The Treasure of Spain. 2013
A GENIUS SINGER RAPHAEL: NEVER ENDIG OVATION. 2013
2013-2014 mark the 400th Anniversary of Japan-Spain bilateral ties. Thus it is more than timely and more than relevant to transmit from over here – the international port city of Niigata ― a complete story about the global superstar singer the Spanish land gave birth to: Raphael. This dazzling superstar rose in the 1960’s, and today, more than 50 years later, continues to radiate its brightest light from the highs of the music universe.
THE RAPHAEL PHENOMENA
Today, more than 50 years after his stage debut, Raphael is working as hard as ever, without taking a break. Concerts, recording sessions, TV performances…His CDs and DVDs rise to the top of Spanish hit charts. At his three hours-long non-stop concerts an ecstatic audience chants “Raphael, Raphael” and demands one encore after another. What stands behind this Raphael phenomenon?
First, an outstanding and unique voice. Exciting mecco-voce (soft sound), gorgeous high notes, and overwhelmingly powerful and passionate middle register resonating in your ears and going strait to your heart. This incredibly richly-colored voice is capable of expressing and conveying any feeling, any emotion of a human being. Some people call it “the angel’s voice”.
Second, the overwhelming emotional power. Raphael doesn’t just sing a song. He LIVES a song. And he turns his songs themselves into living creatures. When you listen to them you dream, rejoice, laugh, suffer and cry together with their heroes. The singer makes you live the songs with him. In other words, Raphael is not only a singer. He is a brilliant actor making each of his songs a dramatic play. Besides, he is a wonderful dancer. And – last but not least – he has a very attractive appearance and looks young with his enormous energy and passion for singing and performing. Vocal, movements, gestures, mimics – everything is important when Raphael is on stage, everything becomes part of a miracle whose name is the Raphael Concert.
Third, the music, the melodies themselves. Be it an emotional love ballad or a dynamic dancing song, in his mainstream repertoire there are no songs with a plain, “nothing-in-particular” melody. It is high music, and every musical theme is important as such. But it is also a very lively, colorful music you quickly memorize.
The greatest number of Raphael’s songs has been written by a famous Spanish composer Manuel Alejandro who initially was going to write symphonies. His musical themes are melodically rich and captivating, but also quite complicated. And it is very important that Raphael challenged to sing these “difficult songs” when he was still below 20. Since then, he sings only very carefully selected material – a trait of a really outstanding artist.
Along with M. Alejandro, he collaborates with other best Spanish popular composers like a veteran singer and song-writer Jose Louis Perales or a young star Enrique Bubnury. But this is, by far, not the end of the story. Raphael’s repertoire is so wide that it deserves a closer look. Of course, Spanish folklore and Latino classics are there – but he also sings My Way and Love Story, themes from “The Jesus Christ Superstar” and the jazz standard Ramona, songs by Adamo, Aznavour, Gilbert Becaud, Jacques Brel, Nini Rosso, Les Reed and so on and so forth. He also brilliantly performs Schubert’s Ave Maria and Ravel’s Bolero.
NOTICED AT THE AGE OF FOUR
The list of singers on the Raphael’s duets list is also more than impressive: Tom Jones, Paul Anka, Adamo, Aznavour, Julio Iglesias, Gloria Estefan, and the opera diva Montserrat Caballe, to name just a few. Let us also not forget the Spanish stars of the young generation, like Alejandro Sans or David Bisbal. The idol of the Spanish youth David Bisbal expressed himself in plain English, simply saying in front of the video cameras: “I want to be like Raphael”.
Raphael sings not only in Spanish, but also in English, French, Italian, German and Portuguese. In 1974 he made a recording in Japanese – of his famous hit “Amor Mio”. To my mind it is a wonderful recording. However, for some reason, the artist himself is not satisfied with it. Maybe because of that he told us about his strong intention to record for music lovers in Japan a set of Spanish and Latin American songs in Japanese (see the interview below). Here we discovered one more important feature of Raphael’s character: in his work, he is very highly committed and very honest with himself and people around him.
Raphael was born in 1943 in the city of Linares in Andalusia in the family of a construction worker. He was his third son. Less than a year after his birth the family moved to Madrid. He began to sing when he was less than 4 years old, joining the choir of a church parish school. When he was 9, he was named the best child voice at the music competition in Saltsburg, Austria, the city of Mozart. In 1962 he won at the Benidorm Song Festival – the major musical event in Spain at that time. In a further development, in 1965 he produced a sensation with his recitals at the famous Zarzuela Theatre in the centre of Madrid.
In 1966 and 1967 he represented Spain in the Eurovision song contest, which eventually made him a national hero.
After that Raphael embarked on international concert tours, becoming the first Spanish singer to make the country’s popular songs famous all around the world. From Olympia Theatre in Paris to Carnegie Hall in New York and the Luzhniki Arena in Moscow – wherever he went to, he performed at the most prestigious venues.
