New Arab-Flamenco - 2007
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Miguel Poveda
Desglaç (CD + DVD)
Discmedi (www.discmedi.com)

Faiz Ali Faiz, Duquende, Miguel Poveda & Chicuelo
Qawwali Flamenco (2 CDs + DVD)
Accords Croisés (www.accords-croises.com)

Luis Delgado with Mohamed Serghini El Arabí, et al.
Tanger
Nubenegra (www.nubenegra.com)

A generation of younger artists is undoing received ideas about the supposed mutual exclusivity of musical genres in Spain.

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Miguel Poveda, although he sings in Catalan and is what to Gypsies refer to as payo (non-Gypsy), has won over the flamenco gatekeepers of Sevilla and Andalusia. Yet Poveda mixes flamenco with tango, Levantine sounds, classical, jazz and more, which may explain the power of his music, and its appeal to the post-Franco generation. For example, "Final" is a fiery tango-like repudiation of everything the brutal, paternalistic dictator represented. ("Desglaç" means "thaw," evident reference to a cultural process still very much underway in Spain some three decades after Franco's passing.) With a voice of enormous command and passion, Poveda takes a dozen revered Catalan poets and puts them to music, working with top accompaniment: Juan Gómez "Chicuelo" (guitar), Marcelo Mercadante (bandoneon), Gustavo Llull (piano), Andrés Serafini (upright bass), and Roger Blavia (drums), with guests on violin, viola, cello, santur, sax, percussion, and palmas. Poveda sings as though there's no tomorrow, although he cultivates a deep sense of literature and history. This is especially evident, aurally, visually and intellectually, from the DVD documentary, which reinforces the impression of artistic seriousness conveyed by the CD.

Like Poveda, singer Juan Cortés "Duquende" (who performs with Paco de Lucia, another payo who has exploded the stereotype that only Gypsies can perform flamenco) sees flamenco as a point of departure, rather than a repository of unchanging tradition. Together with "Chicuelo" (accompanist to noted flamenco singers and dancers, mostly of Catalonia) and percussionist Isaac Vigueras, Poveda and Duquende signed on to the Qawwali-Flamenco project, in collaboration with the Pakistani Sufi group led by singer Faiz Ali Faiz. Faiz's group includes eight other men on vocals, harmonium, and tabla. The ensembles take turns, and combine forces on six of the eleven extended numbers heard on the two CDs. As would be expected in genres where the voice is the focus, the three singers are most prominent, with Chicuelo directing the overall flow from the guitarist's chair. The vocal affinities of qawwali and flamenco are patent, and the singers establish a rapport that carries off the project well.

Yet two very different kinds of musics and cultural traditions are in play here, one sacred, the other secular. The producers are the first to acknowledge the tentative character of the experiment, given the very different musical vocabularies and aesthetic conceptions represented. One sees, for instance, the distinctive approaches to rhythm by comparing the role of handclapping in flamenco and qawwali, and as the producers note, the tabla, ordinarily played to accent the rhythm of the lyrics, had to be prodded to play a regular tempo. This is a fascinating musical experiment, albeit not without difficulty.

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Both conceptually and practically the undertaking has a somewhat tentative feel, and the potential for tension is evident, as when we observe the producers and musicians coaching one another across the cultural divide. With a Western audience in mind, apparently, the European producers seem to be calling the creative shots. It would be enlightening to know the impressions of the eight supporting qawwali singers and musicians, who, unlike Faiz, Chicuelo, Duquende and Poveda, are never queried on camera.

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This two-CD package also includes a DVD with five pieces performed by the artists in a concert in Fez, Morocco, together with a "making of" explication of the rationale behind the project. The informative, profusely illustrated hardcover booklet presents text and lyrics in French, Spanish and English.

Plainly closer in geographical, musical and historical terms, Luis Delgado's Tanger brings together Spanish and North African artists, in what is plainly an extension of his longstanding interest in the deep musical and cultural influences that have endured from the time of Moorish Iberia. Delgado (santur, lute, guimbri, bendhir, karabebs, vocals)
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is backed by six singers and instrumentalists from Spain (accordion, kaval, clarinets, axabeba, karabebs, percussion) and Morocco (violin, viola, lute). Their live performance presents a mixed repertoire of Delgado originals (several with texts by Arabic language poets, again demonstrating the importance of a literary sensibility in works of cultural memory like this one) and traditional North African tunes. The profusely illustrated booklet includes text and lyrics in Spanish and English. Also included is an eight-minute video of excerpt from their 2004 Tangier concert. Less ambitious in the cultural leap it seeks to execute than the qawwali-flamenco project, this is an equally winning undertaking, and in terms of ongoing fruition, probably the more enduring one. - Michael Stone

Qawwali Flamenco and Tanger are available from cdRoots.com
Miguel Poveda web site: www.miguelpoveda.com

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