Why you should care
Because Tarantino heard it. Why didn’t the rest of us?
Spanish music is easy to overlook. Here in America, it’s barely on our radar. If anything, unless you’re a musicophile who speaks Spanish, Spain probably conjures thoughts of fusion fluff like the Gipsy Kings or stodgy balladeers like Julio Iglesias. But underneath the New Age-y tunes watered down by the long trip over the Atlantic is a very powerful and dynamic musical form that most people have heard of, but never actually heard: flamenco. And two of its most gifted performers, the duo known as Lole y Manuel, have gone undiscovered.
Flamenco’s history spans hundreds of years, born of Gypsy (Roma) and Andalusian roots. At its simplest, it is a guitar, a singer, hand claps and perhaps a dancer or two. As soon as music began to be recorded, flamenco reached a much wider audience, becoming synonymous with classical guitar. Its purveyors were usually older Spanish gentlemen who were more interested in technique than soul. The music, in its popular form, remained stuffy and a bit dry.
The intensity, the rise and fall of Lole’s voice kept pace by Manuel’s deft guitar work …
But as social and cultural mores began to shift in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, so did flamenco music. A new generation of artists such as Paco de Lucía, Camarón De La Isla and Tomatito embraced and reimagined a New Flamenco (Nuevo Flamenco), which incorporated modern styles into the traditional. Individual personalities and styles were now in the foreground, and while the purists balked, the country fell in love.
One of the finest groups to come out of this renaissance was the pairing of Dolores Montoya Rodríguez and Manuel Molina Jiménez, better known as Lole y Manuel. Their first album, Nuevo Día, injected a healthy dose of flamenco’s Arabic roots (including a song sung in Arabic), avant-garde arrangements and flowery lyrics into the traditional flamenco framework. The result was a modern masterpiece. The intensity, the rise and fall of Lole’s voice kept pace by Manuel’s deft guitar work, the pure force of their music made Nuevo Día an instant classic, and a foundation of the Nuevo Flamenco movement.
“When Lole y Manuel came on the scene, most flamenco singers sang in that more throaty, guttural style. She sang in a very clear voice,” says Dan Zeff, flamenco performer, instructor and owner of Dan Zeff Guitars, which specializes in flamenco and classical guitars. “They seemed to stress the slow, deliberate feel of the music over flashy technique. There were no speedy scales à la Paco de Lucía.” Whereas most bulerías were played fast and aggressive, their approach was slow and soulful, altogether different from what most flamencos offered.
You may have heard “Tu mirá” in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 2 and not even realized it (the song was originally issued on Lole y Manuel’s 1976 album, Pasaje del Agua). Outside of a few import records and CDs, that’s about all that has been available from this incredible duo, and that’s a shame. The unique power and passion of their music is an unforgettable listening experience, and definitely worth adding to your next playlist.