Lágrimas negras

Have you ever heard about the album Lágrimas negras (Black tears)?

Don’t worry if you haven’t, it’s better late than never.

The album celebrated its 15 year anniversary in 2018, and the tour commemorating the occasion is still going around the world. Although it’s not pure flamenco, it’s one of the best fusions ever involving flamenco.

Bebo Valdés and Diego El Cigala.

Do you know them?

Bebo is a Cuban jazz pianist/composer and Diego is a Spanish flamenco singer.

They have already been famous in their own respective genres, when Bebo collaborated in Diego’s 2001 album Corren tiempos de alegría (Those were years of joy) with 2 boleros Amar y vivir (To love and live) and La fuente de Bebo (Bebo’s source). Afterwards they both felt the need to go deeper in their collaboration, and almost secretly started working together on some songs. What felt like a spontaneous and intimate project at the beginning, ended up being the most beautiful fusion of Latin jazz, flamenco and bolero of all times. You don’t have to like flamenco to enjoy it; you don’t have to like jazz to enjoy it. It’s just good music.

Fusion of Cuban rhythms and flamenco vocals, produced by Spanish producer and guitarist Javier Limón and film director and producer Fernando Trueba. It counts with a number of top flamenco musicians like Javier Colina on the bass/contrabass, El Piraña on drums/cajón, Niño Josele on the guitar, and also the Cuban-born American saxophonist, and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera. It was recorded between September and December 2002, and consists of 9 songs:

1. Inolvidable

2. Veinte años

3. Lágrimas negras

4. Nieblas de riachuelo

5. Corazón loco

6. Se me olvidó que te olvidé

7. Vete de mi

8. La bien pagá

9. Eu sei que vou te amar / Coraçao vagabundo

The title of the album comes from the song Lágrimas negras. The story tells that the Cuban author Miguel Matamoros travelled to Santo Domingo in 1930, and stayed at a B&B, where he heard a woman desperately crying in another room. As the weeping hasn’t stopped nor seemed she finding comfort, Miguel asked the B&B owner what was wrong, and he was told the story of a woman abandoned by her lover for the love of another woman. The suffering and despair of this woman inspired Miguel to compose the song in 1930, and has been interpreted on countless occasions since.

The album was huge success, and earned a Latin Grammy Award for Best Traditional Tropical Album.

Enough of words now, let’s listen to the album a bit and enjoy the magic of Diego and Bebo.

Dorantes, Ries, Ezra, Ruibal, Carmona – Flamenco meets Jazz

There is always an odd one out.  In your class, at work, in yoga, at the playground, or at the festival. Flamenco Festival London. It should all be about flamenco, but then there is the odd one out.

Flamenco? Not quite. Musically it’s rather jazz, with some flamenco bits here and there. Structurally? It’s similar to jazz with the solos of each musician. The musicians? Some jazz, some flamenco. The instruments? Piano, percussion, double bass, saxophone, dance.

What is this then?

This is when Flamenco meets jazz, the concert of David Peña Dorantes, Tim Ries, Adam Ben Ezra, Javi Ruibal and Jesús Carmona on the 2019 Flamenco Festival London on the 10th of July.

Utterly brilliant – my favourite English expression.

The concert was special to start with because these 4 musicians have not performed much together in the past, this may have been their 3rd or 4th concert together. They don’t practise together every other day at their homes, they reunited again for this concert. An American, an Israeli, and three Spanish. I always repeat the cliche “music has no borders”. Music has a language that reaches beyond borders, and instruments communicate to each other in a way, that I sometimes find difficult to understand, as someone who doesn’t play any instruments. I found instrumental music difficult to enjoy some years ago, but having lived with a lover of jazz for over 12 years, I very much enjoy it now.

The themes were mostly jazz, but also including some of Dorantes’ themes like Orobroy and the Caravana de los Zingali from his album Sur (South), which I happen to have and have listened to it so so many times. When I heard the first beats of the song, my tears started running.

The piano of Dorantes is always a pleasure to listen to, whatever he plays jazz or flamenco. There are some geniuses around in the world, and Dorantes may be one of the music ones.

Tim Ries has played the saxophone with the Rolling Stones for years, and is currently working on a series for HBO about gypsy music from the East of Hungary, being released in September. Do I need to add anything else?

Adam Ben Ezra has solo shows with his double bass, because as we could experience it on the concert, he is able to entertain an entire theatre by himself. His double bass, hands, feet and attitude is more than simple entertaining.

Javi Ruibal has been playing percussion, drum, cajón with Dorantes for many years, besides his concerts with his band Glazz and his father Javier Ruibal, and he has released his first solo album this year, Solo un mundo (Only one world). You notice right away how well Javi and Dorantes understand each other and how their instruments speak to each other. It’s just amazing.

And then there was the dancer, who has recently risen to super star category in flamenco, Jesús Carmona. He is not strictly a flamenco dancer, he has danced in the Spanish National Ballet Company for years, and also in dance companies of famous flamenco dancers, like Carmen Cortes or Antonio Canales. He danced 3 songs, but the choreographies seemed to suit so perfectly the rhythm and the mood, it totally captured me.

I also liked that Tim and Adam both involved the audience in their solos: Tim by making us sing and Adam by making us clap. Were we any good? I am not sure, but it felt like a great way to connect with the performing artists, and actually form part of their performance.

