José Manuel Caballero Bonald - poet, and a few other things - has just received the Cervantes Prize for literature. Nobody questions his right to this honor, indeed it is long overdue. But in the many pages of the prize text, I notice an absence: they fail to mention that Caballero Bonald once ran a record company. And one of the best in Spain.
Bonald never tried to hide the music-industry facet of his career, which he mentions in the second volume of his memoirs. Moreover his name appears - as producer, translator, lyricist - in the credits of some important albums of the 1970s. He was the visible head of a progressive label, Pauta, as well as an employee of a multinational, Ariola, which was proud to have him in its service.
Our rightwing media do not love the recording industry, and perhaps someone decided this was a stain on his curriculum. Worse: unmentionable. The text does, however, recognize Bonald as an authority on flamenco. His monumental 1968 Archive of Flamenco Song contained recordings from the genre, which does not always welcome outsiders with open arms. It was released by Vergara, the gateway through which the German firm Ariola found a market niche in Spain. Its director, Ramón Segura, showed fine flair in hiring Caballero Bonald as flamenco advisor.
Our rightwing media do not love the recording industry, and perhaps someone decided this was a stain on his curriculum
In fact, Caballero Bonald worked as a general talent-spotter, operating across musical genres. In 1973, he was responsible for bringing Luis Eduardo Aute back to the world of vinyl, after a negative experience at RCA. At Ariola they accepted the neo-troubadour's conditions: he refused to perform or do any promotional work beyond a few interviews.
Nowadays, I doubt anyone would get a contract with a major label under such conditions, which Aute stuck to until 1978. As Aute remembers it, Caballero Bonald's job as producer was even more improbable: "He pushed you to experiment, to make less commercial records. And my projects were already far enough out on a limb." The same sort of free-and-easy tolerance helped Vainica Doble on her album Heliotropo.
The Jérez-born poet was involved in the creation of Pauta, one of several Spanish labels that followed in the wake of Gong, Gonzalo García-Pelayo's venture with Movieplay. In many ways, Pauta was the most exquisite of them all. Carefully designed jackets that opened, with a matt finish, instead of the plastic laminate that reigned in those days. And a musical policy that, we must suppose, reflected Caballero Bonald's own tastes: singer-songwriters, songs in regional languages, flamenco, anthologies.
He stubbornly resisted, I am told, a jackass operation: to lend credibility to Miguel Bosé, then an Ariola artist, they tried to cook up a Bosé album for Pauta. But Bonald could not imagine such a bizarre genetic experiment in the company of María del Mar Bonet, Manuel Gerena, Aguaviva and El Sordera.
I first met Bonald at Ariola. He had no office of his own: the daily business was run by Charo García, a dynamo of a woman. The label's serious image was only relative. It was there they cooked up the hilarious potpourri of Forgesound, whose caricature of our country's tacky musical underwear has lasted longer than we could have imagined. It featured many of the firm's "stars:" Aute, Rosa León, Teddy Bautista, Julia León.
Caballero Bonald seemed born for the record business. If you were in that business, you assumed you had to expend a good deal of your energy in getting adequately paid, something never to be taken for granted in that crooked milieu. On the subject of writer Paul Bowles, Bonald recently related an anecdote that only a veteran of the recording industry would properly understand: "In the Bertolucci film The Sheltering Sky there are some touches of old music - an Arabic-Andalusian strain - that were recovered from oblivion partly by my own efforts." He explains that he stayed in the cinema until the very end of the credits, just to check his name appeared there. A poet, yes, but far from a fool.