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Alejandro Sanz plans to score for art, not politics, on his U.S. tour

July 22, 2010 |  2:01 pm


Alejandro Sanz was on the phone, spilling out his thoughts about a subject close to his soul.

Flamenco music? Human rights?

Nope. The Spanish pop idol was critiquing his homeland's fitfully brilliant but erratic performance in its opening match of this summer's World Cup, a 0-1 loss to Switzerland.

"I think it was just a bad day," the singer-songwriter said in Spanish during a break from the "Paraíso" tour that will bring him to the Gibson Amphitheatre for shows on Friday and Saturday (July 23 and 24). "I don’t know if they came nervous. But it was a great game."

When he spoke, on June 17, Sanz had no way of knowing that Spain's Furia Roja would go on to strike gold at the soccer tournament in South Africa, where it defeated the Netherlands, 1-0, in the final to earn Spain's first World Cup championship.

But it was characteristic of him to put a positive spin on life's shifting circumstances, even when dealt a temporary setback.

By now, Sanz's personal creation myth is well-know to his millions of record-buying followers in Europe, Latin America and the United States. How the 41-year-old singer was exposed early to traditional flamenco music while vacationing in his parents' native Andalucía in southern Spain. How he started out intending to be a flamenco artist himself, but found the instruction too narrowly pedantic, and so decided to transition into a distinctive pop-rock-flamenco idiom. How his big career break occurred when Warners backed his 1991 album "Viviendo Deprisa" (Living in a Hurry).

And how he has since gone on to win more than a dozen Latin Grammy Awards and two Grammy Awards and become the first Spanish-language artist to record an Unplugged album for MTV, a testament to his polished instrumental technique.

Sanz also has collaborated with an all-star roster of Spanish-speaking artists, most notably Colombia's Shakira on her international mega-hit "La Tortura." On his current tour he's teaming up with Juan Luis Guerra, Ricardo Montaner, Residente of Calle 13, Taxi Amarillo and Tommy Torres, among God-knows-who-else.

Yet he gives the impression that these artistic hookups, as well as his aggressive scrambling of multiple music genres, stems from a restless temperament, not commercial calculation.

"I don’t do collaborations because I think it will be good for selling records," he said.

The thing that you can’t buy is the awareness of the public and the respect of other musicians, what we call prestige. That’s the thing that can’t be bought."

In English-language U.S. media, Sanz is often described as a "balladeer" or singer of "romantic music." Both epithets are fine as far as they go. But his persona is more prismatic than simply that of a tuxedo'd Latin lothario such as Julio Iglesias. Flamenco, which Sanz calls the base of all his music, is itself a jarring, at times even violent rhythmic and melodic compound. It's tailor-made for expressing irrational emotional states, as the musicians and dancers whirl themselves and the audience into a state of dark ecstasy.

Sanz likes for some of these riskier sensations to seep into his lushly romantic songs, particularly in live concert performances.

"It’s a concert that mixes romantic songs and ballads, a very energetic concert with a lot of punch, a lot energy, with a little baroque rock, everything is a mix," he said.

Sanz doesn't recoil from getting scrappy in the service of art. A few years ago, he was involved in a verbal dust-up with Venezuela's leftist president Hugo Chavez over Sanz's charges that the Chavez government had sabotaged a scheduled concert in Caracas. Though Chavez dismissed the allegations and publicly invited Sanz to perform in the Venezuelan capital, a number of celebrities, including Penelope Cruz, weighed in on a petition supporting Sanz and urging free artistic expression.

"I have never really involved myself in politics," Sanz said. "In Venezuela, it wasn’t a political issue. It was a social issue and one of human rights, and it signaled something very grave to me."

For now, as he suggests, Sanz is putting politics far behind him. Along with its World Cup triumph, Spain lately has been in the news due to its precarious financial condition. In tough times like these, Sanz believes, people urgently need art to take them away from their worries for a few hours, "to sing, to dance, to enjoy themselves." That's what he wants his concerts to achieve.

"I think art was created for this," he said. "For me, art is a form of travel, to travel outside of life."

-- Reed Johnson

Photo: Alejandro Sanz. Credit: Arnulfo Franco / Associated Press 

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