Flamenco’s Afro-Andalusian Roots: The Music of Raúl Rodríguez




Razón de Son (2014), Antropomúsica creativa de los cantes de ida y vuelta, produced, arranged, composed, and translated by Raúl Rodríguez, published in a 70-page book/CD format, with title page and cover by Tato Olivas, prologue by Faustino Núñez, illustrations by Jesús Cosano, and lyrics of the songs in Spanish and English. Recorded with Raúl Rodríguez (percusiones, bajo, guitarras acústica y eléctrica, tres flamenco, coros y voz), Martirio (voz), Bartolomé Franco ((flauta-gaita). ISBN#978-84-940993-3-5

La Raíz Eléctrica (2017), Antropomúsica creativa de los cantes de ida y vuelta (II), published in a 100-page book/CD format with an original cover by Javier Mariscal, prologue by Santiago Auserón; and illustrations by Jesús Cosano; with lyrics of the songs in Spanish and English. Recorded with musicians Mario Mas, Guillem Aguilar, Pablo Martín Jones, and Aleix Tobias; singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, guitarist Javier Mas, dancer Juan de Juan, and members of the Haitian musical collective Lakou Mizik (Paul Beaubrun and Theodore “Lolo” Beaubrun). ISBN#978-84-944241-6-8.

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A bailarte con ambiente
Y a tocarte el corazón

I want to dance for you with swing
And touch your heart

— Raúl Rodríguez

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RAÚL RODRÍGUEZ SINGS in the raspy whispers of a cantaor, teaching us the hidden secrets of the universe, confessing the sources of our pain and estrangement, dancing us back to unity. We are living in a terrifying age of racism, anger, and violence that chokes our voices and consigns us to dismal isolation. The antidote to this despair is Rodríguez’s musical art and activism, which express a deep drive for interconnectivity, y encontrando semejanzas. “I want to study flamenco as a music that belongs to the international heartbeat, to a global stage, one more type of music in the Afro, Andalusian, and Caribbean genres,” Rodríguez states. “Flamenco, in the 500 years it took to build this folk music, these lyrics, these rhythms, is not a ‘pure music,’ nor is it simply ‘Gypsy’ music. It is syncretic in its Afro-Andalusian-Caribbean interstices, and as such, it is music for everybody.”

In his 2014 CD/book Razón de Son and his 2017 album La Raíz Eléctrica, the musical artist and anthropologist investigates the intercultural origins of early flamenco music in the Afro-Caribbean colonies and Andalusian ports of Seville and Cádiz between the 16th and 19th centuries. Rodríguez follows the path of the “Canons of Fine Africanist Form” articulated by American art historian Robert Farris Thompson, particularly the Ninth Canon, “The Ability to Incarnate Destiny” — the belief that ancestors continue to influence contemporary artists, whose work reinscribes tradition, realizing the future via the past. Rodríguez’s music honors his Andalusian ancestors while at the same time evoking flamenco’s Afro-Iberian fusions, thus acknowledging that Spanish music was heavily influenced by West Africa and the New World, its melodies also full of Moorish, Jewish, and Gypsy elements. His musical creations are not for the “melting pot,” with various cultural strains boiled down to a simple syrup, but are instead synergistic, their disparate elements melded into something new, without losing their originating essence. He has created an intercultural aesthetic grounded in an ethos of curiosity, openness, and inclusivity.

