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ConnectsMusic is excited to present to you wonderful artist Esther Weekes: Singer- songwriter-flamenco dancer! We love Esther’s music and this dance/music combination. She specialises in flamenco fusion and flamenco dance, which she describes as Flamenco blues.
Singer-songwriter-flamenco dancer, Esther Weekes, launches her first single ‘Triana Blues’ on 16th December 2022 together with her promotional video. Appealing to jazz, blues, flamenco and world music lovers worldwide, this is the first release from her solo album ‘Lucky Eye’ due for release in August 2023. London born and bred, Esther launched her performance career in flamenco jazz and flamenco dance over 19 years ago when she moved to Seville. She has performed throughout Spain and Europe, channelling the soul and mystery of flamenco through the ever changing phenomenon of jazz and the visceral heart-stopping movement style of flamenco. Merging the spirit of Andalusia and the rhythm of swing, she describes ‘Triana Blues’ as a flamenco blues offering, inspired by Tangos de Triana (a well-known and loved style of flamenco). This is the first of nine original songs co-created with flamenco guitarist, Tino van der Sman, that pays homage to the flamenco guitar whilst bringing jazz, blues and soul to the fore.
Hi Esther, so nice catching up with you! Congratulations in all the work you’re doing and especially your recently launched single ‘Triana Blues’! We love this tune! How do you feel about this and this also leading towards your upcoming solo album?
Hi and thank you for inviting me to share my experience with you. I am so excited about the response that ‘Triana Blues’ is getting.
The making of this album has felt like a warm embrace from the flamenco world for me. I am not Spanish but I have dedicated my life to the art form. I’ve been living in Seville for many years, so having fellow flamenco artists be so positive and encouraging about the project and providing such wonderful backing vocals and musical arrangements has been a heart-warming affirmation of belonging.
As musicians we are often emotionally connected with our music, coming from our very being, do you feel your single as the ‘labour of love’ what has the journey been in creating this fantastic music?
The journey has been long and in some ways totally unexpected. I moved to Spain 19 years ago to fulfil my dream of becoming a flamenco dancer. I never intended to sing at all. It was dance, dance, dance. Practise, practise, practise. Rigorous training. But while that was happening, I was unconsciously absorbing the rich flamenco music and rhythms into my body and my voice was developing on its own with no training whatsoever, no expectations, no pressures. It was just for fun at first, a free space. I’d always loved jazz, so I would sing at jams and the people would get involved by doing flamenco hand clapping known as palmas, so I started to adapt jazz standards to flamenco rhythms and dance to them too. This led to the formation of my group Jazzolea which was wonderful for me. I was able to combine two things that I loved, jazz and flamenco and dance my heart out at the same time. Joy!
Then the flamenco guitarist, Tino van der Sman, and I were asked to write some music for a documentary about the African history of Andalusia but what we produced didn’t fit in with the documentary at all. It wasn’t what they were looking for. But we didn’t stop writing and it became something else entirely. We didn’t know what it was, hence the name of the album ‘Lucky Eye’. Lucky Eye sounds like “Lo que hay!’ which means “It is what it is”. It has actually taken us about nine years to finish it stopping and starting along the way.
Your upcoming solo album ‘Lucky Eye’ has nine original songs – is there one recurring theme that connects the songs or are they reflecting different perspectives?
I would say that the nine songs reflect different perspectives. The making of it was so organic. Tino and I hadn’t worked together before and we didn’t know where it was all going, so we just created. Each song was a world in itself. If I can name the themes of each song, then maybe you’ll see a connection…Triana Blues is about Escape, Freedom and Seizing the day…then there’s one about Losing oneself in love… Empathy…Lies, that one is called “Lies”….Truth… Miscommunication… The masks we wear to fit in…the delicacy required in ahem, the birds and the bees (blushing a little)… Desperation in love and Facing our fears. I’m not sure if there’s a common thread there. What do you think?
We just love your combination of jazz with jazz flamenco! Do tell us more about jazz flamenco; it’s an exciting genre to explore.
Yes, it’s a fully fledged genre now. I believe the Montreaux Jazz Festival has a jazz flamenco category for example. It’s a cross fertilization between jazz and flamenco but it’s not new. I think it is generated more from within Spain than outside. I suppose that’s because jazz is more accessible. Spanish people can access jazz or blues much more easily than the other way around because blues is inherent in alot of commercial music. But, having said that, Miles Davis and John Coltrane offered us the wonderful Flamenco Sketches and Sketches of Spain, so I guess that was a kind of flamenco jazz from outside of Spain.
Because flamenco isn’t all around us, in order to create flamenco jazz, you need years of full immersion in both. Flamenco and Jazz have to be slow cooked within you over a long time so that your music doesn’t become “cut and paste”. Some of the very prominent flamenco jazz artists include Chano Dominguez, Raimundo Amador (flamenco blues), Jorge Pardo, Richard Bona amongst others. I think whether a musician is flamenco jazz or jazz flamenco depends on where their musical centre lies.
Even though both dance and music can be seen as different forms of art, they are so integrally connected.. What led you to explore the connection and combine these two distinct areas?
For me dance and music are two sides of the same coin. I dance because I love music. Music pushes me dance. To dance authentically I have to love the music, otherwise it’s just movement and postures. I have to feel it. I have always loved jazz, soul and rhythmic music. They always get my dance engine going. Pure traditional flamenco, where there is only a singer and guitarist, while I appreciate its beauty, it doesn’t really do that for me unless there’s a great rhythmic accompaniment, with the cajon or clapping. So getting involved in the music was a way of guaranteeing that I loved the music I was dancing to. Paradoxically, when there’s percussion and jazz in the mix, I dance even more ‘flamenco’ because it’s coming from the inside and flamenco is all about passion.
