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It was the city of Valencia (Spain) that saw Efrén José Miguel López Sanz come into this world on the 9th July, 1972 at the tender age of nought. Due to his size at birth (5.8kg) he was immediately, though unofficially, christened “Urtain” by the hospital orderlies, after a famous Basque boxer of the 70s.
At school he was an absolute disaster. In fact almost 40 years after his arrival on earth, he still holds no official academic qualifications, not even his Leaving Certificate. The blame for this lies in a number of disagreements with a certain P.E. instructor. This marked the beginnings of Efrén’s less than perfect relationship with authority…
He has been interested in music for as long as he has been conscious of the world around him, and can still remember all the arrangements of the songs he heard being played in the working class area he grew up in: Camilo Sesto, El Fary, Boney M, Los Pecos, Obús…
The first instrument Efrén (or Chu as he was called back then) ever played was the trumpet in his local marching band. At just 9, he was Head Cornet, a supposedly honourable title to hold, but one which lost some of its sheen upon sight of the gang of “talent” that fell under the young Chu’s mandate. It was not hard for him to stand out among that motley crew; he had only to learn a few melodies by following the rudimentary but effective sing-song method that the teachers tended to prefer when trying to get the songs set firmly into hardened, pre-adolescent brains. The titles of these songs are testament to the elegance, mysticism and poetry that envelopes the world of “Fallas”: “Sluts, sluts at the window sluts, sluts on the balcony…” or “Flat nose, flat nose – nooooooo – he’s got no nose” and other similar jewels. Difficult beginnings indeed, for one who aspired to combining lyrics and sound, rhythm and melody in harmonies reminiscent of the medieval troubadour.
The next sound-producing apparatus to fall into Efrén’s hands was a Casio PT-10 keyboard which his parents gave him for his eleventh birthday. However, he would not yet use this small piano to create his own melodies, limiting himself instead to emulating the electronic pop hits of the time: Kraftwerk, Azul y Negro…His techno phase started and ended right here.
It was on a camping trip in 1986 that he first took a friend’s guitar in hand and fell in love with the instrument as, with advice from a stranger passing by, he managed to pick out the first notes of “Romance Anónimo” (I think that is what it is called – the one that starts on the 7th fret…). Shortly afterwards, his friend Martin presented him with a guitar that had belonged to Martin’s deceased father. Efrén immediately christened his very first stringed instrument with the unlikely name of “Sow”.
Due to a lack of funds typical of his age, and months of ardent plucking at his six-string with far more creative passion than meditative delicacy, those six strings turned into five, then four, then three and so on until the very last string snapped. Young Chu then put into play what may well be the very same genius that years later would help him as he studied the techniques of so many and such strange instruments. He unrolled the spiral binding on a religious studies text book (by far his most hated subject at the time), and stretched it out to take the place of a guitar string, with surprisingly good results that lasted until he was able to get enough money together, by working in his uncle’s bar, to buy his very first set of new strings.
In an attempt to improve his technique, he asked around among people he knew, trying to discover the correct tuning for the guitar. Unfortunately his source was a somewhat irascible fellow whose information proved to be completely wrong. As a result, Efrén learnt to play all the chords and scales badly, an error which did not come to light until a good two years later.
Once decided to seek a more qualified teacher, he sought out Xavier Morant and José Godofredo, both important players on the Valencian rock scene of the time. As he applied himself to the instrument, he developed a style which, although still somewhat obtuse, was very impetuous and vivacious. Although he wasn’t altogether convinced by the musical scene of the time, he put this style into practice, playing with local adolescent punk and rock groups. This was happening as he made an effort to scrape a living out of ceramics, orange-picking, waiting tables, selling white goods, constructing drums, window dressing and forklift driving.
In 1993, Efrén came into contact with musical surrealism, which was to greatly influence him, in the form of the group Dislate Acre. He played a recently acquired Ibanez guitar with them for three years, adopting the style of a guitar hero and performing alongside sopranos, artists, karatekas and crazy musicians with their tormented souls. Shortly afterwards he joined Los Garfios, a Valencian rock group whose singer was Cristina Perales, now a television star. He also began work as a sound technician and session musician at the studio of Vicent Sabater. For Efrén this was an intense learning experience about everything involved in musical production, from sound engineering through to production and arranging.
Parallel to this, a growing interest in less conventional string instruments began to take hold of Efrén and he took advantage a tour to Colombia and Puerto Rico to acquire double stringed traditional instruments there. This tour would be his first, and fortunately last taste of what it was like to be a rock star as he accompanied the Girasoules as backing guitarist.
It was around this time, 1993, that Efrén formed his first, more or less serious group with singer Cándida Sanchis. The group was called Margaritas y Cerdos and was influenced by 70s rock and various traditional styles. This is also the time he initiated his sitar studies, and began to investigate music from the north of India with Bengal resident Elche Sazed Ul Alam. He also started working with Miquel Gil as bass guitarist and producer.
The warmth of the acoustic instruments he had been acquiring (sitar, mandolin, bouzouki, swarmandal, 6 and 12 string acoustic guitars…) began to displace Efrén’s previous passion for the electric guitar, and a couple of years later, praying to Saint Jimmy Page for forgiveness, he sold off his last two electric instruments.
