¡De Madrid al Cielo!: Hotstar C. Tangana

Javier Ruiz
– Unorthodox Shapeshifter
C. Tangana’s eclectic El Madrileño, released in February of 2021, broke streaming records in Spain.

Spanning Spanish rap to postmodern pop to Latin folklore – sometimes in one song – Antón Álvarez Alfaro is an unorthodox shapeshifter. The multi-hyphenate artist who records as C. Tangana is reconfiguring what it means to be a Spanish-language pop star in the 21st Century, as evinced in El Madrileño. His third full-length is the kind of stuff that wins Latin Grammy Award noms by the handful, five to be exact – just a nod above Puerto Rican powerhouse Bad Bunny. 

In 2021, C. Tangana also earned the coveted Album of the Year nomination. 

“I’m grateful that people outside of Spain understood what I wanted to do,” C. Tangana tells Pollstar of his latest album. “It’s a message that has become global, and that’s always the biggest challenge – to understand and know your own culture well, but to approach other cultures with profound respect.” 

The question now is, can the 31-year-old translate his growing recorded success into touring success? According to Pollstar Boxoffice, with only three reports, C. Tangana played two club shows in Mexico in 2017 and the Tag Music Festival at Madrid’s WiZink Center the next year. His live career, however, continued to build great momentum since then, at a number of large clubs across the globe, including MOMA’s PS1 Warm-Up series (capacity 750) in New York City;  Monterrey’s Café Iguana (2,000), Santiago de Chile’s Teatro Cariola (1,200), and more.   On March 14, 2020, he was performing in the Dominican Republic, at Santo Domingo’s Isle of Light festival, just as COVID hit, cutting short his and so many others’ touring plans. For the rest of the year, he would play only a handful of shows on the Iberian Peninsula.  

That break for many, however, was an opportunity. C. Tangana used that time to create the brilliant El Madrileño, where he mostly put to rest the demanding and dominating reggaeton rhythms, plunging into a multitude of timeless styles with a contemporary lens. “I’m very inspired by Spanish tradition, literature and the copla,” he says, “genres with lyrics that tend to be deep but very simple.” C. Tangana exemplifies this, musing on everyday life, carefully observing universal human emotions, whether that’s plummeting into the depths of despair, ascending towards a new lover’s high or embarking on a conquest to seduce and titillate. This while channeling his poetic prowess through the aforementioned copla, an ancient Andalusian art form based on a poetic structure of four verses and eight syllables. “It’s what identifies me the most, poetry that somehow turned into a music genre,” he says.  

Aside from the pride he takes in his roots, his ability to explore, appreciate, and engage in other traditions, with a keen eye for new emerging sounds, gives this Madrileño an insatiable global appeal. C. Tangana expertly bridges the gap between música urbana and Iberoamerican folk, and unites some of the most riveting, respected musicians of the ages: flamenco legends Gipsy Kings, Cubano icon Eliades Ochoa, the late copla trailblazer Pepe Blanco; and newer stars, too, like Chicano soul revivalist Omar Apollo, Mexican balladeer Ed Maverick, and more. The album also features the participation of Barcelona’s Alizzz (né Cristian Quirante Catalalán), C. Tangana’s secret weapon, co-writer and co-producer, who himself is nominated for six Latin Grammys, including in the Producer of the Year category.

“C. Tangana and I met nearly a decade ago performing on the local festival circuit. We would often bump into each other and quickly built a strong bond after partying together,” recalls Alizzz. Although in different scenes – back then C. Tangana navigated Spanish hip-hop terrain as a rapper and Alizzz spun electronic music – they discovered a formidable musical compatibility. In 2016, the pair joined forces, stepping outside their usual fare with “Antes de Morirme,” featuring Spanish sensation Rosalía on a sensual R&B-pop number tinged in radiant electronic sounds. “My curiosity quickly led me to listen to a variety of Latin music, like música urbana and other global regional sounds,” C. Tangana says.

