Following a Nuevo Flamenco trend, Ojos de Brujo has borrowed the excitement of the traditional music and put away the sorrow—the ferocity of gutter pain has been turned into a party anthem, or a call to action, or sometimes just used to give a Spanish pop song more power. Marina Abad’s voice has some of the force and the rusty-bitter flavour of old flamenco, but not the anguish.
Part of me thinks this is a pity. Another part reasons: why not? Isn’t it better to be happy than sad? If the musicians want to celebrate, then let them celebrate. If they want to sound confrontational rather than melancholy when they think about injustices, if they want to bring in a rapper who seems almost breathlessly irritated, well… good. Better that than have them fake a sadness they don’t feel. The male wail at the beginning of “Tantas Flores” might be there only so that it can be mirrored by an Indian singer, who matches the Spaniard with an indigenous wail of his own, but the idea of it, of unexpectedly pairing Spain with India, is an inspired one. Never mind misery, let’s have honesty instead. Let it be about the presence of emotion, not the nature of that emotion, and let me not think that suffering necessarily ennobles people, or that poor and lonely artists in garrets are better than cheerful ones who travel all over the world and have mobs of friends showing up at the door with chocolate cake at midnight, shouting, “Surprise!” and throwing balloons, as Ojos de Brujo probably does, because they sound like the kind of people who would.
Then I wonder: if Abad’s voice is not anguished, then what is it? Determined, I think. Tough and sure. Sometimes with a personal, almost musing tone, which she brings out, on this album, in “Nueva Vida”, but always with a strong edge. I’d suggest ‘feisty’ as well, but I’ve seen it used to describe too many characters in movies, and it usually seems condescending—as in, wasn’t it marvellous, the way she stood up to that serial killer villain when she’s just a girl and all? So: determined. Forceful. Eager. She flips out syllables in “Donde Te Has Metio” as if she expects you to dispute them with her and would be pleased to return the favour if you did. Not flexible—she’s like an actress who can play only one role, herself, though at two different volumes, loud and soft—but distinctive. In interviews she has brought up the idea that the people in Ojos de Brujo are free, a free group of people, making the music they want to make in the way they want to make it. When she sings there’s no reason to doubt that she believes what she says.
Ojos de Brujo share an aesthetic with other bohemian European collectives like Think of One. There’s that idea of a large group of talents coming together, making a group-noise, and each song changing depending on who is chosen to be in it—the difference is that Think of One doesn’t give the same prominence to one member that Abad enjoys. Here’s a jazz piano on “Correveidile”, having its turn. Here’s a collection of big-band Latin American trumpets, having theirs. Here’s a Cuban moment. The result is a large sound, but also a focused one. It’s that combination of freedom and voluntary discipline that helps give these groups their character, the sound of a dozen component parts moving together voluntarily. Ramón Giménez’s flamenco guitar may not take the same conspicuous role as Abad’s voice, but it is equally part of the music.
Aocaná seems to me softer than their past work, more laid-back, with less scratching and fewer u-turns. There is less of an attacking feel and more of a reactive one. The music not as twitchy and fierce as it was in their first widely-released foreign album, Barí. They’re still immediately identifiable as Ojos de Brujo, but the change is noticeable.
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