mon 22/07/2024

Tomatito, Sadler's Wells | reviews, news & interviews

Tomatito, Sadler's Wells

Tomatito, Sadler's Wells

A flamenco pro plays it safe

Tomatito: gifted but uninventiveJack Vartoogian

He looks the part: straggly, desert hair and haunted fizzog. He sounds the part: opening dry rhythmic strumming over unchorded strings; acrobatic trills; percussive attack. Flanked on the left by two singers, Kiki Cortinas and Simón Román, and a shadowy dancer, Paloma Fantova, and on the right by second guitarist El Cristi and percussionst Israel Suárez, this flamenco stalwart decked out the Sadler’s Wells stage with the requisite musical equipment.

Tomatito (real name José Fernández Torres) is famous for being Tomatito. His is not a big name outside his frame of reference, though he’s borrowed plenty from outside flamenco – folk, jazz, funk. He’s also borrowed lots from the form’s master, Paco de Lucía, the guitarist who discovered the singer who made Tomatito famous. Camarón de la Isla is perhaps another one of those names not so stellar outside his culture, flamenco song (when able – not comatose with drugs – Camarón was a proponent of its fiercest purity, cante jondo, deep song), but he was assuredly one of the 20th century’s greats, whatever musical idiom you look at. He died in 1992.

As his accompanist in the 1980s, Tomatito, like Camarón a gypsy, made his name. He recorded a fine solo album, Aguadulce, in 2004. His more important discography with Camarón and de Lucía is stocked with classic “new” flamenco. All this was heard at Sadler’s Wells in the middle of its 10th Flamenco Festival, as were calls from the audience to his Camarón past. Tomatito’s musicianship is undoubted, just not very inventive. Tellingly, the show only came alive when Paloma Fantova danced, briefly at the start, then at the end in a clinching, sole-clicking climax which was the evening’s best 10 minutes.

That’s because Tomatito is an accompanist. There have been hundreds such whose names have co-starred with singers and dancers, and he’s one of them. There have been, too, some superb nights of toque (flamenco guitar) at the Wells over the years; but actually, to stage, and state, what lies behind the fuss about all modern flamenco, going back to before anyone had heard of Tomatito (which is not so far back), the festival’s programmers have one thing left to do. Book Paco de Lucía.

Tickets and information on Sadler's Wells 2013 Flamenco Festival

Tellingly the show came alive when Paloma Fantova danced, briefly at the start, then in a clinching, sole-clicking climax


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article


It's nice to see a review of a cultural event mostly ignored by the media.... but what did we actually hear? He opened with Taranta moving into Minera, we heard a reworked version of the Alegrias "La Ardila", the beautiful "Two Much-Love Theme" with second guitar replacing Michel Camilo's piano, Tangos, Solea por Bulerias, and of course Bulerias, for Tomatito has been dubbed "The Pope of the Bulerias" (by fellow guitarist Juan Habichuela. I have to take exception to a number of points made in the above review though: "He recorded a fine solo album, Aguadulce, in 2004" Actually he recorded a fine solo album, Rosas Del Amor, in 1987, another fine solo album in 1991, Barrio Negro, another in 1996, Guitarra Gitana, and yet another, Paseo de los castaños in 2001. And two albums with Michel Camilo in the noughties. Not to mention guesting as accompanist on the recordings of countless flamenco singers. He also has a new solo album on release spring 2013. "Tomatito’s musicianship is undoubted, just not very inventive." To consistently compose new variations on flamenco's modal themes and endlessly circling rhythms requires a superb level of inventiveness, which Tomatito has repeatedly demonstrated (see above list of recordings). "Tellingly, the show only came alive when Paloma Fantova danced" For the audience who understand neither the cante nor the guitar, only the spectacle of the dance is able to move them, but this concert came alive the moment the maestro Tomatito walked onstage.... which is not to say the dancer wasn't very good too. "That’s because Tomatito is an accompanist." Yes, and a fine one, but Tomatito is also a superb and highly expressive soloist, who does not merely bludgeon the listener with technique. In fact his super-advanced technical abilities go almost unnoticed (except to anyone who has tried to actually play his compositions) while the musicality of his playing shines through. "Book Paco de Lucía." London Jazz Festival has been booking Paco de Lucia on his most recent tours. Tomatito would be the first to defer to Paco's greatness. Tomatito is not Paco de Lucia. But to find every other guitarist lacking in comparison with the greatest of all is like finding all classical composers lacking in comparison to Bach. Pointless.

I couldn't agree more. Saw their show at Jazz at Lincoln last week, and I have to say I was deeply moved by every facet. Few experiences are so profound that they leave you changed for having experienced them. This show had that kind of persistent gravity, which only comes from profound truth.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters