El Lebrijano
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"It really got to me when García Marquez wrote: "When Lebrijano sings, water gets wet."


"It makes me uneasy to find formulas in flamenco, so I try to expand flamenco by creating tolerance between cultures."

Juan Peña El Lebrijano

The master of cante is releasing a mosaic-like album on a religious subject. He has just released a record dedicated to Holy Week entitled "Lagrimas de cera" (Tears of wax), which once again fans the flames of an old and dreary flamenco controversy. According to Juan el Lebrijano, this is the most daring work of his long and daring career. He talks here about this album, the audacious fruit of a chaotic conjunction of musicians directed by a French producer. This is wax that burns.

Juan el Lebrijano launches a new record full of religious sentiment, which is inferred from the title, "Lagrimas de cera." Hardly one year after the well-received "Casablanca" he has released a record about Holy Week with hardly a saeta, but with catchy numbers like the tanguillos "Nazareno."

Our first question to the singer was to ask how the theme of the album came about, and he answered with all sincerity.

-The director of the company wanted to record right away and it occurred to me to say, almost as a joke, "I'm going to make a record about Holy Week." When I was on the AVE to Seville I asked myself, "What did I say to this guy?" He called me up and said "How are you going to do it?" And I said to him, "What am I doing?" Then he said to me, "Come to Madrid because Hugo is here." He sent me the record "Mozart in Egypt" and I said, "Damn, I'm in trouble: I'd better get to Madrid!" and that's how the odyssey began, how the idea began to take shape.

This Hugo is Hughes de Courson, an interesting guy. He is a Belgian producer living in Paris and has achieved international recognition from his albums where he has taken Bach to Africa and Mozart to Egypt. He then came down to Andalucía to make his first contact with flamenco.

"When I really held myself responsible for what I had done I was in the studio, and I got scared. I saw how much was riding on me. There were moments of doubt as this record was very daring for my career."

A multicolored record:

As soon as we got there, in a recording studio on the Alameda de Hércules in Seville, we put together a multicolored musical ensemble: a Belgian producer with his French engineer, the Moroccan brothers that Juan has worked with for 10 years on strings and vocals, four Bulgarian singers, Antonio Moya de Utrera on guitar, Rosario Amador, niece of Raimundo also on vocals, and Sainkho from Southern Siberia. "It was like the U.N.," jokes El Lebrijano. "You can't imagine what those women from Bulgaria went through to get "arsa y toma." Heavens, what a pain: they just couldn't get it right. Finally, after a thousand tries: but we thought a lot of them and, in the end, they sang "toma, toma y toma."

The introduction of Bulgarian voices could provoke more than one comparison with Morente's latest album, "Lorca," another mosaic of a record.

"No, I haven't heard it, but to me the comparisons aren't important; what Morente has done before I don't want to comment on. What I'm interested in is that the work is well done. Morente used the Tangier Orchestra of Tunesia, though I was the one who sang with them first. I respect Morente's work, and Morente is also a friend of mine. I don't have anything against him, he does the kind of things that I like to do, and I respect him. In the world of flamenco, it is a big mistake to compare artists.

Tolerance and Respect:

"Lagrimas de cera" at times is an electrifying experiment that has introduced some new sounds into flamenco, the hands of ávaro, breathing: El Lebrijano was the one who introduced one of the most original formulas into flamenco, the concept album. "Lagrimas de cera" is his third religious work, before it there was "Ven y sígueme" with Rocío Jurado and Manolo Sanlúcar, and a long time before that, in 1972, a record that hinted at the future, "La palabra de Dios a un gitano."

"That record expressed an evolution, a musical restlessness inside of me. That was where my Calvary of being misunderstood, the tyranny began:.I don't know when they are going to understand that Juan el Lebrijano is Juan el Lebrijano with all of his faults and virtues. I respect the purists, I have done as much as I have been able to. But no one can make me stop being how I am because God has made me like this, with this restlessness to find other ways of understanding flamenco, trying to make it more prominent, creating a tolerance between cultures, between people, looking for a universal God :"

At 55 years of age ("and understand now I wouldn't be getting any older"), El Lebrijano has created some highly praised works: "It really got to me when García Marquez wrote: "When Lebrijano sings, water gets wet.", but he has also had to bear a lot of criticism. Speaking of the respect there is for him, a comparison from the world of the bullfight: "I like

everything I sing. Logically, I can like one singer more than another. Its like bullfighting; the important thing in the bullfight is the bull. If you like the bull, then you like the bullfighter. Just for going into the bullring, you have to show him a certain respect. Later there is personal taste, what you hold deeply: but you have to be open. I am stretching farther, for to minimize art is stinginess. That kind of dogmatism doesn't work for me."

1999. Luis Clemente
Translation: Marie Jost.


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