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05/04/2018

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About

Elena Andujar was born in Sevilla, birthplace of flamenco.  From these roots, she was raised in an atmosphere in which flamenco is a way of life.  As a child, she was infused with the music, singing and dance of these traditions.   Elena began formally studying dance at age 10 and ...

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Ben Michaels
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Passionate Hybrid: How the Exultant Sounds of House and Flamenco Merge on Flamenco in Time

When you really love tradition, you need to be fearless enough to remix it. And the strongest traditions stand up beautifully to transformation, drawing new power from new forms.

That’s what veteran house music vocalist and flamenco aficionado MyMy “Pepper” Gomez realized. She had gotten deep into flamenco music and dance, but was frustrated with the lack of interest many younger listeners showed in the raw yet elegant artform. “Almost anyone can like the right flamenco. The traditional repertoire is a significant genre all its own, with a variety of different song and playing forms,” explains Gomez. “Many people don’t know what flamenco is. This is Spain’s cultural jewel, and I long for everyone to be aware of it.”

She decided to make this connection by uniting some of the music she knew and loved best, old-school, speaker-thumping house with the smouldering cadences of flamenco. She teamed up with singer, dancer, and flamenco torchbearer Elena Andujar and longtime friend and ace club music producer Matt Warren to make Flamenco in Time (Wake Up! Music; release: July 27, 2018), a soaring remix of flamenco-infused gems.

The combination is unexpected, but organic. Both musical styles sprang from the passions and experiences of people who found themselves at the margins of mainstream life. Both beat with a pulse that beckons you to move. Both have a lot to say about love, loss, and the thrills inherent in life.

“I hope the listeners feel the elements and roots of flamenco as well as house,” says Andujar. “Flamenco of course is much older, but both came out of the streets and are full of expression and feeling. With music and dance, as I'm both a dancer and a singer, you can reach many people’s hearts, no matter what language or style you’re using.”

{full story below}

Andujar has been learning and performing flamenco since her girlhood in Sevilla, studying with some of Spain’s strongest singers and dancers. Gomez, who became obsessed with flamenco after her house heyday, crossed paths with Andujar as she worked to master the breadth of flamenco repertoire. For many years, she studied with esteemed cante master and singer, Manolo Leiva, who taught her many of the older songs. She turned to Andujar to learn more modern repertoire and the two became close friends.

With time, Andujar and Gomez discussed what Andujar might do next, what her next record might be. Gomez decided to take the plunge and produce something close to her heart, a house meets flamenco album. She tapped Warren, whom she knew from her work on club hits in the 1980s.

Andujar accepted the challenge. “The most challenging parts were in the beginning - the blending of these two styles - different and separate but so easily connected,” muses Andujar. “When you take risks, you have to leave your fears behind and let the creative process drive things. In reality, we were creating a new style - no one has done a fusion of house/club before.  There has been jazz and flamenco and blues and flamenco fusions, but never what we have done with this album.”

The time is ripe, as the original wave of house has seen a revival. Gomez and Warren knew that first blush of house well. They were behind some of the first tracks from the Chicago house scene to chart on the Billboard dance chart (1986’s “Electric Baile” and  “The Way to my Heart”). Though both explored other directions and ideas since, they knew they made a great team in the studio, and they knew that could rock out some killer house tracks.

However, to make it work, the three collaborators knew they needed to find just the right songs to experiment with. “El Despertador” was a flamenco hit in the 60s but sounds remarkably fresh thanks to Warren, Gomez, and Andujar’s collaboration. Gomez, a published poet, wrote “Es Asi (You’re my Number 1)” to call out domestic violence and abuse, a topic that Andujar’s voice and Warren and Gomez’s production do true justice. “Fever” covers the jazz standard, but in Spanish and with flamenco grit and bouncing bass.

Warren took the material and Gomez’s ideas and ran with it. “Matt let me run the vocal production, but he put together the tracks and recruited the musicians [like GRAMMY-nominated trumpet player Ron Haynes] who came up with their own parts,” explains Gomez. “He’s a great DJ and mixmaster, and he’s a beast on the boards.”

The experience was novel for Andujar, but she loved the process. “It was my first time in the studio with Matt Warren and MyMy, but it was great,” she says. “I think next time, we expect even more awesome things to happen as the more you work with someone, the greater comfort you feel. They really got the best performances out of me and the whole experience was unforgettable.” Her son Antonio, an up-and-coming cajon and percussion player, was skeptical at first, swearing flamenco was old and dying. However, after a few days in the studio, he was convinced--and hooked, as his spot-on playing demonstrates.

“This is a way to keep flamenco music alive,” reflects Gomez. “I love this music. It’s beautiful, and the lyrics are soul stirring and profound. It moves people. I want it to live.” What better way than on the dancefloor and the wheels of steel?