My Songs And A Poem

Estrella Morente, 2002

"One of our intentions was to keep the flavour of classic flamenco, while imbuing this 'deep song' (cante jondo) with contemporary feeling. More than anything this has to do with attitude. I love the ancestral, what comes to us from the past, the things that for good or bad have happened to those who lived before us. I love to respect that, because learning from the old and wise is to learn from those who have already passed along the road, yet re-capture it with the sound of today." - Enrique Morente

From the moment we hear the first fast-strummed notes of Alfredo Lagos's guitar, the sharp hand-clapping 'palmas' and then the voice of Estrella Morente as she sings a long decorative 'ay', we are plunged into the heart of both contemporary and classical flamenco. For Estrella Morente sings 'Cockles' (an 'alegria' - literally 'happiness') with the energy of a generation whose fathers have broken open the prison of tradition, modernising flamenco without betraying its deep roots. Lagos' crisp, subtle playing interacts with Estrella's beautifully light emotional tones as she stretches notes melismatically, bringing to life the Cadiz verses that tell of a sailor bound for foreign parts whose only desire is to see his love once more.

'At The Top Of The Cerro De Palomares' takes us straight to the hills of Granada, where both Estrella and this song of popular verses were born. For this spirited tangos Estrella is accompanied by the Carmonas and Habichuelas - cousins and uncles whose names form a roll-call of the most innovative musicians of late 20th century flamenco (notably the Carmonas as Ketama, the cutting-edge flamenco-blues-rock group). They are the extended family she has grown up with in the Albaicin, Granada's medieval quarter by the spectacular Moorish Alhambra Palace. Close by is the Sacromonte hill where several of Estrella's songs were recorded in the natural atmosphere of the caves - the traditional hill-side homes of the gypsy population from whose clans Estrella, like many of Spain's best flamenco guitarists, singers and dancers, has emerged.

The upbeat atmosphere of the two tangos 'At The Top Of The Cerro De Palomares' (2) and 'Pepico's Tangos' (10), their lyrics full of popular riddle-like sayings, and the swinging bulerias 'Pilgrims' (8) is infectious. They capture Estrella in the bosom of her flamenco family - with some songs recorded in the Sacromonte Cueva del Curro and others in La Kaleta, the small studios overlooking the sea in Cadiz. Various recording places were chosen - to bring out particular atmospheres and the playing styles of the different guitarists.

One of the exceptional joys of the album is that, as well as the more upbeat 'bulerias' and 'tangos' (rhythms that just ask to be danced to), Estrella sings classic 'deep song' in ways that make it definitively her own. Flamenco is nothing more or less than the personal re-creation of traditional forms in a way that speaks passionately in the moment. That Estrella is only 20 and can do this effortlessly without forcing anything is astounding. It is the reason why the Spanish press have heaped nothing but praise upon her and the disc.

Therecord gains its name 'My Songs and A Poem' from Moguer, the poem of Nobel prize-winning poet Juan Ramon Jimenez. Its music, as with most of the other songs on the album, has been composed especially by Estrella's father, the renowned flamenco singer and producer, Enrique Morente: "It was the line 'My life was a leap, revolution, permanent shipwreck' which made me write the music for this poem." Jimenez, who died in exile in Puerto Rico, came from the village of Moguer in Huelva, the birthplace of Cristobal Columbus. Like Columbus he left Moguer for the 'new world', the Americas. Like him he returned but was later exiled. Estrella's voice takes us on his restless journey. Recorded first in Morente's home studio in the Albaicin, it was completed in La Kaleta looking onto the same sea which infuses the song.

The first 'cante jondo' we hear is the ancient 'solea', 'The Night', when Estrella is accompanied by the great flamenco guitarist Juan Habichuela (father of the Carmonas of Ketama and Estrella's uncle). Manolo Sanlucar accompanies her for three more classic pieces of the great flamenco repertoires: the 'media granaina' 'Alcazaba' (6); the 'malaguena' (literally from Malaga) 'Why Do You Deny The Frenzy?'; and the final 'taranta' 'The Flames Reach The Sky'. Recorded in the Punto de la Paloma (Dove Point) studios in Tarifa, the point of Spain close to the coast of Africa, Estrella shows her gift for sculpting deep emotional meaning not just into phrases but into individual words - by allowing her voice to trill, tremble and subtly shift from the trace of a whisper to mournful cry. Many flamenco musicians over time gain a nickname from their peers: Estrella's family call her the 'nightingale'.

