C. Tangana embraces tradition on his revolutionary album, “El Madrileño”
“El Madrileño” – the man from Madrid.
This is the easiest way to describe Antón Álvarez Alfaro, who plays the role of C. Tangana.
But it’s also the title of his 2021 album – an ambitious musical journey through generations, genres and lyrical traditions that earned him a 2022 Grammy nomination for best Latin or alternative rock album.
There are notes of tango, urbano, rock, Spanish copla – and they are all brought together perfectly by Tangana’s modern approach to the rich musical heritage that shaped her worldview.
He spoke to NPR’s Eyder Peralta about the possibility of doing a 180 from rap to folklore, working with flamenco maestros and decolonizing the cultural mindset from Spain to Latin America.
The following has been condensed for clarity and length.
Go from Spanish trap to folk music
Well, I’ve listened to this music all my life, but never tried it in the studio. So I was 28 or 29, something like that. And I started to feel like the [other] music was not enough for me, that my ambitions were greater at the time. So I just started making the music that I was listening to [to] all my life. “El Madrileño” is the result.
Working with Gipsy Kings and pushing the limits of flamenco
I am a huge fan of Gipsy Kings. I still play them in every party I have. They are like legends, but they are also somewhat criticized by flamenco purists here in Spain. So for me it’s like a statement to do a collaboration with them because I’m not a purist, and it’s an album that is about not being a purist and being mixed up and trying to bring out the culture of borders. It was like, “OK, what do you want for this song?” And my dream was to have them, so it’s crazy for me.
On her songwriting process
No soy muy técnico, I did not study music. But I have this kind of feeling about popular music. In Spain we do not understand popular as “pop”. Pop music is like the mainstream. But here in Spain, when we say popular, we speak of tradition. Talk about the feelings everyone has, or something you have about your grandfather. This is the popular thing. Something that a grandfather and su nieto can relate to. So when I write a song, it’s usually easy. It is not pretentious. It’s always trying to get to the heart of the simple things and most people can figure it out.
On the sound layers of his song “Muriendo de Envidia” with Cuban guitarist Eliade Ochoa
We start with a classic rumba sound called “Lola”. This is a son that El Pescaílla used to sing to Lola Flores, who is one of the biggest names in Spanish music. So we start there, but we have the particular color of the Eliades [Ochoa] guitar, which is a mix between a classical guitar and very Cubano. It is a mix that he only has this instrument. He did it and it is the instrument he plays. And then the sound continued con a cubano sound with a mambo. You know, the origin of salsa is in Cuba. So it’s a bit of a mixture of the traditional way of playing son and the modern way, or the Fania way, the 70s way of Nuyorican salsa.
On what he describes as Spain’s “colonial state of mind” towards Latin American music
I think it’s something about an older generation. They thought that Spain was culturally the main one, and the other countries were trying to reach the level of Spain. And that’s something my generation – we don’t feel good about it, and we don’t think it’s real because we grew up listening to Latin music and having all these superstars. No se, sentíamos que eran mucho más grandes que los Españoles. And the people here only looked at themselves, estaban equivocados.
They were wrong because the estrellas creian that here in Spain were bigger, and they weren’t. And we were listening [Latin] music. And also with reggaeton, the explosion of reggaeton – it was super clear that the culture with our language estaba dominada por el Caribe Fundamentalmente, pero en general por América Latina. So I think with this album, a lot of people – old people here from Spain – ha dado un paso hacia esa música y ese reconocimiento.
If he was worried about cultural appropriation by attacking Latin genres for this album
I think this is a subject of nuestra generación. It’s something everyone has in mind. But I really have the impression that el Mediterraneo – you know España, Marruecos, Turkia, Grecia e Italia – it’s not the same here as in the United States, you know? For us, being mixed is the natural thing. We don’t understand culture, we don’t understand progress, and we don’t understand society without mixing. So my approach is only trying to reflect that. Lo mismo que con los maestros. If you want to reach a level, you have to go to that level and work with the people at that level. So it’s the same with culture. If you want to understand bachata, you have to go to the Dominican Republic and dance there in a small bodega.
On his Small office performance, which became the most circulated Tiny Desk in 2021
The first time we performed live during the pandemic was at the Tiny Desk concert – the first time we were together. We had [take] a lot of testing, after being without anyone for months. And then we just stayed together for one day. And it’s a real celebration. We ate and drank, and really enjoyed ourselves there for the first time in a long time. We felt it. It’s a very special piece for me. I think it’s something very meaningful for the Spaniards because it represents our way of experiencing music, and I’m super proud and also super grateful to be able to do that.