Raphael also made three highly successful concert tours of Japan, performing in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. Above all, he starred in a number of musical films.
AWARDS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
During more than 50 years of his musical career, Raphael got more than 300 golden disks and more than 50 platinum disks. He also has the uranium disk – the one and only in the world, for the album whose sales exceeded 50 million copies. Let us pick up just some examples of the countless awards he has. MIDEM Festival in Cannes, France: the golden disk as the best singer. The golden key to four US cities including New York and Los-Angeles. Four awards for the Best Concert of the Year from the Associacion Espectaculas of New York. Four awards Applauso and two Quixote de Oro Awards from the Spain TV.
Raphael is Excelentisimo Senor Comendador de Isabel la Catolica. The order was granted by King Juan Carlos. He was also awarded the Gold Medal for Work Merit. He was presented three El Heraldos de Mexico, Mexico’s most important award for artists. Besides, the best Spanish pop-singer award and many-many more. In the cities of Linares and Estepona, there are avenues named after Raphael, and Linares has opened the Raphael Museum.
But let us return to the present day. Today, more than 50 years after the start of Raphael’s musical career, the intensity of his concerts, recordings, TV performances, etc. appears to be even higher than in the earlier years.
It goes like this. Every year he launches a new concert program consisting of the two parts. One of them consists of his most famous representative hits, the other one depends on the theme he selects for every particular year. Such a combination adds meaning and charm to every performance. The theme for 2011 was Tango, Bolero and Ranchera, and for 2012 – Reencuentro (Re-union) with Manuel Alejandro: after a long break, Raphael made Alejandro’s brand new songs the program’s focal point.
What about 2013?
As mentioned, Raphael’s repertoire is remarkably wide and there are effectively no plain tunes. All the melodies are remarkable.
Too many masterpieces – this is a peculiar“Raphael’s problem”.
Usually, as time goes by, a popular singer continues to sing his long-lasting hits and adds new songs. Consequently, the old songs other than the hits cease to be performed. In this regard Raphael is not an exception – he also ceases to perform many of his old songs. However, in his case such a situation may look inevitable but is unacceptable because the songs he has ceased to sing are also masterpieces. Raphael calls his best songs “canciones historicas” (historical songs). But many songs he has ceased to sing also belong to this category. It is impossible to let them be forgotten. This is the “Raphael’s problem”.
So, in 2013 he started to revive the songs he had ceased to sing. The point however is that now he doesn’t sing them the way he did after they had been initially released. He creates the new versions relevant for the Raphael of today. To be precise, it is not a revival. It is recreation. Raphael called this program Mi Gran Noche (My Grand Night).
It includes the most important song classics out of the tunes he has recreated. Today you feel a new charm in those melodies. Music arrangements have become more sophisticated. Vocalization and intonations are often new. Sometimes even the nuances of the feeling, of the songs’ mood are different from the original interpretations. The only thing remaining intact is the power of the emotions. The power that overwhelms.
The song Mi Gran Noche itself, written by Adamo, one of Raphael’s hits born in the 60’s, is also among the recreated songs. When he performs it in concert and when it comes to the refrain he may easily stop singing: the audience always enthusiastically joins in. For it, Raphael’s concert is really a grand night, a unique night.
THE RAPHAEL CONCERT’S SPLENDOR
Let us look back at Raphael’s Mi Gran Noche world tour of 2013. It started in April in Mexico: 10 concerts, 40,000 spectators; and continued in the US and Canada: 10 concerts, 30,000 spectators. Then – concerts in the 7 major cities and elsewhere in Spain. Next, in the early 2014 – Latin America again: this time Chile and Peru. And in April – a tour of Russia. He performs at the most famous venues such as Auditorio Nacional, the largest arena in Mexico-city, the Zarzuela Theatre in Madrid, the Liceo Opera Theatre in Barcelona or the Kremlin Palace in Moscow. All the concerts are sold-out, and it is worth noting that in the audience you can find people of all ages. Many of them are Raphael fans from the 60’s, but there are a lot of young men and women as well. We don’t say that these concerts are a success. We add the character 超(super) and say that they are a SUPER-SUCCESS. In Sevilla Raphael “was made” to promise to the public that from now on he would come for the concerts there every year.
I went to the Mi Gran Noche concert in Valencia, at Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia. An unforgettable encounter with the art of Maestro Raphael. Just Raphael and the five musicians’ band. A fantastic three hours long non-stop performance. Superb vocal, a storm of emotions, a fiesta of captivating melodies. A vocal miracle, a musical miracle, an artistic miracle right in front of your eyes. You forget everything except this music, the songs’ heroes and the singer by the name of Raphael.
But let’s calm down and have a look at the contents of the performance. At the beginning, one after another, Raphael sang his recreated song classics. The audience recollected every tune right away and got more and more excited. The more he sang those songs that had faced the danger of sinking into the oblivion, the stronger was the impression they produced.
What songs were most memorable? All of them. For example, Hoy Mejor Que Manana whose hero, a romantic impulsive young man, urges his loved one to tell him about her real feelings, to say yes or no, right away and not later. Sung very dynamically and with emotional depth.
Or Despertar al Amor
Despertar al amor, Descubrir cómo es
Impregnarse de él, es vivir
Caminar junto a él, Confundirse con él
Abrazarse con él, es vivir
Ser dichoso con él, desgraciado con él
Debutante con él, es vivir
Y sentarse a su lado, Y tomarle la mano
Y mirarlo, es sentirse vivir
Despertar al amor, sorprenderte de él
Arriesgarte por él, es vivir
Despertarte con él, Escaparte con él
Enfrentarte con él, es vivir
Enfadarte con él, Ser mendigo por él
Arrastrarte por él, es vivir
Y vivir a su lado, Y comer de su mano
Y cuidarlo es sentirse vivir
Y estrecharlo en tus brazos y luego besarlo
Y sentirlo en el alma, es vivir
Y lavarle la cara Y fundirse con él
Y adueñarse de él, es vivir
An essential Raphael-style dramatic number.
And many-many more. All the songs were fascinating and meaningful, and it is advisable not to do any ranking.
MIXING THE REVIVED SONGS
In the second half of the show, the recreated songs were increasingly mixed with the hits Raphael sings at any of his concerts. En Carne Viva, Que Sabe Nadie, Amame, Desde Aquel Dia, Latin American standards Adoro, Nostalgia, La Copa Final…
Then – two latest songs from the singer’s repertoire: M.Alejandro’s Eso Que Llaman Amor and Quatras Estrellas. Their hero is already not a romantic youth, but a man who has lived a long and beautiful life, wise but passionate – a man who knows well what real love means.
In the final part of the concert – after all, Christmas is near! – Raphael captivated the audience with his new version of El Tamborilero, the song he has been singing for decades. Up till now he used to sing it very softly. This new version, on the contrary, is full of energy and dynamism, and the singer’s big voice comes out.
Through his songs Raphael conveys the strongest and deepest feelings and emotions of a human-being. He is an artist who sings the life itself. No, not just sings, but plays a wide variety of roles. His major heroes, of course, include a passionate and ecstatic lover, whose heart is filled with hope and joy, and a broken-hearted lover with all the dreams and hopes burnt to ashes. However, whole range of the heroes is wider. There are also, for example, a peasant, a poor old woman, a torero, pilgrims, wandering actors, and a soldier. There are anti-war songs, a cheerful Song of Labor and a song about the horrors of the nature destruction. There are songs making you reflect about the meaning of life.
Here we will focus on the two unique songs which also were performed during the Valencia concert. The numbers for Raphael and Raphael only.
The first one is El Payaso. Its hero is turned down by the one he loves with all of his heart, the one who means the whole life to him. She only laughed at him when he made his confession. His life is broken. There is no more reason to live and he feels like a poor Payaso, who must make people laugh, but whose soul is filled with grief as he cannot forget her. The song was written by Les Reed – a famous British song-writer, the author of Delilah and many other hits. In the refrain he put in the theme from the famous Canio’s aria “Vesti La Giubba” from R. Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci. At the beginning Raphael sings it in a low, restrained voice, as if restraining the feeling. But when it comes to the refrain, the Pagliacci theme, he starts singing, by contrast, in his full voice getting on the wave of Leoncavallo’s grandeur music and expressing the tragedy of broken love with a fantastic power that moves your heart and soul. You are fascinated by the splendor of the voice and overwhelmed by the intensity of the feeling.
COMPARISON WITH GOYA
One more song is Ballada Triste de Trompeta written by Nini Rosso, a famous Italian trumpeter and composer. Trumpet is a living creature. The memories of the happy old days, which will never return, make it cry. Not just cry – desperately sob. And this mood turns to be the same as the one of the song’s lyrical hero. Reminiscing the forever gone happy past, his heart sobs together with the trumpet.
Then the refrain comes. A wordless refrain. A miraculous refrain. The singer’s voice mergers with the sound of the trumpet:
Yeah, yeah - Yeah, yeah – Yeah, yeah – Yeah, yeah – Yeah, Yeah Yeah-
Ay Ay Ay Aaaay!
The tessitura becomes higher and higher with the drama reaching its peak. Unforgettable. It is like a living human heart beating fast with emotion – right in front of you.
The synthesis of Raphael’s unique voice, top-level vocal technique, very rarely seen on the popular stage, and the art of acting and dancing is a pearl. But after all, we have to look at them as the tools in the hands of a great artist, the tools to convey the feelings coming from the very depths of the human heart – aspirations and dreams, adoration and despair, joy and sadness, happiness and tragedy. In this sense, Raphael’s songs can be compared to the paintings of Goya, Velazques, Ribera, Murillo, Surbaran. Raphael sings the human heart to its very depth. That’s why his songs have no time limits. That’s why he is the genius of the Spanish stage, and the genius of the world stage.
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