In a search for musicians who shared his new musical interests, he came across those in the area of traditional Valencian music such as Eduard Navarro and Dídac Palau, with whom he formed his first group of traditional music La Banda de l’Agredolç, a power-folk trio focussed on music for the Valencian dolçaina (shawn). At the time he was also sought after as a session musician for all types of work and played for pop stars (Manolo García, Chambao, Seguridad Social, Presuntos Implicados...) and, the crowing jewel of this “Black Curriculum” as he calls it: an unforgettable television advertisement for Famosa dolls, "Las Muñecas de Famosa".
1998 saw the start of a professional relationship that was to last 10 years. Efrén met Mara Aranda when they were both involved in recording the only existing album for Cendraires, a group from Algemesi (Valencia/Spain). Efrén later joined the band and played a few concerts with them. Together, Efrén and Mara formed L’Ham de Foc, recording three albums and touring all over Europe and China to the unexpected and, for a group singing in Catalan and using only acoustic instruments, unusual acclaim of public and critics alike.
His close collaboration with Miquel Gil continued as the latter took a new turn into Catalan song, and Efrén recorded and produced Gil’s first album “Orgànic”, though he went on to leave the band a short time later.
Parallel to L’Ham de Foc’s successful and intense trajectory, Efrén decided to devote himself to learning, and made several trips to Greece and Turkey. There he was lucky enough to study directly with some of his favourite musicians: Ross Daly, Mehmet Erenler, Erol Parlak, Yurdal Tokcan, Necati Çelik…and come into contact with many others who do not teach formal classes, but with whom he was able to share experiences and the stage: Stelios Petrakis, Thymios Atzakas, Maria Thoidou, Antonis Frangadakis, Kyriakos Tapakis, Loukas metaxas, Hristos Barbas, Nikos Tzannis, Ralf Eickmeier, Pantelis Pavlidis, Eleni Kallimopoulou, Sofia Lambropolou…
Through his work with L’Ham de Foc, Efrén was able to collaborate with musicians such as Elena Ledda, Luigi Cinque, Os Ganhoes, Ross Daly and Estampie in festivals throughout Spain, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Norway, Belgium, Portugal, Luxemburg, Italy, Poland and China.
Apart from this, his interest in instruments brought him into contact with several luthiers, some of which have become great friends, and from all of whom Efrén has learnt a great deal: Sedo Garcia, Stelios Petrakis, Dimitris Rapakousios, Asier de Benito, Ralf Eickmeier, Vicent Ferrús, Joan Pellisa, Jesús Reolid...
In 1999, another of his longest lasting collaborations began. It was with Capella de Ministrers, a prestigious Valencian group dedicated to Early Music and directed Carles Magraner who plays the viola da gamba. As a part of this ongoing collaboration Efrén has participated in the recording of over 10 albums of music from the Medieval and Renaissance music using the period instruments that he has acquired over the years: medieval lute, gittern, hurdy-gurdy, psaltery, trompa marina and oud. Together with Capella, he has played in the most prestigious concert halls in Spain, France, Portugal, Croatia, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece and Italy.
Within this world of Early Music, at a very hippy-style jam session at the Rural Folk Festival of Vallfogona de Ripollés (with an electric guitar, drums and an Indian harmonium), Efrén made the acquaintance of Catalan singer Maria Laffitte, of whom he had been a fervent admirer ever since her recordings with Els Trobadors. Years later he joined forces with Maria’s daughter, Miriam Encinas to form the Medieval trio Joi de Trobar. The group was active up until the death of Laffitte in 2007. Now, together with Miriam, Efrén is working on recovering the works of Laffitte in homage to this great singer and close friend.
2003 was a year for two new projects: Aman Aman, dedicated to Sephardic music, and Sabir, an instrumental trio. He recorded albums with both groups and played throughout Spain. Efrén’s collaborations continue today with, for example, Daud Khan, his Afghan Rabab teacher, or the Valencian musical group La Beniterrània.
In 2004 he founded the Alfàndech Collective with the aim of raising awareness of Mediterranean stringed instruments. He also started giving bağlama classes, teaching composition and arrangement for modal music, at the prestigious Labyrinthos Centre on Crete, which is run by his teacher Ross Daly, and giving seminars on Medieval music at Mousiko Horio (musical village) on Mount Pilio in the Central Greece.
Towards the end of 2006, Efrén moved to Greece, living in Thessalonica and Chania, Crete, where he recorded an album “Orion”, with his much admired friend, Stelios Petrakis and performed with Evdousin, Pantelis Pavlidis’ group, together with composer, Cretan lute virtuoso and friend Antonis Franagadakis and singer Maria Thoidou.
Apart from this myriad of projects, Efrén is also currently involved in concerts and recording with Oni Wytars (German Early Music band), Ross Daly and Kelly Thomà, and Yeden Quartet, a Greek instrumental group. He has also recently begun work on two very interesting projects, one with Ross Daly & Labyrynth Modal Ensemble and the other with a Greek-Austrian Early Music group Ex Silentio. He is also producing this year the new CD of the Tunisian singer Lamia Bediuoi and performing with two well-known singers, Maria del Mar Bonet from Mallorca and Márta Sebéstyen form Hungary.
A new group has also grown from Efrén’s work in Early Music. Members are Efrén himself, the nyckelharpist Ana Alcaide, two old colleagues from L’Ham de Foc – Miriam Encinas on vielle, recorders and percussion, and Laia Puig on recorders, bagpipes and shawn, singer Iván López and the Iranian tombak virtuoso Pedram Khavar Zamini.
Efrén López (curriculum PDF)