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“An absolutely classic flamenco cantaor…Rafael sang as though he had just emerged from a car wreck….passionate, hair-raising vocalization… a perfect example of the here-I-stand existential posture that is the defining trait of flamenco"
Joan Acocella, The New Yorker 2002

Flamenco, perhaps more than any other music, is an acquired taste. Intensely rooted in Spanish tradition and tierra, the music can sometimes seem impenetrable to outsiders; the preserve of specialists and aficionados. Yet in recent years Americans have been increasingly drawn to flamenco. Lured by its passion and theatricality we’ve become increasingly sophisticated consumers of the music, savoring the experience with the kind of enthusiasm we usually reserve for a rare fino or vintage rioja.

Yet of the three main components of flamenco – guitar, dance and vocals – true appreciation of what many consider the soul of the music, the art of the flamenco singer, is the most challenging. It’s not all due to the language barrier either. The wailing, attenuated sobs and gritos of the flamenco cantaor (singer) can be downright daunting. Enter Rafael Usero Vilches – a.k.a. Rafael de Utrera – one of the most accessible, versatile and authentic flamenco cantaors to come to these shores in years.

At just 32 years old, Utrera is already one of the most accomplished singers of his generation. Growing up in the town of Utrera, near Sevilla, Rafael absorbed flamenco firsthand at the popular peña (flamenco club) owned by his father. By the age of 10 he was already performing all over Andalucia with a group of young singers that included his brother Juan Luis. But Rafael had the raw talent and ambition to turn this avocation into a career, playing bigger and bigger tablaos in Seville and Barcelona until he came to the attention of well-known flamenco dancer Cristina Hoyos, who invited the young singer to tour the world with her company in 1997.

Since then he’s never looked back, working with just about every major flamenco star and touring extensively. He’s accompanied many of the greats, from such renowned dancers as Farraquito, Carmen Lozano, Joaquin Cortes, and Eva Yerbabuena to such legends of the guitar as Tomatito and Paco de Lucia. Last year, during his participation in the 2003 Flamenco Festival USA, Rafael demonstrated his versatility to American audiences by singing behind both avant garde flamenco dancer Israel Galvan and the great Manuela Carrasco, whose style of dance is much more traditional. Rafael was able to match these two powerhouses’ contrasting performances flawlessly.

While he’s a brilliant accompanist, Utrera is also an accomplished soloist. His honeyed, raspy tenor projects a startling range and nuance – equally capable of a heartrending wail or a sexy whisper. With this powerful instrument, Utrera is that very rare kind of cantaor who can stand alone, commanding stages and captivating audiences without adornment. He’s the flamenco singer that American audiences have been waiting for. A debut CD “La Magia Flamenca” is set for release in the U.S. only on Arte Flamenco.