For almost half a century, flamenco musicians have been looking for new languages and ways of expression, with an eye to the East, adapting and incorporating any instrument, whether Indian, Arabic, or Greek, into their music. The only instrument that found its way naturally into flamenco was the Peruvian cajón. In addition to the instruments on Razón de Son, which include the Cuban tres (resembling a six-string guitar but having three pairs of strings, each tuned to the same pitch), Mexican bajo sexto (with 12 strings in six double courses), flauta (flute), and acoustic and electric guitar, Rodríguez introduces the Tres Flamenco — a reconstruction of the Cuban tres and flamenco guitar, similar to a classical guitar but with thinner tops and less internal bracing, producing a brighter, more ringing, percussive sound. Built in the Triana district of Seville, this new mestizo instrument opens new rhythmic and sonic dimensions, synergizing a new language of sones that Rodríguez calls “Son Flamenco.” In these “tonal transculturations,” Rodríguez creates a musical style cognizant of the proto-flamenco period in Seville, when the essential contribution was by black Sevillians who were considered the most skillful of musicians and dancers.

Raúl Rodríguez Quiñones was born in Seville on January 8, 1974, the son of Juan “Tacones” Rodríguez, a medical doctor and guitarist, and María Isabel Quiñones Gutiérrez, a Spanish singer who, under the stage name Martirio, fused copla (torch songs), flamenco, and avant-garde rock in a hybrid called “New Flamenco.” He grew up inside the musical counterculture of Seville. “It was the end of the Franco dictatorship,” he recalls, “a time of freedom for Spain, the first time we could make a new world, get out of the darkness and the lies of the Franco regime.” He names such flamenco experimentalists as Pata Negra, Veneno, and Lole y Manuel — Spanish musicians who had absorbed the music of California. “I grew up with Janis Joplin and Fernanda de Utrera, with Jimi Hendrix and Diego del Gastor in the same home.”

While enrolled at the University of Seville, he played guitar in groups that were beginning to meld flamenco with blues, jazz, and rock. In 1995, he founded his first band, Caraoscura. In order to get a better understanding of popular music, he studied history and cultural anthropology; he also obtained a degree in flamenco guitar, with a specialization in Toque de Moron — the “playing technique” of the renowned flamenco guitarist Diego del Gastor, who pioneered new approaches to flamenco’s established rhythmic system (or compás) and melodic variations (or falsetas). It was a technique Rodríguez describes as “super-sintetico,” combining and synthesizing ideas and materials in a broader and more effective way than the contemporary fusion-minded players had achieved. “In every moment of his playing,” Rodríguez explains, “Diego offers the essence of every one of the ideas one could 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 places the communication of emotion above everything else.”

By the time he became the leader of the contemporary flamenco group Son de la Frontera in 2003, Rodríguez had established an international reputation, receiving several awards (the Flamenco Hoy for Best Instrumental Album in 2005; the BBC Radio World Music Award for Best European Album in 2008; a 2007 Grammy nomination for Best Flamenco Album). The group toured worldwide, playing in cities across the United States and Europe, as well as in Mexico, Cuba, and Canada. Still, he was relatively unknown in the US until the release of Razón de Son, an album of 12 songs he composed, arranged, and published in a CD/book format with illustrations by Jesús Cosano, one of the first men to study the black connections in Andalucía.

Rodríguez’s collaboration with Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Jackson Browne in Song y Son, a cultural exchange between American sounds and Hispanic rhythms, at New York’s Town Hall in 2017, inspired Rodríguez’s second CD/book, La Raíz Eléctrica (The Electric Root). This album expanded upon the fusions of flamenco with Afro-beat (combining elements of West African musical styles such as fuji and highlife with American funk and jazz), psychedelic music, Cuban son, Haitian voodoo rhythms, Andalusian rock, and American songwriting. “[W]e children of the seventies lived through the first process of electrification of ‘roots’ music in Spain,” Rodríguez states in the introductory essay to the album, “and we received those open experiments as our first musical imprints, which then remained etched on our subconscious forever.” The album also introduced another musical invention, the Tres Electrica, the result of Rodríguez’s studies in global Andalusian acculturations with an intense focus on Africanist influences. Rodríguez writes:

We know now that Afro-Andalusian consciousness is fundamental to our identity. All along the slave route that connects the ports of the Afro-Andalusian Caribbean, we find common traits, adaptions and transculturations, and different mutations of the same rhythms, dances, songs, and rituals. On the African continent, these were already a part, in turn, of a broad and heterogeneous cultural context which, in the colonial metropolises, and in the context of inevitable cross-pollination, developed in an extraordinarily prolific manner, giving rise to new hybrid genres that almost always escape the systems of moralistic control that sought to prevent contact between the music of the slaves and the songs of their masters. Today, we are seeing a “sweet revenge”: in all the countries with a slave past, rhythms persist that were brought by slaves but today are dances that liberate us all.

