Singer Lamari Says Goodbye to Chambao For Solo Career
Flamenco chill is over and out as frontwoman "dismantles" legendary Spanish band to perform under her own name.
Spanish singer Lamari recently announced the end of Chambao, the group that laid claim to the term “flamenco chill,” the laid-back Spanish electronic groove that has reverberated on hundreds of Ibiza summer nights. Over 16 years, Lamari had fronted the popular band – a summer festival staple in Spain - through personnel changes and a musical evolution. The latest – and presumably last – Chambao album is 2016’s Nuevo Ciclo, whose rootsy fusion of Latin alternative songs she co-produced with Calle 13’s Eduardo Cabra.
“I’ve been doing Chambao alone for 11 years but I’ve continued to speak in plural,” she said, during an interview before a sold-out Chambao concert in Barcelona earlier this year.
No more. Lamari will, in her words, “dismantle” Chambao at a concert at Madrid’s Palacio de Deportes stadium next January with a line-up of special guests. She says she’ll perform simply as Lamari from then on, backed by her current band.
While Lamari no longer wants to be identified with Chambao, she’s even less interested in being known for her one-time, but very successful, collaboration with Ricky Martin, “Tu Recuerdo.” The song from Martin’s 2006 MTV Unplugged rose to no. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, and was no. 3 on the Hot Latin Songs year-end chart. It was the ASCAP Latin Song of the Year and was nominated for Record of the Year at the 2007 Latin Grammys.
The song made Lamari a recognized name in the United States. But she laughs at the suggestion that she might have better exploited that success by touring behind the hit, or even moving to Miami, as many other Spanish and Latin American artists have done.
“I didn’t go looking for Ricky Martin,” she says during an interview that begins in the back of her tour manager’s van and continues over beer and pulpo gallego in a corner bar. “He came to me to have my voice on his song. I’m not what you’d call a fan of his music. I can say that I’m a fan of Ricky Martin himself, because he really is a beautiful person. But to me he’s just another guy I know. I didn’t do that collaboration to gain anything by it. It’s not about ‘look what I’ve done, let’s see if I can get booked for another concert.”
Lamari, whose given name is María del Mar Rodríguez Carnero, has collaborated with other well-known artists including Cesaria Evora, Jarabe de Palo and Ivan Lins; Jorge Drexler is among several guest artists who appear on Nuevo Ciclo.
“The collaboration with Ricky Martin was different than others I’ve done because we are so different from one another,” she says in retrospect. “Ricky has always been a sex symbol, and Chambao has been about bare feet, the beach, singing to our neighbor and to the planet and the animals.”
Chambao was casually formed in Lamari’s hometown, Malaga, in Southern Spain, where she got together with two neighbors, musicians Eduardo Casañ (“El Edi”) and Daniel Casañ (“Dani”). The singer explains that they talked about recording a big sound, but had little idea how, let alone the budget, to orchestrate it.
“We said ‘how are we going to put three violins, a bass and all of these things that we wanted to put into it?” Lamari recalls. Enter the Colombian-born Dutch musician and producer Henrik Takkenberg and his MIDI keyboard, an instrument that came to exemplify the group’s sound.
Takkenberg, who came to Malaga to vacation and check out the music scene; discovered the “good vibes” of flamenco, and became the fourth member and producer of Chambao. The group’s music first appeared on Takkenberg’s 2002 compilation album Flamenco Chill on Sony; that led to an enduring contract for the band with that label. The album included Chambao’s version of the Paco de Lucia and Camaron de la Isla classic, “Como el Agua.”
“We didn’t try to find a style,” Lamari recalls. “The style found us. We didn’t have a specific idea when we started making music. But when we did we called it flamenco chill. We could have called it Malagueña fusion, or whatever.”
Chambao’s sound evolved into a kind of flamenco prog rock. The band turned up the volume at its concerts, which featured light shows, and of course, synthesizers. The band won Spain’s prestigious Ondas radio award, among others, for its trippy debut album, Endorfinas en la Mente. But the original group was short-lived. Takkenberg, Dani and El Edi had departed the group by 2005, the year its second studio album, Pokito a Poko was released. (In 2006, Takkenberg committed suicide in Madrid; an obituary in Spanish newspaper El Pais suggested that "he was perhaps too nice to be involved in the music industry." The Casañs, who are cousins, now own a music production company in Malaga).
In 2005, Lamari was also diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I said I can’t be sitting on the sofa waiting for my next cancer treatment. I’m going on tour. So I put a scarf over my head and got started.” She rebuilt the band and headed out behind Pokito a Poko, which went gold in Spain soon after its release. Her hair was just growing out when she performed at Martin’s Unplugged. She was in treatment until 2010.
While U.S. Latin music listeners may think of her as flamenco singer, Lamari rejects that label; more accurately, she says, she’s a singer from Southern Spain.
“I’m a great admirer of flamenco and it’s what gets me up out of my chair: the wildness of it, the uncontrollable emotions,” she says. “But I don’t do flamenco per se, I write songs. I don’t live a flamenco lifestyle, I don’t dress flamenco. But I’m from Andalusia. In my house my mother was always singing flamenco, I didn’t learn it from records. So for me it’s very natural. “
She describes Nuevo Ciclo as “a great fusion between the music of Chambao of yesterday and today,” and she credits Cabra with its more percussive, less electronic sound. “Eduardo likes to play with sounds,” she says. “That’s why I wanted him for the album.”
Lamari still lives in Malaga, where she can be with her family and her friends since forever, and, basically, as she describes it, doing whatever she wants to do. “I don’t want my albums to be commercial I want them to be honest,” she says. “What I want to do is have a lot of fun and do a good job because I love what I do.”