Ask people the key component in flamenco, and they’ll likely say, dance. Experts will reply that dance is only one of five elements – and singing is another.
One who illustrates the centrality of singing in flamenco is Diego el Cigala, who will appear at The Music Center of Strathmore, under the co-sponsorship of Strathmore and Washington Performing Arts.
Becoming a flamenco singer was a foregone conclusion.
“It was never a conscious decision,” el Cigala said. “I am a flamenco singer since I can remember. I won my first contest at 11 or 12 years old and started to work really early, so there was never a moment where I said: ‘Now I am going to be a singer.’”
His father, Jose de Cordoba, also was a flamenco singer. His mother was a housewife who “sang only on very special occasions, but had an amazing voice,” el Cigala said.
By 16, he was traveling around the world with flamenco troupes.
“The first time, I did not tell my parents,” he laughed.
But el Cigala found his true calling performing alone.
“As a solo artist, you decide what you sing and you are fully in charge of your artistic voice,” he said.
El Cigala attributes flamenco’s enduring popularity to the fact that it’s “full of passion and very genuine. You don’t need to understand the lyrics to feel it. That’s thanks to masters like Paco de Lucia or Camaron de la Isla, who toured the world spreading love and knowledge of flamenco. I am glad to be able to continue this path and get people to connect with our music.”
El Cigala also records. His debut album, “Undebel,” came out in 1982; there have been several since. The latest is “Indestructible,” which he released in 2016.
But the singer has moved beyond flamenco to embrace new genres, such as Latin music.
His latest album, “Indestructible,” is salsa.
“I do it as a flamenco singer, so my point of view has to do with my origins and background,” el Cigala said. “But nobody would say I sing flamenco in ‘Indestructible.’ Music and genres cross and inspire each other. Music is in constant evolution.”
Billboard Magazine has compared el Cigala to Frank Sinatra – which the singer appreciates but doesn’t take seriously.
“I have been called many things,” he said. “It’s a privilege, of course to be compared with such a talent as Sinatra, but I try not to think too much about myself that way. I dedicate all my energy to my music, if to some people I have that impact, I am grateful to God.”
El Cigala’s Strathmore appearance is part of the organization’s Windows series, which, according to Joi Brown, Vice President of Programming, brings recognition to those artists who help audiences glimpse other worlds and culture.
“Diego el Cigala embodies this spirit by looking outside of flamenco, where he has enormous popularity, to tango, salsa, and even Afro-Cuban jazz, through a brilliant collaboration with the late pianist Bebo Valdes,” she said. “He folds these influences into his music and in doing so, is a guide for those who are curious about cultural exploration and finding new perspectives.”
However he may diverge from flamenco, el Cigala holds it in a special place.
“It comes from the heart, it’s full of pain,” he said. “It comes from who you are; it’s in you from your childhood and you are raised around it. Flamenco has a rhythmic richness that not many genres have. It is this versatility that makes flamenco easy to adapt to other music.”
El Cigala’s concert takes place on Thursday, March 29 at 8 p.m., at The Music Center of Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane. North Bethesda. For information and tickets, call 301-581-5100 or visit www.strathmore.org.
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