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  • Benjamín Escoriza, Spanish Singer and Radio Tarifa Vocalist, Dies

    Benjamín Escoriza, the Spanish singer and former vocalist of Radio Tarifa, died on March 9, 2012, after a long illness. Benjamín Escoriza was born in Colomera, Granada, in 1953 and moved to Madrid in 1989, where he met Vicente Molino and Fain Sanchez Dueñas. They would form the band Radio Tarifa, which release four albums on World Circuit/Nonesuch Records: Rumba Argelina, Temporal, Cruzando el Rio, and Fiebre.

About Radio Tarifa

Fiebre (Fever) is Radio Tarifa’s first live album. Released in 2003 in the U.K. by World Circuit, Fiebre already has been nominated for a Latin Grammy Award in the Best Folk Album category. With it the band not only captures the exhilarating ‘fevered’ atmosphere of their live gigs but also celebrates the tenth anniversary of the release of its first groundbreaking disc. Creating magical music has been Radio Tarifa’s life since, just over ten years ago, Faín Sánchez Dueñas, Benjamín Escoriza, and Vincent Molino decided to record an album in Dueñas’s bedroom. The result was the mesmerising Rumba Argelina, which rocketed Radio Tarifa to cult fame, placing the band firmly on the map of world music innovators. An irresistible fusion of erotic melodies, the record kicks in with the pattering of percussion and drums, undulating pipes, and funky guitars—and then the smoky flamenco-esque rumba voice of Escoriza grabs you and never lets you go.

The three called themselves Radio Tarifa after an imaginary radio station. As Dueñas tells it, “Radio Tarifa is a symbolic name and it really sums up the music of the group. Tarifa is the southernmost point of Spain. If you turn the dial of a radio there you can pick up sounds from North Africa, you hear the Arabic early morning call-to-prayer; from there you reach out into the whole of Mediterranean Europe, to the Middle East, and beyond to the Americas. And that’s us and our music—a meeting point between all the cultures that have passed through, and continue to come through, that part of Spain.”

Their two subsequent discs, Temporal, and Cruzando el Rio, pushed the imaginative envelope of sounds further. Dueñas explains, “They are the musical past of the three of us, from many years of knowing each other and working together. We don’t make fusion music. It’s more a case of utilizing the mix of cultures that lie side by side in Spain, like the buildings in old cities such as Toledo: Arabic, Jewish, Christian—it’s those inter-relationships we explore. Then add a strong medieval background of making music without chords.”

“We met in Madrid, although I was born in Valladolid, Castile, Vincent in Montpelier, France, and Benjamín in Granada. When we got together in the 1980s, we all had different day-jobs: I was an architect, Vincente worked as a geological engineer on subterranean water in Seville, and Benjamín worked in TV administration. Music was our passion, occupying every other moment. Vincent and I met at Ars Antiqua (Musicalis), which was an early-music ensemble playing music from France, Italy, Spain, and England even, from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries. Of course we were playing rock and flamenco and other things too and that’s how we knew Benjamín. He’s from the world of Andalucian popular music. He’s a singer of the lighter ‘palos’ of flamenco, like bulerías and particularly rumbas and tangos, those songs that are shared with Latin America called songs of ‘ida y vuelta’ (going and returning), because they are constantly going to and fro between Spain and South America. That first disc was an exchange between us, each giving of ourselves.”

Tarifa’s music is very fluid: “Think of it like watching a school of fish swimming. From a distance it looks like a unit until you look closer, then you see they are all moving slightly differently. Almost all our music is modal, which means it is totally melody based. Modal means it’s not chromatic, so it doesn’t use all the black and white notes of the piano like classical European scales, and the scales do not necessarily have seven-note patterns either. We all play single melody lines with different rhythmic phrasing, and the flow and the delicacy and density of what we do comes from that. The harmony is always there but we reach it another way: instruments like the winds and strings are playing single lines but there are maybe three notes in the same moment sounding together, which makes a kind of chord if you want to think of it that way. We play like an ensemble, listening hard to each other, with lots of eye contact all the time on stage so we dovetail in and out of each other.”

Most of the songs emerge from Dueñas singing melodies he composes on the guitar to Escoriza and together they discuss what mood and journey the lyrics will take. For Escoriza, “There’s this chemistry between us. And this ‘gracia’: Faín always likes what I do, even when we start out with different ideas of what the music is saying, which makes us laugh. For a song to work you need three essential things. First your heart, then your head, then a pen handy to get the words down, because sometimes something beautiful comes to you at the most unexpected time or place. That’s how it works for me: the music is playing inside me and the lyrics emerge in a special moment.” The founding threesome have gradually forsaken the seclusion of the bedroom for the stage and expanded for live performances into the present inimitable band heard on Fiebre.

As anyone who sees them knows, it’s pretty impossible to sit still when Tarifa play. From the outset there is an expectant excitement, and from the first note it is obvious that Radio Tarifa are now delivering a music which brings together ancient and modern with a much sharper harder edge than before. The use of electric instruments on stage—Amir Haddad on guitar and David Purdye on bass—creates a thrilling balance with the ancient sounds coming from crumhorn, ney, Oud, derbuka, and other instruments.

Tarifa’s image is far from folksy; Escoriza fronts, dressed in black and wearing dark glasses (to hide his perpetual stage fright). Haddad’s long hair and demeanor would not look out of place with a rock band, nor would the sound of one or two of his improvisations. Escoriza’s thick, smoky textured voice with its strongly accented street intonation broods on stage, sculpting and adorning phrases with the tiniest of inflections, drawing you in and keeping you with him. The effect is of strong melodic statements, with the voice and different instruments taking up and improvising melodic arguments, like different threads simultaneously weaving a tapestry. Each song seems to pick up where the last one ends and there is a constant feeling of tension and release.

The group attributes the extra super-charged vibe of this record to the fact that they had just arrived in Canada for the Toronto show after a tour fraught with difficulties. The musicians’ enormous relief at the relaxed hospitality of the Canadians comes through in the tangible pleasure and energy of their playing. This recording captures a multitude of sensations and emotions, from the confessional to the celebratory, from yearning to love, sadness to pure passion.

Fiebre demonstrates how Tarifa’s music is always charged by who they are and how they feel. Purdye has a clear idea about are different from any other group: “We let things happen organically. Things evolve and grow. Even when the pressure is on, we’re always relaxed and very human. But then Spanish culture’s like that. We sit round tables and eat and talk about what we are doing and feeling and everyone gets to know everyone else better all the time, and understands where they are coming from in their life and musical. It is very warm, Tarifa culture, and you take that closeness and rapport with you onto the stage. That’s why it’s great.”

Latest Release

  • Fiebre

    Fiebre

    Recorded live on Radio Tarifa's 2002 world tour, the aptly titled Fiebre captures the “fevered” nature of the band's performances and unique blend of Spanish and North African musical traditions. The BBC called the album “essential,” adding that “the individual elements of the band are so artfully combined as to create something simultaneously traditional and adventurously novel.”