Interview with Diego el Cigala,
"In flamenco there's more and more desire
to learn all the time, people are dying to create"
Silvia Calado/Daniel Muñoz. Madrid, January, 2002
"The good times are rolling ['Corren
tiempos de alegría'], not only for me, but also for flamenco". Diego
el Cigala has plenty of reason to be optimistic, to say the least... Catapulted
to BMG by 18 Chulos, a jump which has produced two records in barely a year, the
Madrid singer draws from the source of Bebo Valdés, hones his voice with
the airs of Jerry González, is annointed with advice from the maestro Valderrama,
receives suggestions from Fernando Trueba and direction from Santiago Segura...
Having reached this magical point it's no surprise that the search for perfection
is at the center of his artistic aspirations. And let there be background music
of oboes and clarinets.
Diego el Cigala (Photo: Daniel Muñoz)
'Corren tiempos de alegría'. Isn't
it paradoxical to title a record like that nowadays?
It's like Nostradamus, flamenco-style.
We were in the studio saying how good things were going, how contented we were,
how everything was coming out right.. So that was it, 'Corren tiempos de alegría'
[the good times are rolling]. One week later the planes hit the towers and we
saw that the title of one of the songs was "La esperanza de volar" [the
hope of flying]. So I said to myself: "This can't be". Imagine, we didn't
know ahead of time, how could we have? What a jolt.
But I still think the good times are rolling,
not only for me, but also for flamenco. Flamenco is in it's best moment right
now - watched, respected, valued... And the record companies, who used to not
care at all about flamenco, now they know they have to get moving. My work is
out there now, the thing is I'm not going fast... Although it's not too common
to make two records in one year.
So do you maintain that we're living in
a new 'golden age' of flamenco?
What Niño Josele says is true,
that we're in flamenco's maturity and the only thing we're looking for any more
is perfection. The subject of singing in perfect pitch, in flamenco, this has
always sort of been underrated. You didn't have to have a great ear to say "rhythmically
this is perfect". As far as sound, when it comes time to perform at concerts,
this is fundamental. A few years ago this wasn't so important in flamenco. One
guy would come, you'd try the sound a bit, and that was it. Now I can't sing like
that. I have to sing with celestial sound, because that's what it's all about.
The sound, you wouldn't think so, but it's so important in flamenco...it's fifty
percent of the final result. That's what makes the people who are sitting out
there wonder "where does this come from, why does it sound so rich and so
To have recorded 'Corren tiempos de alegría'
is something you owe, in part, to having worked with 18 Chulos, the company that
opened up the market for you...
Absolutely. If I hadn't met the Chulos,
I wouldn't be sitting here now. And they're still out there, and I'll work with
them and do things with them, because they're the Chulos, my buddies. After presentations
like the kind Wyoming does, what can I do? Four minutes he's in the Lope de Vega
theater. (And he imitates him...) "This hunk of Comanche who brought all
his art from the Altamira caves, hasn't lost one bit...". He's a genius.
Crossing paths with film-maker Fernando
Trueba was especially significant for your artistic career, wasn't it?
Knowing Trueba was a change in my career.
He's like our daddy because I talk to him, he chooses the songs. He's the one
who knows more about music than anyone, has a better ear than anyone else, because
he really likes music a lot. There isn't one musician he mentions, that he can't
give you the whole life story...it never fails. He lives and breathes for music
and for flamenco. I had never met people like this until I was lucky enough to
run into him. He really got into flamenco. Wyoming, who was the most flamenco
of all, can even sing you a soleá. He's too much. But Santiago Segura and
Pablo Carbonell didn't have the foggiest idea about flamenco. In 'Entre vareta
y canasta' they saw the recording sessions and mounted some incredible stuff.
Thanks to Chulos I'm at BMG right now. In fact, the line of communication is always
open between us so we don't lose contact because aside from everything else, they're
my friends. Having known the Chulos was very important in my life because it's
not just art any more, it's the friendship that unites us. If Wyoming calls me
I'll be there, or like Santiago for the part they gave me in Torrente, and there
While we're on the subject, what was that
experience with the world of cinema like?
That was fantastic. When I got to the
hotel and saw José Luis Moreno with the monkey on his shoulder...it was
great. One anecdote is when I got to the set and saw a guy from the back, so I
looked at him and said, "what's this guy doing here, how'd this junkie get
in?" He turned around and it was Gabino Diego the actor. It was incredible.
