U.S. Debut of a Celebrated Cantaor

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The stage was dark while guitar notes emanated. Manuel Silveria delicately touched his instrument as if it was a precious treasure. As his music played, a figure appeared from the shadows – it was Manuel Moreno Maya (El Pele) singing his cante softly. As he continued, the atmosphere turned a brighter shade of red.

El Pele was born in Córdoba, Spain. He grew up in a gypsy environment where music is an important element of identity, and that’s what he shared with the audience during his U.S. debut at the New York Flamenco Festival on February 23rd at the NYU Skirball Center. The concert was full of surprises, and took the audience on a journey to the different styles of flamenco music. Tonás, zambras, soleás, seguiriyas, tangos, fandangos and bulerías were part of the program.

Even though El Pele had a sore throat, his cante was full and well received by the audience who responded with emotion after each of his songs. “Eres grande de verdad,” a mature guy shouted after the cantaor finished his tango.

From the beginning of the performance, the audience was very enthusiastic, accompanying the singer with palmas and even singing. For the Spanish and Latin community in general, the performance seemed to remind them about places, situations or memories from the past. One of the best moments of the evening was when El Pele was performing a tango and his microphone stopped working. He instinctively decided to sing without it, and the audience admired the power of his voice filling the empty space. Before the end of the show, El Pele invited his nephew to the stage to perform next to him playing the cajón, a percussion used in this style of music. The music was full of energy. Different qualities and textures could be felt due to the combination of the elements: guitar, cante, cajón and palmas performed by the cantaor. After this experience, the singer left the stage and the musicians performed another song with the presence of the bailaor, Edu Lozano, who demonstrated great skills spinning in his own axis. Lozano was a great performer who demonstrated amazing passion, musicality and precision in his movements. He is a very peculiar dancer who has his own identity in contrast with other bailaores, such as, Joaquín Cortés or Joaquín Grilo. He is small with short arms, short legs, and small torso, but that doesn’t stop him.

The last intervention involved all the performers in a festive bulería. Each of the four artists had a solo, maybe not a spectacular one, but an opportunity to demonstrate why they are fantastic artists. The audience went crazy – they couldn’t stop clapping. In a grateful gesture, El Pele returned to the stage to offer a final song. Then he disappeared into the shadows.