Raúl Rodriguez - RAZÓN DE SON
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Raúl Rodriguez - RAZÓN DE SON

Sevilla, Andalusia, Spain | Established. Jan 01, 2014

Sevilla, Andalusia, Spain
Established on Jan, 2014
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"Guitarist Raúl Rodríguez on Flamenco Guitarist Diego del Gastor"

Guitarist Diego del Gastor – Translated by Brook Zern
by Brook Zern

For several years, one of the hottest acts in world music was Son de la Frontera, winner of the 2008 BBC World Music Award. It was fronted by a Spanish guitarist and all-around musician named Raúl Rodríguez, who for years had been accompanying his mother, an amazing singer of flamenco-influenced pop music on her successful tours. At one point, he drafted some talented flamenco artists from the town of Morón de la Frontera to join the proceedings. It may have been his mother who suggested that they go out on their own; at any rate, they soon showed up in New York, supporting their first album called Son de la Frontera — their second was called Cal, named for the limestone that is still dug from the side of the mountain of Morón and used to whitewash the white towns and countless white houses that symbolize Andalusia.

The truly extraordinary thing about this flamenco ensemble was that it presented the remarkable musical creations of the guitarist Diego del Gastor — but not on the guitar. Instead, Raúl Rodríguez played those falsetas on the Cuban tres — an instrument that has three sets of double strings, and sounds a bit like like a mandolin or the so-called Portuguese guitar sometimes used in the caves of Granada to raise a recognizable melody up above the general midrange ruckus of a Gypsy jam session.

The lineup of the group was solid: Raúl Rodríguez on the tres; Paco de Amparo playing the same melodies on the guitar and also providing the chordal underpinning; Pepe Torres, grandson of the singer Joselero who was Diego’s brother-in-law, dancing up a storm — he belongs on any list of the ten best dancers in the flamenco business; Manuel Flores providing percussion and also dancing; and Moi de Morón, a very good singer.

For decades, the three or four New York acolytes of Diego had been playing his music in coffee houses and wherever else we were tolerated. Even on our better nights, the beatniks, and then the hippies, and then the yuppies, and then the people so wealthy they could still afford to live in the Village, had never missed a sip or acknowledged our presence or for that matter shut up for one instant. So we knew that audience in the Symphony Space on Broadway and 96th Street would not tolerate for long the music we had wasted upon them for so long.

Then these five fine-looking young men came out, tossed five magnetic smiles on the crowd, and launched into a full-court-press version of the same great riffs we had tried to peddle. And for some strange reason, the response was different. Guys jumped up and down, women threw phone numbers and panties and god knows what else.

And afterwards, when we had almost given up on getting to meet the artists backstage because of the mob of young fans, they emerged from the dressing room. But as they were disappearing, one of us called out, “Hey, great picture on your T-shirts, guys. I took it.”

They heard. They fell silent. And then one of they yelled, “IT MUST BE STEVE KAHN!” And they came running toward us, crowding around Steve and asking for his address and generally making the same fuss about him that the crowd was making about them. I tried to say I was a friend of Steve’s, but nobody was listening. But we all ended up in a nearby café, where they introduced us to their number one fan, Jackson Browne, another noted musician with an apparent weakness for the material created by Diego del Gastor.

Well, the group imploded but has since regrouped as SonAires de la Frontera, minus Raúl Rodríguez on tres but with Keko Baldomero on the mandola — a predecessor of the mandolin with four doubled strings — among other changes, all heard on their CD called Moroneando.

And Steve Kahn has never stopped playing right-on guitar, even while creating a very successful exhibit of photographs taken by him and other foreigners in and around Morón, along with essays by him, me, and a bunch of others who were lucky enough to fall into that mysterious vortex. The exhibit, called “Flamenco Project — Una Ventana a la Visión Extranjera”, has been shown in many Spanish cities in and beyond flamenco territory. Check it out at www.flamencoproject.com

And now, without further ado, here’s what Raúl Rodríguez said about the art of Diego del Gastor:

“For me, the guitar of Morón de la Frontera, and more specifically the guitar of Diego del Gastor, is a school in which the old and the contemporary styles of playing are conceptually united. It is a concept of total music. Key roles in its creation were probably played by the geographic situation of the town, the personal history of Diego del Gastor, and the guitar tradition of this locality, together with the magical sense “que lleva aparejada” (that it is prepared for, ready for, fit for).

Diego del Gastor had a very special way of understanding the guitar, and this led him to create a whole arsenal of musical conceptions, of approaches to flamenco’s established rhythmic system or compas, of melodic variations or falsetas, and of concrete forms, the fruit of which was a tremendously original repertoire. All of this was achieved with a technique that was completely his own and with a musical concept that, in my view, is much more modern than that of today’s players, because it is “super-synthetic”, ["super-sintetico", a word implying the combining and synthesizing of ideas and materials in a broader and more effective way than contemporary fusion-minded players have achieved.]

It goes directly to the very definition of things, and doesn’t waste even one minute “en dar baratijas” (on the unimportant, on trifles). In every moment of his playing, Diego offers the essence of every one of the ideas that one could ultimately hope to have, elaborating and expanding upon only that which is required to transmit everything possible; because, at bottom, the ultimate goal of art is communication.

It’s for this reason that I identify so completely with the guitar playing of Morón de la Frontera and the guitar playing of Diego del Gastor. For me the man and his music serve as a model which draws close to the concept I have about all of modern music, whether pop, or flamenco, or rock: It places the communication of emotion above everything else. (“El fondo sobre la forma.”) The fundamental purpose is more important than the form. It always goes directly to the essential, seeking a mimimalist message.

