Flamenco star Diego El Cigala took time out to sit down and chat with AS this week. The Madrileño, who is looking forward to tonight's derby, says he has always been a diehard madridista. "My heart breaks whenever Madrid lose a game, I'm left feeling really sad - in fact I'm worse than my mate Ramón ‘El Portugués’, who is a huge Real Madrid fan. I go on a real downer when Madrid lose.
You were born and raised flamenco, but then you diversified as your career took you through latin jazz, bolero and tango and more recently, salsa with your latest record Indestructible; which genre will you be exploring next?
I love all styles of music and like singing songs which make me feel comfortable. After the long musical journey I've been on, now I think it's the moment to go back and do a pure flamenco record, that's what I'm really keen to do. Because it doesn't really matter whatever style I sing, I'll always remain flamenco. My body is telling me to go back to my roots.
Looking back over your career you get the impression that you are quite a daring artist who is not afraid of trying out new things.
Well that's not really true because I have a lot of fears. I have a lot of respect for what I do and I am always going over things in my head before I actually go ahead with something. Being surrounded by fellow musicians who are geniuses make you nervous but it also can give you confidence - I trust them and I've learned from them. They have introduced me to the world of salsa and I've immersed myself in it.
You left Madrid a few years ago to live in Santo Domingo; for a flamenco gypsy, you much be in your element!
Yes! (laughs) I think I'm the only gypsy in their element there. I'm very happy being in the Dominican Republic with my family; I've been living there for five years now, I have gained the nationality and I adore life there, living there makes me feel very relaxed.
’Lágrimas Negras’ was a worldwide smash, how do you look back on that record now and how do you remember Bebo Valdés?
I'll always remember Bebo. Every time I take to the stage with my current pianist, I can feel Bebo's presence. Thanks to Bebo Valdés, my life changed because I had come from the guitar-based, flamenco world, and when I met Bebo, he appeared to me like a super hero, he opened the door to me to Duke Ellington, Ernesto Lecuona, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker… a fabulous new world for me of those artists of the 1950s. It was the best artistic experience I have ever had in my life.
You showed incredible strength that night in the summer of 2015 to go ahead with a concert in Los Angeles just a few hours after learning that your wife Amparo had died...
That was the most difficult night of my life. In fact, the new documentary begins with that night. It was a brutal experience to say goodbye forever to the person who has always been my companion and take a plane to Los Angeles to sing. I don't know from where I drew the strength to give that performance, which turned out to be an incredible show. That's life I guess.
In Santo Domingo you still follow LaLiga and your beloved Real Madrid?
When I can, either on the computer or in my local bar, Picos Pardos. Whenever a Madrid game is on the telly, I'm happy.
How do you see Madrid's start to the season?
I don't know, Madrid have had some very good seasons and it's not easy to always be up there. Zidane's managing the team well but with so much pressure and so many star players, it's normal that, every once in a while, it fails
You were a bit of a handy footballer yourself back in the day...
Yes, I might have made it as a footballer, I have a very delicate touch (laughs). I used to play a lot with the Habichuela family, Antonio and Juan, in their old neighbourhood Campamento - but they are Atlético fans. Their father, the great Juan Habichuela was a passionate madridista, I don't know how he could stand his kids being atléticos. I don't know how far I would have got if I have chosen to take up football professionally, but I'm sure I'd have got further than Sergio Ramos would have as a flamenco singer (collapses laughing). And he keeps trying... it's like me becoming a fireman. I know how to light a fire, but the problem would be putting it out...
How well do you get on with Sergio Ramos?
Really well, he's a great guy, a very natural bloke and he loves flamenco, he really loves it. He'll travel down to Jerez with Tato Diego, or El Capullo… he's a huge flamenco fan. And me… I have great admiration for him as a footballer (laughs).
Which team has the most flamencos, Real Madrid or Atleti?
A lot of flamencos are atletistas, I don't know why that is, what can we do?
Have you ever been invited to the president's box at Real Madrid?
Yes, I've been three or four times. Once with Tomatito and Diego El Morao. Anyway, there we are watching the game when all of a sudden, Tomate leaps up and shouts: “Penalty! Ref! penalty!”. Everyone else was a bit confused because the ball wasn't even anywhere near the area - in fact it was on the wing! I don't know what came over him. But it's nice in the palco, you've got your own little telly so you can watch the replays, and they give you nice little snacks to eat.
Marco Asensio, Isco, Dani Ceballos… three players who are a joy to watch...
Unbelievable! Isco is an artist and he's only just starting out, the same goes for Marco Asensio; we are really going to enjoy watching them. They're going to really take off at the World Cup next year. You have to give those players a place in the side and show faith in them - however many superstars there are in the team, they have to play
Would you ever dare to record a version of Real Madrid's hymn?
No, I wouldn't do that. For a very good reason; I try to maintain my musical principles. It's a very personal thing, a question of respect to myself and to my artistic roots.