El Madrileno and C. Tangana’s Formula to Reinvent the Spanish Song in a Latin Key

Albina Cabrera

Lee la versión en español de este artículo aquí.

On February 26, I turned 33, which coincided with the release of the latest album by C. Tangana. I took it as a gift as I remembered one of my last nights hanging with friends in Argentina before coming to Seattle that consisted of four things: Malbec from Mendoza, Argentine asado, good bread, and C. Tangana. They showed me some singles that anticipated this album by the Spanish rapper, with the excitement of someone who has recently been enlightened by a musical novelty.

The truth is that for me this was a vote of confidence for Gonzalo and Agustina – whose taste I trust – because I confess I had already drawn my own conclusions about his musical career so far. I liked some singles more than others, but it definitely didn’t blow my mind. His political message had been crossed by criticism of appropriation and misogynistic lyrics; and what represents the historical idea of “the Hispanic'' in traditional culture, which goes without saying, was built on a colonialist paradigm that has been difficult to deconstruct. Consequently, the general idea of ​​"revindication of the Spanish song" taking the original rhythms of Latin America seemed crazy to me, it infuriated me just thinking about it. What I didn't know is that at the end of February, El Madrileño would become one of my favorite albums of the year and one that we will remember for a long time to come.

Why, you ask? Well, it’s made up of 14 super successful tracks that design a personal map of the author's journey through the music of Latin America and the influences that marked his life, alongside key figures of the music of each country. What I think is fundamental to this album is the 360-degree turn in the musical career of Antón Alvarez Alfaro aka Pucho – or C. Tangana as he refers to himself today. Although he is a born rapper, an artist who rose to fame through trap music, and someone who had already generated musical magic by composing with the Catalan singer Rosalía almost all the songs that make up the masterpiece that is El Mal Querer.

For his second album, Pucho took the steering wheel and decided to generate something for posterity: the revindication of the Spanish song in a modern key, distancing himself from the notion of ​​the first world and calling on the best teachers to create, together, the foundations of the future of the song in Spanish. Or at least that’s what he says he wanted to do – and he convinces me

From Seattle, we connected with Spain and Antón to unravel the past, present, and future of El Madrileño, an album that showed us the musical world of La Húngara and El Niño de Elche but at the same time left us speechless with the team of collaborators summoned: the iconic bossa artist Toquinho from Brazil; Ed Maverick's promise of Mexican folk; the French Gipsy Kings with Nicolás Reyes and Tonino Baliardo; the outstanding level of composition of the Uruguayan Jorge Drexler; the Puerto Rican José Feliciano; Omar Apollo's Latinx worldview; the ambassadors of the Mexican corrido, Carín León and Adriel Favela; the Cuban legend of Eliades Ochoa; Kiko Veneno and Argentine rockstar Andrés Calamaro.

So yes, Antón has ambitions and a new perspective on Spanish language music that he knew how to execute, overcoming the risks it implied for his pre-established base of fandom. "I feel that Spanish culture has always been very arrogant," he attentively answers to my question on how he built the formula that would break with the general idea of ​​Hispanic culture and at the same time make peace with Latin America without nearing claims of appropriation of musical roots.

A separate chapter for Antón's audiovisual mind. Each track of El Madrileño already has a video clip, which he created with his own company, Little Spain. Let’s watch and listen to this latest album, and together guess: what next for the artist? What will be the first thing the artist will release after this album, a book or a movie? He has already launched his own clothing brand and the truth is that I see a future in both.


Transcription in English
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Albina Cabrera: Welcome to KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle.  I’m Albina Cabrera, I’m the co-host of El Sonido that airs Mondays from 7 to 10 pm Pacific Time, and we are incredibly happy, excited, and curious to celebrate, approaching the 10th anniversary of El Sonido, a conversation with the author of one of our favorite albums this year and, I think, an album that will be talked about for years to come.  I'm talking about El Madrileño and the singer-songwriter Antón Álvarez Alfaro. Welcome to KEXP, Anton, how are you?  

