Interview: Fuel Fandango @ WOMAD Charlton Park (July 2016)

When rock and electronic sounds reinvigorate (Fuel) an already hot-blooded and passionate style like flamenco (Fandango), the outcome can only be combustible. That’s why Fuel Fandango have developed into exciting and acclaimed actors on the Spanish music scene. With their latest release, Aurora, and its respective Summer tour, which brought them to Womad UK, the duo are looking forward to expand their following outside the Iberian borders, shining a new light on the Southern Spanish music tradition.

We met Nita and Alejandro just before their performance on the Ecotricity Stage and had a quick chat about their project, flamenco roots and influences from all over the world. Though now based in Madrid, the musicians come from regions and cultural environments far from the Spanish capital. For this reason, we started by asking about their origins and the music scene in their hometowns.

Nita began: “I come from Cordoba, while Alejandro is from the Canary Islands, but then we both moved to Madrid. That’s where we formed our band.”

Alejandro continued “Yes, that’s because the Spanish music scene is mainly happening in Madrid. A little bit is also going on in Barcelona, but that’s it.

Nita, referring to her native city, added that, “Actually, in Cordoba we have the Guitar Festival [Festival de la Guitarra de Cordoba], which is well-known in Spain. But, apart from that, there’s not much going on. We don’t have a lively music scene there. Also, we don’t have many clubs or venues where to play and listen to music. It’s all about flamenco shows and the Guitar Festival.

We asked the musicians if that was the main reason why they decided to give a new interpretation of flamenco.

Alejandro explained: “Definitely! For us, it was very natural to start playing flamenco and we have used it since the beginning of Fuel Fandango. Nita has sung flamenco since she was a child, but at the same time, we listen to a lot of electronic and rock music and it was easy to mix these sounds together. So we started composing together and said to each other: let’s do whatever we want.

Nita confirmed Alejandro’s words: “We didn’t want to impose any rules to our music.

So we wondered how the balance between their flamenco roots and a more contemporary approach to music works. If it has always been easy to let their two souls coexist together…

Nita told us: “I think that when I sing in Spanish I feel more connected to the flamenco roots of the music. But, at the same time, when I sing in English I do my best to feel the same way. That’s because we want to go beyond the borders of the music style. We look forward to playing flamenco in a different way and to broaden its horizons, showing people that it is possible to play such a root music even with electronic and dance feelings. We want to do this because people in Spain and abroad aren’t used to experiencing flamenco in this way.

As it happened, Fuel Fandago’s contemporary, Buika, was also playing at Womad. So it was natural to ask the duo about their relationship with the singer from Palma de Mallorca who is, to some extent, displaying a similarly innovative approach to flamenco. We also asked how people in Spain are considering their willingness to revive and reinterpret their music tradition.

Nita explained to us: “Buika sounds more jazz than Fuel Fandango. She mixes traditional copla with soul and funk…

Alejandro continued: “But that’s true, we have a similar approach to flamenco and I think that people understand our new perspectives over the music. As a matter of fact, Buika is very huge in Spain and we also play a lot in our country. So, I think that people definitely like to step aside from the tradition at times.”

Nita ended by expressing the need for change: “Even if there’s always some purist who says that flamenco has to be only played by men sitting on a chair and singing about pain, I think that nowadays the style is changing. Flamenco is alive and that’s happening thanks to artists like Buika and Fuel Fandango, because we’re doing interesting things with our Spanish roots.

Fuel Fandango’s sound also consists of influences from all over the world. For this reason, we wondered what Nita and Alejandro are listening to at the moment and who are their most important inspirations when they create music.

Nita revealed to us her passion for another musician performing at Womad: “I listen a lot to Ibrahim Malouf. Next to his music, we love all kind of styles, from blues to classical passing through electronic and reggae. Actually, we love all the styles.

Alejandro centred on his obsession for electronic sounds: “I listen to a lot of electronic music. If I have to name some names, let’s say that I mostly listen to Moderat and Caribou, but there are many, many others musicians I could mention…

When it comes to bringing Fuel Fandango’s music abroad, how do the musicians feel about how the non-Spanish audience will react?

Alejandro disclosed to us that, “It is a really nice sensation. We have been playing abroad for five or six years and the reaction we get is always good, because people can understand our musical language. Then there’s that Spanish flavour embodied in flamenco, which represents something new and exotic for them.

Nita explained that their performances, alongside the music, are very characteristic of who they are: “Our shows are full of energy! I dance a little bit and we always try to set up a small scenography on stage with flowers and ornaments. We usually look forward to transforming the stage in a theatrical set.

Last April, the duo released their third album and listening to Alejandro words, on Aurora they have finally come full circle in their creative process: “Aurora is our third album and we have always been really comfortable with it. It was indeed the idea we had from the beginning. On the first and second album, we tried hard to mix rock and electro, but it was only with Aurora when we exactly and finally found the fusion that we always wanted. We found the perfect balance between all the musical elements.

Since Alejandro mentioned that they finally found harmony in their music, we closed our interview by trying to understand if they could define Fuel Fandango’s sound and how they would portray the band in few words to an audience not used to their vibe…

Nita tried to find an answer to our tricky question: “What can I say… Our shows are very energetic and release a lot of power. You can perceive a lot of flavours coming from all over the world: there are sounds from Asia and Africa, then there’re always our Spanish roots with flamenco. So, if someone likes world music, like the Womad audience, we have what they look for. Because we have that kind of Spanish flavour with a dancy attitude and if people want to dance and jump when they go to a gig, they definitely have to come and see us!