Flamenco singer Diego El Cigala‘s career exploded when he recorded Lagrimas Negras with legendary Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés in 2003. By “legendary” I mean patriarch of the Valdés piano clan (with Chucho and Chuchito) as well as his regular employ as music director and pianist of the swank, pre-Castro Havana nightclub, The Tropicana. Never has a duet album travelled so far so fast. El Cigala (Spanish for “Norway Lobster,” a popular crustacean in Spain) follows the footsteps of the late singer Camarón de la Isla (“Shrimp of the Island”) not only in nomenclature but also in vocal intensity. El Cigala has been called the Flamenco Sinatra, but I think his voice is rougher and more intense than Old Blues Eyes’ ever was. And in my opinion, more interesting and compelling, too.
If El Cigala’s fame took off with a great Cuban pianist, he’s now taken it one step further by teaming up with the crème de la crème of Puerto Rican and New York salsa veterans, many of whom created timeless music for Fania Records, the powerhouse label for Latin music. The umbrella term “salsa” was coined by Fania founder Jerry Masucci as a way of bringing pachanga, merengue, bachata, boogaloo, bomba, and other tropical styles under one marketing term and one place in the record stores. The term “World Music” was coined for a similar retail-friendly purpose in the early 1980’s.
On the new Sony album, Indestructible, El Cigala (b. Diego Ramón Salazar, Madrid, 1968) is joined by salsa veterans Larry Harlow, Oscar D’Leon, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Bobby Valentin, Ismael Miranda, Luis “Perico” Ortiz, and Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. What a mind-blowing cast! The album was recorded in Miami, Havana, Cali, Colombia, and Puerto Rico, and features the music of Cheo Feliciano, Hector Lavoe, Beny Moré, and René Touzet.
This is a “desert island disc” selection if there ever was one–one that I’d take and play nonstop on my solar-powered CD player. The music on this record is proof that flamenco and tropical Latin music are close bedfellows, and in listening to it you get a sense that even though it was an ambitious project and a labor of love, all involved had a blast making it. I feel certain that it is headed for a Grammy.
Here is a video of “El Ratón” (the rat), one of many songs on this remarkable new collaboration.
E Cigala is currently on tour with an octet, and I’m heading to Cal State’s Luckman Fine Arts Complex on Friday, November 18 to catch it.
Here are the remaining dates on his “INDESTRUCTIBLE” TOUR 2016:
Friday, Nov. 18 in Los Angeles, CA: Luckman Fine Arts Complex
Saturday, Nov. 19 in San Diego, CA: Copley Symphony Hall
Sunday, Nov. 20 in Vancouver, BC, CAN: Chan Centre for the Arts