Text: Estela Zatania
While Madrid and Barcelona were arguing about which of the two
deserved to be known as the ninth province of Andalucia with regard to
flamenco, along came Juan Antonio Santiago Salazar from Extremadura. He
was born in Zafra (Badajoz) in 1954, was brought up in Huelva, debuted
at the age of fifteen at Madrid’s legendary tablao Los Canasteros,
he settled down in Utrera where he has lived for many years and makes
frequent professional trips to Japan.
It’s a geographic mélange that has proven fruitful, because
“Enrique el Extremeño” as he is professionally known,
is the owner of a very flamenco voice he uses to sing traditional cante,
both solo and for dance, although his greatest fame is from the latter.
For years he traveled the globe with the biggest stars of flamenco dance
such as Mario Maya, El Güito and Cristina Hoyos among others, but
he made his name with Manuela Carrasco who also participates on Extremeño’s
latest recording, “Tierra de Barros”. Guitarist Pedro Sierra
who produced the recording is filling an important niche large record
companies hardly work any more, making dignified recordings of interesting
Artistic collaborations on the recording include not only Sierra himself
on the accompaniment, but Manuela Carrasco, La Susi (Manuela’s sister-in-law),
and the popular José Valencia. La Tobala, a relative of Extremeño’s
and wife of Pedro Sierra adds her voice on some of the cuts and Domi de
Morón and Noño, the singer’s son, provide guitar-playing.
The record opens freshly and rhythmically with the first of four bulerías,
a song with unmistakable touches of bulería of Extremadura, or
“jaleos” as the natives call them. Flamenco fans of a certain
age might find the repeated harmonized choruses used throughout the record
somewhat off-putting. It’s a dated sound which is destined to identify
the current era of flamenco singing. Nevertheless, Extremeño puts
everything right with his flamenco sound and his compás, and the
guitar, although it’s often upstaged by other instruments, bears
the Pedro Sierra seal, intelligently modern with a traditional underpinning.
The rumba of the new millenium is called “tango-rumba”, but
between one form and the other is but a slightly different strum to tell
them apart. The song “El Aire se Lleva el Trigo”, in the flamenco
key, serves up a neo Cañorroto sound, and again the harmonized
chorus appears, this time more appropriate.
“La Telera” is an updated version of classic bulerías
de Cádiz. Extremeño’s voice reaches a high saline
concentration as is only fitting, given the geography of the material,
but we know Pericón and Manolo Vargas stopped selling “papel
de Alcoy” decades ago because the guitar couldn’t be more
today. Enrique stuggles admirably to get that special Cádiz sound,
and manages to keep it going despite the chorus’ best efforts and
some overdone drums. We have before us a flamenco singer with a traditional
background and extensive knowledge who is looking for his place in the
current market with the help of the young artists who surround him.
“El Corazón Sufre” is labeled “tangos”
but it is another song to the rhythm of tangos, not a complaint but a
clarification. This is the fourth number in a row with the same type of
chorus, but Extremeño just keeps ticking with his flamenco sound.
A taranto for dance, that is, to the rhythm of zambra, is called “Pastora
Divina” and is adorned with Manuela Carrasco’s footwork. The
tango ending has that laid-back feeling that comes from the extended chords
we usually associate with jazz and “new flamenco”, while the
singer keeps to the straight and narrow of traditional cante and it all
Enrique Extremeño – foto: Estela Zatania
“El pañuelo que te di te lo compré en la Habana,
que huele a Cái por la muralla” is the digitally multiplied
choral voice that anchors these alegrías. Sierra and Extremeño
pad around in traditional flamenco like youngsters in a sandbox, and do
a fine job. The fresh sound they are looking for is here, and even the
chorus is digestible.
A change of pace comes with “Juguete Pasajero”, a nice bulería
song in the most traditional style of Utrera, reflecting the Bambino style
so popular in that town. Some original sounds emit from the guitar department,
and it’s not easy to surprise anyone nowadays with six strings.
This is followed by “La Luna Llena”, a vidalita, the “ida
y vuelta” form from Argentine folk-music which along with milonga
enjoyed great popularity during the so-called “opera flamenca”
era. It is currently enjoying a modest comeback thanks to singers like
Diego el Cigala, Mayte Martín and others, but it’s possible
Enrique el Extremeño is vocally overqualified for this sweet, sentimental
form played free-style.
In “Tembló Aquel Día”, labeled “malagueña
personal”, the singer defends himself with great dignity and then
takes us to the land of “abandolao” rhythm with the style
of Frasquito Yerbabuena where he seems more at home. “Los Cabales”
is classic bulerías which el Extremeño navigates with the
greatest of ease and his personality shines through in a “fiesta
finale” format. The chorus strives to tone down the flamenco vibes,
but Susi, José Valencia, La Tobala and Guillermo Manzano don’t
let it happen.
The record could and should have ended then and there, but there’s
another vidalita, or more precisely, the same one in orchestrated version:
“La Luna Llena”. Once again El Extremeño makes full
use of his considerable resources, but it comes across as overkill with
the suave piano bar accompaniment.
“Tierra de Barros” is a fine piece of work, with a few snags
and plenty of assets, the greatest one being the combination of Enrique
el Extremeño’s good instincts with Pedro Sierra’s cerebral
creativity and musicality in a friendly generational face-off that reflects
the current state of flamenco.