Born in 1990 in Madrid, Alfaro’s roots in Spain run deep. His mother’s lineage is from Ceuta, a Spanish territory nestled along the northern tip of Africa, and Córdoba in Andalusia. His father’s side came from the northwest coast of Galicia. “He’s from [the province of] Vigo, and his family are from nearby ports Ourense and Pontevedra. One side comes from the North and the other from the South, all throughout Spain,” he points out. But his magnetism for his home city is quite charming. 

“Madrid is a welcoming city filled with immigrants from nearby towns, provinces and all throughout Latin America,” he explains. “You can make friends quickly, and strive to make your dreams come true. It is a place of ambition for all of Spain. You come to Madrid to succeed. There is a saying here that goes ‘De Madrid al cielo’ [or ‘from Madrid to heaven’]. It means that once you make it in Madrid, well, you are it.” 

Among those Madrid transplants is Argentinian rock icon Andrés Calamaro, who appears on El Madrileño’s rollicking “Hong Kong,” which is up for Best Pop/Rock Song. “It was a very nice encounter having [Uruguayan singer-songwriter] Jorge [Drexler] and Andrés in the studio together. The song is composed by the three of us. It was a special moment because, artistically, they represent two icons of two polar [opposites],” C. Tangana says. “Calamaro is the rocker poet of the lower depths. Drexler represents a kind of intellectual poet, like a university professor. To have them coexist in my El Madrileño world is very important and a vital achievement.”

Another brilliant collaboration is “Muriendo de Envidia,” recorded in the mythic Estudios Areito in Havana, where Buena Vista Social Club famously documented Cuban music’s vast history, as did Eliades Ochoa. “Eliades Ochoa was one of the first artists outside Spain who gave me recognition. I am a great admirer of him and consider him a master,” C. Tangana muses. Cuba and Spain have a very long tradition and cultural relationship that runs deep, where the bolero, rumba and copla intersect. “It’s the origin of many other rhythms that later mixed and migrated from Cuba to Latin America and Spain to the world.”

C. Tangana’s live career is growing rapidly. He’s represented in the U.S. by United Talent Agency’s Christian Bernhardt, who heard and fell in love with El Madrileño upon its February release. 

“That album is amazing with its genre-crossing approach,” Bernhardt says. “It broadened his audience and touring strategy so we’re now working with larger promoters whose reach extends to and beyond the traditional Latin market.” In 2022 he’s to play a number of global festival anchor dates, including Santo Domingo and Lollapalooza Argentina in March, Foro Sol Stadium in Mexico and Portugal’s Parque da Cidade In Porto. While Bernhardt doesn’t specify when, C. Tangana will tour the U.S. next year, adding “he’s slated to play a short U.S. tour going into 2,000-capacity theaters that we expect to sell quickly so we can bring him back in 2023 for a larger tour and U.S. festivals.” 

Meanwhile, C. Tangana continues to expand his sonic palette. He recently submerged himself into bachata with “Ateo,” starring fellow Spanish rapper/singer Nathy Peluso. It’s a Dominican kind of balladry that was known as amargue a century ago, meaning bitter or bittersweet, due to its lovelorn lyrics. “We’ve both sung a lot about the disappointments of love,” he says. “This one is a brighter song about when you’re really in love and enjoying the happiness of being in love.”

“One of the things I admire is his ability to write something from scratch, with great quality every time,” Alizzz asserts. “I have never seen anyone write as well as Pucho, and the speed at which he does it is genius. He has the ability to take such great artists, whom we have so much respect for, into his world and to convince them that doing a song [with us] is a good idea is another genius, something not everyone is capable of doing.”

Whether it’s C. Tangana gearing up to hit the road for a highly anticipated show or crafting original masterpieces seemingly out of thin air while colliding old and new sound with great Iberoamerican musicians, one thing is clear: this madrileño is shooting for the stars (or el cielo) and quite often reaching them.