“There is nothing else like flamenco…It’s one of the most profound musics of them all – a feeling, a lament, joy and sorrow. Flamenco is everything”, quietly murmurs Diego el Cigala, speaking from his home in Madrid. Born Diego Ramón Jiménez Salazar, el Cigala is a Gitano cantaor who was born to music – his mother’s generation of eleven siblings all sang well, he says, and his uncle, Rafael Farina, was a legendary singer in the fifties.

With a reputation forged early on as he began to win Flamenco contests at the age of twelve, el Cigala is considered a natural inheritor of a flamenco throne left empty by the untimely death in the seventies of the great Camarón de la Isla. However, he has also recently also become known for daring forays into other genres. His 2003 “Lagrimas Negras”, a compilation of songs from Cuba, Mexico and Argentina recorded with the renowned Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés, sold more than a million copies, and won him a Latin Grammy in the category of Best Tropical Album.

This year he has received acclaim for a CD titled “Cigala & Tango”, a live recording of a concert last year at the Buenos Aires theater el Gran Rex. The eleven traditional tangos recorded were hand-picked by Cigala, he says, because they were the ones that “hurt the most”. His nuanced interpretations which find what he calls “tango’s flamenco side” won him another Latin Grammy nomination for Best Tango Album. “A historical event” he comments – as never before has a flamenco CD been nominated as best in the category of tango.

However, he explains that his love for tangos was born many years before this project, from memories of his uncle having returned from a month-long tour in the Americas, and singing tangos around the house. “It’s my destiny”, says Cigala, “I feel very comfortable with the tango”.

A flamenco cantaor taking on Cuban music, then tangos… what next, I wonder? The conversation takes a surprising turn when Cigala begins to talk about…rancheras! Recently, he recorded a classic ranchera tune by José Alfredo Jimenez with the great Venezuelan Salsero Oscar D’León, and Cigala is now considering a CD that would include musical homages to Jimenez. He adds that like tangos, rancheras and mariachi music also form part of his childhood memories, as he first heard mariachi songs when he was about seven. At that time, a statue of Mexican composer Agustín Lara (still there today) was inaugurated in a plaza near his house. He laughs as he reminisces about hovering around the ensemble of musicians, fascinated by their hats and pistols, asking them to sing for him. “Ever since then, I’ve loved a well-sung ranchera”, he says.

However, he is careful to clarify none of his musical explorations are fusions, but rather versions of carefully-chosen songs from other genres in which he uses flamenco fire to extract new and unusual nuances from the original melodies and rhythms. All of the genres he has explored – boleros, rancheras, tangos – have something in common, Cigala says: “These are all very pure styles”.

We can hardly wait to hear what the maestro does with rancheras.

Cigala arrives in Chicago for the first time as part of a world-wide tour, to play at the Harris Theater on November 6.

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