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refreeweb - en solo aux Suds à Arles (2019)

Refree, revolutionary in traditions

Mul­ti-ins­tru­men­ta­list, com­po­ser and pro­du­cer Raul Fer­nan­dez Miro, bet­ter known as Refree, keeps his ears open wide at all times. With no ulte­rior motive and allo­wing free rein to his ins­tincts, he pushes his part­ners to new crea­tive heights and starts revo­lu­tions almost by acci­dent – in fla­men­co or, more recent­ly, in fado – that he fuels on his own or in good com­pa­ny.


Refree on his solo pro­ject La otra mitad at the Suds fes­ti­val in Arles

With ruf­fled hair and a shag­gy beard, when Refree picks up an ins­tru­ment his eyes begin to sparkle. His gui­tars and key­boards are the tools that pro­vide bound­less free­dom and the objects of a pas­sio­nate love that shifts without war­ning from ten­der caress to unbrid­led ardour. Refree is no res­pec­ter of conven­tions ; ins­tead, he contra­venes them meticulously. 

Bet­ween his solo albums, the artists he part­ners up with and his pro­duc­tions, his work is eclec­tic but always spot-on. How does he choose his col­la­bo­ra­tions ? : « The control I have over my career is about kno­wing what I should and shouldn’t do from the many offers I get. I don’t have a stra­te­gy. I don’t take into consi­de­ra­tion how famous the per­son offe­ring me the pro­ject is. I only work on music I like. Then I ask myself how, as a lis­te­ner, I’d like to hear the artist, how I ima­gine them in the future. That leads me to some­thing dif­ferent eve­ry time. It’s not a ques­tion of being a pro­du­cer, but of being someone who loves music. »

This love dates back to his child­hood : « When I was lit­tle, I could hear my mother and grand­mo­ther playing the pia­no from my bedroom. Whe­ne­ver I heard the music, I would get very emo­tio­nal. I star­ted playing the pia­no when I was five or six and have never stop­ped. » Things soon got spi­ced up :  « When I was seven or eight, I had a friend whose father had a big col­lec­tion of clas­sic rock records and older bro­thers who lis­te­ned to bands like Black Sab­bath, Led Zep­pe­lin, Iron Mai­den and Guns N’ Roses, whose first album was very impor­tant to me. »

He was bored at the conser­va­to­ry, pre­fer­ring to com­pose his own pieces rather than deci­pher scores. As a tee­na­ger he began to set his course towards a jazz edu­ca­tion and swap­ped the pia­no for the gui­tar. At fif­teen, he for­med his first group and at seven­teen he joi­ned the hard­core pop group Corn Flakes. He tou­red throu­ghout Spain, per­for­ming in well-known venues, lear­ning a lot and enjoying group life, but after a while, he began to feel as if he was going around in circles.

« The way I unders­tand music isn’t always the same. I need to expe­riment with dif­ferent com­bi­na­tions of musi­cians, dif­ferent ideas. »

Under the name Refree, he began a career in the inde­pendent Spa­nish scene, playing more and more concerts, pro­du­cing extra­or­di­na­ry records and attrac­ting the atten­tion of fla­men­co artists : « The popu­lar music I could hear in the street or at par­ties had a big effect on me, but I didn’t find fla­men­co all that inter­es­ting to start with. But then fla­men­co came to me and I’m deligh­ted that it did ! »

Sil­via Pérez Cruz & Refree Ves­ti­da de nit

n 2005, while loo­king for a voice for a song pro­ject about exile, a friend intro­du­ced him to Síl­via Pérez Cruz. They col­la­bo­ra­ted and became friends. Refree pro­du­ced her all-female fla­men­co group Las Migas, then her first solo album 11 de Novembre (2011), which intro­du­ced Síl­via Pérez Cruz to the gene­ral public. After the album tour, they played some concerts toge­ther. He remem­bers : « It was very intense, some­thing hap­pe­ned, the audience was real­ly enthu­sias­tic. So, we deci­ded to record Gra­na­da (2014) as a duo. »

