~ Federico García Lorca, Ballad of the Salt Water
The voice of a woman, clear and strong, called from behind trees. Then onto the stage area stepped a bare-footed Claire Zalamansky. Her self assurance and emphatic, expressive gestures - including a raised fist - made it immediately apparent that here was someone to be reckoned with.
In the beautiful garden of the riad hotel Palais Amani, in the Fez Medina, Zalamansky opened by telling us about her mother, who came from a small village in Cordoba. She then launched into the first of a series of powerful songs which were laments, celebrations and stories of Spanish life, as told through the eyes of a woman. She spoke in French, and sang in Spanish.
Accompanied by Marie-Ange Wachter on the cello and Gilles Andrieux on a variety of instruments, Zalamansky's natural, strong and vibrant voice held the audience spellbound.
Drawing on the work Lorca and the Judeo-Spanish repetoire she has made her own, Zalamansky spoke and sang of dreams, disappointments, the cycle of life, love, betrayals and fate.
"I was sixteen years old. My love had the flavour of apples and lemons."
She told us of villages "full of death", and of a man who rode into the village, "irresistible; a sorcerer, like the devil". We heard of "love, the language of the night." And later, "love, love, love. How tiring."
At one stage Zalamansky donned a Spanish shawl, and raised the edges of it up so it evoked a black crow taking flight. Throughout her performance, her hand and arm movements and the sway of her hips were reminiscent of flamenco and other ancient Spanish traditions.
Born in Paris in 1967, she fell in love with Andalusian poet Federico Garcia Lorca's Blood Wedding
at the age of 12. After she became a singer, she discovered the Sephardic musical repertoire to which her singing voice and personal style is well suited.
The garden setting, with its echoes of Andalusia, and the singer's powerful, expressive style combined to make this concert more than the sum of its parts. Rather than simply a polite interpretation of an ancient tradition, Zalamansky's gutsy and engaging performance gave it new life by making it personal and bringing it into the present. By the enthusiastic response of the audience, they knew that they had witnessed something special. Review and photographs: Suzanna Clarke