Review: Estrella Morente @ Meltdown festival – Southbank Centre (London, 17 August 2015)


As part of David Byrne’s ‘Meltdown’ festival, one of flamenco’s leading lights, Estrella Morente, opened her concert standing solo on an atmospherically lit stage. Within minutes her gypsy-esque voice, plaintiff and emotive had the audience gripped.

Morente’s heritage is drenched with Flamenco gold. Her grandfather was the guitarist Montoyita, and her father, Enrique Morente, a famed singer. From an early age Morente performed with many luminaries and quickly rose to meet her family’s and fan’s expectations.

Her six accompanying musicians entered slowly to take their places alongside her, two guitars and a percussionist to her left and three Palmeros (clappers) to her right. Throughout the evening the Palmeros provided a vibrant backdrop with their rhythmical clapping and adding a constant, exciting percussion, integral to the music.

Morente’s vocal dexterity produced a wailing quality reminiscent of Portuguese Fado or a Pakistani Sufi, skilfully splitting and sliding across notes, her phrasing stretched and turned like vocal elastic. It is no surprise Morente executed this style that originated in nomadic culture with such ease and grace. Moving the music back and forth, from emotive melancholy to fiery up-tempo songs, she told a story that spoke of love.

The three Palmeros lent their voices to the proceedings, both as backing vocalists and at one point even taking the lead. All the musicians had their moments. The percussionist, perhaps most spectacularly, took to the front of the stage and treated us to something of a flamenco rap, before exhibiting fine tap dancing skills, his shoes like castanets echoing through the audience.

Flamenco traditionally carries a strong improvisational quality, so it seemed fitting to have all these contributions. There are many examples of flamenco music exuding a cinematic quality, so it’s no surprise to learn that Morente’s music has been used on screen, most notably in Pedro Almodovar’s 2006 film, Volver.

Throughout the evening there were repeated interjections, all in Spanish, from members of the audience, further adding to the sense of improvisation. Morente’s engaging persona soaked it all up with a smile and the music went on as Morente, with a fan in hand, twisted around the stage, finishing one joyous piece with a flourish by tossing the fan high in the air to a collective ‘Ole’. With riotous applause, a return to stage for an encore was inevitable. Morente’s powerful voice, with a glorious rasp, seemed to grab every note by its throat.

Ticking every box of what you want from an authentic flamenco concert there was no need to know the words to understand the story – living proof that beauty transcends language barriers with stories that can be so readily shared through music.
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