What is taken for granted in flamenco, Rodríguez explains, is that the 12-beat compás also shares modes and keys with the musical ceremonies of the African diaspora.

We bring together the philosophy of Andalusia singing with the mysticism of the Malian griot; we take the falsetas to the sinuous terrain of the blues of Lightnin’ Hopkins or B. B. King; we let ourselves be carried away in the common current shared by the scorching heat of funk and the steady flame of bulería; and we move the ethics of soleá lyrics closer to the sticky appeal of Minneapolis funk that exists in the sweaty sound of Prince’s “Sign o’ the Times” or “Kiss.”

Rodríguez’s Afro-Andalusian dialogue is keenly heard and felt in the cajones (played by percussionist Aleix Tobias) that “takes us inside the magic language of the talking drum, in that enchanting code of communication that centuries ago was present in the liberating polyrhythms of African drumming that zapped us with the force of an electric shock and still moves our centers, and which today multiplies itself freely in the hands and feet of flamenco dances.”

The core presence of Africanisms in Rodríguez’s presentation of flamenco may seem gratuitous, but it is absolutely radical given Spain’s long refusal to acknowledge flamenco’s Africanist contributions — not to mention the history of black slavery or black culture in general. Only recently, with the release of the documentary Gurumbe: Afro-Andalusian Memories (2016) and the publication of K. Meira Goldberg’s Sonidos Negros: On The Blackness of Flamenco (2018), has Spain’s erasure of black cultural forms been fully exposed. While the “tonal transculturations” of Rodríguez’s sones make the body dance, the lyrics elucidate the motivations driving the artist’s astonishingly original musical inventions. His choreopoetics can be compared to those of Langston Hughes, Richie Havens, or Oscar Brown Jr. Surely, Raúl Rodríguez is the Federico García Lorca of his generation. 

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Razón de Son: Razón means the motive, cause, explanation, or justification for an action; and Son, from the verb sonar, to sound, has a multitude of resonances — from tocar (to play) and resonar (to resonate) to llamar (call) and repicar (ring). Son also refers to the quintessential Afro-Cuban musical form, referring both to a singing and dancing style, a syncretic genre blending elements of Spanish and African origin. Among the son’s fundamental Hispanic components are vocal style, lyrical meter, and the primacy of the tres, derived from the Spanish guitar; its Africanist features include the characteristic clave rhythm, the call-and-response structure, and the Bantu percussion section (bongomaracas, et cetera). In “Razón de Son,” the first tune on the album, Rodríguez explains his motives for inventing new flamenco sones and personifying the sounds of flamenco’s Afro-Caribbean ancestry.

“Here I am with my song,” he sings in the opening verse, “to sing to you face to face” (Aquí vengo con mi son / a cantarte frente de frente); the “son” here is a punto flamenco, a new palo (or song form) mixing the décima verses (10-line octosyllabic verses) of the Cuban punto with the 12-beat rhythm of flamenco’s bulerías. The song’s poetic lyrics are meant to sound improvisational, evoking the practice of the Spanish troubadours, who speak in the moment of things far away in space or time. Following the tradition of the décima, the singer announces the experiences he wants to share with the world, and what we will gain from the journey.

