This week we’ve decided to have a look at the career so far of one of our favourite contemporary Cantaores, Francisco José Arcángel Ramos “Arcángel”. Arcángel has worked his way up through the ranks and now enjoys considerable success and respect in Flamenco circles and beyond. This is, perhaps, in many ways the not entirely surprising story of the rise and consolidation of a surprisingly remarkable talent.
Arcángel was born in Huelva in 1977. His family is from Alosno, the cradle of the Fandango, and like many of the artists we have seen in this series, Arcángel began performing when he was still a child. His neighbours from the time comment that while the other young lads were mucking about and playing football, Arcángel would sit in the village square singing.
He won first prize at the La Peña La Orden children’s fandango competition at the age of ten and went on to win again the following two years. The next year he joined Niño de Pura and José Joaquín’s company.
From this moment on he started performing as a Cantaor de atrás (the singer that accompanies the Bailaores) and worked with artists such as Jesús Cayuela and José Roca, in ‘La Parrala’ (1996); Mario Maya, in ‘Los flamencos cantan y bailan a Lorca’ (1997); and Manuel Soler, in ‘Por aquí te quiero ver’ (1998).
Here he is singing some typical Fandangos from his home town, Alosno, accompanied by Miguel Ángel Cortés and Manuel de la Luz:
Arcángel was beginning to make a name for himself on the circuit but it was in his performances at the 10th Seville Biennial in shows with Mario Maya, Juan Carlos Romero, Pepa Montes and Ricardo Miño, among others, that he really caught the eye of both the critics and the general public. He became a sought after Cantaor de atrás and started working with the Bailaora Eva La Yerbabuena and the Bailaor Israel Galván.
Here he is in a performance of a Soleá with Israel Galván:
He also started working with musicians from other genres and in 2001 was involved in the project “Cus Cus Flamenco” with Segundo Falcón and the Chekkara Orchestra from Tetuan in Morocco. We haven’t been able to find any clips from this project, unfortunately. But here he is singing the Tangos “Torre de la Vela”:
Arcángel had taken part in a number of recordings but had to wait till 2001 to release his first solo album, “Arcángel”. A spectacularly good début in which he sang a wide range of traditional palos – Fandangos, of course, as well as Tangos, Alegrías and Bulerías to name but a few. The album brought him several awards including the Andalucía Joven 2002 Award and the Giradillo Award for Best Singer at the Biennial that year. Here is the opening track, “Dame Limones”, another Tango but this time more “Gitano”- the video shows the lemon trees in the Plaza de Santa Marta in the Barrio de Santa Cruz just round the corner from the Cathedral in Seville:
His experimentation with other genres continued with a project with the contemporary composer Mauricio Sotelo. And the awards kept coming in. He was named “Onubense del Año” (Huelva’s Citizen of the Year). Here he is singing the Alegrías “Barco de Papel”. This performance was recorded in the gardens of the Palacio de La Granja near Segovia:
In 2004 he released his second album, “La Calle Perdía”, produced by Juan Carlos Romero. On the tour to promote the album he often sang accompanied only by a guitarist. At other times as part of a quartet. One of the most notable things about Arcángel is his ability to sing a capella or “a palo seco”, needing little or no accompaniment at all. Here is “Canto de los Desengaños”, the last song on the album, which starts off with strings and slowly works its way up to becoming a Fandango. The video shows scenes of the Guadalquivir estuary and the Doñana National Park on the Spanish Portuguese border:
Towards the end of 2006 he released his third album, “Ropavieja”, with Miguel Ángel Cortés and Daniel Méndez on guitar. Now firmly established as a Cantaor in his own right, he wasn’t above remembering his time as a Cantaor de atrás as seen in the video of the opening track, the Tangos “Tita María”, in which Pastora Galván dances:
It was five long years before he released “El Quijote de los Sueños” this October. The album is a fusion of old and new Flamenco styles playing with the concepts of “pure tradition” and “renovation”. A demonstration of his belief that Flamenco “wants to evolve, but from the roots up”. The album features the guitars of long time collaborators Miguel Ángel Cortés and Daniel Méndez as well as arrangements and piano from Dorantes. The songs are traditional palos (Alegrías, Soleá, Fandangos, etc). The whole thing works remarkably well, in our opinion. Here is the title track the Fandangos originally sung by the late Paco Toronjo (cuts off at 4:26, which is actually the end of the song):
But with Arcángel it is all really about the voice. Here to end, then, is a Bulerías al golpe, accompanied only by palmas: