Enneagram & Music: Manuel Agujetas

If you ask a flamenco lover who was the greatest cantaor (singer) of the last four decades, he/she will probably answer either Camarón or Enrique Morente. If, however, you ask him/her who best personified what flamenco is all about, the answer would probably be Manuel Agujetas.

That, of course, if such a person was a real flamenco lover. Although Agujetas was as much of a legend as the other two personalities mentioned in the above paragraph, he wasn’t nearly as known to the general public. And a big part of that was due to his uncompromising attitude towards his art.

But an equally important reason were his frequently stinging remarks towards any flamenco artist who was not up to his very high standards, or who he saw as being removed from the essence of the art. (Which for him was basically everyone, including Camarón, Paco de Lucía and Carmen Amaya.)

Agujetas’ perspectives in regards to both his art and his fellow musicians made him, until the end, a true outsider in the already small world of flamenco. And I believe that can be much better understood with our current knowledge of the instincts and passions of the Enneagram.

put yourself where I can see you

First of all, he was most likely a type Four in this system. I’ve talked about another musician of this type in this series (Leonard Cohen, who was certainly of a different subtype), but I think it’s relevant to highlight the importance that Fours place on expressing themselves and finding a unique identity.

These perceived needs come, in great part, from feelings of pain and inadequacy that usually manifest themselves very early on in these people’s lives, and that are directly related to type Four’s characteristic passion of envy.

As we know, envy (unlike pride or anger) is not the most socially acceptable of emotions, and this may be one of the reasons why each of the three Four subtypes can be, on the surface, so different from one another. (Even knowing how to express envy is an art form in itself!)

Some deal with their pain by constantly conveying an air of melancholy, as is the case for the Social Fours; others tend to be more masochist, internalizing much of their pain, as is the case for many Self-Preservation Fours; and others tend to act aggressively in the face of it.

The latter is the case of the Sexual Fours, and I think Manuel Agujetas was a very good example of this subtype. (Although “good” is hardly a word used to talk about these people, as it’ll become clear in the next paragraphs.)

the want couldn’t be hidden anymore

Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate a Sexual Four from the other two Fours is how outwardly competitive they are, and how their bigger assertiveness often turns into downright aggressive behaviors. Which, very often, are expressed in a generalized lack of concern for other people’s feelings.

I’d even argue that people from this subtype are strongly inclined towards being narcissists, and of the most difficult type to deal with. There is often a sense of entitlement that leads them to offend and attack anyone who they perceive as a menace to their ambitions.

But things can get kind of tricky here, because they’re still Fours after all. What I mean by that is that they won’t always admit to others (and sometimes even to themselves) that their ambitions are also related to common measures of success, such as being rich and/or famous.

They may want very much to enjoy all of those things, but at the same time they want to be above all of that (or at least that’s the image they most often present to others). So, instead, what they aim for — and what they usually brag about — is distinction and prestige.

Since, in their minds, most people wouldn’t be able to understand them anyway (and if they were, a Sexual Four would probably think that he/she is doing something wrong), there’s an underlying fear that being popular equals casting pearls to swine.

But they do want to be the best and — perhaps even better than that — the only ones at what they do.

To a certain extent, this can be said about any type Four (as I’ve said, they all want to develop a unique identity), but it’s even more so for those whose dominant instinct is Sexual. And, the way I see it, this is where Agujetas’ defense of more traditional palos (the different variations of flamenco styles) comes in.

to whom will I speak of my troubles?

Of course, we can’t ignore the fact that, like many gypsies from Andalusia, there was a whole tradition of flamenco in Manuel’s family, and his father (who, because of his son, would become known as Agujetas “el Viejo”, or “the Old One”) was a very respected and accomplished cantaor in his own right.

Father and son

Still, we must also take into account that Manuel Agujetas rose to prominence in the seventies, which were times of drastic changes in flamenco, marked by increasing levels of experimentation. (Of which the most emblematic example is Camarón’s 1979 album La leyenda del tiempo.)

But Agujetas — with the exception of his fascinating 1979 album with former Smash guitarist Gualberto on sitar — would prefer to keep himself apart from all those trends and (supposed) innovations.

Instead, he chose to go even deeper into the tradition of what is called cante jondo (“deep singing”), which is considered a purer and, consequently, less easily digestible type of singing.

Because of this, you won’t find Agujetas performing an excessive amount of tangos (one of the most popular palos, and always a staple in the repertoire of those who aim to reach larger audiences), but you’ll find plenty of seguiriyas, soleares and martinetes.

He and his singing were anything but ordinary, which certainly led to many lost opportunities, but also gained him an unequaled amount of respect from die-hard flamenco fans.

He, perhaps more than anyone else, knew that flamenco was never supposed to be that popular in the first place, because it’s much more than just another style of music: it’s an expression of the suffering of a people who have been discriminated a lot throughout history. This is no fluffy stuff.

the bird sings in the cage because he doesn’t know how to cry

El Agujetas being interviewed a few months before his death, in 2015 (photograph by Juan Carlos Toro)

This perspective, however limiting it might seem to most people, can also be liberating. Being true to himself was what allowed Agujetas to reach places most other cantaores could only dream of, making him the most consummate expression of the ever-elusive duende.

For those not familiarized with the word duende, in the context of flamenco it’s used to talk about those moments when an artist is totally absorbed in his/her performance, almost as if he/she was possessed. (There are many parallels between this and what psychologists today call flow.)

There is actually a big irony here, because Agujetas himself never believed in the duende in the first place. I know that what I’m about to say is a total cliché, but he was a true force of nature. He didn’t need to resort to altered states of being to give his best, because he lived and breathed flamenco even in his dreams.

So radical was his approach to singing that there was no distinction for him between his art and his life. Which is why, despite his many accolades and the respect he gathered not only in Spain, but also (maybe even more so) in other countries, he never became complacent about what he achieved.

He actually preferred to live a very austere life, and I suspect that at least part of that was because he was secretly afraid (as many Fours are) of losing his edge by allowing himself to become too happy for his own good:

He who sings the best is the one who has suffered the most; he who hasn’t suffered cannot know how to sing. Such is life.

How much suffering it took to get where he aspired to, only he knew. But somehow he always gave the impression that it was all worth it, and he probably wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.