Diego El Cigala

State Theatre, August 25 

Cigala 1 resWhere instrumentalists have a device to hide behind, singers are naked. Fearing this, most of them wrap themselves in artifice and histrionics, or seek to impress with hellish shrieking and vowels mangled into unintelligibility. A precious few surmount the fear and relish a nakedness wherein lies a genuine connection with their audience, assuming they are true to the music and themselves – and are blessed with a voice!

To say that Diego El Cigala has been blessed with a voice is like saying Picasso could paint a bit. Smoky, grainy and complex, it can fold itself around a song at soft volume, and then suddenly flare up with such ferocious power as to make you grip the arms of your chair. Even then the emotional clarity is striking, completely transcending any supposed language barrier. Where most singers only paint with the primary colours of the emotional spectrum, Cigala has a thousand nuanced shades in play, aided by the profound sophistication of his phrasing.

A flamenco singer who entwines Cuban and tango elements, Cigala drew nearly half the repertoire from his recent Romance de la Luna Tucumana album. That had featured the distinctive electric guitar of Diego Garcia, and here Dan Ben Lior fulfilled that role with a little more of a jazzy inflection to his very slippery lines.

Alas the brilliant flamenco guitarist Diego del Morao suddenly became unavailable for the tour, which no doubt obliged a rethink of both repertoire and arrangements. Given how central this instrument is to most of what Cigala does, one can only imagine the heights attained had he been present. Nonetheless it was intriguing to hear the singer and his silken band (completed by pianist Jaime Calabuch “Jumitus”, bassist Yelsy Heredia and percussionist Isidro Suarez) reinvent the material without flamenco guitar.

Calabuch (compromised by a flaw in the piano tuning) provided solo accompaniment for the aching Soledad, and offered especially radiant solos on Corazon Loco and Lagrimas Negras. But, regardless of what else was happening, there was always that voice, that warmth, that truth.