“I want to dance for you with swing, and touch your heart” (A bailarte con ambiente / y a tocarte el corazón), Rodríguez sings, because when one dances, everything is true. The music must be warm, must touch the emotions, because if it is a cold sound, Rodríguez says, “people will forget your music — you only hold on to things that touch your heart, that change your mind and change your world.” Lyrics about dance and dancing run through the verses of “Razón de Son”: “I am looking for the dance / that beats inside the heart” (Voy buscando la danza que late en los corazónes); “I have seen a bulería dancing in la parranda / And I have seen the zarabanda dancing por alegrías” (Yo visto a una bulería rematando en la parranda / y he visto a la zarabanda bailando por alegrías). All of Rodríguez’s Afro-Andalusian sones are for dancing.

“Llévame a la mar” is a fandango indiano that a dancer of zapateado (or tap dancer) would eagerly take to; it shows the black Caribbean roots of the Spanish fandango, which, as early as 1732, was defined as a “dance introduced by those who have been to the Indies, made to the sound of a joyful and festive strum.” The fandango, says Rodríguez, originated in the West Indies and was cooked in the melting pot of the Caribbean. His fandango indiano is created “from the coexistence of African Iberian and Caribbean people in Nueva España [New Spain]”; it “emerged as a sound and dance form that helped to shape Iberian styles of the different branches of that polyrhythmic feast of 3/4 and 6/8.”

“El Negro Curro” is written in the time signature of a 12-beat bulería (from the Spanish burlar, to mock, a fast flamenco rhythm); it is a sonería, born from the tres flamenco. Superimposed over each half of the bulería’s 12-beat compás is an anticipated son bass, creating a new Afro-Andalusian rhythmic formula. The underlying rhythmic structure encompasses not only Afro-Cuban drumming but also the accents of Andalusian hand-clapping and dancing — because, says Rodríguez, “we want, as a first step, to charm, to make the listener dance.”

“Con lá Guitarra en Blanco” takes the 12-beat structure of the bulería and shifts it to binary 2/4, making for a strutting style that responds to the refrain “baile con alegría.” Here the binary forms (tangos, rumba, habanera, bacalao, or reggaeton) coexist with the ternary patterns of the baroque dances that were favorite rhythmic games in Andalusian streets and homes. “When I found the structure of this bulería,” Rodríguez remembers, “I called my Biba to show it to her, and when I saw her dance and smile, I knew I was on the right track.”

“La Caña” mixes the blues, soleá (one of the most basic forms, or palos, of flamenco music), and country bulería through the sonorities of the guitar voice, with its soleá lyrics (serious, with themes of pain and despair); the song sends one into a freeform dream dance. It is a blues song in which Rodríguez bittersweetly sings: “Niña de los veinte novios” (Girl of 20 boyfriends), “y conmigo veintiuno” (and with me 21), “Si son todos como yo” (If they are all like me), “te quedaras sin ninguno” (you will be left without any).

“La Pena y la que no es Pena,” a petenera Veracruzana, links dancing feet with the rhythmic clapping of hands in its soleá compás. Veracruz, Mexico, is considered to be the most “African” city of South America. The petenera came to Cádiz in 1826 from Veracruz and was sung as a “Petenera nueva Americana.” In this idas y vueltas (back and forth) journey, the Afro-Andalusian Caribbean compás of the petenera traces an imaginary journey from the accents of flamenco hand-clapping to Moorish drums.

Rodríguez cannot speak of a so-called pure Andalusian rhythm without invoking its underlying Africanist rhythmic sensibilities. The bulería, for instance, is a pattern of three, but when played and clapped (palmas) in the flamenco context, it can take on new forms. “If it is played in the strict 12-rhythm of bulería, someone is going to grab you by the collar and throw you out of the party!” he warns. “The only way to stay at the party is to clap in twos — as they say in Morón, ‘tocar a dos’ — because one can do all kinds of contratiempos and not go off the rhythm, and this is the heartbeat.”

