C. Tangana embraces tradition on his groundbreaking album, 'El Madrileño' NPR's Eyder Peralta speaks with Spanish rapper C. Tangana about his highly-acclaimed and Grammy-nominated album, "El Madrileño."

C. Tangana embraces tradition on his groundbreaking album, 'El Madrileño'

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EYDER PERALTA, HOST:

El Madrileno, the man from Madrid - that's the easiest way to describe Anton Alvarez Alfaro, who performs as C. Tangana. But it's also the title of his 2021 album, an ambitious musical journey across generations, genres and lyrical traditions that earned him a 2022 Grammy nomination for best Latin rock or alternative album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TU ME DEJASTE DE QUERER")

C TANGANA: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: There are hints of tango, urbano, rock, Spanish copla, and they're all seamlessly brought together by Tangana's modern approach to the rich musical heritage that's shaped his world view. C. Tangana joins us now. Welcome to the program.

C TANGANA: Thank you. How are you?

PERALTA: Very good. You started out as a rapper making Spanish trap. And this album definitely has some of that foundation, but you mainly turn toward roots music - different elements of Spanish folklore, including flamenco. What inspired that change?

C TANGANA: So I was 28 years old or 29 - something like that - and I started feeling like the other music wasn't enough for me, that my ambition were bigger in the moment. So I just started to do the music that I've been listening my whole life. And "El Madrileno" (speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: So let's listen to "Ingobernable," which means ungovernable. And it features flamenco legends Gipsy Kings.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INGOBERNABLE")

C TANGANA: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: What was it like working with the icons of this genre?

C TANGANA: It's been great. I'm a huge fan of Gipsy Kings. I still play them in every party that I have. But they also a little bit criticize by the purist of flamenco here in Spain, you know? So for me, it's, like, a statement, collaboration with them, because I'm not a purist. And this is an album which talks about not being a purist. It was kind of, OK, what do you want for this sound? And my dream was to have them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INGOBERNABLE")

C TANGANA: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: I mean, it sounds like you got a lot of your wishes. I mean, because you brought in a ton of different influences and collaborators, even from Latin America.

C TANGANA: Yeah.

PERALTA: I mean, you worked with Cuban guitarist Eliades Ochoa of Buena Vista Social Club, Puerto Rican musician Jose Feliciano of "Feliz Navidad" - right? - and so many others. I mean, why did you want to pull all of these pan-Latin sounds into an album called "Madrileno," grounded in Madrid?

C TANGANA: Well, because I was doing, like, a little trip through all these different influences that I'd been listening to my whole life. So when I was in the studio, I was trying to reach my best. And, you know, if you want to do a masterpiece, you have to learn from the masters, you know? So (speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MURIENDO DE ENVIDIA")

C TANGANA: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: Let's listen to a bit of, you know, one of my favorite tracks on the album, "Muriendo De Envidia."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MURIENDO DE ENVIDIA")

C TANGANA: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: So this song turns into a salsa track, but it's not always that way. I mean, can you tell us a little about what we hear in this one track?

C TANGANA: Well, it's a lot happening there. We start with a classic rumba song called "Lola." It's a song that Pescailla used to sing to Lola Flores, who is one of the biggest name in Spanish music. So we start there, but we add the special kind of color of the Eliades guitar, which is a mix between a classic guitar and a tres cubano. It's a mix that - he only have that instrument. He made it, and it is the instrument that he play.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MURIENDO DE ENVIDIA")

C TANGANA: (Singing in Spanish).

And then this song (speaking Spanish) with a mambo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MURIENDO DE ENVIDIA")

C TANGANA: (Singing in Spanish).

The origin of the salsa is in Cuba. So it's kind of a mix of the traditional way of playing song, and the modern way or the (speaking Spanish) way, (speaking Spanish) way that (unintelligible).

PERALTA: You're literally drawing a line from very traditional folk music, we can call it, to modern Latin American music.

C TANGANA: I tried. Yes, I tried to do that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TE OLVIDASTE")

C TANGANA: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: So in the past, you've discussed the colonial mindset that you think Spaniards still have toward Latin America and its music. What do you mean by that?

C TANGANA: I think it's something about an older generation. They used to think that Spain was culturally the main one, and the other countries were trying to reach the level of Spain. And that is something that my generation, we don't feel good about it and we don't feel it's real because we grew up listening to Latin music and having all those superstars - like (speaking Spanish). And the people here were kind of looking only at themselves and (speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: They were wrong.

C TANGANA: Si. They were wrong because (unintelligible) from Spain were bigger, and they weren't. And we were listening to the music - and also with the reggaeton - you know, the explosion of the reggaeton - it was super clear that the culture with our language (speaking Spanish). So I think with this album, a lot of people - all people here from Spain - (speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: Obviously, you're a white Spaniard coming at this. I wonder if you were at all worried about appropriation and if you thought about that while making this album.

C TANGANA: Yes, I think there is something - it's common topic, the (speaking Spanish). It's something that everyone's having in their minds. But I really feel that (speaking Spanish) - you know, (speaking Spanish) - is not the same here that is in the United States, you know? For us, being mixed is the natural thing. It's like we don't understand culture, we don't understand progress and we don't understand society without mixing. So my approach is only trying to reflect that. (Speaking Spanish). If you want to reach a level, you have to go to a level and work with the people in the level. So it's the same for the culture. If you want to understand bachata, you have to go to Dominican Republic and dance in a little bodega there.

PERALTA: So let's close with the top streamed Tiny Desk of 2021, and it's you surrounded by family, friends and collaborators. And you premiered a song called "Me Maten" - may they kill me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ME MATEN (LIVE AT NPR'S TINY DESK)")

C TANGANA: (Singing in Spanish).

PERALTA: I have to say, I absolutely love this song.

C TANGANA: Thank you so much.

PERALTA: You know, we're just coming off a year where so many people have spent so much time alone and away from the people who they love. What does this song mean to you?

C TANGANA: It's a topic - talking about your people. The first time that we played live in the pandemia (ph) was in the Tiny Desk concert, was the first time that we were together, you know? We had to make a lot of tests being with no one for months. And then we stayed together just for one day. And that's why we all party. Like, we were drinking and eating and we were there, like, having real fun, and for the first time in a long period.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ME MATEN (LIVE AT NPR'S TINY DESK)")

C TANGANA: (Singing in Spanish).

We were feeling it. Like, that's - I don't know, it's a very special piece for me. I think it's something really meaningful for Spanish people because it represents a way of living music. And I'm super proud and also super grateful for being able to do that.

PERALTA: We all felt it. That's Anton Alvarez Alfaro, better known as C. Tangana. His album is "El Madrileno." (Speaking Spanish).

C TANGANA: (Speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ME MATEN (LIVE AT NPR'S TINY DESK)")

C TANGANA: (Singing in Spanish).

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