Well, I’m very happy about what you said. Proud that you think that about my album.  

Of course. Well, this was going to be a track by track, but we have very little time, we know you’re busy and we appreciate this time very much. That’s why I'm going to take advantage of this time to explore El Madrileño, from my personal point of view and yours, of course, because you are the protagonist. Are you ready?  

I'm ready.  


Great. Let's start at the beginning, both from the tracklist and the composition process of El Madrileño.  It starts with “Demasiadas Mujeres”, track number 1 that had a huge impact. Then we go to track number 2 with “Tu me Dejaste de Querer”, where you opened the doors internationally to the musical worldview of both La Hungara and El Niño de Elche that blew our minds. This song, for me, introduces the tone that is held throughout the album, which is the revindication of the Spanish song.  From which point of view do you revindicate the Spanish song? Because I know you do it in a modern style, and if you can tell me what was the moment – if you remember – when you realized the identity of El Madrileño?  When did you say I want to do this and not this?  

"Tu me Dejaste de Querer” is for me the perfect summary of all the intentions I have on the album. Revindicate the classic but try to do something avant-garde. Mix styles, find common places between Latin and Spanish. Turn the idea of Spain or the Spanish values that people have. I think in the song “Tu me Dejaste de Querer” everything is understood. It's one of my favorite songs, moreover, on the emotional plane because it makes me vibrate.  Regardless of all those ideas, if the song doesn't make you feel anything and doesn’t get you out of your chair, then it's not worth it. And this song makes me get up.

Then I realized traveling the world, that I felt nostalgic about my land, Spain. I felt nostalgic about some things we have in common when traveling around Latin America with other cultures, other bars, other accents, other rhythms, other ways of understanding life. I found a lot of that came to me from when I was little. In this outsider’s nostalgia is where I start to think about what I’m contributing to Spanish music or music in Spanish and what would be the most honest and original place for me to make songs. And that's where this search begins, which becomes El Madrileño, whose first song was Un Veneno”, which is this very Spanish bolero but in a Cuban style, also with Latin percussion. It was the first song that I dared to do based on traditional music and that worked for me, that I thought was going to be an experiment but it turned out it was that it was the key to getting into this entire album.  

We need to talk about the collaborations  [on the album] with [other] artists that I really like. How and with whom did you set up that sound map? Both Spanish folklore and Latin American folklore. Specifically, [with the] collaborations, [did you start with] narrative or story that you already had that made you go look for certain artists to represent that story? Or was it based on the curatorial list of artists that you put together the narrative of El Madrileño?  


Let me just mention for those who are watching us and listening: “Comerte Entera” with Toquinho, a key figure of Brazil. Ed Maverick – the future of Mexican folk – with “Parteme la Cara”. I'm just going to mention a few of them “Un Veneno” with José Feliciano, a Puerto Rican artist; "Te Olvidaste", with Omar Apollo an artist from Mexican and the United States. Well, anyway, I could keep going but I want to know about the shaping of that map and, what you can tell me about all these fascinating collaborations.  

As I was doing songs, I realized what the album meant and then I wanted to invite some other people to come in. It immediately became clear that I didn't want to make collaborations based on marketing, that would help me position myself, because it was entirely a concept album and I had to be true to that. So I was very radical in the proposal at first, and then it turned out that was the most marketable thing I could do and it was the sexiest thing for everyone, that crazy mix of people going through the album.

Normally it was the songs that said who to call. We went out of the studio with a bossa and said, “No way, we have to find someone to make this next level.” Sometimes it was about being there, like in Cuba. In Cuba I met Eliades by chance. I was having dinner at Libia's house, who was the casting director for a video that I was shooting there and now is a great friend. She is the mother of many of the foreigners, who have arrived with love to Cuba, because she makes a bridge between La Havana and Miami. And we were having dinner quietly and after a few hours of dinner on the same porch of her house, there was another table where Libya's brother and an unknown man – we didn't know who he was because he was wearing a hat – were playing dominoes. Then, at a certain point, the man takes off his hat, turns slightly and we all see Eliades Ochoa, who has been at our side for four hours.

Well, that’s the kind of fortuitous thing that happens when you're traveling. Meeting someone, ending up in someone's studio, have also helped to compose the album. And then it's true that when the album was already done, I looked for direction. For example, it was important to me to have an artist who represented someone from outside the language, such as Omar Apollo or someone who did crossovers like José Feliciano, or someone who crossed the border. People like the Gipsy Kings, who although they represent a lot of Spanish culture, they really are French and dominate Spanish culture in the world, but in their own country they are also...  you know? I tried to look for different characters to emphasize that, but fundamentally it’s the songs that speak for themselves. A song, and try to take it to the highest level. 


You also played with intergenerational transfer because you included the future collaborating with Ed Maverick, an artist that we love and we play a lot. He just released a great album called Eduardo. You also included traditional musical figures. You played a little there with that historical revisionism, but also looking toward the future, right?  

Yeah, the idea was to have the teachers who have influenced me so much and that I think dominate the genres I was daring to do, right?  Basically, a selfish decision to learn from the best. You can try to make a bolero or you can try to make a son montuno, but if you want to make a son montuno and you do it with Eliades, you're going to learn to make a good son montuno and on top of that, your song is going to be better. It's impossible that it doesn't help you. And then, aside from young people, people who aren't consecrated, what we wanted were people who even if they're talking to a big audience – like everyone we've chosen, who are people who have a giant fandom –have a new proposal, they're not getting carried away by mainstream. You have Ed Maverick's folk, you have R&B, I wouldn't know how to describe it because it's Apollo's vision that is very broad. I mean, he has no prejudice in any style. You have corrido, for example, that young people from Mexico and across the border, but from Mexican heritage, are also recovering and are turning into something young. It's like we wanted young people, but who were not into what everyone is doing, but were contributing from the left.  

There are two things that were clear, for me, from the song "Cuando olvidaré", which is my favorite song. Pepe Blanco's passages are a little revealing, aren't they? You are showing us your political dissent. You say you wanted to make an album to revindicate, from another place and in a modern key, the traditional Spanish song, but to do that you called to key figures from Latin America. So, what was that connection that you saw or that bridge you wanted to build?  

Given that the new generation of Latin American artists are revindicating a lot of their origins and both Latin American and Spanish artists are rethinking this concept of hispanidad so that it is not tied, all the time, to that concept of cultural colonialism. So, I want to ask you your political point of view about this concept, about lo hispano, La Hispanidad in this world.  

Well, I feel that Spanish culture has always been very prepotent. So, being honest with what I have been hooked with about the music in Spanish, I have to admit that there is a lot of music, mostly the modern music made in Spain for many years, that I have not fallen in love with as much as with Latin music. Then I had a romance with Cuba, and in Cuba, I realized that the mixture of the Spanish and the African gave endless possibilities that you will then find in all Latin music, and that for me connects a lot.

When I step back and try to find something that has a strong identity, I realize that my way of creating identity is not a nationalist identity, you know? It has to do with other things. It has to do with how flamenco influences bolero, how it influences the cantos de ida y vuelta with the tango, with rumba, with a lot of things that are not going to defend a culture of one country, but to defend culture in general, the people, and that has nothing to do with the concrete border.

So I really revindicate this even when I'm out of Spain, so for me the idea of travel and the idea of being in transit and a nostalgic culture, a culture that accompanies you, and of movement, was very important.  For me it would have been very unpleasant to make a Spanish album that claims La Nación (the national) it would be like something very antiquated, it would be a very antiquated concept for me. So it was very important to me that it was about speech and the connections that arise with the language.  


