Great Lebanese singer Wadih El Safi and young gypsy artist José Fernandez blend Lebanese songs and Spanish flamenco music, trading couplets in both languages and across 500 years separating the two styles.
At more than 80, El Safi vocalizes gentle, warm and measured phrases, while Fernandez, 27, is restless, almost rasping and very much Flamenco.
Eight of Safi's most popular songs have been translated into Spanish and the great singer has no doubt that music needs only very little translation to attract ears in other cultures. "Flamenco is very close to Arab music", he says. "The Arabs were in Andalusia for a long time and the forms were hybridized".
As with any "fusion", the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. The instrumentation is mainly Arab - qanoun, oud, nay, violin, darabukka. There is also acoustic bass, plus two Flamenco guitars (one played by Fernandez) and an accordion.
The affection between the two men is very striking. There is a language barrier and an age gap of 54 years; Safi dresses conservatively, Fernandez has long, flowing hair, but the contrasts seem only to bring them closer.
Wadih El Safi learned songs originally from his grandfather, beginning at age 4 in his home village of Niha at the Chouf in Lebanon. "These were folkloric songs", he says. "When I came to Beirut, I had singing lessons and was taught by great musicians like Michel Khayyat and Salim Helou. All my family were good singers, but I was the only one who became a professional".
In his long career, El-tSafi has not lacked faith in his own ability. "I have an outstanding voice -equal to 20 good voices. And, of course, I choose words that penetrate the hearts of the people".
Crucially, Safi has learned how to adapt his singing as he aged. "My voice used to be better, but now it has more wisdom "like old wine", he says, smiling.
Fernandez is deeply appreciative of the association. "When Wadih sings, he is like a 24-year-old", he says. Fernandez has been going back and forth between Lebanon and Spain. When he met El Safi, the attraction between the two men was instant. "Even though Wadih lives in a house", says Fernandez, "he lives like a gypsy. He's very bohemian".
José Fernandez was born to an Andalusian Gypsy family, most of whose members were musicians. From his grandfather, a well-known Flamenco singer and poet, he inherited his gypsy temperament and a very developed artistic sense. At the age of 4, he wandered around in gypsy ceremonies as a drummer, sitting in the lap of his uncle, or as a phenomenal child singer, which prompted a local newspaper to call him the "Mozart of Flamenco". Musician in his soul, he does not limit himself to mastering only one instrument. He is interested in everything that makes a sound: guitar, piano, all types of bass instruments and all the percussion instruments.
When he was 12 years old, he formed his first group with his brothers and cousins under the supervision of his father, a great bass player who was the fist to introduce the instrument into flamenco in the 1960s.
It only took a first concert in a gypsy wedding for this group to be classified as one of the best in the area. Hundreds of concerts and dozens of prizes later, chance brought Michel Eléftériadés, a young producer and a big aficionado of flamenco, and Fernandez on the same road. Since the first minutes, the chemistry was on, and the two men have known that by unifying their creativity and musical backgrounds, they would go very far.
Michel took José with him to Beirut, Amman and Cairo, searching for the best musicians and for new inspirations. The fruit of this collaboration is an album which can be qualified as Mediterranean, since it had the color of the sea surrounding the Greek islands, the perfume of Lebanese blooms in the morning, the taste of the spices in Maghreb and the warmth of the sun in Malaga.