Pitingo’s Flamenco Soul
The fusion may sound a bit unexpected at first: soul, gospel and flamenco music together.
But upon careful listening, common elements emerge: Heart-felt emotion is the core of each. Once they are integrated, though, a special voice is required to mesh and then sing them. That voice belongs to Spanish artist Pitingo.
On Saturday, September 27, Pitingo brings his passionate fusion to South Florida for the concert titled Soulería, part of a tour of the same name, at The Fillmore at the Jackie Gleason Theater on Miami Beach.
For Antonio Manuel Álvarez Vélez, or Pitingo, the show will represent his big, professional debut in the United States. “It’s major,” Pitingo says about the concert during a recent interview from the offices of the company that brought him here, Sierralta Entertainment, in Wynwood. “We’re coming with the whole band. Gospel — from a New Orleans choir — gypsy and Cuban musicians, everything.”
Pitingo has visited this country on other occasions, but never performing with a tour of such magnitude. Miami is especially fond of flamenco, and this is something that does not escape the cantaor (singer) with bronzed skin, high cheekbones, and salt-and-pepper hair.
“I’ve always been a fan of flamenco music, but Pitingo’s fusion does not sound like anything I’ve heard before,” says producer Miguel Sierralta, who was captivated by Pitingo’s sounds when he first heard them three years ago, and imported the show to Miami. “Not here, not anywhere else. And particularly not the way he does it.”
Pitingo will be promoting his second album (out of five), Soulería, the one that would make him known as the performer who blends the music of his gypsy ancestors with the music that thrilled him from the time he was small, that of the legendary African-American singers.
“There are purists who do not want it [flamenco] to move forward, but one thing is to go ahead with this fusion or coupling with other cultures, because it is necessary for the advancement of the music, and another thing is to lose flamenco’s purity,” says the 34-year-old artist, whose nickname means “presumido” (vain), and which was also shared by his grandfather and his great-grandfather.
For Pitingo, that fusion does not weaken the inherent traditions of flamenco. “That is not lost,” he says. “I know what pure singing is. Flamenco is a way of life, in every sense. One’s way of being, of expressing oneself, what we are taught. We say that we are flamenco even in the way we walk.”
Choreographer, dancer, and flamenco academic Juan Carlos Lérida emphasizes that, although a fusion may seem new and exotic, there is a tradition of nourishing flamenco with other influences.
What Pitingo does is not heresy.
“Soul in flamenco, except for some references in the 1970s clearly inspired by James Brown, appears towards the beginning of the 21st century with Pitingo’s [first album], which begins to exhibit some shades of soul in his way of covering the vocal melismas of flamenco,” says Lérida from Seville via e-mail.
“I come from a fisherman’s town [Ayamonte, in the province of Huelva in Andalusia], the land of fandango, as it is called, and flamenco has always been heard there,” explains Pitingo.
Then, when he was nine years old, Pitingo found a cassette with the music of Aretha Franklin in his parents’ home. “I still don’t understand where it came from,” says Pitingo. “I’ve tried to remember many times. I think it had been given to an uncle or a cousin of mine, and they had left it there.”
The first track that he heard, he says, was Respect. “And I said, ‘Oh my God.’”
Just like that, without knowing any English, or anything about Franklin, Pitingo’s respect for this music was born. “My grandmother, I remember her saying to my mother, ‘What is wrong with this child?’ because I spent all day playing that tape.” A tape that led him to explore blues, gospel and soul, as well as performers such as Marvin Gaye, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, the Motown stars, Ray Charles, and Roberta Flack, among many others.
“But I also kept listening to Manolo Caracol, Camarón, and singing in the tablaos [venues where flamenco is performed],” he says. “Until a day came when I began to clap my hands in flamenco style, and then I began to sing What a Wonderful World, by Louis Armstrong. So, it has all been very natural.”
From that natural combination of flamenco and soul, he reached Soulería.
“It’s me,” he says about the album’s music.
IF YOU GO
WHERE:The Fillmore at the Jackie Gleason Theater, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach,
WHEN: Sat., September 27, 8:00 p.m. Doors open at 7:00 p.m.