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Suszynski: After we eat, we listen

On Tuesday, Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts released a session with C. Tangana. I had to stop counting the number of times I’ve watched it.

C. Tangana is a rapper and singer-songwriter from Spain. In February of this year, he released the album “El Madrileño.” Rolling Stone summed up the album pretty well: “Understanding the relevance of El Madrileño is not easy, because it’s a masterpiece based around conciliation: tradition and pop intertwine in a conceptual album that redefines and reshapes music in Spanish. It integrates the immediacy of urbano with the historical richness of Spanish-American folklore and pop-rock.”

The Tiny Desk opens up with a new song, “Me Maten,” featuring Antonio Carmona, a Spanish Gitano singer of flamenco. The camera focuses on a large group of people gathered around a table. The soft persistence of a clap turns into the most human of drumbeats. There is an assortment of food atop a white tablecloth, drinks, a keyboard. C. Tangana is seated in the center with a microphone. To his left is Carmona. To his right is La Húngara, flamenco and pop singer. The frame zooms out to reveal more people. In the front right is Kiko Veneno, rumba extraordinaire, and the left front is Alizz, Spanish recording artist and producer. In the back corner is C. Tangana’s mom and aunt.



To those not familiar, this scene is a typical one in Spain. It’s one of my favorite times, after everyone has finished eating a big meal but is still gathered around the table, relaxing. The tradition is called “sobremesa.”

In this album, C. Tangana weaves many artists from different musical traditions that span multiple Spanish-speaking countries and generations of musicians.



“I wanted to include several elements from the Spaniard roots, and find where they connect with Latin music; there are many connections there,” C. Tangana said in an interview with Rolling Stone.

This Tiny Desk speaks to me for multiple reasons. At its most surface level, I miss live music tremendously, and I also miss my extended family.

The session also had me thinking about Federico García Lorca’s 1933 lecture in Buenos Aires, Argentina, titled “Theory and Play of Duende.” Lorca attempts the amorphous definition of “duende,” a word that has no English translation.

“Those dark sounds are the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes the very substance of art. ‘Dark sounds’ said the man of the Spanish people, agreeing with Goethe, who in speaking of Paganini hit on a definition of the duende: ‘A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained,’” Lorca says.

Lorca argues that duende has a very intimate relationship with death, but what I find interesting about duende is that it requires witness. In order to perceive duende, there must be a performer and observer.

“So, then, the duende is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: ‘The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s in the veins: meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation,” Lorca says.

I don’t want to argue that this Tiny Desk session has some element of duende, but I do notice similarities, and perhaps that is part of the reason why I am drawn to it.

After a song with Kiko, the session transitions to a string quartet. It’s a surprising and rewarding transition. The song stripped down in this way, “Demiasado Mujeres,” is powerful.

Lorca’s definition of duende is also uniquely far-reaching. Lorca uses examples across cultures and genres to show his audience that duende is not specific to Spain. In the same way, C. Tangana has stitched together musicians, family, genres, lyrics from many traditions into something new.

“The duende….Where is the duende? Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents: a wind with the odour of a child’s saliva, crushed grass, and medusa’s veil, announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things.”

Perhaps, I am most drawn to this session because at times, I feel as though in the United States, we tear at the fibers of our own identity in order to make sure that our country knows we have our own history, our own culture. We risk separating ourselves from ourselves. Identity has its own casing, but it’s porous. There does seem to be another way to approach our respective cultures, a more conciliatory approach — one that recognizes collectivism. The idea is that we can all sit around the table, the comfort of sobremesa in the light that plays across our family member’s faces, the faces of our friends, or friends to be, all of us coming together with our different songs. It is possible to invite Cuban boleros and South American tangos to take a seat alongside Spanish flamenco and create something entirely new and melodious. I think this is partly what Lorca means when he says, “the endless baptism of freshly created things.”


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