He said he had studied a drug-addict in his neighborhood, the things he said,
the way he moved... Santiago Segura filled me in on the spot. He created a role
when the movie was all sewn up. He saw a gypsy girl in the street going around
with an apron, a pair of Nikes and some of those big earrings from Extremadura.
And so he said, "I want that girl". For a salary, I don't know what
they agreed upon. He put her in the bar scene, putting money into the cigarette
machine and saying that she'd been 'ripped off'. He put me in a shirt... So I
said to him, "This one's for you Santiago...isn't there another one?"
And he answered "Hey man, that's the only one...we don't need no faggoty
stuff". In actual fact it was quite an experience. I sat in his chair to
see how he was transformed into Torrente, what a blast. How can you have that
mind and create another role in a film that's already finished, and stick the
record 'Entre vareta y canasta' on the sound track. Aside from having had a lot
of fun, I have a great relationship with them.
Diego el Cigala with Jerry González
You have an equally close relationship
with trumpet-player Jerry González...
Jerry won't be leaving any more... he's staying
here with us. He doesn't know it. Shit, he plays so great Jerry. It's that he
feels right at home. When the Trade Towers went he was in New York. He looked
out the window, saw that the building was collapsing and all the people running
and the chaos...and he picks up the phone to call me and says "Please, you
gotta get me outta here fast". I spoke to my manager and with BMG and in
24 hours Jerry González was in Spain. When he got to the airport, what
a scene...it was really very emotional. The bad moments are the ones that join
us together all the more, like you have a real friend. And in this case it was
just meant to be this way. Jerry says he's not returning...he's got work here.
What's the key to communication on the
|"When there's synthetic rhythm the music isn't alive"
I think that even though the two kinds of
music are different, they have common historic roots. These are very deep roots,
very old. Jerry picks up a record of Muñequito de Matanzas from 1940 and
I take one of Manuel Torre's from the twenties and that's where the communication
comes from...aside from the fact that we're both musicians. We get into the studio
and we don't need a rhythm machine. When there's synthetic rhythm the music isn't
alive, it's uptight. The hard thing is giving a good steady rhythm without devices,
keeping your beat and a solid base without going up or down. That's what we're
doing, me singing and Jerry playing. There's a communication. We have the same
Do you have to read music and such to enable
that kind of communication?
"When they talk about flamenco fusion it really bugs me"
The fact is, flamencos have never had much
formal training, as far as knowing about music. And if there's anything I'm striving
for it's that. At home I listen to classical music because I understand it sharpens
your ear. Aside from the fact that I like classical music, the truth is, after
listening to a lot of flamenco I don't feel like more flamenco. I put on the clarinets
and the oboes. Javier Limón told me "it enhances your ear Diego".
There's almost no flamenco artist who does that, despite the fact that in flamenco
there's more and more desire to learn all the time, and people are dying to create.
And that makes you more selective, you can't listen to something that doesn't
please you because you can't stand it, I just can't, it's doesn't go down with
me. When you strive for that, the rewards are great.
When it comes to working with musicians
like Jerry, or Bebo Valdés, you have to understand their language. Now,
if any musician calls me to collaborate, I know I can do it. And I'm not so into
fusion like they say. That word is strange for me, very strange. 'Fusion' sounds
like 'infusión', like camomile tea. The term 'flamenco fusion' bugs me.
And if anyone thinks that Jerry's music or Bebo's can be classified as fusion,
it's time to pack up and go home. There's nothing but black sounds. That's where
my cante is, that gentleman's piano...and each and every one put what he felt
straight from the heart, what they felt in order to create music, the inspiration
of the actual moment. There wasn't anything uptight or contrived. So when they
tell you "It's that flamenco and fusion...." What fusion? You're totally
mistaken my friends.
How did the recording proceed?
Diego el Cigala with his son.
(Photo: Silvia Calado)
With Bebo and Jerry there wasn't any preconceived
material. Everything came about thanks to Fernando who took us to the studio,
and it was just one surprise after another. In the studio each one had their ups
and downs, because Javier hadn't told me anything either... He called me and I
went to the studio, and when I got there the music was all done. And they left
me all the spaces for the vocals. When I got the headphones on I found the outline
was there. It's not the same as starting to record a theme with just a guitar,
where you've got nothing. I already had guitar, trumpet, I had congas, palmas...a
new basis for letting off steam. That's why most of the time, when we had a vocal
reference, it was a good thing.