Rodríguez insists that flamenco is also American music. “We have the flamenco, the music born between Seville and Cádiz, but Seville and Cádiz were ports of the old American colonies — we don’t have flamenco in northern Spain. There is no creation of flamenco outside of the magic triangle between Seville, Cádiz, and Jerez.” Referencing Antonio García de León’s El mar de los deseos: el Caribe hispano musical — historia y contrapunto (2002), Rodríguez assures us that Afro-Caribbean-Andalusian song forms derive from a single cultural root:

The real work is understanding that it is not only Mexican music, or Argentinean music, or Uruguayan music, or Caribbean music. In the 20th century, every country claimed its own national music, but that doesn’t mean that Argentinean music was made only by Argentinean musicians and Spanish music by Spanish musicians. All of these musics are ours, they are for all of us. We have to open our minds, not only to understand the music, to understand what happened in the past, but also what will happen in the future. To create new songs, new styles, we must understand what happened before, and then make new songs, new ideas, a new world to change the world, because the fusion of art is to imagine that we can make a new possible world — a different world.

Similar to the passage of the US Slave Laws in the 1740s, which prohibited the beating of drums out of fear they might summon slave uprisings, and the percussive substitutes that were developed as a result (bone-clapping, jawboning, hand-clapping, percussive footwork), drums were also forbidden in Spain in the 17th century. “So, we put all of the drumming — the contratiempos, the rhythms — into zapateado (footwork), palmas (hand-clapping), and pitos (finger-snapping), into the language of the body,” says Rodríguez. He points to the flamenco dancer Juan de Juan, who is heard on the Electrica album (in “La Lengua Corta,” “Que Sea El Ritmo,” and “Yo Voy Vendiendo Candela”), as someone who demonstrates the connection between flamenco and tap dance. Here is the core concept of Rodríguez’s rhythmic language — that percussive footwork such as tap, zapateado, and flamenco comprise (as dance historian Moe Meyer eloquently argued about Irish step-dancing) an oral language, a poetry that shapes acoustic space and expresses an acute wit. As the Spanish poet and satirist Francisco de Quevedo wrote in 1627, upon observing “the ridiculous figure of servants when they offer drinks to their masters” while dancing the Coliseo, the Guineo, inclining their bodies in a dangerous manner: “[T]hough they are mute, they are chatterboxes with their feet.”

El Negro Curro,” the first son Rodríguez composed for the Razón de Son album, is a soneria, a mix between the Cuban son and flamenco bulería; it tells the story of the so-called Curros, blacks and mulattos from Seville he describes as free and arrogant men, with flamboyant clothes, who arrived in the first waves of immigration from the Iberian Peninsula to the New World colonies, particularly Cuba. “I am in the lineage of the macaro, the picaro, the same line of shamelessness as the Curro,” Rodríguez declares. “I am [the rogue] Picaro and [the braggart] Valenton,” his Negro Curro sings. “Comegentes [who eats people] and Tragahobres [who swallows people]; Comecandela [who eats fire] and Charrán [who is shameless]; [the boister] Jácaro, and [thug] Rufián; the curro vacilon [the one who jokes with everyone and whom no one can touch].” Rodríguez inscribes these names into the Andalusian-derived pantheon of trickster figures, alongside Afro-Caribbean exemplars such as the Man-of-Words, a virtuoso verbal performer of the English West Indies who created impromptu curses, riddles, rhymes, and insults.

The Negro Curro descends from the Oriki-esu, African narrative poems that tell tales of Esu-Elegbara, the divine trickster of Yoruba mythology who became Exu in Brazil, Echyu-elegua in Cuba, Papa Legba in the Haitian pantheon of Voudou loas, and Papa la ba in the United States. Esu was the guardian of the crossroads, the master of style, the phallic god of generation and fecundity; he controlled — via satire, parody, and magic — the elusive barrier that separated the divine from the profane. Esu, like Negro Curro, is “the divine linguist” who speaks all languages. Like all the cool New World tricksters, the Negro Curro used boasting, ridicule, mockery, threat, slander, praise, and insult as weapons against slavery and oppression. Rodríguez imagines the characteristic sones of these Curros, translating, in music and lyric, their roguish character — the tilt of their hats, the flow of their scarves, the jangle of their bracelets and rings, the sparkle of knives in their waistbands, as well as their poetic improvisations, vibrant guitar-playing, lively singing, and the exuberant rhythm of their sweet talk.