Totally. Let's talk a little bit about "Nunca Estoy", which was the first thing we saw from this album. One of the two songs that have no collaborations. There, you are winking to Rosario Flores, with "Cómo quieres que te quiera si no estás aquí", and Alejandro Sanz with "Quien me va a curar el corazón partío?". It is also written and sung in the feminine. You've received reviews criticizing your songs, people saying that you're machista, that you're not machista.

But, what I observed in El Madrileño is – this is my personal opinion – I see it as there is a boredom with the idea of that masculinity that asks a man to be number one and surrounded by women, right? The typical idea about “sex, drugs and rock and roll”. That “maturation” or that new concept, that I know you've named many times in regards to passing the 30s barrier? A 33-year-old lady tells you so, so I think we're speaking the same language.  

Yes. I think, in general, we've done the same thing with everything. With music, with aesthetics, and also with lyrics. I've tried to revisit the classic, but do something completely current, right? So, if you make a nostalgic and romantic album, but do not update love, you do not update your vision of femininity or masculinity, because it is completely anachronistic. More so now that people are generating other very, very different discourse and it is a time of change. So for me, it was also important to write a song like “Cambia” or write a song like "Nunca Estoy", or as "Ingobernable", things that made me represent myself how I am, as how I think today. And also a little, for me, the way to forgive the past is to integrate it with the future, where there are elements that can still make a bridge. And I think that the album does that in every way, aesthetically, but also theoretically, if you want, inside the lyrics.  

In the process of creating El Madrileño were you thinking about the public, the audience? Because I imagine that you set your ambitions from the beginning, though later you were surprised, but I imagine that one of those ambitions was to expand territories... I mean, for example, here we are chatting from Seattle connected with... You're in Madrid, aren't you?  

I'm in Madrid. For me, it's crazy where the album is reaching, but I promise you there was no market intent on anything we did. In fact, the premise was precisely this. Yes, there was an intention and in that I’m completely sincere, which is not only about the artistic ambition of making great songs or meeting great artists. I intended that a lot of people whose opinions I respect would think that my artistic project is solid. I had that ambition, but what I lost in exchange for getting that, what I lost in exchange for getting together with all these people was, then, the reception I was going to have on social networks, in numbers, with younger people, in reproductions, in broadening.  t was like good, we know we're gonna lose that, but we're gonna win everything else.  

It was a political decision.  

Yeah, yeah, totally and nobody thought this was going to go well. We were all prepared to slow down the pace of success we were having, a little. Everyone, the company, my manager, the whole creative team, the collaborators we talked to said, “This is great but well, this is young people...” This has surprised us from all sides, surprised everyone.  


Congratulations. Well, I have to talk about this because it is my home Argentina and because of the proximity of these artists, I have to talk about the compositions of “Hong Kong” with Andrés Calamaro and “Nominao” with Jorge Drexler, Argentinean and Uruguayan. This “Rioplatense” alliance of two key South American artists who built their lives in Spain many years ago. So, I want to ask you about how you see that bridge they created between South America and Spain. How was that night when there was so much talk about composition? You have said about Drexler that he's like a songwriting academic. What did you learn from them? Did you learn something working with them?

C. Tangana: A lot. An incredible amount.  Connections are very important for me in this way.  Calamaro is probably one of the great Madrileños of Spanish culture and Jorge Drexler as well. For me, they're very madrileños. And it also has to do with that speech I told you about identity, about what it's like to be from a place you know?  It is a very open and very porous identity that is really defined at that point. I feel as Madrilenian as Andrés can feel. For me, it was very important to have it because of the influence they have had in my life, for all that I have heard since I was young. I've learned a lot from them. From Jorge I have learned the restraint and analytical ability of the teacher because for me he will always have that image of a teacher, that always keeps that point, no matter what time of the night it is, he maintains his composure. And then Andrés, who is just the opposite, is the utmost disinhibition. [He] is the ultimate expression of rock and provocation, and I admire that too. Everyone has their way of making poetry and having them together in the studio, that was historical.  

A party.  

