Jose “Chuscales” Valle Fajardo grew up in a time of turmoil for Gypsies in Spain. The country was ruled by Francisco Franco, a Spanish military leader in power from 1939 to 1975, who persecuted Gypsies, also known as Roma.
But Fajardo and his family were able dodge Franco’s harassment. They felt safe at their home in Ganada, built into a cave, which was customary for Gypsies during that time. And it was in that home full of extended family where Fajardo, at the age of 6, picked up a guitar and learned to play during lessons from uncles and other local guitarists who lived or performed in the area.
The family’s cave, in the hilltop neighborhood of Sacramonte that now serves as a tourist attraction, is where he gained not only his musical knowledge, but most of his education.
Fajardo, 57, a renowned flamenco guitarist, has lived in Santa Fe for the past 13 years and plays frequently at local hotels and restaurants. Sometimes he’s accompanied by his wife, Mina, a flamenco dancer, and the couple’s four children.
His nickname, Chuscales, is a word in Spanish Caló, a language spoken by Gypsies, which means “the crunchy part of a loaf of bread.” When Fajardo was a boy, he said, his grandfather saw him taking some bread from the oven and called him “chusco,” short for chuscales. Since then, friends and family have called him “Chuscales,” which he also uses as his stage name.
Before Farjardo picked up the guitar, there was a short phase in his childhood when he wanted to be a bullfighter. He even had a custom-made matador outfit, he said. His father was a bullfighting enthusiast who had befriended many matadors.
But once he began learning to play the guitar, he took his lessons seriously. Still, he describes that time in his life as more of a party.
“People would show up [at the cave] in the morning and stay into the night,” he said in Spanish. “They would come dancing and drinking whiskey or wine, and there was food, too. It was there where I learned [to play the guitar]. In that room, there was two guitarists, two dancers and two singers, and everyone would be smoking, drinking and all closed up, because the cave didn’t have any windows.”
Fajardo began dedicating all his time to the guitar at age 12, when he dropped out of school.
During his grade-school years, he said, teachers were strict and would discipline students by hitting them with rulers. His teacher wouldn’t even allow him to use the restroom, he said, and one time he wet himself in class. His teacher punished him with a whack of the ruler on his hands. So the next time he needed to use the restroom and wasn’t permitted, he said, he got up and ran to his house.
“My dad saw me coming into the house and asked me why I wasn’t in school,” he said. “I told him, ‘Because I don’t want to pee on myself again.’ ”
His father gave him an option of leaving school but said he had to pick up the guitar and practice every day. Fajardo said he never went back to school.
“Every day, we would learn from each other,” he said.
By his 20s, Fajardo was on concert tours, traveling across the world with flamenco groups. He played in countries across Europe and Canada, where he lived for 10 years while he played with a troupe.
About 16 years ago, Fajardo went to a flamenco show in New York, where Mina, a renowned dancer, was performing. After the show, he said, they both attended a party, and a year later they were married. Mina Fajardo was born in Japan, where she worked as a nurse while she studied dancing.
After they married, the couple lived in New York for a few years and then decided to move to Santa Fe, just months before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Fajardo said he had always liked Santa Fe and had made friends here whenever he came to town with the dance company from Canada.
Now, with four children to raise, he said, the couple have little time to go on tours.
“Before, I would be able to practice from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.,” he said. “Now I can barely can get 10 minutes in.”
His children, three boys and one girl, also perform in his shows. And much like his family’s cave in Spain, his garage has become the family’s studio, where they practice together and prepare for performances.
“A lot of people don’t have my luck to grow up in the caves, learning flamenco in a Gypsy family where the music comes from tradition to tradition, from legend to legend,” Farjardo says in a biography on his website. “I thank God I have been around such great musicians all my life.”
Contact Uriel J. Garcia at 986-3062 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ujohnnyg.