Antón Álvarez Alfaro, best known by his moniker C. Tangana, tilts his video camera to show Clash a large oil-painted portrait of a veiled woman sporting hoop earrings, gazing hauntedly towards her viewer. The bold, Velazquezian brush strokes are reflective of the country from which it derives: deliberately, definitely Spanish.
It’s the artwork for Álvarez’s single, 'Demasiadas Mujeres', part of a hand-painted series that forms the cover art for his forthcoming album, 'El Madrileño'. The art ties into his vision for the project, he explains, “there's something classical but vanguard about it.”
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'El Madrileño' is Álvarez’s second release. It’s a far cry from his 2018 sophomore album, Avida Dollars. Avida was hotly anticipated in the Spanish urban scene, coming after years the rapper teased tracks that pushed and blurred the limits of trap. His softly-spoken manner earnt him comparisons to the likes of Drake, who he cites as one of his biggest urban influences.
His vocals are the only link that El Madrileño has to its predecessor. Now, it feels limiting to label C. Tangana as a trap artist — the electronic drum beats are swapped for flamenco handclaps, collaborations with fellow rappers are replaced by Gypsy Kings singing a chorus.
'El Madrileño' feels like it's from an entirely different musician altogether.
“I made this thinking it would be a hit with the critics, but not so much with the fans,” he says. “But all three singles (from 'El Madrileño') went to number one in Spain. They all distance themselves to what’s typical of urban music. I realised that people are expecting something new.”
'El Madrileño' does not only draw from flamenco — Álvarez channels diverse Spanish and Latin classic styles, from the bolero ballad, popular in Central America, to the forlorn folk of South America. Each genre lyrically rests on charged emotion and high drama.
“For me, the most important songs are sentimental. This is reflected well in flamenco, it’s exaggerated, it speaks of a very un-Christian love. It’s a love that hurts.”
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On the explosive single 'Tu Me Dejaste De Querer', the Madrid-born musician ventures to the depths of his pain “You stopped loving me when I didn’t expect it / When I loved you most, you stopped caring”. The lines are then repeated by Spanish flamenco greats Niño de Elche and La Húngara, their cries intensifying the desperation of his abandonment.
The flair and drama of flamenco work earnestly alongside C. Tangana’s emotive lyricism, allowing the rapper to expose raw sentiment without feeling overblown. It’s not the first time he’s toyed with the classical Spanish genre; he co-wrote eight songs with his ex-girlfriend Rosalía on her seminal album 'El Mal Querer'. Weaving clipped handclaps with smooth R&B breaks, the duo masterfully pioneered a neo-flamenco sound to great success. The album was a critical smash world over, it won The Grammy Award for Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album and earned itself a place among Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums of all time. Rosalía became a global superstar.
Spanish-written media have endlessly theorized linking 'Tu Me Dejaste De Querer' to their split. Tweeting last December, Álvarez dismissed the press and fans’ “obsession” with finding connections to their relationship in their songs. Yet he makes it hard not to — in a Timberlakean-twist, the song’s music video even features a woman who resembles Rosalia, only fuelling the speculation.
What Álvarez does confirm is that the album is about love — in all its forms – from seduction to loss. And it’s personal. “I always write about what has happened to me.”
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On 'El Madrileño', which translates as the Spanish demonym for someone from Madrid, Álvarez revindicates the classics of his country and proudly paints himself among them.
“Before trap, Spanish music was mostly indie bands who dressed like they were from the UK or the US. To be cool, you had to be un-Spanish.”
It’s a formula that Álvarez is now turning on its head, “now this music feels exotic and original. And that’s what’s getting people’s attention.”
At the end of the call, Álvarez turns his camera away from the large canvas, and jokingly says he can sell the art from El Madrileño in a few years when people have forgotten him.
But, his fears are unfounded, of course. If there’s anything that defines a classic, it's that it’s here to stay.
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'El Madrileño' will be released on February 26th.
Words: Charis McGowan
Photo Credit: Javier Ruiz
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