A beautiful blend of a husky voice with the best of flamenco music backed by fluid guitar melodies contributes to the sound that is ‘Caramelo’. It is a gesture and a symbol redressing elation and Spanish art, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity as a physical-emotional response to art.
Recently, I was in conversation with Sara Erde from Caramelo and her expression very well explains the spirit that drives Caramelo and the journey has led them to the release of their debut, ‘Ride’ this May.
When she talks of her birth as a musician, she speaks of her longing to express her inner self through the performing arts. “Singing has always been second nature to me – like a form of talking. When I was really young, I had the fortune to record on Neneh Cherry’s single “Kisses on the Wind”. Being involved in the making of that album and seeing how Neneh created music was an enormous inspiration and guide,” says Erde.
“Caramelo began as a writing collaboration between Jed Miley (guitarist/co-composer) and I. We were performing traditional flamenco together every Sunday night at a club in Brooklyn with Isabel Del Dia’s company, ‘Dia Flamenco’, and then writing R&B and funk based tracks during the week. Little by little, these tunes began to creep into our traditional set, and that was the beginning of Caramelo,” she adds.
The musicians and dancers in Caramelo are not only exceptional artists, but they also share mutual inclinations towards similar sounds and performing arts. This is potentially a crucial factor that keeps the feeling of trust and love among the artists, thus inspiring creativity.
Sara recalls her outstanding and beautiful working relationship with Jed Miley. She talks of them sharing a mutual respect and friendship, which is inevitable in an artistic collaboration. They also have very similar tastes in music and dance. The inimitable beauty, however is in the fact that when their tastes diverge, they are able to expand in new directions. “I am pushed forward as an artist by working with Jed, and that is a treasure. The collaboration between me and the other dancers, Isabel del Dia, and Xianix Barrera is also a crucial part of Caramelo,” says Erde.
“Jed is an extraordinary musician, composer, and producer. He plays with the wonderful combination of profound sensitivity and technical mastery. He is one of America’s top flamenco guitarists, and is an absolute joy to work with,” she adds.
Sara began dancing flamenco at the age of six at New York City’s Ballet Hispanico. She is said to have begged to her mother never to let her stop doing this! Ask her what flamenco means to her and she says, “Flamenco encourages you celebrate who you are, and to explore your own feelings even if they are ugly. There is a place in flamenco to express sadness, fear, anger, shame, as well as great joy. This is important. In America, we are often meant to feel that if we aren’t acting ‘happy’ all the time, something is wrong with us. But isn’t it true that we all experience a great spectrum of emotion? Human beings need to be encouraged to express that spectrum in a healthy way through art.”
Caramelo’s future looks busy too as Erde outlines what the group is up to. “We will continue to tour in the United States this summer. Our CD release party will be on June 2nd at Drom, in New York’s East Village dedicated to new visions of world music. We have a fabulous monthly residency there, allowing us to create a lot of new material, and to meet tons of amazing people. We’ll continue to play shows throughout the summer in a lot of terrific venues, including the acclaimed (le) Poisson Rouge on July 11th”.
Erde feels lucky to be known as a singer, dancer, and choreographer with specific skills in flamenco. “My particular combination of talents has allowed me to collaborate with some of the greatest artists in the world, including Maestro Placido Domingo. My flamenco speciality brought me to The Metropolitan Opera, where I have worked for the past 16 years, both as a choreographer and dancer, and now as an assistant director,” she says.
She adores Indian culture for the important roots of flamenco lying in Indian dance and music. The Spanish Gypsies are said to have emigrated from Northern India centuries ago, making their way through Europe, and finally settling in Spain. “You can see the similarities between kathak and flamenco in the attention to rhythmic footwork, for example, and the arm and wrist movements of flamenco still retain their spiritual and religious edge – invoking the Duende, of course!” she exclaims.
Adding to it, she says, “My step-grandfather was from Mumbai, having emigrated to New York City in the 1940′s. We were extremely close, and Indian culture was an integral part of my upbringing. Every year I would dance flamenco during Diwali celebrations, and he was very proud of my achievements as an artist. As a child, I was inspired by the extreme beauty of Indian culture, where love is celebrated, and poetry encouraged. This is the magic of New York. I am a Jewish woman, raised in a Puerto-Rican neighbourhood, dancing flamenco, singing soul and R&B, and dressed since my youth in Indian silks”
“I think that Spain, Spanish culture, and the Spanish language have been a rich source of delight and inspiration for the world for generations. From Georges Bizet’s fascination with the Gypsies of Seville, to our local Brooklyn Spanish language aficionados meeting over coffee to master the nuances of pronunciation; there is something about the culture that entices us to remember the importance of passion, love, and honesty,” she adds further.
Being thrilled that “Ride” is going to be released on May 29th, Sara hopes that listeners will enjoy the result of the mutual and shared love of Caramelo towards R&B, jazz, Latin, and flamenco! The music is a genuine and organic expression of the way we all grew up – typical New York mutts, embracing their shared experiences and multi-cultural backgrounds. And it grooves!
Interviewed by: Sahil Sharma