Feature photo by Elias Carmona

“It was really predestined. Where I come from [Cadiz, Spain] is the southernmost part of Europe, as well the border with Africa and a Mediterranean port with centuries of commercial and cultural interchange with Latin America. It seems only logical that I would create music that integrates different cultures and musics”, says Javier Ruibal, one of Spain’s most respected singer/songwriters. A few days before his recent Chicago concerts, by phone from New York City, Ruibal is describing the multitude of sounds that have informed his musical path.

Basically a self-taught musician, Ruibal explains that he started playing the guitar as an adolescent, and then later in the eighties, came under the influence of two great  Spanish flamenco musicians who nearly single-handedly ushered in a new era of flamenco music, cantaor Camarón de la Isla and guitarist Paco de Lucia.  It was at that point that he decided to root his sound in the flamenco of his southern Spanish province, which he describes as “ the spinal column of my music”. Nevertheless, other sounds that influenced him always resonate throughout his melodies and rhythms, including anglo pop/rock like the Beatles as well as music from the Maghreb – northwestern Africa – transmitted by Moroccan radio stations to his hometown from across the Gibraltar Strait.

But beyond a mere world music-like fusion, Ruibal says he strives to create a soundscape full of the peculiar magic of Andalucia – ripe with fantasy, boasting a beauty of nearly unreal quality, and above all a land of joyful spirits and striking optimism – the music of an “imaginary and utopic land that does not yet exist”. He also musically celebrates southern Spain’s mix of races and peoples, a state which he considers to be “the planet’s destiny”, commenting wryly, “purity is dangerous”. Known for his poetic songwriting, Ruibal also declares that he enjoys writing and singing songs about love, exclaiming: “It’s our greatest preoccupation as human beings. Everything else, really, is chores, work and responsibilities”.

Ruibal shared his musical world at a recent concert that was part of Old Town School of Folk Music’s Wednesday nights World Music Series. In an intimate acoustic performance, the audience in the packed auditorium was transported to a beautiful land where flamenco ballads tinged with the musical strains of many lands told delicately-nuanced tales of love.

Check Javier Ruibal’s new album Sueño (Dream), live recordings of concerts with the Orchestra of Cordoba, Spain.

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