Refree & Rocio Mar­quez Cuan­do sal­ga el sol bo entra dos aguas “La otra mitad”

Meanw­hile, Refree met Sonic Youth co-foun­der Lee Ranal­do, with whom he began a long-term col­la­bo­ra­tion. He was also asked to pro­duce the brilliant and inno­va­tive fla­men­co sin­ger Rocío Már­quez : « I saw her in Paris at the New Mor­ning. She was incre­dible so I did the expe­ri­men­tal part of El Nino (2014) and mixed the whole thing. » In 2016, Rocío cal­led on him for her next record Fir­ma­men­to. He also wor­ked with the ico­no­clast and radi­cal can­taor Nino de Elche, for whom he pro­du­ced the breath-taking Anto­logía del Cante Fla­men­co Hete­ro­doxo (2018).

Rosa­lia & Refree Los Ángeles

The same jour­na­list that intro­du­ced him to Síl­via urged him to meet a brilliant emer­ging young sin­ger Rosalía. For six months, they saw each other eve­ry week, just to lis­ten to music, watch videos and chat, without playing a note. One day she chal­len­ged him to take to the stage with her at a small fla­men­co club. He was reluc­tant but the trial run was so conclu­sive they deci­ded to record an album toge­ther Los Angeles (2017), the future glo­bal star’s first step as a recor­ding artist. 

Lina & Refree Gai­vo­ta

The next epi­sode takes place in Lis­bon. Refree was asked to work with a young sin­ger who, after two clas­sic fado records under the name Caro­li­na, wan­ted to make her sound more per­so­nal and reclaim her real name, Lina. He agreed, asked for carte blanche and got it. Their joint album was based on the reper­toire of the Por­tu­guese icon Amá­lia Rodrigues. He pre­fers the use of key­boards to the tra­di­tio­nal fado ins­tru­ments of gui­tar, Por­tu­guese gui­tar and double bass. A here­ti­cal approach that Refree fea­red would cause a scan­dal : « I thought the world of fado would react like that of fla­men­co, which cri­ti­ci­sed me a lot. But eve­ryone said great things about the record.»

Lee Ranal­do & Raül Refree Alice

As with his latest album recor­ded with Lee Ranal­do (Names of North End Women), his asso­cia­tion with Lina involves him as an artist. His name appears along­side theirs and Refree takes part in all the pro­mo­tio­nal concerts. Des­pite this, the inex­haus­tible Refree conti­nues to bring his unique touch to a mul­ti­tude of pop, rock and folk pro­jects, and his gift for revo­lu­tio­ni­sing tra­di­tions has struck again along­side the Astu­rian queer sin­ger Rodri­go Cue­vas on the excellent Manual de Cor­te­jo.

Rodri­go Cue­vas & Refree Muiñei­ra para a filla da bruxa


His musi­cal ima­gi­na­tion is eclec­tic but as far as he’s concer­ned eve­ry­thing fits together : 

Son ima­gi­naire sonore est très ouvert, mais pour lui tout se tient : « I see all the pro­jects I’m invol­ved in as stages in my life, in my artis­tic career, and I learn from each stage. I don’t real­ly sepa­rate my own records from other pro­duc­tions. I put all my ener­gy into eve­ry single one. » And this incan­des­cent ener­gy ignites eve­ry single one of his projects.

Lina & Refree are playing at the Fon­da­tion Car­tier on the 10th & 11th of September

Refree’s web­site : www​.raul​re​free​.com

Benjamin MiNiMuM


Benjamin MiNiMuM was editor-in-chief of Mondomix, both an Internet platform and print magazine that drove the world music community from 1998 to 2004.  He now works as a music journalist for the Qobuz and PanAfrican Music websites and for conferences, themed exhibitions or audio-visual pieces, while pursuing his own creative musical projects.

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