Omar Montes Wants to Take Flamenco to Completely New Places
Omar Montes is leaving his mark in music — and he’s doing it with his particular take on flamenco.
On his latest album, Quejíos De Un Maleante, the Spanish singer blends tradition with elements of urbano music to give the folkloric style a modern-day twist. The mix was so compelling that one major artist wanted to get in on the unique sound: Puerto Rican superstar Farruko. The two artists teamed up for “Patio De La Cárcel,” an emotional collaboration that examines what forgiveness and redemption looks like in life.
“[Farruko] wanted to do flamenco,” Montes tells Rolling Stone over Zoom. “He said that he’s done a bunch of reggaeton. With me, he was searching for something different, and we did that. We made something cultural, very strong, and that has a very good message for young people.”
After recording the track and the video, the two of them teamed up for an acoustic performance in Miami, premiering exclusively on Rolling Stone.
It’s not a surprise that Montes is turning heads. In addition to being one of Spain’s rising artists to watch out for, he’s also one of his country’s biggest media personalities. He has appeared on Spanish spin-offs of series like Big Brother, Survivor, and few dating shows. He’s focused on his music nowadays, but Montes has no regrets about his reality TV past. He cites J Balvin and Argentine pop star and actress Lali as examples of artists who are successful in other media as well.
“I think that TV and music go hand-in-hand,” he says. “They’re very compatible with each other. It’s like with fashion. Sometimes they say, if you work in TV or in fashion, you can’t be a good singer. I don’t think so. What we’re doing is showing that you’re capable of being an artist if you do TV as well.”
Still, music has been the center of his world recently. Montes spent two years working on Quejíos De Un Maleante, pouring all of his energy into an artistic statement that brings together all of his influences. He rounded up flamenco music’s biggest artists to join him on the genre-bending LP, tapping La Tana, Israel Fernández, and Spanish rapper C. Tangana. Montes masterfully melds the music and experiences of growing up in Madrid’s low-resource Carabanchel neighborhood, outlining the personal journey that’s brought him to where he is today.
What was your early relationship to music? How did you start in flamenco?
I started out like any kid with a lot of hope. I was a kid in the street. I come from a low-income hood where there weren’t a lot of resources available to us. Life wasn’t easy. It’s always been a dream of mine to make a living and put food on my family’s table doing what I like. Thanks to a lot of hard work and dedication, it happened.
I started in flamenco because it came from my family. The biggest flamenco artists in the world have come from Spain, like Camarón de la Isla, Paco de Lucía, Julio Matito, and I’m very inspired by them because I grew up listening to their music.It’s very important to me. Each time I make a song I always try to give a flamenco focus. I always think of it as a flamenco artist and not a reggaetonero. Even though I make reggaeton, I always try to come at it from the point-of-view as a flamenco artist.
Your album Quejíos De Un Maleante mixes flamenco and traditional music with urbano in a beautiful way. Tell us about this mix and the sounds you wanted to achieve on this project.
With this sound, I want to achieve respect and bring something pure to the young people who are around my age from where I come from. I wanted to take the flamenco music out [they grew up with] out of their homes and trace it back to this album. It was very complicated to get flamenco artists on this album. They don’t collaborate with reggaeton artists, not even for money. It would not be the first time that reggaeton artists on a global level have asked them to collaborate, and before, they won’t do it. We don’t do flamenco for money. It’s an art that comes from the heart. If you want to do something well with flamenco, you can’t be looking at it as a convenience or a cash-grab. If you do it, you have to be in for the art. It’s a complicated thing that it took time to achieve. I was working on this album for two years.
You have a powerful song with Farruko called “Patio De La Cárcel.” What was that collaboration like? What was it like to work with Farruko?
It happened in a beautiful way because Farruko was listening to my music in Miami. He wrote to me in a DM, and he let me know that he wanted to do a song with me. He said that he was a fan of mine and that he wanted us to get together. I was super grateful because I’ve been listening to his music since I was a kid. For me, he’s been a great influence. He’s an idol of mine. For me and a lot of young people, he’s indisputably number one. I was very grateful that he wanted to collaborate with me, that he called me to make a song. He doesn’t call just anyone.
Tell us about the concept of the music video for “Patio De La Cárcel.”
The concept of the video is that we’ve been rebels our whole lives and we’ve made our mothers and families suffer a lot because of that, but that everyone deserves a second chance. There’s always time to change and make things right.
You’ve done two great acoustic sessions. Where did that idea come from? How was that experience?
Truthfully, he came up with the idea. He said that he wanted to do an acoustic session with us singing together and bringing our voices together. It seemed cool to him for us to give our audience something real. We went to the streets,a place where we’ve both come from. We came together as friends and we did a live flamenco show. It was very gratifying. He learned a lot about flamenco and about us, and I became a closer friend to him. I have a brother for life. He’s a wonderful person and a great musician.
The other musicians are from my group that I’ve played with since high school. They’re my friends from the neighborhood. They’re always involved with my projects. I like to work with people who are close to me. It had a very great vibe. Everyone did their job perfectly. On top of that, we shot it in Miami and we went out to eat afterward. We got to know a bit of the culture in Miami, and it was wonderful.
What do you think about what’s happening musically in Spain? What do you think of the achievements of artists like Rosalia, C. Tangana, and Quevedo?
I think a lot of great artists are coming out from Spain. I think they’re going to give a strong shock people around the world. I believe we deserve a space in music on a global level like what’s happening with places like Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Argentina as well. I think the next country to come into that [musical] panorama is Spain.
They’re very close friends of mine. When a friend of mine is doing well, I’m also doing well. All the blessings that are coming to them, for me, are wonderful. I want people to know that Spain has a lot of art, a lot of talent, and we have a lot of drive to work hard.
What do you want to accomplish next with your music?
My grandma said she doesn’t want to die before seeing her grandson get a Grammy, and if I could give to her the gift of a Grammy, that would be the best thing ever for me. That would be the biggest thing to happen in my life.
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