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Yaiza Socorro - Photographer

Blas Sanchez, a life of ingenuity and adventure

Blas Sanchez Hernández, musician, sculptor, draftsman, poet. Interview conducted by @loretosocorro

Ingenio was the land where this restless and sensitive man was born. After years of absence, he decided to return to stay and support, through the foundation that bears his name, those who come to his house, which is also a museum full of stories.

We ring the bell pulling a thin rope and he comes out to greet us with a generous smile.

I go to bed at one or two in the morning, sleep a little and work again. I don't stop… I get up early, have a coffee and put on the oven.

We entered a room-workshop full of molded clay busts of illustrious figures from Ingenio and the world. Blas shows us the latest work he has done with his students, to raise funds against breast and prostate cancer.

We made these images of the face of Christ with these silicone molds: we fill it with plaster and that's it, a bit of fabric inside, a hook to hang it and I sign it. I teach all this to my students and we do it to help.

Blas has published his drawings in books but he has also painted and experimented in various ways. I ask him about some paintings that look like dreams.

I used wall paint, a man gave me cardboard that I was going to throw away and in one night I painted all this.

Yes, they are dreams that I have. All this -shows us more drawings on the table- it is made with octopus ink.

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Do you remember your first guitar?

I still have it. It was a robbery I did as a child, when I was six years old. The teacher found out and came to ask me for explanations and I told him: “I have not stolen Don José; when an instrument does not have strings, it is like a camel without legs” The man took me in front of the whole class and said that whoever steals a guitar, when he is six years old, is because he will be a guitarist: “Blasito,” said the teacher, “the guitar is yours” With that guitar I toured the whole world. She lived my joys and sorrows: they cut her ropes, but here she is still with me.

Blas grabs the thirteen-string harp guitar and fills the house with music never heard before.

I improvise. I devised this instrument when I was accompanying Neruda. It was for three years accompanying him, without stopping acting with my group of shows.

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Apart from inventing the harp guitar, he also has his own method...

The method is called Y+. I developed it in the 90's and it is the result of years of teaching and research, to facilitate the learning of music.

What was Blas like as a child?

I always liked music, since I was little I already composed.

I was twelve years old and, since I didn't swear, the priest thought I must have a vocation and took me to the seminary in Tafira; after three months, the prior ordered me to undergo a consciousness test, of course I was a beast -laughs mischievously- and I didn't pass it...

What kind of test was that Blas?

It was a question. They tell me: “Blasito, look, there is a lady who is downstairs sweeping the patio, what do you prefer, legs or a broom?” As a human being, I wasn't going to say the broom… Well, after the answer they phoned: raca ran raca ran -makes the gesture as if using an old telephone- and I hear people say: "This child has no vocation, we have given him an ecclesiastical test, I don't know what... and Blasito is carnal"

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And back to Ingenuity?

No, no… listen: the priest comes in a pirate and starts talking to me. What if they told him that I only play the guitar in the seminar… and he asks me about the test and paaasss…; he gave me a blow that… Then he took me in the car to the bishopric, in Plaza de Santa Ana. As I was crying a nun -Sor Asunción-, he asked me and I told him everything. Later I refused to go back to Ingenio and she told her: “I'm not going back to Ingenio to pick nettles, I want to study, I want to be a character”.

So it was easy to stay to study?

My parents agreed to let me go to boarding school. It was an adventure: as the priest said that I knew how to do everything, they asked me if he also played the organ and we said yes.

And did you know how to play it?

Lie. I had never seen an organ, nor did I know what it was, but I wanted to stay and since the organist, Don Silvestre Cabrera, was sick, I told them yes.

What happened when he had to touch it?

They were going to test me fifteen days after I arrived. I was so scared that I cut the fingers of one hand with a razor blade - I still have the scars. If you get to see those nuns sewing with a needle and everyone saying "Blas, now you can't play anymore..." But when they take me to see the organ: wonderful! I investigated it a bit and playing with my good hand, I got the half tones, the tones... No one taught me, but since I knew how to play the guitar I thought: this can be transported here and there, after all, for Christmas I played with the choir.

The following year, at the age of thirteen, I had already created and directed my first gang of adult people.

Blas, what do you remember about Ingenio?

I have no memories but of the San Antonio boarding school where I lived until I was nineteen. My mother brought me food: gofio, and all that... and there we bartered, between us.

In my house we were nine children and entering the boarding school was, as I would say: the greatest apotheosis in the world.

Being a person with so much talent, self-confidence and perseverance, was internship really that important?

When the nuns realized who the boy Blas was: painter, draftsman... they gave me a room at the entrance where they put a piano for me, they signed me up to study the violin at the Afilarmónica, and sculpture at the Lujan Pérez school .

Did you then receive personalized training?

They told me: You don't have to waste your time Blas, you've come here to train, but they gave me total freedom to delve into all those disciplines where I excelled.

And from there he traveled to Madrid to continue studying, but he was forced to take refuge in Paris..

