Last year, Spanish singer Diego El Cigala performed at the Hollywood Bowl in L.A. on what should have been a memorable night. Professionally, it was. The flamenco star enthralled the audience but never mentioned that, just hours before the show, his wife had died of cancer.
Earlier this month, as the artist put the final touches on his upcoming U.S. tour — including a performance this Saturday at the Fillmore Miami Beach, presented by The Rhythm Foundation — and readied himself for the launch of a new album, he received the news that his mother, Aurora, had passed away.
The title of that album, “Indestructible,” is fitting: No matter the heartbreak in his gypsy soul, El Cigala soldiers on.
“Life throws punches at you that shape you,” El Cigala says from Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, where he has lived since 2013. “When these things happen, I find relief in music. It’s the only way to get through. Music makes you remember all those memories.”
He has a quarter-century of memories with his wife Amparo Fernández, the mother of his two children, ages 11 and 19. She was the love of his life, the rock of the family, and his manager as well. Everything he knew and cherished changed when she died.
“I still don’t know how I did it,” says the Madrid-born singer. “When something like that hits you so suddenly, you don’t have much time to react. The only thing you want to do is go forward and take care of your kids.”
The show does go on with him
“Indestructible,” the album he’s promoting on this tour, takes the 47-year-old performer on a new and adventurous path, part of the musical journey of discovery that began in 2003 when he released “Lágrimas Negras” with legendary Cuban pianist, bandleader and composer Bebo Valdés.
Diego Ramón Jiménez Salazar, who had grown up singing in traditional flamenco venues, had already made a name for himself in the world of flamenco and performed with some of its key figures. But when Valdés introduced the man nicknamed after a Spanish crustacean to Cuban music, El Cigala’s musical world expanded.
“His collaborations and explorations push the boundaries of traditional flamenco, but always with great integrity and respect,” says Laura Quinlan, Rhythm Foundation programming director.
For Quinlan, who also brought El Cigala to South Florida two years ago, “flamenco is such a living style; it hasn’t become a dusty folklore music because the great artists like El Cigala keep evolving the art form. He is such a gitano, so Spanish, and also so much a man of the entire world.”
Life throws punches at you that shape you. When these things happen, I find relief in music.
Flamenco singer Diego El Cigala
The world’s musical offerings also brought El Cigala to tango and Argentine folk music in two albums, “Cigala & Tango” (2010) and “Romance de la Luna Tucumana” (2013), which earned him Latin Grammys and broadened his appeal to make him a world music star.
With “Indestructible” (a documentary of the production is scheduled for release in December), El Cigala delved into salsa, recording in the genre’s capitals of San Juan, New York, Havana, Cali (Colombia) and Miami.
“These cities are the pillars, but Puerto Rico is the mecca,” says El Cigala, who included Puerto Rican salsa icons like Roberto Roena, Bobby Valentín, and Luis “Perico” Ortiz on the songs. “So I had to go there to share with all these musical geniuses.”
Cuba and Venezuela also in the mix
The result not only pays homage to Puerto Rican salsa but includes a tribute to Valdés and collaborations with Grammy-winning Afro-Cuban jazz pianist and composer Gonzalo Rubalcaba; Venezuelan salsa maestro Oscar D’ León; and Cuban rumba group Los Muñequitos de Matanzas.
“Although my father had worked with Diego, and both our families knew each other, this record marks my first professional collaboration with him,” says Rubalcaba from his home in Coral Springs. “We always had the willingness to do something together, but it didn’t happen until now.”
The challenge he and El Cigala faced was, he adds, how to perform classics of Latin music, recorded innumerable times, in an innovative way without betraying their essence.
“With Diego, this has been a constant throughout his career,” Rubalcaba continues. “He’s restless, he’s daring. Diego is an artist with a capital A.”
“Diego has created his own genre,” says Anthony González, who works in A&R at Sony Music Latin, which is releasing “Indestructible.” “He’s certainly a romantic at heart... and that is also a great part of his ability to connect, not just musically, but emotionally as well.”
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