From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

She is known simply as Martirio, fame his as much for her trademark sunglasses as for expanding the boundaries of flamenco music. Part of a generation that came of age in post-Franco Spain, Martirio is a favorite of critics and musicians in Spanish-speaking countries. But she hasn't received much notice here.

So, as part of our series The Ones that Got Away, NPR's Felix Contreras offers this introduction.

(Soundbite of music)

FELIX CONTRERAS: Martirio is the creation of vocalist and performance artist Isabel Quinones Gutierrez.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ISABEL QUINONES GUTIERREZ (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

CONTRERAS: In Martirio, rock and pop from America and folk music from Latin America mix with the flamenco culture of Andalucia in southern Spain, where Quinones grew up.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. QUINONES GUTIERREZ: (Singing in foreign language)

CONTRERAS: Quinones says she created Martirio to inspire Spaniards to explore personal and artistic freedoms after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Ms. QUINONES GUTIERREZ: (Through translator) Martirio is meant to allow people to confront their true feelings and follow the path of their lives, so they are free to love whoever makes them happy, so they can validate their existence, so they can be free within themselves.

CONTRERAS: That was pretty much the last time we heard from Isabel Quinones Gutierrez, talking about her artistic intentions. For the rest of the interview, it was Martirio who described the musical and artistic philosophies of a woman who always dresses with a dramatic flare, a traditional flamenco hair comb perched the top of her head, and who is never without her dark sunglasses.

Ms. QUINONES GUTIERREZ: (As Martirio) (Through translator) I developed my singing style, how I choose songs I will sing, how I present myself to an audience with the hair combs and sunglasses. It's all within the context of the music I'm going to sing.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. QUINONES GUTIERREZ: (As Martirio) (Singing in foreign language)

CONTRERAS: Martirio says the music is a reaction to decades of being told what to listen to.

Ms. QUINONES GUTIERREZ: (Through translator) During the era of Franco, there was lots of censorship in respect to all the arts. We were told by the government what to listen to, and it was music that didn't allow people to freely express themselves.

CONTRERAS: Music that was not allowed still got in from outside Spain -especially popular music and jazz from America.

(Soundbite of music)

CONTRERAS: Isabel Quinones Gutierrez was 21 when Franco died. She was already singing in clubs, and as Martirio, she embraced the new freedoms by mixing flamenco with pop, coplas - which are traditional Spanish songs - with rock. And on her most recent CD, "Primavera en Nueva York," she's mixed things up again by setting boleros - an old style of love songs - to jazz.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. QUINONES GUTIERREZ: (As Martirio) (Singing in foreign language)

(Through translator) To make this kind of fusion, you must know the original intention of the composer, so the two styles flow naturally. What you have to keep in mind is the point where they both have something in common.

CONTRERAS: She says what jazz and flamenco have in common is a yearning for freedom. She cites flamenco's origins among the Roma, commonly referred to as gypsies, and compares that to the early African-American roots of jazz. To get the two to work together, she says, she has to tone down the flamenco vocal trills and pump up the shared emotions.

Ms. QUINONES GUTIERREZ: (As Martirio) (Singing in foreign language)

(Through translator) That was how I sing with a jazz inflection, no? And the original would be…

(Singing in foreign language)

(Through translator) Hear how it changes?

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. QUINONES GUTIERREZ: (As Martirio) (Singing in foreign language)

CONTRERAS: Despite the fact that Martirio is a fictional creation, she comes from a real place in Spanish history, says producer Nat Chediak. He's a Grammy-winning Latin jazz producer who says he was drawn to the emotional integrity of Martirio's voice.

Mr. NAT CHEDIAK (Jazz Producer): Martirio is the truth. Martirio is very genuine. There is nothing phony or put-upon with her. With her, what you see is what you get.

CONTRERAS: What we get on the CD "Primavera en Nueva York" is a song cycle about a woman falling in and out of love.

(Soundbite of music)

CONTRERAS: Martirio says she approached the love longs, the old boleros, the way a jazz singer would approach the work of the Gershwins or Jerome Kern.

Ms. QUINONES GUTIERREZ: (As Martirio) (Through translator) It was very emotional for me. It didn't have any of my familiar flamenco things. I've completely dedicated myself to the music, the musicians and the words, the emotion of the composers.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. QUINONES GUTIERREZ: (As Martirio) (Singing in foreign language)

CONTRERAS: As she reflects on what she's been able to accomplish with her music, Martirio wonders what might have been had it not been for Franco's de facto cultural blockade.

Ms. QUINONES GUTIERREZ: (As Martirio) (Through translator) Imagine if we didn't go through the years of dictatorship and the musical frontiers were open. Imagine Billie Holiday singing an emotional copla or Spanish singers singing "My Man."

CONTRERAS: With that in mind, Martirio says that her dream is to record a double CD, one in Spanish and the other in English, offering two distinct cultural approaches to the same lyrics. For Martirio, it would be her own way of creating the kind of world without musical borders that Spaniards were denied for so long.

Felix Contreras, NPR News.

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