Rocío Márquez – Claridad

Rocío Márquez needs no introduction, we waxed lyrical about her in the Flamenco series and her album Aquí Y Ahora was one of our favourites last year. This year she released Claridad in June and it’s better than her début. An album for flamenco connoisseurs made by a true connoisseur.

One of the things that a number of the younger artists have been doing recently is to take a couple of steps back and look at where Flamenco came from. They are keen to explore and revisit the roots. Some take the crossover approach and almost force Arab or other Mediterranean influences into the mix in an effort to “add something”. Then there are people like Rocío who look further back into the Iberian canon and come up with beauties such as this. Claridad is a short album, weighing in at a little over 35 minutes. But it’s hard to feel short changed when what’s on offer is just so damn good.

Rocío has done this very much on her own terms and has kept things deliberately sparse and simple. On nearly every track it’s just her and Alfredo Lagos, one of Jérez’s leading figures, on guitar. The other thing she’s been quite clear about is what she wanted to sing. There are no concessions here. She’s chosen the palos she wanted to explore and she has given us an album that needs to be listened to carefully because what she’s doing here isn’t exactly easy listening. Rocío’s voice is never strident. She doesn’t have the powerful, almost rasping, quality of La Paquera de Jérez or the sisters Fernanda and Bernarda de Utrera, but she doesn’t need to. There’s a strength and clarity in her voice that makes it just as appropriate.

The album starts with Infancia a Jotilla de Aroche that clearly pays tribute to the music of La Mancha before taking a twist and entering the Fandango territory of her native Huelva. A beautiful song that has something of the history of Flamenco encapsulated in just over three minutes.

Another palo that doesn’t get too much of an airing these days is the Romance. Liberación starts off as a Romance before hitting the more familiar ground of the Seguirilla.

There’s something deeply traditional not only about the palos that she sings but also about the way she will change palos in mid-song. Really exploring the way the duende takes her and giving the album a feel of spontaneity and fluidity that you would normally only expect from a live performance. The art of the cantaora in a nutshell.

Antiguamente Eran Dulces is an old song celebrating the “salero” of the women of Málaga. Probably my favourite of them all.

There is a breathtaking Taranta in which Rocío demonstrates just how well she can sing the slower palos and yet really let the strength of her voice shine, without ever overdoing it. The quiebros in just the right place and absolutely no showing off.

This is one of the best records I have heard in a very long time.

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