In Madrid he was studying the violin and playing in the National Orchestra for three years. One day the owner of the residence, Antoñita, told me: “Blas, tonight you have to go because look... this is dangerous Blas”, she opened the window, “Those two are waiting for you under the snow, the ones with the rifles …tonight, he is going to sleep in the subway”. She gave me an envelope and inside was a Chamartin – Paris train ticket.

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Why were they watching him?

Because in the middle of the dictatorship I handed out pieces of paper where I wrote by hand: "Right to speak." Antoñita told me that they asked her for the keys to my room and she couldn't refuse. When I entered I found the sheet music destroyed, the strings of the violin all broken and those of the requinto, those of the guitar. All on the ground...

Did you have more problems during the trip from Madrid to Paris?

No, on the contrary. I went to the station - I remember now the bell and everything full of smoke - and I took the train. Arriving in Hendaye, two policemen -they were Basques and cousins- checked the luggage and, seeing the ropes cut, they asked me if I had problems. I told them and since they were also having problems, they helped me, giving me the phone number of their family in Paris. But when I arrived it was snowing and I had to stay under the Notre Dame bridge for three weeks.

Living under a bridge in the snow had to be hard

There were many people living on the streets, having a bad time. That was full of artists. The first night I showed up there, not knowing any French. There was one who spoke Portuguese, and a huge Breton who spoke Spanish. The Breton tells me “here there is no room for one more, we have no food”

They asked me where I was from, what I knew how to do and forced me to play the violin in the street.

Didn't you refuse to play under those conditions?

Of course, I told them "It's snowing, I can't play the violin, or the bow or anything..." They insisted: "Tonight you have to play because we are starving, we have a sausage to distribute, among 12 people -I called the 12 apostles.

Then a Mexican spoke to me: “Compañero, tonight you are going to play. We don't want to steal. Play and with the money they give you, we all eat”. He brought me a charro hat and problem solved: at night I was playing and people were throwing money at the hat: from the flats, which in Paris have up to five floors, I heard how the metal coins landed on my hat. They made a tremendous noise, paaan… and those from the bridge came after me, collecting the money.

Did they buy more food?

At night we all went to eat at a restaurant, at a pizzeria. The owner of the pizzeria asked me to play there, but after three weeks he kicked me out with tears in his eyes: “Bambino you have to go, when you are playing people don't eat, they are listening to you and I'm going bankrupt… to go, but I keep a memory of extraordinary music”

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When did the losing streak end?

Right away. In the street I met a man who spoke Spanish - he was Sephardic -, "Blas, come here, every night I come to hear you..." This man had a company to sell houses and he left me his apartment, on the condition that kept it clean, in the Saint Michael neighborhood.

At the same time, I was lucky that they took me as a music teacher, in a little school that was under the floor. They didn't pay me anything but they gave me a pot full of food and then I invited everyone from the bridge.

Why do we know so little on the island about a man like you, who has known how to teach music for almost four decades?

Nobody knows anything about my real life here, because it doesn't matter. I have a way of being, that I don't hide what I think.

He wouldn't give us his life to talk about his travels, personal adventures and all the musical creations he has given us. Regarding your family life, have you been the great teacher of your children?

I lived 46 years in Paris, making an extraordinary family, with four children. They are all very talented and studied in high-rise conservatories because I believe that a father cannot be a teacher.

How is the foundation doing?

I carry out my work, for twenty-two years I have been giving free classes, editing, organizing poetry nights, concerts...

We recently gave a concert to honor Pepa Aurora, with my students. They are playing since the first year: guitar and violin. Singers who work with me and former students also attended.

Around the entire room, which is the Museum of Musical Instruments, and on the walls live instruments from all over the planet.

These horse-shaped handles come from Yugoslavia. There, all the instruments have the shapes of chess figures and this is the one that corresponds to the horse. Look how curious: this other instrument has a gargoyle and the bow is in the shape of a snake.

Blas takes advantage of a pause to tell us a story, which we will leave without ending, so that you can go to know him from his voice.

EI was, around two in the morning, playing the piano when I heard someone calling me: “Blasito, Blasito…”. I go to the patio and… nobody, I go to the cave of there-blah-blah..and neither. I get on the piano again and they call me again: “Blasito!” Who is it? I asked. "I am the viola.." Look, the viola that is on the wall...

Well, up to this point we can tell you: what the viola told Blasito is something that you will have to discover when you visit his museum, on Calle Cervantes de Ingenio.

Blas Sanchez, Favorite Son in 2007, tells us when we say goodbye that he had the dream of being a photographer. He confesses to being a lover of cheese from the Basque country and anchovies from Santoña. Everything around him seems to be alive, artefacts move and machines break down, as if waving.

We have traveled with him, imagining his life full of medieval sounds and songs in synagogues or Orthodox temples. He is a man who has had adventures and who still has a lot to give to Ingenio, Gran Canaria and all of humanity.

A cat tells us: goodbye!, meowing au revoir, au revoir!

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