Negro Curro de Triana:
I was born in Andalucía
For that they named me “Curro” when I came to Havana,
that land was sister to the world I knew.
I am not Calabarian, nor Ñáñigo, Guinean, or Congolese:
I am Flamenco,
and I write the son/song that I like. […]

I always take my hat
And my red scarf;
I have more than one hundred eyes to see the whole world.
With my smooth art
And knife within my fold,
I am always alive for anything might happen,
and there is no fight I cannot resolve. […]
For me, there is nobody who can enslave me,
As I was born en libertad, looking for freedom. […]

Negro Curro, they call me;
I am black in skin, but I am old Andalusian.
For anyone who contradicts me — I do not consent
for you to write the history I did not write.
And here I am again, and I sing to tell you
That I always have my heart wherever I live.

La Lengua Corta” (The Short Tongue), which opens La Raíz Eléctrica, is a manifesto in form and content, a declaration, Rodríguez states, “of intentions for defining our posture on the planet … presenting our proposition to the world.” The tune begins with a riff on the pentatonic scale in the form of a bulería, and the lyrics are a postmodern allusion to popular songs; in this way, the artist remakes idiomatic expressions to construct a new discourse. For the chorus, Rodríguez repurposes popular lyrics into personal declarations, a process that has always guided cantaores, whose lyrics drew on collective memory. “It is a patchwork of the streets and screen,” Rodríguez writes, “looking for images that would serve as a mirror, calling out from internal rhymes, letting double and triple meanings say what we want to say about ourselves and the world in these times in which we live.”

Musically, “La Lengua Corta” is a blues-bulería, or blueslería, a new form that was created by the flamenco blues band Pata Negra. The structure respects the backbone of the 12-bar blues song while placing the “flamenco” chords of the Andalusian harmonic cycle where the traditional chord changes would go. The choruses maintain the 12-beat structure, but the two quatrains of the verses only cover eight of them. “So by adding the other four,” Rodríguez explains, “the space is open for sticking a ‘patá’ into the wheel of this Andalusian blues, thus completing its cycle […] inherent in the climaxes of the festive bulería.”

In the opening bars, the tres eléctrica embroiders a vigorous pattern that melds the guitar melodies from the Sevillian province of Morón de la Frontera with the rhythmic cadences of the Afro-Caribbean. Juan de Juan’s pounding feet furiously insinuate every accent the dancer can fit into the narrow spaces of the lines. The rhythms of his zapateado, along with those of the rhythm section (Aleix Tobias, drums and percussion; Pablo Martín Jones, percussion and kalimba; Guillem Aguilar, bajo) lay out a polyrhythmic carpet for the lyrics Rodríguez sings in short, pentasyllabic verse, his strobic word-images firing the imagination:

La lengua corta (the short tongue)
La oreja larga (the long ear)
La puerta abierta (the open door)
La gente llana (the ordinary folk)
El punto ciego (the blind spot)
La voz quebrada (the broken voice)

Rodríguez explains:

We believe it is good to talk less (“the short tongue”) and listen more (‘”the long ear”). We live in homes with no locks for people who love life (“the open door”). We observe reality from conscious blindness, from the point on the retina where the optic nerve enters and where light does not reach (“the blind spot”), surprised to learn that our imagination completes the image, so that our mind can comprehend what it sees. And we get inebriated with the emotion of telling the truth, of raising our voices, because what we want to say, we must say (“the broken voice”).

