Spanish icon Raphael hates the word “change.”
“It scares me,” he says, deadpan. “No one needs to change. I have a brand and I’m not changing. You can improve, you can evolve, but not change.”
We chatted at his suite at Miami’s Hyatt Regency hotel above the James L Knight Center, where that evening, Raphael would get the “Living Legend” award at the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He had flown in the night before just for the occasion and was slated to leave this evening at midnight following his performance and acceptance because he had a concert in Sevilla the following day. Raphael is 75 years old, but he has no qualms about getting on a transcontinental flight with zero rest in between if it means getting in front of an audience that adores him. And audiences still adore him, still bow down to his talents as the consummate performer.
In the recording studio, despite his aversion for change, Raphael is a fearless experimenter, and today (Nov. 9) he’s delivering Resinphónico. The album of covers of some of his “crown jewels,” as he calls them, features symphonic arrangements, redone with flourishes of electronica by producer and arranger Lucas Vidal. It’s a daring and surprising take on classic repertoire that reminds us why Raphael remains relevant, as a performer and as the ultimate performer who embraces change yet never succumbs to it.
Billboard: Why another album with symphony arrangements?
Raphael: I still had a lot to talk about. I had been thinking about the concept of “Re,” which means something else. I said, ‘I have someone who can do symphony arrangements for me, but I want someone who can go further.’ And change is a word that scares me. No one needs to change. What one needs is to evolve constantly. I have a brand and I’m not changing. You can improve it, you can evolve, but not change it. I am going to evolve as much as I can.
This someone you found is Lucas Vidal. Who is he?
Aside from our music, we have a very funny thing in common which is, he’s the grandson of the owner of Hispavox [the first label that signed Raphael]. I had never met him but he called my manager [Rosa Lagarrigue] because he was receiving a Goya award in Spain for the music to a film. He asked Rosa if I would be interested in giving him the award. I didn’t know him, but his grandfather — Jose Manuel Vidal Zapatero — not only discovered me, but was like a father to me. He released my first album when I was 15. So, during the dinner at the awards, he tells me his story and how he wanted to meet me because his grandfather always gave me as an example. I couldn’t believe this young man was a musician and that his grandfather was the man who invented me. The next morning, we went for coffee at the Hotel Palace and in 10 minutes, this project was born.
Obviously, this wasn’t an idea that came up during the meeting. You’d been thinking about this for a while?
I’d been thinking about it for months. But I hadn’t been able to find that “re’ quality. I have hundreds of crown jewels and I gave him a few options. The first one he sent back was “Inmensidad,” which was my first hit when I was 16. The second was “Los hombres lloran también” (Men Also Cry). I took one listen and I said, let’s do it. I didn’t need anything else.
You recorded the orchestra at Abbey Road in London. What’s your recording process?
I recorded vocals in Madrid. I need to record in my home in Madrid. I used to record different albums in different cities, until I said, ‘No. I’ll record in my house.” I record the entire song in one take. I do several recordings of the song top to bottom. My son Manuel, who directs my recording sessions, always asks me for more. And at the end, we always end up using the first one.
Which of the tracks in the album really captures the sound you were after?
“Digan lo que digan,” which I describe as a cinematic song. It has many parts within the song and Luis has managed to almost make a movie out of it.
Another track I love is “Los Hombres Lloran Tambien.” Tell me about that one?
I hadn’t sung it in a long time. I’ve wanted to rescue these songs to inject them with new magic. You can mix symphonic and electronic music in my songs because they have more than enough melody. And songs by [songwriter] Manuel Alejandro are especially beautiful.
Really, this was a brave album for you to do, but also for Luis Vidal. He had a huge responsibility wouldn’t you say?
I’ve always worked by instinct. I see a person and I know how it’s going to work out. The first thing I liked was his decision to take the project. He didn’t even think about it.
You kick off your new tour Dec. 17. Through the years, have you found that the audience changes from country to country?
Maybe, but the job of the artist is to convert your audience. Maybe the Russian audience, or the British audience has nothing to do with your other audiences. But the artist, like a good conductor, has to take that audience on a journey for two and a half hours.
Have you ever encountered resistance from the audience?
Of course. I remember it was really hard to go perform in Russia; lots of bureaucracy. And I went out to sing at the Opera Theater in Leningrad, and the audience was tuned out. I started to work to bring that audience with me. And they stayed. Maybe we don’t have the language in common, but we have our hands, our gestures.
You love that, don’t you?
I do. [he smiles]. I need the audience. But I sing exactly the same in the recording booth.
You look great. Do you work out?
More than I do onstage, impossible. I watch what I eat. I eat to live, I don’t live to eat. And I don’t drink or smoke.
Going back to the album, I really like this new version of “Yo soy aquel…”
I end my concerts with that song. And we show all the stages of my life on the video screens. But it’s not nostalgic. People who are always talking about the past, as opposed to the present or the future are nostalgic. On the contrary. I look back at my life with joy. I’ve been a very lucky man.
Such a long career. No major hardships?
My job is to take good lyrics, timely lyrics, and sing them how they ought to be sung and sold to the audience in a very convincing way. Everything can be very difficult or very easy. It’s been easy for me. I know it’d make for a better story to say it’s been tough. But it’s simply not true. Yes, I’ve worked very hard. But from the moment I started this journey, the audience pointed at me and it was done.
Stream Resinphónico below: