Singing his heart out

Spanish vocalist el Cigala always knew he was going to be a musician. "It was my dream since I was a kid," he says.

January 25, 2010 05:45
3 minute read.
El Cigala says none of his influences are commerci

El Cigala 311. (photo credit: Juan Aldabaldetrecu)


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Flamenco is one of the most emotive areas of music and dance, and Spanish vocalist Diego Jimenez Ramon Salazar - better known by his stage name el Cigala - certainly wears his heart on his sleeve in his concerts and in the recording studio. This is evident in his latest release, Dos Lagrimas, and will surely come through just as strongly at his forthcoming show at Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium on Tuesday.

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The 41-year-old el Cigala has certainly paid his dues, earning his keep as a backing vocalist for a slew of top notch flamenco dancers and also serving as understudy to iconic singer El Camarón de la Isla (aka Camarón), who died in 1992 at the young age of 41. Like Camarón, el Cigala initially honed his singing skills at the university of the streets - literally - busking all over Spain as well as singing at all kinds of modest venues before stepping into the limelight. "I always knew I was going to be a musician," says el Cigala. "It was my dream since I was a kid."

Besides accruing abundant hands-on experience el Cigala also tapped into the skills and life experience of some greats along the way. "I was mostly influenced by Camarón, but also by my uncle [singer] Rafael Farina, [singer] Ramon el Portogues and many others."

Various cultural influences have also found their way into the el Cigala mix over the years, which, considering the hybrid source of the flamenco tradition, is only natural. "Flamenco has its base in four cultures: one of them is Arabic, and the others are Jewish, Christian and Gypsy," he notes.

Dos Lagrimas takes on board other elements as well, fusing flamenco with various Cuban musical styles and jazz. "Dos Lagrimas is the result of the development of my first contact with Afro Cuban music and Latin jazz, which was with [2003 el Cigala CD] Lagrimas Negras, el Cigala explains. "This is my musical evolution in this area, which I have experienced in the last years together with great masters."

ON LAGRIMAS Negras, el Cigala enjoyed the well-seasoned peerless services of then octogenarian - now in his nineties and still going strong - Cuban Latin jazz pianist Bebo Valdez. "Working with Bebo was also a very essential emotion and process of learning," the singer reflects. "And, of course, it was the best connection to Cuba. It was the key which opened a new world to me."

Mind you, even though he incorporates somewhat extraneous elements in his work, el Cigala says he steers clear of any expressly money-spinning endeavors. "My influences aren't commercial. I feed off music that has roots which, of course, include flamenco and Afro Cuban-Latin jazz - everything that I call music of the soul."

Possibly his most jazz-inflected work and enriching musical experience to date was the 2001 synergy with American trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez, which produced the el Cigala's third album, Corren tiempos de alegria. "Sharing with Jerry is, to me, [like] receiving teaching from a 'catedrático' (master), a living legend." And, it seems, there is more where that came from. "With Jerry we are working together to bring out his new work, which is edited by Cigala Music, and I hope that you will enjoy it soon in Israel," he adds.

This will be el Cigala's second visit here, having shared a stage in 2008 with David Broza in the dance-percussion Mayumana show. El Cigala says he is looking forward to being here once more and, possibly, getting into some of the ethnic vibes we have to offer. "I confess that I don't know the ladino music good enough. It is a new challenge which will be sorted out on this and on my next visits to Israel."

Diego el Cigala will appear at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv on January 26 at 9 p.m., accompanied by pianist Jumitus, double bass player Yelsy, percussionist Porrina and guitarist Morao. For tickets surf to or call (03) 604-5000.

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