I had planned, upon hearing Sílvia Pérez Cruz sing at Joe’s Pub, to make my way to another event involving music. But the idea of altering the state in which she, and the guitarist Raül Fernández Miró, had left me was practically unthinkable; the tenor of the experience deserved, as the profoundest of our aesthetic and spiritual ones do, to dissipate as leaves in the wind, or the cares of the day into sleep. It was something to be lived with, for an hour or two, or more, not to be raked into a pile, or kept forcibly wakeful.
My first awareness of this Catalán singer was through the pop flamenco group Las Migas, which she co-founded but has since left; she has continued to make music, including an award-winning song for the film Blancanieves. On Saturday night she sang – and amusingly called attention to the fact – in six languages, those being Catalán, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, and English, reflecting a mastery of diction that is wider still if you look at her recordings. The songs varied greatly, in genre and authorship, including a lied by Schumann, a lyric of Lorca, and works by Enrique Morente, Edith Piaf, and Hoagy Carmichael, among others.
So it makes sense that Pérez Cruz does not consider herself as primarily a flamenco artist; she speaks of her achievement in it with some humility. But for me it represents, if not explains, that which is beautiful, even transcendent, in her singing. Her voice rises from the soil and releases to the air, like sap pulled from the root and sweated from the topmost leaf, connecting origin with aspiration, birth with death, that which expires with what survives it. Everything in her reflects the placement between earth and heaven, the underfoot and the overhead, that we know from flamenco dance. She sits almost the whole time on a cajón (which she plays brilliantly), but the import is the same.
She seeks out, along with Fernández Miró, the shared root that nourishes their songs irrespective of genre, language, authorship, theme, or historical period. His guitar calls up experimental dissonances and electronic effects, yet all the while looks for something fundamental in the sound, as though to vocalize the name on the tip of the tongue, or recall the dream forgotten. The materialist ideology of a song like “Gallo Negro” redounds as spiritual experience, and in Pérez Cruz’s rendition of Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” wit and wistfulness embrace like siblings in need of love and mutual support.
Pérez Cruz intersperses numbers of great depth with a style of banter that is light and endearing; he is serious and a bit intense. Moods mingle in their art more or less as they do in life, and if there is such a thing as essence in the world, this duo from Catalonia left me feeling that I had been immersed in it.
Click on Joe’s Pub for information on events at that venue.