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World Music Legends

Paco de Lucía

By Chris Nickson
Published October 9, 2005

Flamenco

You can argue long and hard about the origins of the word flamenco. And certainly it’s a mongrel music, with elements of Romany, Arab and Jewish sounds that co-mingled over the years in its Andalusian home. But there’s little debate over its great figures. The greatest contemporary figure in the music, and certainly the best-known internationally, is the virtuoso guitarist Paco de Lucía.

            Born Francisco Sanchez Gomez in 1947, in Algericas, close to Spain’s southern coast, he had music in his genes. His laborer father supplemented his wages by playing guitar at night, while his older brothers were also steeped in flamenco: Ramon played guitar and Pepe sang. From the age of five, Paco studied with his father and brother, displaying all the signs of a prodigy. His public debut came in 1958, at the age of 11, when he appeared on Radio Algeciras. Within a year he’d taken a special prize at the prestigious Festival Concurso International Flamenco de Jerez de la Frontera, the proving ground for flamenco artists.

            By the time he was 14, de Lucía was on the road, playing guitar with the flamenco troupe led by dancer Jose Greco, where he remained for three years, touring the world. It was while he was in the U.S. that he encountered Sabicas, the guitarist who helped put flamenco on the map in America, and was told to develop a more personal style.

            There was still a lot to be learned, however, and de Lucía applied himself to his studies, joining Festival Flamenco Gitano, a large annual showcase tour, with which he’d perform for the next seven years.

            At the age of 18 he was ready to make his recording debut. Sound as it was technically, the music and style was still derivative. Within the space of two short years, however, de Lucía advanced by massive leaps and bounds, so that 1967’s La Fabulosa Guitarra de Paco de Lucía bristled with youthful energy and creativity as he began to find his voice. On Fantasia Flamenca, in 1969, he’d come completely into his own. His music nipped at the style’s traditions, pushing and prodding the music in different directions.

            Not that his love for pure flamenco wasn’t profound. He showed his deep roots on the 10 discs he made with the great vocalist El Camarón de la Isla, all perfectly balanced duets where duende, or transcendence, became a reality.

Recommended Listening

 

Fantasia Flamenca (CD Phillips)

Guitar Trio: Paco de Lucia/John McLaughlin/Al Di Meola (Verve)

Cositas Buenas (Blue Thumb)