Guitarist, composer, and producer Josemi Carmona embodies the spirit of nuevo flamenco. He has proven a restless, curious artist, ignoring the boundaries of genres and collaborating with musicians as disparate as jazz bassist Dave Holland, British Indian musician Nitin Sawhney, Norwegian pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, and pop superstar Alejandro Sanz. Carmona was 14 when he joined Ketama, the enormously successful flamenco pop group cofounded by his brother Juan Carmona. And if an endorsement is still necessary, flamenco virtuoso Paco de Lucía called him “one of the guitarists who will define guitar playing in the 21st Century.”
So it’s only fitting that Carmona, along with Javier Colina — one of Spain's premier and most versatile bassists, as comfortable in jazz as in flamenco — open the two-concert series Flamenco Eñe in the intimate Carnival Studio Theater at the Arsht Center this Sunday. The duo, plus percussionist José Ruiz, will perform music from Carmona and Colina's recently released album, De Cerca (Up Close), which includes nods to flamenco, jazz, and the Great Latin American Songbook.
The second installment of Flamenco Eñe, featuring the quartet Ultra High Flamenco, will also take place in the Carnival Studio Theater the following Sunday, March 19.
“I love orthodox flamenco. I love to listen to a soleá, to a siguiriya [styles within flamenco]. But flamenco is the result of many fusions in that journey that brought the gypsies from India to the south of Spain, some through Europe, some through the North of Africa, and I'm not against any [musical mix] as long as it’s done from the heart,” says Carmona, reached by phone recently.
Carmona was born in Madrid in 1971. The son of the great guitarist Pepe Habichuela and the bailaora Amparo Bengala, he comes from a flamenco dynasty. He was just 5 when he debuted onstage with Enrique Morente, one of the essential voices of flamenco, and as a teenager in the mid-'80s, he toured with his father for the landmark Broadway revue Flamenco Puro.
He also cofounded the La Barberia del Sur, a flamenco pop group, and later joined Ketama, a group that blended flamenco with strains of pop and jazz, as well as salsa and Brazilian and African music. The band dissolved in the early 2000s (although in recent statements, he called it a “hiatus”), and Carmona embarked on a solo career.
Performing with Colina — a superior player best known for his work with pianists Tete Montoliu, Bebo Valdés, and Chucho Valdés and trumpeter and conguero Jerry González — Carmona sees a change in approach on De Cerca. This album was recorded “as if playing live, so the listener has the feeling of being up close,” Carmona says.
His interest in other genres and styles from around the world comes from growing up surrounded by music and having a father who was open-minded and curious about the world beyond flamenco, Carmona says. (Consider as a sample Habichuela's marvelous Yerbagüena, recorded with the Bollywood Strings.)
“Even though my father is a flamenco guitarist through and through, I remember being a kid, in the living room, playing with my little toy cars and my father listening to [classic flamenco figures such as singers Pepe] Marchena or [Manolo] Caracol but also putting on Chick Corea, John Williams, Ravi Shankar, or Gilberto Gil. I started playing when I was 4 years old, and that was my musical education, open to other music. And then, later on, we started to get a lot more information, and I devoured it — Michael Jackson, Take Six, Stevie Wonder, Prince, you name it — so it’s not surprising that when the time comes to compose, it comes out,” Carmona says.
“I love jazz, I love pop, I love Indian music, Afro-Caribbean music, and I love the mixes with flamenco. For me, music is about emotion. That’s what I aim for when I play. I want to move people, to have the hairs on their arms stand up. When that happens, that’s beautiful. That’s like saying ole.”
— Fernando Gonzalez, Artburstmiami.com
Josemi Carmona and Javier Colina With Bandolero, Part of the Flamenco Eñe Series
7 p.m. Sunday, March 12, at the Carnival Studio Theater, Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722. Tickets cost $50 via arshtcenter.org.
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