Gypsy Passion and a Salsa Soul in Diego El Cigala
Last year, Spanish singer Diego El Cigala performed at the Hollywood Bowl in L.A. in what should have been a memorable night. Professionally, it was. The flamenco star enthralled the audience, but never told those present that, just hours before the show, his wife had died of cancer.
Earlier this month, as the artist put the final touches on his upcoming U.S. tour – including an October 29 performance at the Fillmore Theater, Miami Beach, presented by The Rhythm Foundation – and readied himself for the launch of a new album, he received the news that his mother, Aurora, had passed away.
The title of that upcoming album, Indestructible (Sony Music Latin, to be released on October 28) is more than fitting; no matter the heartbreak in his gypsy soul, El Cigala soldiers on.
“Life throws punches at you that shape you. When these things happen, I find relief in music,” says El Cigala from Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic, where he’s lived since 2013. “It’s the only way to get through. Music makes you remember all those memories that you’ve had.”
Some 25 years of memories with his wife Amparo Fernández, the mother of his two children, ages 11 and 19. She was the love of his life, the rock of the family, and his manager as well, so everything he knew and cherished was changed forever when she died.
“The truth? I still don’t know how I did it,” says the Madrid-born singer. “When something like that hits you so suddenly, you don’t have much time to react. The only thing you want to do is go forward and take care of your kids.”
The show does go on with him
Indestructible, the album he’s promoting on this tour, takes the 47-year-old performer on a new and adventurous path, part of the musical journey of discovery that began in 2003 when he released Lágrimas Negras with legendary Cuban pianist, bandleader and composer Bebo Valdés.
Diego Ramón Jiménez Salazar, who had grown up singing in flamenco venues like peñas and tablaos, would go on to make a name for himself in the world of flamenco and perform with some of its key figures. But when Valdés introduced the man nicknamed after a popular crustacean in Spain to Cuban music, El Cigala’s musical world expanded.
“His collaborations and explorations push the boundaries of traditional flamenco, but always with great integrity and respect,” says Laura Quinlan, Rhythm Foundation programming director.
For Quinlan, who also brought El Cigala to South Florida two years ago, “flamenco is such a living style; it hasn’t become a dusty folklore music because the great artists like El Cigala keep evolving the art form. He is such a gitano, so Spanish, and also so much a man of the entire world.”
What the world had to offer him musically also brought El Cigala to tango and Argentine folk music in two albums, Cigala & Tango (2010) and Romance de la Luna Tucumana (2013), that won him Latin GRAMMY awards and broadened his audience appeal to make him a world music star.
With Indestructible (A documentary of the production is scheduled for release in December), El Cigaladelves into the genre of salsa, with the recordings taking place in San Juan, New York, Havana, Cali (Colombia), and Miami.
“These cities are the pillars, but Puerto Rico is the mecca,” says El Cigala, who included Puerto Rican salsa icons like Roberto Roena, Bobby Valentín, and Luis “Perico” Ortiz on some of the songs. “So I had to go there to share with all these musical geniuses.”
Cuba and Venezuela also in the mix
The result not only features his homage to Puerto Rican salsa, but also includes a tribute to Bebo Valdés himself and collaborations with GRAMMY-winning Afro-Cuban jazz pianist and composer Gonzalo Rubalcaba; Venezuelan salsa maestro Oscar D’ León; and Cuba’s Los Muñequitos de Matanzas rumba group.
“Although my father had worked with Diego, and both our families knew each other, this record marks my first professional collaboration with him,” says Rubalcaba from his home in Coral Springs. “We always had the willingness to do something together, but it didn’t happen until now.”
The challenge he and El Cigala faced was, he adds, how to perform classics of Latin music, recorded innumerable times, in an innovative way but without betraying their essence.
“With Diego, this has been a constant throughout his career. If we look closely, he’s restless, he’s daring. Diego is an artist with a capital A,” continues Rubalcaba.
“I like to say that Diego has created his own genre,” says Anthony González, A&R, Commercial Music for Sony Music Latin. “Tropical music obviously still exists, and it has gone through various stages, but he brings to this music his own very Spanish vocal style, and he has incorporated it ina way that is simply seamless.”
For González, what El Cigala creates has soul: “He’s certainly a romantic at heart, that comes across in his music, and that I think is also a great part of his ability to connect, not just musically, but emotionally as well.”
Diego El Cigala in concert, Saturday, October 29, 8:00 p.m.; The Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach.Tickets: $39 – $79 plus fees, on sale through LiveNation.com; http://www.rhythmfoundation.com/events/diego-el-cigala-2/