of the Festival Flamenco USA is sponsored by Arte
Fyl Dance Shoes
de Arte Fyl:
art for the Art
Text: Mona Molarsky
By fits and starts, Spain’s superstar
Arcángel makes his New York debut
Cante: Arcángel. Guitar: Juan Ramón Caro. Percussion:
In New York, a city that knows nothing of cante
(flamenco singing), nor cares to learn, Arcángel made his
unexpected debut at Carnegie Hall's Zankel auditorium on Friday,
February 11th. He took the stage in place of Mayte Martín,
who cancelled due to illness. For a young star with such a large
following in Spain, it must have been strange to step, almost unheralded,
onto the famous New York stage.
In a sense, it was his big moment. As he said to the audience,
in charmingly accented English, “For me, it is very important–singing
in New York. It was my biggest dream, when I was a child, to come
And yet, standing there in front of a half-full house–mostly populated
with classical music lovers, expatriate Spaniards and embassy types–the
cherubic-faced young man may have felt it was not such a big moment
after all. In the darkened auditorium, he stepped alone into the
spotlight to begin with a toná, that stark, unaccompanied
flamenco form. And I was torn between wanting to applaud him for
his bravery and scold him for his mistake.
New York is not a city where one should begin with a toná
or a martinete. No, it is better to seduce the audience
with some high spirits and sensuality, first. Perhaps alegrías
or bulerías would be best. For when American audiences
think of flamenco, they think of the gaiety of Seville, of beautiful
women in ruffled dresses. When thinking about the music, they think
of guitars and lacy tremolos. Cante does not come into
the equation at all. And it is going to take a lot of effort, thought
and persistence to change that.
The three men were riding the same wave
and you could see its rhythm pulsing through their shoulders
sang his toná into the terrible silence of the hall.
And one olé rang from the balcony. There was a smattering
of applause and then the singer turned his back and walked off stage.
For his next cante, a seguiriya, Arcángel
was joined by Juan Ramón Caro, usually the guitarist for
Mayte Martín. One sensed that singer and guitarist were not
really ready for seguiriya …yet. Caro's guitar was
lyrical but lacked a feeling of inevitability. Arcángel,
his voice high and slightly metallic, seemed weak and without conviction.
I briefly wondered whether, at 28, he was really old enough to sing
seguiriya. At this early point in the evening, neither
singer nor guitarist seemed to have formed a bond. Happily, things
began to change as the concert progressed.
Halfway through tangos, Caro started to find his stride.
Arcángel egged him on with jaleo. Although the temperature
was still cool, one could sense that a chemical reaction was beginning
to take place. Soon, Guillermo McGill joined in on cajón
and added to the feeling that a fiesta was brewing. In the alegrías,
Arcángel's voice became more urgent, the guitarist's compás
more pronounced. Olés rang out from the audience.
Now the three men were riding the same wave and you could see its
rhythm pulsing through their shoulders. In the best of all possible
worlds, this is where Arcángel's New York debut should have
started–with artists and audience a gusto–just before the fandangos
Of course, it is for singing the fandangos de Huelva,
that Arcángel is most famous. And his tinny, old-fashioned
voice does seem perfect for them. The guitar began with a slow,
stately tempo and the percussionist joined in, marking the downbeat
on a ceramic jug. Arcángel stood, snapping his fingers, transporting
himself to the back streets of his hometown. The audience was with
him from the first moment. And when he sang, in the voice of a working
man from Huelva, “soy pañero,” I was sure
he had grown up around such men and their little shops in narrow
alleys of the city. I believed he knew what he was talking about.
The greatness of the individual artists
matters less than their ability to come together as a group
At the end, a roar of applause–or as much of a roar as 300 people
can make–filled the theater. And, although no women tossed their
panties onto the stage–New Yorkers don't do that sort of thing–one
woman could be heard shouting, “¡guapo! ¡guapo!”
As for me, I was left with mixed emotions. Glad that a flamenco
singer had managed a solo concert at Carnegie Hall, sorry that Arcángel
and his musicians hadn't been more prepared. None-the-less, it was
a gallant effort. And when the singer from Huelva rounded up his
little band of two for an a capella fin de fiesta bulerías,
with himself and Caro switching off singing letras, while
the other danced, you had to admire their spunk.
Arcángel's singing isn't to every aficionado's taste. And
it is far from the world of intense, soulful cante gitano–Gypsy
singing–that many, including myself, are devoted to. As a lover
of the Gypsy cante–I found this young man from Huelva lacking in
emotional depth. When compared with the cante that Agujetas was
recording at the same age, Arcángel's seguiriyas,
seem hopelessly anemic. Yet, it is probably wrong to judge Arcángel
by his seguiriyas and unwise that he should ask it. He
has other strengths. Watching him and his musicians pull the show
out of the teeth of disaster last night, I was reminded of an important
flamenco truth. Sometimes, on stage, the greatness of the individual
artists matters less than their ability to come together as a group.
Glad that a flamenco singer had
managed a solo concert at Carnegie Hall, sorry that Arcángel
and his musicians hadn't been more prepared.
Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for somebody to figure out how to bring
cante to New York and make it a big success. As one of the great
song traditions of the world, cante flamenco should have
the large, receptive American audience it deserves. Maybe it's just
a matter of finding the right, charismatic artists. More likely,
it's a question of choosing the appropriate venues and slowly, educating
the fledgling audience. Already, there are more than a big handful
of New Yorkers who are waiting. So, when the right people come together
with the right ambience, the fiesta de cante is sure to
by Mona Molarsky © 2005. All rights reserved..
Photos by Rafael Manjavacas
'La Calle Perdía'
Aprende el cajón flamenco – Guillermo McGuill