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Alexander Kilian (left) and Jan Pascual at a concert in Budapest. Café del Mundo
Flamenco guitars that transcend cultural boundaries
Art and culture

Flamenco guitars that transcend cultural boundaries

The virtuoso guitarists of the duo Café del Mundo will be in concert at the Teatro Cervantes with the Malaga Provincial Youth Orchestra

Beatrice Lavalle

Malaga

Friday, 12 January 2024, 13:53

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Despite their age difference and their completely different characters, you can tell at first glance that the two musicians Alexander Kilian and Jan Pascal harmonise well. Neither tries to push himself to the fore and both speak with admiration of the other's work. The musicians who form guitar duo Café del Mundo say that in the 16 years they have been performing together, they have never once argued, and when you see them interacting, you believe them to the letter.

Both have pursued a career in classical music. Alexander Kilian (born in Bad Mergentheim, Germany, in 1987) began a classical music education, which he completed with a jazz music diploma. The young musician, who actually had a penchant for punk and metal, learned about Eastern music from his Georgian master. He came to flamenco via the traditional music of Georgia - the Iberia of the East - which has links to the original Spanish genre. Jan Pascal (born Würzburg, 1975) underwent classical guitar training at music school. The talented musician, who was already composing his own pieces as a teenager, did not fulfil the path of a classical concert guitarist, for which he seemed predestined. As he had always been fascinated by the sound of the flamenco guitar, which he had learnt about during stays in Spain, he finally followed "the call of Paco de Lucia".

Kilian and Pascal met at a flamenco workshop in 2007 and knew immediately that they could work well together.

A vocation for world music

They stress that although they use the flamenco guitar, they do not play flamenco in the true sense of the word, but use the sound of the Spanish guitar to combine classical, jazz, pop and flamenco to create a musical experience that appeals to a wide variety of audiences.

The two musicians describe one of their main aims as "to present the soulful primal forces inherent in the flamenco guitar to an international audience". They want to work on the evolution of an instrument that, in their opinion, offers "possibilities of articulation" far beyond folklore. They see the "fusion of different cultures, as practised in Andalucía as a living example" as one of the "privileged tasks of music". And so their works, whether their own compositions or versions of classical, flamenco and pop music, unite the most diverse musical influences.

The fact that two such virtuoso artists can play together without their egos getting in the way is due to their differences: "Alex is more of a virtuoso soloist, I'm more of a composer and the one who articulates the melodies," explains Pascal. Kilian admires his colleague's compositional talent. "It's a great gift, like a spring that never runs dry. When we have an idea in our heads, I know that it will bubble up from Jan and he knows exactly what works in my hands. I don't think anyone else could write pieces for me as perfectly as he does," he enthuses.

Their fruitful collaboration is also helped by their shared musical vision and the goal of making international music with the sound of the flamenco guitar. They admit that there is competition, "but a positive one that helps us get the best out of each other," says Pascal.

The response from the audience is particularly satisfying for the two musicians when they see that the joie de vivre inherent in flamenco has spread to other countries. "People leave the concert with a smile on their faces and you can see that they have been transported for a moment and have been able to leave their grey everyday lives behind," says Pascal.

In Spain, the 'Holy Grail of flamenco', they didn't want to perform at all at first, as they felt it was inappropriate to present themselves as German musicians in the land of the flamenco guitar. But Volker Bahmann, who organises their concerts in Spain, was convinced that their playing would go down well here too. And ultimately Kilian believes that they also have something to contribute to flamenco, as they are doing something completely new. And this has earned them the respect of Spanish flamenco artists. They have performed on stage with Spanish flamenco stars such as Estrella Morente and have performed in the flamenco caves of Granada, where they enjoy jam sessions with Spanish musicians after their concerts. "It's as if time stands still, there's no before and no after, just the moment," Pascal recalls of this experience.

To create an international sound with the flamenco guitar, any piece that reflects the poetry of flamenco and that radiates spiritual freedom will work. They might be pieces by Piazzolla, Bach and Enrique Granados or even bands such as U2 or Coldplay.

Attracting young people

For this project, they found an arranger who worked on the pieces in such a way that they were neither too difficult nor too easy and could appeal to both a classically educated audience and an audience more orientated towards lighter music. The aim is to attract young people who don't normally go to classical concerts to their music.

The two German guitarists will be performing this album, composed entirely of their own songs, on 22 January at 8pm in the Cervantes Theatre, accompanied by the Jopma. Here you can get to know the cultural crossover of this extraordinary guitar duo. Tickets are available for 15 euros at www.unientradas.es.

And with Symphonic still on tour, Kilian and Pascal are already thinking about their next project: a recording with film soundtracks by Hans Zimmer and an album dedicated to the music of the 1980s.

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