Blood broils, heels keep tapping, the well-cushioned chairs suddenly became a restraint rather than comfort, say hello to the magic of signor Diego El Cigala. As the iconic flamenco singer, El Cigala brought his salsa tour with a glaze of flamenco to the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State LA on Friday night.
According to the concert program, El Cigala was born Ramón Jiménez Salazar into a family of Spanish Gypsy artists in Madrid, Spain. The nickname El Cigala, or “the Little Prawn”, was given by another famous flamenco singer José Monje Cruz “Camarón” because he was thin, yet incredibly passionate when he sings. El Cigala has created his own unique style by mixing Cuban music, Argentine tango, and other musical traditions with flamenco, “acigalar”, as a Spanish journalist once called it. He performed many songs from his latest album “Indestructible,” as well as other Spanish classics.
He brought a small ensemble of ten talented musicians, with Jaime Calabuch “Jumitus” on piano, Yelsy Heredia on bass, Bernardo Aguirre and Richard Stella on trombone, Carlos Martinez and Anibal Martinez on trumpet, Diego Giraldo and Giovanni Betancourt on backing salsa vocals, David Marcano on timbales, and Daniel Diaz on congas. We heard much grooving and innovative solos from them.
With the band’s continuous salsa beats, El Cigala walked on stage in a shining blue suit and full wrists of gold bracelets with his signature grizzled full head of long and wavy hair. Although the Luckman Theatre was grand, the very second El Cigala reached the microphone, he reigned the hall and everybody within.
El Cigala’s voice was neither smooth, nor dolce; it was rather projecting and straightforward with a rusty and hoarse edge. The fizzling, trills, and turns at the end of each phrase revealed his Andalucian gypsy flamenco roots, yet somehow exceptionally fitting in the salsa classics. Seemingly effortless, his singing gave you a feeling of longing that could not be easily resolved. Whether the song was about a lost love or festivity, El Cigala made sure the audience experienced his own interpretation and remarks. It was truly an incredible concert for the audience, as everyone standing up applauding and shouting “¡Otra!” at the end.
“I think he has been working with the essence of salsa for years,” said Ana, a fan of El Cigala and a dancer and choreographer in Los Angeles. “He went to the core [of salsa], and him being a pure flamenco artist… I think the work just [presents] the highest quality of salsa music.”
The University Times was honored to interview signor El Cigala backstage after the show, where he spent hours singing and dancing with the visiting crowd. As such an icon, he was surprisingly down-to-earth and warm. With simply tapping on the table and the crowd’s clapping, he sang passionately with everyone even though he just performed for two hours without any rest or intermission.
And speaking of improvisation and “acigala,” Cigala style, there’s not the slightest doubt that he is a true maestro of “Duende”, which is a crucial element in cante flamenco that requires authentic expressions of the immediate state of emotion that the artist is experiencing.
For El Cigala, heart and soul are the most important components in flamenco. “The world of music is very difficult, I know it. It depends on the state of how you feel, how you’re doing that day, [because] that is the way you’re born,” said El Cigala and translated by Ana. “Music cannot be tied with any shape or manner, never. The world does not understand me. I love music very much, it’s the only space that I [can] feel like myself and realize what I have accomplished.”
“Because of the [things] that are happening, we become indestructible, or we become lost. The only hope out there is to hang on to God. We have functions in our mind- what you’re doing, where you’re going, but without God, we cannot go anywhere. Without God, there’s no hope,” said El Cigala, while pointing to his gold necklace of Jesus. “I’m not a big time believer or fanatic, I’m just sticking to the essence of the message, plus I like jewelry.” To better explain his philosophy, he sang us a passage, “The path of life, you have to live with your words. In your entire life, he cleans you and saves you.”
El Cigala also expressed that the only thing he wants to do is to sing to the world, to people who do not have anything, then the world will change. “The world has turned its back on me, and today, I’m a witness of the truth. Long live God who sees everything, and I love God above everything,” said El Cigala passionately.
After his performance at the Luckman Theatre, he will return to Spain for more performances. He also mentioned that he misses his children very much. “One takes what one loves the most in this world to later be able to give [one] hope and to move forward. That love for me are my children, my family,” El Cigala’s voice suddenly became very soft and serious. “I love my children very much, the only thing that made me strong in this world are my children.”