Jazz and flamenco met that night in Sadler’s Wells. Title well chosen. And even if you don’t know much of either, it was a good concert to go to, because there was good music. played. What else we want?

 

 

Opera, ballet, jazz

It seems unbelievable now, but I have not always been in love with flamenco. Frankly, until I was 25, I didn’t even know about the existence of flamenco. The opera and the ballet though, have always been present in my life. My mother’s love for opera arias have introduced me to this magical world. Listening to the heartbreaking solo of Madame Butterfly – when she realises her love will not return – let’s just say, it leaves its mark in a teenager’s heart. Plus the school trips to the Hungarian capital: standing mesmerised in front of the Opera House on Andrassy, staring at the facade and the sculptures in front of the building, thinking what on earth is going on inside this building? So I have a long history of being fascinated by this world. And surprisingly, I have not been to the opera much. Until now. I only needed two children and A. Although A. doesn’t agree with calling it “me time” – he doesn’t believe in labelling things in general – but he does agree with the need to get away from the daily routine of BBB – Bed, Bath, Book for beginners – and from each other sometimes. On these occasions, I go to the Opera. I go see operas and ballets, mostly in the Royal Opera House, mostly by myself. For once, my thoughts are not around bath and dinner; they are mine to wander (off to the moon and back): how is it possible that music created centuries ago is still around and still enjoyed? The world, people and life itself have changed so much, and yet, the operas of Mozart, Puccini and Wagner are still sold out every single night in the ROH in London. How is it possible that ballet has become so universal that dancers from Japan, England, Russia and Argentina dance together in the same show and none of them claims ballet their local art form?

As my thoughts keep wandering, I remember that A. and I had a long discussion once about jazz and flamenco, differences, similarities, trying to understand why jazz has spread around the globe and is played by musicians from all over the planet with the same genius, and flamenco isn’t. Flamenco is different. But why? Is it a younger music genre? Is it more complicated? Is it more restrictive? Is it more local? What is it with flamenco that it has not allowed it to spread its wings and conquer the world?

Looking at jazz (and without wanting to provide a full analysis), we did say, that jazz and flamenco are both native art forms, music originated in the roots,  expressing emotions of suppressed people in America and Spain, respectively, going back centuries. Flamenco is neither more complicated nor more complex to enjoy or follow. Jazz can actually get really difficult with the improvisations and the lack of structure to beginners’ ears.

Flamenco is not younger than jazz, the roots go back to the 15th century, when Jewish, Moorish and Gypsy influence mixing with the Andalusian folk music have laid the foundations of what we call today: flamenco. Perhaps jazz started the journey of globalisation earlier? According to an article in the New York Times in 2001 (only in 2001, not earlier!) “jazz is in the process of becoming the musica franca, the one language spoken everywhere, a glue in the global village, the musical common denominator; like English”. The language! As the United States has become a world power over the past 100 years or so, so has English become the dominant language around the world. This clearly favours jazz, where there is either no singing, or they sing in English. In flamenco there is lots of singing, all in Spanish, expressing deep emotions and feelings. You may like the moves and the rhythm, but if you don’t understand the words, you will always be a step behind.

It also has to be mentioned that the culture around flamenco has always been quite restrictive. The so called “purists” in flamenco have always said that authentic flamenco can only be performed by gypsies from Spain, and they have always protected the original forms of singing, dancing and playing, beyond everything. The purist “movement”, among them Antonio Mairena, a famous gipsy singer from the twentieth century,  has cut the wings and denied the acceptance of many musicians, who tried to modernise, change or add anything to flamenco. Thankfully no one could stop Paco de Lucía. Camarón de la Isla and Enrique Morente, and their new additions to flamenco. To be fair, protection of some kind must have served flamenco to a certain extent throughout the centuries, because it did not allow it to get lost or diluted, but the importance and art of the gypsies cannot be denied. Protection has to be chosen wisely.

Last, but not least, the ‘duende’. I have never heard anything similar in jazz or in opera; in flamenco, it is essential. It’s everything. Some people say it is the hardest word to translate from Spanish… Originally, it only existed in plural, duendes, meaning elf, elves. Until Federico García Lorca created the singular version in the 1930’s, describing magic or “fiery spirit what makes great performance stir the emotions”. Since then it describes the essence of flamenco: the aficionados (fans) say that all you need to be a great flamenco musician, is ‘duende’. It must have been along these lines what Paco de Lucía meant, when he said that to play flamenco well, one must have lived in Andalusia once. Difficult to imagine that one of the biggest innovators of flamenco would want to put limitations ahead of flamenco, but to me, this phrase makes flamenco a very local folk music. Perhaps he just wanted to say that you do need to experience the local spirit, the ‘duende’ to understand where those emotions and expressions really come from. Who knows…

I do know that in economy, the protectionist approach never resulted in the desired success. The same may be true for music. So I say: let flamenco spread its wings and fly. Along the way, it may change to some extent, but there will always be people representing the original forms. Do not fear change. Fear will be your enemy (as grandpa troll so wisely said in Frozen).

There is still time until flamenco gets where jazz, ballet and opera are in the international music scene.

Until we get there, let the Hungarian fan of Spanish flamenco entertain you from the UK with more flamenco stories!