Nicaragua: Biography of José Miguel Flores
I spent quite a bit of time last year in Diriamba. On two occasions I met with a twenty-something musician and artisan of masks named Marlon Vega (above) in order to interview him about the history of the music and instrument which have accompanied the traditional street dance El Toro Huaco for as long as anyone can remember. He is the current and only interpreter of its music in Diriamba.
Marlon was very generous with his time and made a special effort to let me record him performing the nine sones or melodies that accompany the dance’s choreography. He also allowed me to meticulously photograph his instrument–the pipe and tabor (“pito y tambor”), a small duct flute with two holes played by the left hand and a small drum played by the right–the Nicaraguan version of an instrument which originated in Medieval Europe and was brought over by the Spanish during the colonial era, which may have, in fact, already been played (or a version thereof) in pre-columbian America by indigenous populations.
During the second of our two meetings, Marlon introduced me to his grandfather, José Flores (below), a man in his nineties, who had taught him how to play the pipe and tabor, as well as the music to El Toro Huaco. As I was asking about his grandfather and his teacher, Marlon gave me a copy of a short biography he had helped put together at the government’s request for the purpose of trying to get don José a pension.
Here is an English translation of the biography:
José Miguel Flores was born in Masatepe on March 19, 1925. His parents were Benigna Flores, homemaker, and Macario Romero, artisan; both are originally from Diriamba.
Before returning to their native city, his parents were responsible for looking after the only farm in Masatepe, which was the property of Mr. Gerardo Gonzales. They looked after it for many years.
At the age of seven, his parents decided to return to Diriamba, because their job at the farm had come to an end. His godmother doña Cora Hervir provided a home for them in the Francisco Mena neighborhood for a short period of time until they could find a house of their own. They settled nearby, where the Instituto Pedagógico of Diriamba was once located, the property of which had no owner at the time, and which eventually came to be owned by the city. The latter was the reason they purchased a small lot near the former electric plant, once owned by a Ms. Odilia Ramos, who sold the lot to them for 25 córdobas oro (in currency of the period), and where they lived approximately twenty-five years.
At the age of nine, don José Flores began to take part in cultural events, and involved himself in the traditional street dance El Toro Huaco. Its majordomo at the time was Mr. Carlos Pio, who lived two blocks east of the Church of Saint Sebastian.
Throughout the [known] history of El Toro Huaco, there have been three notable musicians: don Pio Aguirre, don Saturnino Rodrigues [popularly known as Tuním], and don José Flores. At the age of ninety, don Saturnino, still performing in the street dance, accepted don José as a student and began a three-year long period of passing on the tradition of playing the nine sones of El Toro Huaco.
During that time, don José’s father decided to begin carving, once again, statuettes of characters from El Güegüense [another traditional street dance] as a way of earning a living. It is from his father that he learned the woodcarving trade, apart from being a musician of El Toro Huaco.
At the age of fifteen, he met his future wife, doña Petrona Alvarez, at which time he left his parents’ home and went to live with her in the Cementerio neighborhood, located one-and-a-half blocks east of the old cemetery entrance. There they raised ten children: Rafael, Petronila, Duilio, Santiago, Pedro, Sergio, Teresa, José, Rafael, and Xiomara.
At the age of eighty-three, don José was diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure, infirmities which prevented him from continuing to participate as a traditional musician in the feast day celebrations of Saint Sebastian. Yet his work as an artisan had yielded many fruits through his little workshop named El Güegüense, which has been maintained by generation after generation of his children for more than eighty-seven years. Even a grandchild by the name of Marlon Vega became interested in learning the sones of El Toro Huaco. To date, Marlon has participated as a musician in the celebrations of Diriamba’s patron saint for four years.
The Flores family, which is known affectionately in Diriamba as Los Mascaritas [The Mask Makers], gives thanks to God keeping their father [don José] alive.
For his pioneering work as an artisan, don Jose Flores has received countless recognitions from various institutions, including by the National Institute of Culture, “Craftsman Carver of Masks of El Güegüense, given December 4, 2010,” among others.