Son de la Frontera embodies flamenco’s deepest roots and broadest fusion at Sunset Center
Thursday, February 28, 2008
First, there are family lineages as consequential as any David begat in the Holy Bible, bloodlines as minutely codified as any Godolphin Arabian’s running through Man O’ War. It’s thick and heavy, the scrutiny that decides what’s puro and what’s not. Cultures protect their heritage through such scrutiny, a way to keep out “the others.” Flamenco is different, though. These are the others.
“Morón de la Frontera is separated from Seville by 70 kilometers and it’s far away from other towns. We are here between two mountains, with different air, different food, a special ground. Here we have a special way to live the music,” says musician Manuel Flores, speaking to me from that small mountain town in Andalusia, as he prepares to tour with Son de la Frontera, coming to the Sunset Center Feb. 29.
Hailed as the most exciting new flamenco artists to emerge from Spain in this decade and nominated for the 2008 BBC World Music Award as best group in Europe, the musicians of Son de la Frontera embody the deepest gypsy flamenco lineage – all while they introduce new ideas and instrumentation. Theirs is a genius of fusion that respects tradition and remembers that, at its very root, the music is the voice of a living people.
“In Morón, there are five families, gypsy families, we are all cousins. Maybe not cousins in blood, but cousins because everybody here says, ‘Hello, cousin,’ when we meet. We live in the same tradition. We have many parties together,” says percussionist Manuel Torres. “We all have been living a singular life around the music of Diego del Gastor since we are very young…Diego was always at the center of our family parties. Somebody says, ‘Hello, can I have some wine, please?’ ‘Oh thank you, and my brother is coming with me.’ At the parties everybody listens and participates: the aunts, uncles, the babies, everybody. This is the natural way. I don’t teach to my son, you must practice this and do that…no, only ‘Look at me and listen to me.’ ”
In their tour and in Cal, their second CD, Son de la Frontera performs an homage to maestro Diego del Gastor (1908-1973). Revered worldwide within the then-narrow strata of flamenco aficionados, he refused to tour, or even to perform more than a handful of concerts outside of Morón. Instead, he presided over countless impromptu fiestas in Morón’s cantinas and family courtyards.
The maestro’s technical prowess was remarkable. Most distinctive, however, was the unembellished spirit of his playing, the inventiveness of his falsetas (melodies), the relentlessness of his compas (rhythm) – a sharp contrast to the theatrical flamenco that was gaining popularity, elaborate tablaos (cafe or nightclub performance) that focused on dance accompanied by palmeras (handclaps) and multiple guitars. In contrast, Diego del Gastor’s music referred back to flamenco’s deepest roots, the cante (song), the voice of the gypsy people who suffered and survived: sometimes mournful, sometimes humorous. Diego del Gastor’s fiestas attracted the greatest singers of his day, notably La Fernanda de Utrera. La Fernanda said in a contemporary interview, “I was the strings of his guitar and he was the echo of my voice.” There is an extraordinary YouTube video of those two performing a buleria (uptempo song), sitting behind a wine glass-laden table. Morón’s cantina became the Holy Grail for flamenco musicians worldwide.
Rodriguez plays flamenco on a Cuban tres (type of guitar) – presented to him through Martirio by Compay Segundo. Their sound thus sometimes calls up the flamenco roots of Cuban son (musical genre). Cousins. The tradition evolves. On Friday Son de la Frontera will be joined by Diego del Gastor’s nephew, renowned guitarist and cantaor (singer), Juan del Gastor, currently a visiting artist at UCSC. Fiesta is predicted.
SON DE LA FRONTERA performs 8pm, Feb. 29, at the Sunset Center, San Carlos and Ninth, Carmel. $35-$65. Call 620-2048.