It may be lucky for Jose Soto that the Gypsy Kings’ half-baked version of flamenco is the one most familiar to Americans–it’ll be that much easier for him to blow us away when he makes his U.S. debut this week. The singer and guitarist helped launch a new flamenco movement in his native Spain in 1981, when he founded the group Ketama with Juan and Antonio Carmona–two brothers who like Soto are descended from a storied clan of Gypsy musicians. In the 70s, guitarist Paco de Lucia had taken flamenco virtuosity into various jazz fusion projects, and later the band Pata Negra brought the music back to earth with the immediacy of blues and rock. But Ketama would outdo them both, accenting the traditional staccato hand claps, piquant guitar style, and soulful singing with jazzy bass lines, synth squiggles, Latin polyrhythms, and rock beats. The group also cut a pair of absolutely luminescent albums with Malian kora player Toumani Diabate under the name Songhai, and few cross-cultural experiments since have measured up to that empathetic blend of madly strummed and elegantly plucked strings. When Ketama veered toward pop in the early 90s, Soto left the group, and although I haven’t heard anything he’s done lately, he reportedly remains both an avowed keeper of the flamenco flame and a staunch modernist. He’ll be accompanied here by percussionist Jose Soto Jr. (his 18-year-old son) and guitarist Jose Maria Molero. Wednesday’s concert, which is free, will be preceded by a performance of Spanish classical music by local 12-year-old guitarist Garrett Dahm. Wednesday, 7 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630. Thursday, 8 PM, Calles y Sue–os, 1900 S. Carpenter; 312-243-4243.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Antonio G. Flores.