Meet the Spanish rapper mixing flamenco with hip-hop and breaking music records

Spanish rapper C. Tangana was taking a big risk when he started mixing old-fashioned influences like flamenco and bossa nova into his hip-hop – but it’s that eclectic sound that made him a phenomenon on both sides of Atlantic. The 30-year-old has become one of the biggest Spanish-speaking stars in the world since the release of his third album ‘El Madrileno’ – the Madrid – in February. This places him alongside his Grammy-winning superstar ex-girlfriend Rosalia. Catalan singer with whom he co-wrote several hits. C. Tangana, whose real name is Anton Alvarez Alfaro, has come a long way over the past decade or so when he emerged as the voice of disillusioned Spanish youth in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Today his rap is steeped in everything from reggaeton and rumba to deeply traditional styles of Spain and Latin America, with a voice often digitized by autotune.

“It’s amazing that when my music is the most popular, it’s exactly when I’m doing something a little more complex, more experimental and less trendy,” he told AFP. in an interview.

And he’s not ashamed to appeal to a wider audience than before: his dream now is to make music “that a young person can enjoy in a club or that an older person can enjoy at home in cooking ”.

The rapper, who sports a stern semi-shaved haircut and pencil mustache, has worked with big names in Spanish flamenco including Nino De Elche, Antonio Carmona, Kiko Veneno, La Hungara and the Gipsy Kings.

In April, he brought some of them together for a performance on NPR’s popular “Tiny Desk Concert” series, which has already garnered nearly six million views on YouTube.

Stepping away from the trap, one of rap’s most popular subgenres, and venturing into a more traditional repertoire was a dangerous move – especially for someone with a young fan base for whom rumba, the bossa nova and the bolero seem old-fashioned.

“I think people are tired. They are fed up with the predominant aesthetic values ​​that previously defined pop and urban music, ”he said.

Parts of his latest album were recorded in Latin America with Cuban guitarist Eliades Ochoa of the Buena Vista Social Club, Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler, Mexican folk artist Ed Maverick and Brazilian Toquinho, one of the big names. bossa nova.

“What struck me the most everywhere I went was the sense of tradition and the way people experienced the most popular music, and I’m not talking about pop,” he said. -he declares.

C. Tangana started rapping in 2006 under the name Crema. When the global economic crisis swept through Spain a few years later, a hard-hitting trap was the perfect way to express the anguish of his generation.

But after more than a decade of rap, things have changed.

“When I was heading into my thirties, I hit this crisis, I was a little fed up with what I was doing… and I decided to give a voice to all these influences that I never dared to express as a rapper, ”he says.

The shift began in 2018 with “Un veneno” (“A poison”) which was released a year after its great success “Mala mujer” (“Bad woman”).

And there was a return to the sounds of his childhood when he listened to Spanish folk songs at home, raised by a mother who worked in education and a journalist father who loved to play the guitar.

Latin American influences came later.

“It started when I was a teenager with reggaeton and bachata playing in the first clubs I went to which were mostly Latin,” he said.

Studying philosophy at the time, he wrote his first raps between stays in call centers or fast food.

As to what comes next, he doesn’t know.

But one thing he hopes to do is collaborate with Natalia Lafourcade, a Mexican singer who specializes in folk, rock and pop – another musical jack-of-all-trades.

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