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Alejandro Sanz: A Rock Star From Spain

Updated on September 22, 2014

Alejandro Sanz is an extremely successful singer from Spain who has won a lot of Latin Grammy Awards and has been an international phenemenon. At an early age, Sanz was introduced to the rich musical tradition of flamenco, with regular visits to Andalucia. He learned to play the guitar, and he began playing at an early age. His obsession with the instrument frustrated his mother, who one time broke his guitar when he was keeping his family from sleeping by playing at all hours of the night. As a youth, he began a formal study of Flamenco. The Flamenco teachers, though, according to Sanz, are quite strict and demanding. It was good for him, because it forced him to learn to play better and rigorously devote himself to the instrument. But it was ultimately a little too strict in orientation for his taste, so he decided instead to pursue making pop music and still keep some of the flamenco elements and the traditions.

The song, Todo Es De Color, seen here on MTV unplugged, is an exhilirating performance. Sanz uses a minimalistic technique, carrying the song with his sheer vocal power. The guitar is rich, grounding, with the romantic gravitas of flamenco, but his use of it here is sparing. By doing the piece this way, he says more with saying less. The powerful presence of his energy fills the auditorium, as if from the center of the stage a sacred void has opened in the cosmos out of which all human sounds originate. It is palpable, even on film. He reminds one of what the legendary poet Federico Garcia Lorca termed the "duende," a deep, gutteral black energy reverbrating from the grounds of the earth. Lorca, a poet who thrived the 1920s and 30s and was virtually martyred by the Franco regime, also dug deep into the tradition of Andalusian culture. Lorca was fascinated with los gitanos, their soul and spirit, and Sanz here is no doubt pulling from some of the richness of that folk tradition. Sanz also, for me, calls to mind the black American blues enchantress Nina Simone. Simone, too, had a powerful, minimalistic performance ethos. Her slow timing, and careful, deliberated soul cries were orchestrated in a way that she referred to as "mass hypnosis." The crowd here seems hypnotized, too, by the power of Sanz's spirit.

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