The technique of Moron playing is characterized by its stress on the most fundamental elements of all, because the guitar never says anything it doesn’t have to say, never expresses anything it doesn’t need to to express. It is a technique as old as speech itself: Never say anything you need not say, and never play anything that cannot improve upon silence.

It is a totally functional (“útil”) music, because it can make people laugh, cry, play and dance. It incorporates a naturalness that derives totally from the people and their folk traditions, yet at the same time embodies the high art and high culture of a civilization.(“Tiene una naturaleza totalmente popular y sin embargo culta.”)

This is the “vertiente musical” (musical wellspring, or: musical aspect) that I find so compelling and interesting, because it seems much more reflective of an entire society and for that reason all the more true and authentic. It is a music that is intimately linked to the people, to the streets, to life and to love — in a way that shares all this richness. It is not a music of the upper classes, but of the common people. (“No es una music cortesana sino proletaria”.)

End of quote from Raúl Rodriguez.

A lot of people in Spain insist that the “myth” of Diego del Gastor sprang from the fervid imaginations and romantic images of a bunch of addled Americans. The wisest of them point to aspects of Diego’s playing, notably his approach to accompaniment, that were outside of the standard model — too assertive, not supportive enough for the singer. (I’ve heard too much great singing by great singers working with Diego to agree with that appraisal, but I’ve also heard some great singers say they didn’t like working with him.) - The Flamencoexperience


"SON DE LA FRONTERA"

Son De La Frontera's radical ambition on this album is simultaneously to look forwards and backwards—forward to Andalusian retentions in modern Latin American music, back to flamenco's own birth in Moorish music ("Moorish" in a flamenco context being a description as approximate as Jelly Roll Morton's "Spanish tinge," encompassing a diversity of North African and Levantine styles). The roots flamenco quintet succeeds brilliantly and thrillingly, particularly in its rediscovery of flamenco's deepest Gypsy roots in ancient North Indian and Afghani musics.

Blood-related melodic and rhythmic infusions from Cuban, Mexican, Colombian, Moroccan, Egyptian, and Lebanese folk styles help fuel the band's internationalism, but what really delivers the Latin American and Moorish double whammy is leader Raul Rodriguez's use of a Cuban tres instead of a flamenco guitar. This small guitar-like instrument has three sets of double metal strings, and Rodriguez plays it sometimes like an oud (tracks 1-4), sometimes like a sarod ("Cambiaron Los Tiempos"), sometimes like a mandolin ("Tangos De Mi Novia")—and sometimes even like a Cuban tres ("Buleria De Las Flores"). - ALL ABOUT JAZZ BY CHRIS MAY


Discography

Raul Rodriguez with Bands:

1995 as CARAOSCURA: Que quieres de mi (RCA)
2004 as SON DE LA FRONTERA: Son de la Frontera (Nuevos Medios)
2006 as SON DE LA FRONTERA: Cal (Nuevos Medios)
2014 as RAUL RODRIGUEZ: RAZON DE SON (tbc)

Raul Rodriguez as producer and arranger:

MARTIRIO (He visto color - BMG 1993, Flor de piel - 52PM 1999, Mucho corazn 52PM - 2002, 25 aos - Nuevos Medios 2009, De un mundo raro.Homenaje a Chavela - Universal 2013)

LAS MIGAS (Nosotras somos- Chesapik 2012)


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Bio

RAUL RODRIGUEZ - RAZON de SON (REASON OF SON)

 Razon de Son is a creative research project that investigates the intercultural origin of the early flamenco music.  The research uses a double method of investigation: on one side the anthropological background and on the other musical experimentation.  

Razon de Son aims to expand our musical storyline by tracing back to the deeply mestizo culture, heir of the cultural crossover that occurred in the Afro-Caribbean colonies and the Andalusian ports of Seville and Cdiz between XVI and XIX century.

 In order to offer a new scenic proposal with new tunes and reinterpretations of the ancient Afro-Hispanic dances, Ral Rodriguez introduces a new instrument that he has called the TRES FLAMENCO, combining son and toque, which opens the possibilities of finding new tracks for a new language: SON FLAMENCO.

 Razon de Son also applies the latest historical and musical studies around the multiple sources that influenced flamenco music. This idea has been developed among several authors over the last few years such as Faustino Nunez, Jose Luis Ortiz-Nuevo, J. L. Navarro Garca, and Santiago Auseron, offering some of the most interesting perspectives around the basic fundamentals of the flamenco culture.

This new perspective not only shows new  origins of Flamencos most deeply rooted traditions but also highlights the importance of the contribution of black music from the Andalusian ports of the XVI to XVIII centuries to flamenco music. Detailed studies show that the African dances already existed in the Golden Age and had a decisive influence on the development of many of the modern Flamenco dances thus opening up a path to follow in order to continue to discover new tools of expression, new sones for the future.

2003 Raul Rodriguez founded the band Son de la Frontera, including for the first time the Cuban Tres in Flamenco in an homage work to Diego del Gastor. He produced both albums of the band for Nuevos Medios: Son de la Frontera, (2004) and  Cal (2006). The band got international reputation, receiving several awards as  

 Flamenco Hoy 2005 Best Instrumental Album,  BBC Radio World Music Awards as Best European Album 2008 and a Grammy nomination as Best Flamenco Album in 2007.  Son de la Frontera toured worldwide and played in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, La Habana, Miami, Mxico DF, Montreal, Londres, Paris, Amsterdam, Roma, etc from 2003 to 2008.

RAZON DE SON is the continuation of his musical researches of early flamenco.

Instrumentation: 

RaĂşl Rodriguez Tres Cubano

Mario Mas Spanish Guitar

Aleix Tobias Percussions

Guillem Aguilar Bass