Charo talks flamenco guitar, San Francisco, and bulls

The passion of Charo.

Unfortunately, Charo had to cancel all of her Yoshi's shows this weekend due to illness. We enjoyed the conversation so thoroughly, we're publishing it anyways. Get well soon Charo. 

Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza. Charo. Cha-rrr-o (roll those Rs). The name brings to mind glittering sequined bodysuits, impossibly high hair, flashes of iconic moments sitting across from Johnny Carson or arms hooked with Dean Martin in the 1970s, and the perplexing catchphrase that made it into our shared lexicon: cuchi-cuchi.

Passionate, skilled flamenco guitar is the other thing that should be there in your conscious when you dream of Charo. The comedian-actress-drag icon has been playing guitar since before she hit puberty, back in '50s Murcia, Spain.

These days, when she's not grand marshaling pride parades or guest-starring on shows such as VH1's Surreal Life, Charo is showcasing her variety talent at massive money venues: Las Vegas casinos, Southern California casinos, any dazzling commerce hotspot with slots and craps.

She was set to play far more intimate flamenco concerts at Yoshi's this weekend and seemed beyond thrilled — or at least, that's what she kept saying during a hyper half-hour conversation a few weeks back. Here are some of those interview highlights:

On San Francisco: "I've got a tremendous admiration for the city of San Francisco. There is nothing in these United States of America with the same light and energy. It's a beautiful city, and there are a lot of cool people there."

On performing: "To me, I'm never too happy with the success of yesterday. It's always, what's new? What can I do to improve? And what I discovered is that people really love and respect when I play guitar. I like comedy, and beautiful costumes and everything. But when I play the guitar, I feel like the audience is in disbelief and so respectful and appreciative."

On flamenco guitar: "Flamenco is the spirit of excitement, passion, energy, and the position of the body; it's telling you a story.

"In Spain, in the summer, the gypsies go to farms to help the owners take care of the animals. My grandma was nice and let them camp. They would say goodbye to the sun during sunset and make a bonfire and dance and play pure flamenco. It was so exciting around the campfire — no machine can produce what they do!

"So I began playing with them, and became part of their group. At ages 8 and 9 I knew buleria, rhumba, alegrías. Then when I auditioned for Andrés Segovia in Madrid, he was so impressed."

On the media: "They were always a little ahead of the mentality. When I came to the United States in the 1950s, many audiences didn't know the grandeur of musical flamenco or Latin salsa, but the media always knew it. So when I was playing heavy duty bulerias, the audience was thinking 'okay, why doesn't she do cuchi-cuchi?' but the media would say, 'this girl knows what the hell she's doing.'"

On dealing with emotions: "When people say 'ah, so beautiful! Everything is pink!' that's bullshit. Seriously, not every day is pink. But with my guitar, I try to make it easier. I go to a room with no telephones and no problems, pick up a guitar, and put my negative thoughts away."

On reality TV: "When I appeared [on The Surreal Life], your generation had fun with me — the accent and energy, the guitar. So I've turned down two offers already for reality shows. One was to put cameras in my house. We are crazy! We would make the Kardashians look like they have a big case of diarrhea. I don't know if you've seen the old reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies. But we are here in Beverly Hills with a bull.

"Jennifer Lopez was my neighbor; she probably is one of the people who have called the police department because, okay, I'll bring mariachi at 10 o'clock, or we have big paella parties with flamenco. [But] the answer is, I do have a project coming, but it's set in Hawaii where we have a house. It's comedy, fun, and music."

More on that bull: "His name is Manolo — it comes from the most famous matador in Spain, who was killed by a bull in the town where I was born. I hate bull fighting with a passion. They torture bulls before the fight. The young Spanish people hate it like me.

"I made a video complaining against the cruelty of bull fighting and I had a baby bull in the video — at the end of filming, I ended up with a baby bull. He didn’t know he was a bull. He’d be like ‘eh, mama mama!’

The neighbors complained 'we saw a bull' and we said, 'no! It's a big dog!' [laughs]. I made a deal that he also has a residence in Malibu on a huge ranch that belonged to the late Bob Hope. [Manolo] is officially supposed to live there, but he has visiting rights here."

For refunds, contact the Yoshi's Box Office at (415) 655-5600.

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