When I write the book, when I write the book that will have to come, the adventure novel, there is a chapter for the night when Andres and Jorge wrote a song with me.


I can't wait, and this brings me to the following. And now, Antón, what's after El Madrileño?  By now you have arrived at #1, you put the Spanish song in a modern key on the international map. What's next? Music? A movie? I mean, your name looks perfect as a film director. Well, even though you said you wanted to be a writer, you consider yourself a writer.  

Well, I don't know what I'm going to do, really. Today, in fact, I had a very important meeting with Kigo, who is a long-time friend, great music producer of many of the things I hear, and also my manager. And my cousin Isabel, who is not only my cousin, but also my business manager and with whom I work the whole business part, and we had a very long conversation about the future and the truth is, that it is a splendid but uncertain future. I mean, we're in no hurry to materialize these conversations, we're enjoying the album. I think there are still a few things left. The live aspect is missing, we need to study the album a little more. I think the live part is going to help a lot with that.

For the moment, let’s enjoy it. I know when the year is over, I'm going to be curious again. I'm gonna have to start with something new, but at the moment I don't want to get ahead of myself.  

Let's close this but first I'll ask you a brief question, considering that estamos con el diario del lunes (we are already with Monday's newspaper), as we say in Argentina. I don't know if they say it in Spain too. Since you have all the news, the album is out, were there fears you went through?  You were talking about the idea that you thought there was going to be a loss of audience, but was there some other fear brought up through the process of El Madrileño?  

A lot of them. There is a fundamental fear of the vulnerability of lyrics at a time when I am a very public media character in Spain. Then writing certain things I knew they were going to expose me to a lot of stories.  


Interpretations... Things I didn't want to remove from my life, that they knew because of... Well, that's the artist's life. I was scared. I was also afraid of not being able to go back to my career because I'm a rapper and always have been, and I think my attitude is still there. I learned all my tricks from there and I owe everything to the sample and I owe it all the rhymes. So fear of taking a step towards a place that will then be difficult to return from. There were a lot of fears at the level of involvement, that is, I stopped exercising and stopped interacting with all my loved ones I didn't work with. It has been a very big obsession, and that also scared me, but it was the best investment of time I've ever made in my career and I'm proud of it. So despite all the fears, it's been worth it, if anyone has any fear out there... Well, let's move forward, afterward we’ll appreciate it.

It's temporary, basically. Well, it's El Sonido's birthday, the show I'm part of.  Ten years here from Seattle to the world passing modern Latin music, Ibero-American music, also this new generation. So I'm going to close with an ambitious question, I don't know, we'll see.  What is for El Madrileño, and how does El Madrileno see the future of music in Spanish? Considering that you say you're coming from urban music, but now you're doing this. What is the future of music in Spanish for El Madrileño?  

I think our language has become a trend in the world of music. That has led us, like everyone, to fight like “we're there, we're there, we have to get it.” I think now a giant space has been opened, that there wasn’t. There's a lot of looks on there and it's time to put all the meat on the grill and really speed-up the whole creative part. Demonstrate everything we can do. I feel a little bit inside the industry, maybe now a little less because there are already a couple of alternatives and people's curiosity is already noticeable, but three years ago I felt like the whole anglo part that was starting to approach was pure commercial interest. There wasn't a real appreciation for culture and I think it's the time for change, right?  

Well, not all languages are the most listened to languages in the whole world, and right now we have that opportunity and I think it's time to do something about it. Let's take that responsibility.  There are a lot of young artists, I think, who are going for it. They are all about research, experimentation and culture. I am very proud to be part of that new generation and “larga vida”, another ten years for you and for us.  

Thank you very much. We're closing this conversation. Thank you very much, Anton, for stopping by KEXP.  I should call you, Antón, no?  It’s hard for me to call you Pucho. Besides Antón, you have a very nice name. Thank you for coming through KEXP.  

It was a pleasure. Thank you very much for the interview and I’m sending you a very big kiss and congratulations on your birthday.  

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