For the chorus, Rodríguez draws from the magma of traditional flamenco lyrics. For instance, “Soy arroyo y no me enturbio” is a popular soleá from a Triana lyric that evokes the integrity of a soul that owes fealty only to itself. K. Meira Goldberg comments that the chorus takes the form of a soleá letra, an eight-syllable line structure sung in soleá, one of the most traditional palos in flamenco, conveying in a sententious tone a feeling of intimate pain, sometimes despair. These songs have many meanings, as Spanish poetry is always conscious of the possibilities of censorship. “And so,” says Goldberg, “one finds ways of saying truths with double meanings,” as in blues lyrics or the singing of slaves under duress and surveillance. “In Spain, with those who were enslaved, what was safe for the hegemonic power was to see the body in pain; what was not safe was to see the body enraged. In a double-edged expression, sarcasm and pain are the only acceptable forms of expression.”

The third verse confronts the Andalusian’s loss of innocence and encounter with reality:

Faced with our way of being, trusting and comfortable, the planet tells us not to move, not to make noise (las mano quietas); that we are at war, and even the sun is against us (el mundo ardiendo); that the threat may come from your own side (fuego amigo); that we are on pause and are not to play around, since nothing matters anymore because there is no longer any time for us (el tiempo muerto); that we should remain motionless but on alert (la calma tensa); and that we are under the watchful eye of Big Brother (el ojo abierto).

Against this backdrop, Rodríguez gives a verbal call to arms, with a sense of insurgency, of active revolt:

We will tighten the gut strings of our guitar until we make them sound, so the roots take flight (la cuerda al aire); we will cling to the love for our planet and our cultures; we will resist and not surrender, even if they come to do us all in (el cuerpo a tierra); we will continue to surreptitiously live in the nocturnal hours because of that which keeps us up at night (la noche en blanco); we will contract our flesh in the darkness (la carne prieta) and place our trust in the son that moves the heart and sets it afire (el son caliente). We will keep on running, looking for the finish line, even if we find no consolation, because we know that the only thing written in our destiny is to continue down the road (la boca seca).

To everyone who cries “Ay Ay Ay,” Rodríguez heartfully sings in the final chorus, “the cry of ‘ay ay ay’ is a healing force that brings a desire to be unrelenting in our determination to fight for a freer, more just land [se canta lo que se pierde], because we sing knowing that, though we have been defeated many times, we will never give up.”

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The Spanish singer and lyricist Santiago Auserón has called Raúl Rodríguez an Andalusian experimental rocker, a consummate flamenco artist, and a trans-frontier sonero, one who hears the African call. He is an artist who “keeps his ears open, alert to the secret pact between the real and possible […] a free electron in a variable orbit [who] moves in a territory where tradition consists of self- invention.”

Since I first heard the sones on Razón de Son, I have been on an endless inquiry into Rodríguez’s deeper razones for creating this astonishing body of choreopoems. In our last conversation, I asked again, and he answered:

“And so, what are your razónes, reasons, for song?” I asked Rodríguez.

Razón de ser, reason to be, means something that does not have sense. I care only for razón de son, the reason to make song,” he answered.

“And what are those reasons?” I asked.

“To tell stories as a Negro Curro. To tell important stories in my music that nobody knows, that nobody wants to know.”

“And why is that?” I asked.

“I need to do that because I want to make easier the life of my daughters. I think people need it because people need to know about the things that nobody talks about.”

“And why is that?” I asked again.

“Because we have to be clean in our souls. We need to be conscious, conscious of our past. To know everything about our past, so that we can be free. If we know who we were, we can understand who we are, and discover who we will be.”

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The author would like to thank the Spanish scholar Kiko Mora for his expert editing of this essay.

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Constance Valis Hill is Five College Professor Emerita of Dance at Hampshire College. She is the author of Brotherhood in Rhythm: The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers (2000) and Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History(2010).


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