Torch singer of new Spain: Couture flamenco dresses, elaborate hair combs, and cat's-eye shades

Smoked, Not Chilled

It's been a long love story, but Martirio keeps romancing misty souls. The torch singer of the new Spain sets feet tapping and heads bobbing through a cigarette haze. Wearing dark glasses and peineta, the popular icon of Madrid's Eighties movida scene longs, laments, and laughs darkly. This postmodern Andalusian lady tells stories of ballsy women and secondhand romance with the phlegmy bravura of flamenco and the rhythms of the world's blues: copla, tango, bolero, bossa nova, fado, jazz, and the clink of ice in a glass.

Martirio's passionate global song is lounge music of the old school: smoking, not chill; Billie Holiday, not Buddha Bar. On her latest album, Mucho Corazón (A Lot of Heart), she delivers the sentiment, and on the tour that will bring her to Miami this week, her audiences have fervently returned the feeling. The Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia recently called Martirio "the most transcendental and subjugating female star of Spanish popular song of the last quarter-century." While on the occasion of another packed house, rival paper ABC's critic raved: "Better, impossible. Martirio ... is direct in her delivery, promising in her silences."

Martirio trolls both sides of the Atlantic for love songs, and on Mucho Corazón freshly interprets what will be familiar musical terrain for many Miami listeners. The title track, made popular by Beny Moré, is transformed with bluesy harmonica and flamenco palmas (hand claps). The dramatic, rolling "Las Palmeras" ("The Palm Trees") -- a Bolivian song with swinging guaracha rhythm -- opens Mucho Corazón with a seductive blast from New Yorker Jerry Gonzalez's trumpet. Throughout the disc, music from Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and Portugal is tinged with flamenco.



Olympia Theater at Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E Flagler St.

Performs at 8:00 p.m. Friday, January 24. Tickets cost $20 to $40. Call 305-374-8762.

Gonzalez, guitarist Raul Rodríguez (Martirio's son), and pianist Chano Dominguez are the core of a band that transcends the cut-and-paste pastiche of pedestrian musical fusion. Here Cuban trés, flamenco guitar, jazz trumpet, harmonica, and African-rooted percussion converge in tight, enterprising arrangements that nevertheless encourage the meandering soul of these migratory ida y vuelta genres.

The choice of Martirio's heartfelt covers on Mucha Corazón was inspired by personal memories. They're songs she's discovered on road trips, that have accompanied her while cooking, or that she learned from a singer she adores; a compendium culled from what she's called "all of the people and all of the music from all of the places that have passed through my life."

Maribel Quiñones de Leon Gutierrez, stage name Martirio, recorded her first album in 1981. In the rabid underground cultural scene that sprang forth in the wake of Franco's death, she became a cult figure: her high-styled look a symbol of the free Spanish woman. Of her couture flamenco dresses, elaborate hair combs, and cat's-eye shades, Martirio has said, "It's a metaphor of images, tradition-underground-lace. In addition to real feelings and a clearly theatrical influence."

Together with rocker Kiko Veneno, Martirio performed at hysterically decadent Madrid clubs like Rock-Ola, where Pedro Almodovar and other members of la movida frequently convened. Considered part of the new flamenco movement, Martirio wrote songs after the style of traditional Sevillanas. She reconstituted the bourgeois musical form with rock riffs and satiric lyrics that told stories of street life in contemporary Spain, everyday encounters, and independent women. "I wanted to scream," she said in one interview, "that women have their own place, their freedom, their financial independence."

While keeping the biggest place in her heart for flamenco and Spanish coplas, it was jazz that led Martirio to explore other Latin styles and collaborate with Latin American musicians over the past decade. In 1997 she recorded and toured with Compay Segundo. Mucho Corazón, which is her seventh album, was preceded by Coplas de Madruga, featuring jazzy interpretations of the southern Spanish song form, and Flor de Piel, another take on Latin classics.

On this exceptional and moving CD trilogy, her accent is flamenco, and the lyric feeling is deep, though not pure. Martirio sings every song like a secret, a delightful conspiracy she's sharing with her audience.

"Martirio is able to get inside a song, transform it, and make it entirely her own," says producer Nat Chediak, who brings the singer and her band to the Gusman's Olympia Theater on Friday. "In an industry where phonies and posers abound, she's the real thing."


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