Her other distinguished uncle, Jose Carbonell Montoyita, accompanies her for 'Gallery' (12), an old 'taranta en tono Rondena' (from Ronda). Brother of Estrella's mother, the dancer Aurora Carbonell, Montoyita has accompanied Estrella since she was a child, taking her with him when he played.

A very special dynamic is established between Estrella and Jerez musician Alfredo Lagos - the main guitarist for the album and presently Estrella's main touring accompanist. For flamenco to work, the empathy between singer and guitarist is all. The guitarist exists to evoke the right ambience for the singer to realise the meanings they wish to give to the words in performance. Just listen to their interaction on the breathtaking 'Solea Grana' (11) when Lagos creates a poignant style which shapes itself to Estrella's voice. With the versatile Lagos, Estrella moves from deep song to the stirring bulerias 'Let Sunday Come', lifting her skirt to click her heels and dance as she sings.

'For Pastora' - Estrella's moving composition for Pastora Pavon 'La Nina de Los Peines' (The Girl of The Combs), one of the most influential flamenco singers of the 20th century - is a tribute which defines where Estrella's own inspiration stems. Its vivid narrative captures Pavon on Good Friday on a Seville balcony as the Virgin of the Macarena is processed past during the Easter Week processions. Pavon's response to the Virgin is to sing a melody as fine as lace. Estrella hopes this voice, which she has heard in her dreams, has come to her through the breeze of time.

Flamenco has survived for centuries through the capacity of singers to adapt and express traditional words and notes so they resonate with the vitality, joy and pain of their deepest feelings and experiences while recalling the emotional histories of those who have gone before them. It is the immediacy of these feelings which give flamenco, one of the oldest musics of Europe, its power and compels the listener into the song. This laying bare of personal emotions, exploring inner worlds of love, vulnerability and insecurity is to articulate the soul. This is Estrella Morente's gift in 'My Songs and A Poem'.

Reviews

  • Estrella Morente : My Songs And A Poem Real World : CDRW101 - Estrella Morente is a rising star of the flamenco world and this is her long-awaited debut album. Even though she's only twenty, her voice has a passion and an urgency that is breathtaking. The songs are traditional, adapted by her father (the legendary Enrique Morente) and the musicians featured are amongst Spain's finest. Piccadilly Records (UK)
  • '...the most promising female flamenco singer of recent years...Here is music as beautiful and elemental as Andalucia itself.' Hmv Choice (UK)
  • As with all the best flamenco singers, she is a risk-taker, capable of pulling off startling vocal twists and turns. An audacious and magnificent debut record. The Times (UK)
  • A star in the ascendancy. 'The band she uses is superb and includes the young musicians Ketama, but it is Morente herself who mesmerises, especially at slower tempi...A star in the ascendancy.' The Birmingham Post (UK)
  • ...thoroughly passionate. ...this is both easy on the ear and thoroughly passionate. When it comes to flamenco, the pedigree is almost as important as the music: Estrella has the necessary in spades...Big future guaranteed.' Mojo (UK)
  • 'Young and sexy are not words often associated with this ancient form of music, yet Estrella Morente's appreciation of traditional aspects of her heritage means she will bring this exciting music to a whole new generation.' Audiostreet.com (UK)
  • '...a new force to be reckoned with...Estrella breathes fresh life into one of Spain's proudest musical customs.' Daily Mail (UK)
  • ...she has the poise and bearing of one who has already lived a lifetime. The Times (UK)
  • '...she's absolutely the real thing. Even the pickiest flamenco aficionado would have a hard time denying that this is a fine, fresh album. She has a classic flamenco voice, moving between wild passion and silky seductiveness...' Froots (UK)
  • 'It is an art in itself that she manages to espress emotions as rich and ungovernable as a river in flood in a form that is actually very concise...this album rests on Estrella's bold spirit and brilliant techniques.' Stright No Chaser (UK)
  • '...flamenco has made surprisingly little impact on the world music scene...Estrella Morente, however, is about to change things. Backed by the crème of Spanish guitarists, her debut modernises the idiom subtly and from the inside - seductively drawing in elements from pop and jazz balladry, demonstrating a canny ear for international tastes while remaining true to its own traditions.' Daily Telegraph (UK)