It’s amazing to see you performing throughout Spain and Europe ‘channelling the soul and mystery of flamenco through the ever changing phenomenon of jazz’! Flamenco is also a well-known Spanish art form; do you feel any different when performing in Spain versus any other country in Europe?
Dance-wise, I was really clear from the start that I didn’t want to perform anywhere else until I had performed in Spain. I wanted that competition. I wanted that scrutiny. I believe in myself as a dancer and so I don’t want to cut corners. But without that pressure, outside of Spain, sometimes you perform better so there’s a bit of a vicious cycle going on there. What I love about performing in Spain is that the audience is integral to the performance. They understand it, they interact with you, they cheer you on and they get your motor running. And they love that I love the flamenco art form. But the beauty of what I’m doing, combining flamenco with jazz and blues and other musics, is that it makes it more accessible to audiences outside of Spain too so they can get into it too from another angle. Audiences are important to me, I like to see them during a performance, I like to talk to them too because it’s a two way performance. I think that’s another reason why I’ve created this music, to create a bridge for different audiences to cross.
Even though you now live in Seville, Spain, London has been your home for many years. Would you say London influenced you as a musician?
For sure, in that my exposure to music I love, happened in London. I had no intention of singing at that time but I was absorbing alot of music. Our Mother had a wide array of tastes ranging from Bob Marley, to calypso, to Joan Armatrading, to Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. Coltrane was my constant diet. I became a dancer because of John Coltrane’s ‘My Favorite Things’, I would dance to him for hours on end driving my family crazy.
Your band includes the finest Flamenco musicians, Tino van der Sman (guitar), David Chupete (percussion), Cristian de Moret (piano), Antonio Coronel (drums), Jose Manuel Posada (bass guitar) Roberto Jaen (clapping), and Abel Harana (clapping), and Byron Wallen (trumpet) – we love this lineup! How did this specific setting of musicians come up?
Well, regarding the flamenco musicians, I had worked with David Chupete and Cristian de Moret for many years in my group, Jazzolea. My co-writer, Tino van der Sman, had also worked with many of the musicians involved. So all the flamenco musicians were already known to us and familiar with our work so they were ready to rock and roll. Byron Wallen, however, was recommended by Julian Joseph I believe, who I had became acquainted with through a family friend. His contribution to ‘Triana Blues’ has been fantastic. It’s such an honour to work with him and so many fantastic musicians.
Another thing that’s important about the flamenco world in Spain is that the flamenco stars, especially in dance, are accessible, you take classes with super stars. Sometimes it’s the equivalent of having a singing lesson with Michael Jackson. That could never happen outside of Spain but enormous stars such as Farruquito will give lessons right around the corner from where I live. I suppose it has alot to do with the economics of flamenco. It’s similar to jazz in that way.
The new single ‘Triana Blues’ combines two languages English and Spanish – it’s great to see you doing this so effortlessly! Was combining these two languages important to you?
It was wonderful to have Cristina Rodriguez Tovar, Boterita, Vicente Gelo and Sara Holgado providing the background singing. They are world class flamenco singers in their own right. Flamenco singing is so intricate and demanding so to have that adorn my voice…well, talk about a luxury!!! We also wanted a strong flamenco anchor to the songs as my singing style is very bluesy and so their singing really provided that. Sometimes they sing in English too and the wonderful thing about that is the accent. It’s soulful with a Spanish accent. So beautiful.
It’s said that “Music is one of the elements in life that is universal—the language doesn’t matter. It’s the emotional tone to the lyrics and the beat.” [The Oxford Blue] What are your thoughts on these words?
I have lived my life according to that. It’s visceral for me, sound bites, vibrations, and tones. I only pay attention to the lyrics afterwards. With pure flamenco, however, the lyrics are very important for the dancer, you have to know how to respond to it and when. Traditional flamenco dance is almost always with a singer, you very rarely dance to an instrumental piece. For me, though I respect that when dancing traditionally, music is music and rhythm is rhythm. I’ve found that this attitude has allowed me to create with multiple musical influences involved. It’s like not being prejudiced, you are able to make more connections.
‘Triana Blues’ cares about ‘multiculturality and promises to take distinct audiences to explore new and exciting musical territories’ which feels more important now than ever. How do you feel about the power of music to connect?
Traditional flamenco in itself has many influences Arabic, Sephardic Jew, Gitano, African and Andaluz. It also has a genre within it which is called ‘Cantes de Ida y Vuelta’ which are songs produced as a result of the going back and forth between the Americas and Spain many centuries ago. So flamenco is a fusion in itself, it is the production of connection. With flamenco jazz and blues, it’s like a modern day “cante de ida y vuelta” and I believe that fusion has the power to allow people to hear something familiar and then get seduced into listening to the other elements in that fusion. It’s expansive. It invites you to join the party.
Finally, congratulations on all your fantastic music, we love it and are sure it will be a huge success! Where can people hear your new single ‘Triana Blues’? And are there any plans for 2023 that you have in the pipeline?
Thank you very much for asking. My new single, ‘Triana Blues’ is being released on 16th December. Out now!
And it will be distibuted to about 150 online shops and, of course, you can listen to it on Spotify and Apple Music. I will be releasing a single about every six weeks from the album. The wonderful thing about my position is that dance films are becoming a thing in themselves so my music videos not only serve to promote my songs but also promote dance and are also works of art in themselves as I hope you will see with the release of the official video too.
My album, ‘Lucky Eye’ will be released in August 2023.