At 41, the artist moves to Miami to record an album with the legendary composer Manuel Alejandro
The singer sponsored by Enrique Morente will perform in Barcelona, next day 17 in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, his last concert in the State before the temporary move
Are you leaving us?
I do not say goodbye to Spain forever, it is just a see you later. I’m going to fulfill a dream. Since we were little we all have in our imaginary the songs of Manuel Alejandro, songs like ‘We broke our love’ or ‘Say what they say’. He has worked with all the largest in Spain and Latin America. He is the most important Spanish-speaking songwriter. When I went to his house and he offered me this project, I couldn’t believe it. It turns out that he heard me singing something about him and he wanted me to make a tribute album to his songs, known and unknown, in my style. “I want you to do Manuel Alejandro’s songs for soulería”.
‘Soulería’, that famous mestizo style from Pitingo that integrates pop, flamenco, soul and gospel.
Well, let’s take one more step because one of the best producers in the world, Rudy Pérez, has joined the project, with whom I have worked and singers like Beyoncé, Cristina Aguilera, Luis Miguel and Julio Iglesias, the latter two with songs. by Manuel Alejandro. I have a special ‘feeling’ with him, also with Manuel Alejandro. Being between those two columns is going to be something very special. For that I have to be in Latin America.
Progress is in miscegenation, diversity and multiculturalism, in respect for everything
It is clear that he does not like borders.
Progress is in miscegenation, diversity and multiculturalism, in respect for everything. I am mestizo, I am fusion. My mother is gypsy, my father is not. And my father’s great-grandfather is African. There is so much mix in my house that how could I not be mestizo! The purity of flamenco, I would put it in quotes. If the roots of flamenco are Arab, Jewish, African, and it has Spanish folklore, Andalusian and Latin American music with the round trip songs! Flamenco drinks from many sources.
Where will you settle when you leave Spain?
In Punta Cana [Repúbica Dominicana], because it is quieter than Miami. But because of the recording, I will surely spend more time in Miami.
Manuel Alejandro’s songs deserve a super team
When will we see him again?
I estimate that at the end of 2022 I will come to present the album. The idea is to start the tour of Latin America, continue to the US through the Spanish-speaking areas and then we will come to Spain. We will go with an incredible band with my gospel choir, my gypsies as I say, Afro-Americans, Afro-Cubans, Mexicans. Oh, and there will be the symphony orchestra part. We will be UNESCO, a barbarous orchestra. Manuel Alejandro’s songs deserve a super team. They can be done differently, but we want to put on a great show.
Who has chosen the songs?
Manuel Alejandro has given me to choose four or five of his themes, of which I consider essential. Between him and Rudy Pérez the others will watch. Although I will also decide based on how they adapt to me, I look a lot for the tessitura of my voice. Also, I want a dynamic album that is not all ballads. Although he is very ballad, I will try to take his songs to my field, without losing its essence.
What songs will you sing?
Sure, sure will be ‘We broke our love’, which I love and which Rocío Jurado sang. ‘I try to forget you’, which will be a duet that I can’t tell, that neither I nor anyone else could have expected. There will be three duets. Two from the US and one from Mexico. Maybe there will be someone from Spain but we’ll see. I don’t want it to be a duet album because it is very difficult to take them live. There will be a little brush only. And I have to choose a few more from a dozen themes.
He is very lucky.
It is a dream I was chasing. I never imagined it would come so soon. It was by chance. I had planned to make this album but, as always, I try to seek the approval of the people from whom I make their songs. It happened to me, for example, with ‘A puro dolor’ by Omar Alfano. I always try to contact the person who made the topic and if they don’t feel like it or don’t like it, I don’t. So I did with ‘Don’t worry be happy’ and ‘Killing me softly’, for example.
Manuel Alejandro, more than the approval, has put the red carpet for him. How was that first contact with him?
He listened to ‘Our love was broken’, which I recorded on a demo I gave to someone who knew him. That’s how it all started. Then he called me and said something that caught my attention. When I picked up the phone, without saying good morning or hello, he asked, “Why does it hurt?” I did not understand him. “Why does it hurt to sing?” I don’t know, teacher, I replied, because I’m sorry. And four months later he called me and said, “Come home to dinner and we’ll talk.” That’s how it all started.
We flamencos are very much like Manuel Alejandro because there was an album that marked our lives: ‘Manuel Alejandro por flamenco’
What went through your head that day?
Phew. Flamencos like me are very much like Manuel Alejandro because there was an album that marked our lives: ‘Manuel Alejandro por flamenco’, where Paquera de Jerez, Lola Flores, José Mercé … all of them sang their songs. I was 11 or 12 years old. I never thought I would get to know him but so many things have happened to me in life that, well. It’s one more step. I had achieved many things outside of Spain such as singing with Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, with Sam Moore, with Alicia Keys, with Quincy Jones … But I have never worked with a living Spanish legend. It is a dream come true. He goes to Miami in January and in February we start recording. I have been told that it is a pleasure to work with him in the studio. That he is very sensitive and not at all conformist. I like the challenge.
The teacher asked him why it hurts to sing. What did he say?
He asked me if something had happened to my wife. But I’m doing great with her. We have been together for 25 years. We have known each other since we were 14! I believe that when we flamenco sing a sorrow, we transmit it. Maybe it’s the genes. I am mestizo, payo on my father’s side and gypsy on my mother’s side. All the pain that gypsies have gone through is in my genes. That comes out. The same happens with blacks. I have always found similarities with them. Although musically we have nothing to do with it, we do have that strength when it comes to transmitting what we feel, be it a pain, a joy or an anger.
I had an identity problem when I was 12 or 13: I didn’t know whether to feel like a payo or a gypsy
For a time neither payo nor gypsy was seen.
I had an identity problem when I was 12 or 13: I didn’t know whether to feel like a payo or a gypsy. Of course, I listened to people talk about a part of the others, never in my family, there have never been problems of that kind. I realized that there was nothing to hide, I am mestizo. I do not consider myself a payo, or a gypsy, I am a person of the world. Of course, if someone speaks ill of the gypsies, I recriminate them, just as if they do so with the non-gypsies.
First, we are people.
It must be clear that racism does not exist only in one part, it is everywhere. You have to understand it. Some parts may have had a worse time than others, but we have to forgive ourselves in order to embrace and move forward. Gypsies are much more normal than many believe. But there is a lot of ignorance. You go to the United States and they think that we still have small coins in our handkerchiefs and that we read our hands. That is my fight.
What will we hear in Barcelona on the 17th?
Christmas carols, unpublished songs from an album that I have not presented here, ‘Mestizo y Fronterizo’. We open with a song called ‘Out of chains’. That already tells you where the concert is going. It is a song written by me. It says: “World awakens your races, blood that flows at birth will not end the battle of the equality of the skin.” It expresses what I have been fighting for all my life. I have lived that since I was little. I have had to fight for both parties.
What unites you to Miguel Poveda?
We are very friends and that is not always easy between artists. We connect a lot. We talk all the time and everything: gay and anything. Luckily, flamenco has opened up a lot but it still has to open up more.
Returning to music, Manuel Alejandro, another dream come true. And now that?
There is still a lot to fight for. The fears remain. What will happen in five years? Artists hang by a thread. We are always on the tightrope. There are none to be saved. What am I looking for? Stability for my house and for my people. I don’t want to be number one, or better than anyone else because I’m not. I’m not looking to be a Bill Gates or a billionaire of those. I want to be able to retire quietly, if I do, because I would say that I will be singing until the end of my days.