Among the record's acknowledgements there's
one which is very special: "To Bebo, because all of us who've known you want
to be like you when we grow old".
It's that I want to be like him when
I get old. I've learned everything from Bebo. Each and every one of us who has
known him, we'd love to be a little bit like Bebo, because you learn something
every moment you're with him. With him you learn simplicity, musical taste, many
rhythms I never knew before like the joropo. Then his personality. He plays the
way he is.
You became enthralled with him when you
saw the movie 'Calle 54', the scene of Bebo with his son Chucho... and you burst
And shortly after that I told Fernando
(Trueba) that I wanted to meet him, that I would love to know this man, and he
told me they were coming to Madrid, to the Festival de Jazz. And we met him. He'd
heard very little flamenco singing. He knew about Carmen Amaya and heard records
of Granados, Manuel de Falla...he was very new to this. And he was very affectionate
with us, everything was very authentic, do or die. [He bows...]. 'Massa massa...your
wish is my command'. And he was very relaxed with me. Everything was recorded
on the first take. And they're all there in the studio crying at ten o'clock in
the morning. What an amazing guy, incredible.
Valderrama is another maestro you worship...
Diego el Cigala and Sara Baras (Photo: Anahí
Thanks to him I recorded the guajira 'Señor
del aire'. He said: "Why don't you record these palos that are so pretty?"
We met in Seville at the presentation of 'Entre vareta y canasta'. He went there
and was completely taken with the presentation. He came into the dressing-room
with Vicente Amigo and we became friends... I've been to his house in Seville,
and he played some Manuel
Vallejo. He suggested that I ought to sing a guajira, that I'd sound very
good with it. That's why it's obligatory to dedicate the guajira to maestro Valderrama.
He's the only one left any more. Only Chocolate, who's younger, and him. I have
a great deal of respect for Valderrama. And then we really got along well talking.
He says something to me and I pay attention, I understand him perfectly. Since
he speaks about the palos so authoritatively, and about cante... When he heard
the guajira he was overcome with emotion.
Something like that happened with the vidalita
that singer Mayte Martín dedicated to him.
I love it. And what a great job of drawing
from Valderrama, perfect! She sings it perfectly. I thought it was a very good
idea to record it. It was something that only singers like Enrique Morente and
Sabicas had recorded, and few others, because no one else has dared, since it's
very difficult. You really have to have a voice, it's a cante that comes from
the lungs, from the chest...
The vidalita from 'Entre vareta y canasta'
was taken by Sara Baras for 'Juana la Loca'. After having sung so long for baile,
now the most famous dancers are using your songs...
It's neat. Because after all is said
and done, you see how the circle closes. And now when they ask why I don't sing
for dancing or take along someone to dance, it's because there's isn't anyone
I care for among today's dancers.
And haven't you got any current references
in guitar-playing and singing?
|"I disapprove of Remedios Amaya being sidelined and not
belonging to any record company, because it's a great loss for flamenco"
In guitar, Niño Josele. As far as I'm
concerned he's the best because he knows me, we know each other playing together.
He has the virtue of making his guitar ring out. And just like I feel I have a
mission to fulfill with the cante, he feels the same way about the guitar. It's
funny, because I like guitar a lot, and he likes singing a lot. That's important.
I understand him and listen to him. And since he likes cante so much, he takes
the time to listen. And as far as maestros of the guitar, I don't need to say
anything because that's unquestioned. But I don't listen to anything else, only
classical music. Sometimes I put on Diego Amador, but that's another scene that
has nothing to do with it. But it's worthwhile, because he plays for himself throughout
the record...I take my hat off to him.
For cante I like this gypsy Remedios, and
I don't know why you don't hear more of her. We have to let people follow their
path, but we can't forget about the good artists, the good singers. I disapprove
Amaya being sidelined and not belonging to any record company, because it's
a great loss for flamenco. That gitana is very strong singing. She can count on
me, if she calls me, I'll be there. If we don't do it ourselves... And yes, I