowledge of the gypsy cante. He was also said to have scorned the commercial flamenco scene that was taking place in the Café Cantantes. He was a gypsy who felt strongly the need for the open skies and spent his days wandering from one place to another singing his cante, which was simply the way in which he expressed his emotions.
There is only one picture in existence of El Nitri, which was taken around 1865, and it shows him holding the mysterious Llave de Oro del Cante, a golden key awarded for outstanding contribution to the art of the flamenco song. This was the first key of its kind to be presented and was supposedly handed over in the bar El Sin Techo, in Málaga – although there is no concrete evidence that this actually took place. There is another theory that the event took place in Jerez de la Frontera.
The only thing which seems for sure about Tomas el Nitri’s life is the amount of confusion that surrounds it. There is another biography of El Nitri’s life, based on the supposed discovery of his birth and baptism certificates, which totally contradicts this version. This, however, is also the most commonly trusted account of his life.
The other story says that El Nitri was in fact born in 1863 and died in the 1900s, which would make it impossible for him to have known or learned directly from el Fillo, or have been a serious rival of Franconetti. It also dismisses the possibility of him receiving the golden key in 1862, a year before his birth,
Juan Talega was probably one of the best interpreters of el Nitri`s siguiriyas, which he learnt from his father, Augustín Talega, who in turn had heard el Nitri perform them. Juan Talega is said to have dismissed the latter version of el Nitri`s life, and his family are considered as a reliable source of knowledge concerning this period of flamenco’s history.