CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Friday, May 8, 2015 | 8 PM

Diego el Cigala

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Madrid-born Diego el Cigala’s fiery vocals are rooted in the great flamenco tradition. He has created his own exciting style by fusing flamenco with other idioms from the Cuban bolero to the passionately expressive Argentine tango. His innovative exploration of the Argentine tango was the subject of his 2013 Latin Grammy Award–winning album Romance de la luna Tucumana—his second for Best Tango Album—and will be the focus of this concert.

Performers

  • Diego el Cigala

Event Duration

The program will last approximately two hours with no intermission.

Bios

  • Diego el Cigala


    Diego el Cigala is, quite simply, the most exciting and innovative flamenco singer in the world today. Passionate, profound, and immensely proud of his Spanish gypsy heritage, he has been called "the Sinatra of flamenco." His earthy and richly emotive voice makes him one of the great singers of the last century. He is also one of those rare crossover artists who has stayed true to his musical heritage, yet achieved name recognition with mainstream audiences around the world.

    Born into a family of flamenco musicians, el Cigala began his solo career in 1997. A mere four years later, he was at the Latin Grammy Awards, his Corren Tiempos de Alegría nominated for Best Flamenco Album. That was just the beginning of much bigger things to come, as a small initial collaboration on that CD between him and legendary Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés led to a duo CD in 2003, Lágrimas Negras (Black Tears), becoming one of the most astonishing breakthroughs in the realm of world music. Aside from winning el Cigala his first Latin Grammy, Lágrimas became a huge global hit thanks to a combination of killer live shows, rave reviews, and ecstatic word of mouth. This groundbreaking disc, with its fusion of gypsy fire and complex Cuban rhythms, sold more than one million copies worldwide. Aside from winning numerous awards, the CD was fawned over by Britain's BBC Radio and hailed as a Critics' Choice Album of the Year by The New York Times.

    This was unprecedented success for a flamenco singer--and it proved to be just the beginning. El Cigala won his second Latin Grammy in 2006 for Picasso en mis ojos (Picasso in My Eyes). Then in 2010, he traveled to Argentina--land of the tango--to immerse himself in that country's powerful musical traditions. After merging his own band with two of Argentina's tango masters--bandoneonist Néstor Marconi and guitarist Juanjo Dominguez--the results were, once again, musical magic. Cigala & Tango won a Latin Grammy for Best Tango Album and went on to generate fantastic sales, great reviews, and a sold-out tour that played to more than 160,000 fans.

    El Cigala's newest recording, Romance de la luna Tucumana, offers a fresh take on the Argentinean tango tradition. Notable for the contributions of Mexico's famed electric guitarist Diego Garcia--known as "El Twanguero" for his embrace of cowboy, Hawaiian, and surf music--Tucumana went on to triumph at the 2013 Latin Grammy Awards, winning el Cigala a third Grammy--his second for Best Tango. 

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Audio

"Milonga De Martin Fierro"
Diego el Cigala, Vocalist
Prisa Musica

Fernando Gonzalez on Diego el Cigala

What's extraordinary about flamenco singer Diego el Cigala's way with a Cuban bolero, a Brazilian song, or a classic tango is not how original it sounds—and it does—but how natural it feels. Perhaps because he knows about unwritten codes and traditions, he remains a respectful outsider as he ventures into a territory not naturally his own.

But he doesn't emulate. The voice that seems to fray at the edges, the phrasing that probes and concedes, the cries—they're all his own. He seems to inhabit the stories he sings and then go about his normal business. Regardless the style or the arrangement, el Cigala sounds only like himself.

Before recording with the great, late Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés, el Cigala had never sung Cuban music. "I did it all by intuition," he told an interviewer. "Bebo used to say, 'Sing like the gypsy you are, and I'll play like the Cuban I am.' So we let ourselves go with the flow of that intuition."

Lágrimas Negras became one of the most unlikely global hits in Ibero-American music in recent memory. It also won a Latin Grammy, made el Cigala an international star, and set him on an unlikely path.

In Lágrimas Negras,   he also recorded his first tango. It was a heartbreaking version of "Nieblas del riachuelo," a classic in which the lyrics evoke a very specific place in Buenos Aires: a turn in the river where old ships, like the great love in the song, are left to die. "I had never heard it before," he said afterwards. But that didn't matter.

Something resonated and, in time, it led to Cigala & Tango, recorded live in, of all places, Buenos Aires, the world's tango capital. But when el Cigala explored tango, he didn't set out to copy archetypal singers such as Carlos Gardel or Roberto Goyeneche. "Why would I try to sing like that? They are geniuses at that," he said at the time. "The idea here was to sing tango as I felt it, from my point of view, with my experiences. You have to let the music take you."

He once explained that to build his repertoire, he tried songs like someone trying on jackets. "Some felt too tight, others too big, and some fit just right," he said. "I ended up choosing only the songs that hurt. I felt that if those songs touched me, they would touch the audience."

Only exceptional interpreters can, in the memorable line of singer Julius LaRosa about Frank Sinatra, turn a 32-bar song into a three-act play. But embodying experiences from inside a tradition not your own also requires a special sensibility—and perhaps some learned wisdom.

After all, Diego el Cigala was born Diego Ramón Jiménez Salazar into a family of Spanish gypsy artists in Madrid. Dealing with continuous adjustments and adaptation—holding on to an identity while embracing change and different surroundings—is a matter of survival in gypsy life.

So el Cigala keeps moving—from the tablaos of his youth to his associations with jazz, Cuban music, tango, Latin American folk music, and, as always, flamenco.


—Fernando Gonzalez is a Miami-based music writer, critic, and editor.

This performance is part of Around the Globe.