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"Right now I’ve got two albums left, but I can't say much because I don’t know when I'll have them completed or when I'll even start"


Lebrijano, cantaor. Interview

“Making an album these days really racks my brains”

Silvia Calado. Madrid, April 2005
Translation: Gary Cook

Lebrijano is putting the finishing touches to the thirty fourth album of his career. And to continue being at the forefront with such a back catalogue behind him, is a difficult task indeed... but not an impossible one. ‘Puertas abiertas’ is, in general, a crossover between flamenco and Andalusí music, much like ‘Encuentro’ and ‘Casablanca’ were. This formula - which in the past has been misunderstood but is now very normal – returns, enriched with features such as the "use of his voice as an instrument.” And the fact is, according to the maestro, “it’s only natural for an artist to want to say more.”

Lebrijano (Photos: Daniel Muñoz)

Of the album’s track list, where the Moroccan violinist Faiçal Kourrich plays an important role, Lebrijano emphasizes the significance of the opening song: ‘Granate’. The cantaor says that “it’s a granaína, but in the north of Morocco they call it ‘granate’. It’s something that the Arabs used to do and with the passing of time, the word has been transformed. And when the girls who provide the backing vocals come in, they make it into their song.”

The song ‘Alicia’ also gets a special mention as it was “the inspiration for this album.” And the fact is that it contains a tale of life, of light and of hope... It is the story of a baby that survived the March 11th terrorist attack on Atocha station in Madrid. This song por bulerías is dedicated to her and is a fusion “in which my nephew David (Dorantes) participates.”

There’s a link to ‘Encuentro’, the continuation of the famous song ‘El anillo’. With much mirth, Juan Peña tells of how with so much asking “¿con quién se casa? (who will she marry?) Well… the girl finally got married. That song is beautiful. The lyrics are just wonderful”. Besides the rumba ‘Ya se casa la niña’, he highlights “a song called ‘Bajo un cielo azul’, which we did the music for right there in the studio and I put in a few ideas that gave birth to the music they termed... ‘ácida’. It’s harmonious, discordant; it works, but at the same time it doesn’t... What is it? I went and called it ‘La locura’ ('Madness'). But afterwards I decided to change the name, otherwise they'd think I'm a madman, and in this country, as you know yourself, once you’ve been branded a certain way, it sticks.”

The repertoire features some songs, ‘Salamtak’ for example, that are “entirely Arabic, where Arabs both sing and play. These songs also give recognition to Faiçal, who plays a vital role on this album”. Alongside the violinist, other natives of the African shores have contributed to the creation of this music. These include artists such as Youssef Bou-Oud (darbuca), Abdesslam Naiti (kanun), and Redouane Kourrich, Leyla el Oumri and Iman Kandoussi (vocals). Together they give free rein to music of which not too long ago Lebrijano, reflecting on its relation to flamenco, said “there isn’t necessarily so much fusion taking place, as its only been five centuries since their expulsion from Spain; it’s the same thing”.

An anthology and another two albums

"I need to make use of my strength. It does worry me a little to think that when it comes to putting together the anthology I might fall short"

With ‘Puertas Abiertas’ the cantaor has kept a promise that he made. When he presented the previous album, ‘Yo me llamo Juan’, he made the announcement. He has certainly accomplished his mission. He's back once again to leave audiences biting their nails about what’s in store for the future. Over the course of the next seven or eight years he plans to put three new pieces of work on the market. He announces that “right now I’ve got two albums left, but I can't say much because I don’t know when I'll have them completed or when I'll even start.” And there is still more to come. “After those two, I want to put together an anthology with three new albums, as well as a live album. It will be pure flamenco... orthodox. And after that, I don't know”.

Faced with the difficulty involved in a project of this magnitude, Lebrijano is preparing himself. “I need to make use of my strength. It does worry me a little to think that when it comes to putting together the anthology I might fall short. You could say that I’m already mentally working on it”. It’s all planned. “I’m still young. I’m sixty years old... give or take one or two (he laughs). I reckon I’m capable of singing until the age of sixty eight, more or less, if I take care of myself and there are no unforeseen hindrances. I don’t want to make an anthology in my twilight years. At the moment my voice is fine, outstanding, and I’m in full possession of my mental faculties. I take care of myself, this is true, but once you turn sixty, the old age ailments begin to appear. For the time being however, they haven’t. And those are my plans.”

Lebrijano (Photo: Daniel Muñoz)

In the immediate future he plans to perform live with Faiçal. “let's see if we're lucky with concert shows, since that’s what we live off nowadays. We don’t make much from album sales thanks to pirate copies and what have you.” Although, of course, there is a good side to it. “What the album does provide you with is the opportunity to work on what you really like. I, thank God, have always done what I liked with my albums. Some aspects of my music have been less commercial, but the companies have always accepted them. And in the end they've come out winning, because the general public continues to buy albums such as ‘Persecución’, ‘Lágrimas negras’, ‘Ven y sígueme’ with Rocío Jurado and Manolo Sanlúcar...”.

Many a time Lebrijano has claimed to be misunderstood. “They used to say that I was crazy, and would question what I doing with the North African musicians”. But the tables turned a good while ago. “In the end, they've admitted I was right. Fusion is something that is now generally accepted, but when I started with it nobody in the world was doing it. After ‘Encuentro’, there was a new way of seeing things. It’s an album which still stands strong. And ‘Puertas abiertas’ will also continue to stand strong, just like ‘Lágrimas de cera’ or ‘Casablanca’. Since I’m a little ahead, when people go back in time and listen they say ‘Oh yeah, this is the good stuff!’ Now they’re coming round to my way of thinking.”

Juan, son of María la Perrata

"my mother sang in a very special way. I can’t even touch her"

María la Perrata passed away not too long ago. Juan's demeanor saddens a little: “She's always in my heart”. However his face lightens up again when asked to talk about the great cantaora that she once was. “my mother sang in a very special way. I can’t even touch her. Since her death, I’ve reflected a lot on how my mother sang. And very few people can sing the way she sang. Because her voice had a certain splendor and a mind...” Lebrijano tells of how his mother “died singing”. He goes on to share with us an anecdote which, according to him, up to now has never been told: “We're three siblings altogether and we each stayed a week with her. I ended up going at Christmas. I spent the night sleeping where the maid usually slept. “Mother, I won’t leave your side tonight”. And she spent the whole night singing. I even had to tell her to be quiet. The next morning, when I mentioned it she replied: “Its Christmas time. That was for you, my son”. What a present. And shortly after, she died. What more can I say.”

More information:

Lebrijano presents ‘Puertas abiertas’, a call for the coexistence of peoples and cultures


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