Rebeca Vallejo Mixes Up Sangria of Sound on New Album AZUCAR, CANELA
Rebeca Vallejo, Azúcar, Canela
Sangria. It's the Spanish national drink, a refreshing mix of wine, fruit, sugar, and brandy that's been copied around the world. But no one makes it like a native. Singer Rebeca Vallejo, born and raised in Madrid, understands that very well.
"My friends say they know my sangria as soon as they taste it," she says. "It's the kind of drink where anything goes, but as well as sugar, I use cinnamon as an ingredient. That's my personal touch to sangria."
But the music on her new album, Azúcar, Canela (which translates to "sugar, cinnamon"), is like her sangria, always Spanish but open to possibilities. Vallejo began a U.S. tour October 13 at the Kennedy Center in Washington with the support of SPAIN arts & culture (www.spainculture.us). The tour ended with a New York City release party on October 27, 2013 at Drom.
The songs include a unique mix, immediately identifiable, drawing on her deep immersion in jazz, Brazilian music and the flamenco of her ancestors and always with that very personal, and very Spanish, flavor. It's there not just in the vocals, but bedded deep, in the layers of sharp, inimitable flamenco rhythms that propel the music, thepalmas (handclaps) and Vallejo's own finger-snapping and body percussion.
That signature blend shines in her compositions. "Despertar" fires with the raw street energy of Brazil, powered by accordion, but the cajón and clapping put a swing behind Vallejo's jazz phrasing. The parade of pain that inhabits "El Ciego Sol" finds an African rhythm and flamenco - inspired by a Spanish Easter procession walking hand in hand with the blues, while "Canicas" is a trip back to the simple joys of that Madrid childhood.
"I find a certain pleasure in nostalgia, in the bittersweet and romantic," Vallejo admits. "But that's nostalgia used as a trampoline, not as a hammock! If I write about love it's usually not in a happy way. 'No Sabes,' for instance, is an adaptation of 'You Don't Know What Love Is.' That's the dramatic Spaniard in me."
But that track is just one of three adventurous interpretations on the album. "Verde Sobre Azul" offers her take on Miles Davis's classic "Blue in Green," while "Cravo e Canela" is sung in homage to one of Vallejo's musical heroes, Milton Nascimento.
"I love Milton," she explains. "His album, Clube da Esquina, was life-changing. And the song...a woman of clove and cinnamon, spoke to me. It was my grandmother. And it has a flamenco feel that I took full-on by adding a traditional flamenco rhythm called bulería."
Flamenco. It was always there, even if Vallejo never fully appreciated it then. Both her grandparents and their ancestors had sung it. As soon as she was old enough she left Madrid to go to university in Swansea, Wales ("Manic Streets Preachers went there. They were one of my favorite bands at the time"), where she sang professionally for the first time, and an event happened that would change her entire future - after the gig a friend gave her an Ella Fitzgerald compilation. "She was sure I'd like it," Vallejo remembers. " I did; it's what made me become a jazz singer. I knew I needed to study jazz."