Flamenco and beyond

Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucía, here for a one-gig visit, is certain there are Middle Eastern influences in flamenco

Paco de Lucía 521  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Paco de Lucía 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Fans of flamenco guitar music, with plenty of other genre seasoning thrown in, are in for a treat at the end of the month, when virtuoso flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía drops by for a one-gig visit.
The 63-year-old Spanish-born guitarist has been wowing audiences and record buyers in his native country and around the world for more than half a century. He has collaborated with a star-studded roster of musicians from the jazz, rock, flamenco, pop and classical disciplines, winning a slew of awards and honorary degrees in the process.
From childhood, there was never any doubt as to how De Lucia would earn a living. He was born Francisco Sánchez Gómez in Algeciras at the southernmost tip of Spain, near Gibraltar. The youngest of five children of flamenco guitarist Antonio Sánchez and brother of flamenco singer Pepe de Lucía and flamenco guitarist Ramón de Algeciras, he adopted the stage name Paco de Lucía in honor of his Portuguese mother, Luzia Gomes.
His father introduced him to the guitar at a very young age and was determined to make his youngest child give his all to developing his instrumental skills, forcing him to practice up to 12 hours a day. At one point De Lucía’s father took him out of school to concentrate solely on his guitar development. Combined with natural talent, he soon excelled, and in 1958, at the age of 11, he made his first public appearance on Radio Algeciras. A year later he was awarded a special prize in the Jerez flamenco competition, and by 1961 he was touring with a flamenco troupe fronted by celebrated dancer José Greco.
While the increasingly competitive world of sports has borne witness to several child prodigies who benefited from the generous support of parents willing to sacrifice almost everything to help their offspring gain success, only to see their child buckle under the strain, De Lucía says he does not regret giving up on innocent childhood playtime to devote himself to getting his strumming, picking and fretwork right. He adds that there were logistical and environmental factors that made his dedication to music at such a young age a natural and wise move.
“I grew up in a very poor family in the south of Spain, in the middle of a Gypsy community. There was music around me every day and night and I grew up with it, like drinking, eating and breathing,” he recalls. “My father was a guitar player as well, and he tried to make some extra money to help the family survive. He was my first teacher, and later my brother Ramon [taught me].”
It soon transpired that there were social and financial gains to be had as well. “I was a very shy child and somehow hid behind my guitar, which I let speak for me. I do not regret this period of my life. It was hard, yes. It was really hard to survive. And when we discovered my talent, I started to become responsible to support the family. Playing the guitar was work.”
Even so, it wasn’t all blood, sweat and tears.
“I discovered only much later that there was fun as well. But I still had a good time as a child. Our mother loved us very much, and I am very thankful for that. I can’t say that it took away my childhood, but it affected me of, course. I know what it means to fight but also how beautiful a life can be. I was really blessed by fortune, and I am very grateful for that.”
Over the years, De Lucía has made numerous forays beyond the borders of the flamenco domain, most notably teaming up with jazz-Indian music guitarist John McLaughlin and fusion guitarist Al Di Meola on the milestone live recording Friday Night in San Francisco. While remaining loyal to his artistic home base, De Lucía says he greatly benefited from the McLaughlin-Di Meola synergy.
“I will always be a flamenco guitar player – that will never change, for sure! But my experiences, especially with jazz, really changed my perspective on music. When I started to play with these fine musicians, like [pianist] Chick Corea and John McLaughlin for example, they were all used to improvising. In flamenco we used to be very restricted with the form of the music; but to experience improvisation made me feel a kind of freedom, and I have tried to bring this into flamenco. Of course, there are other influences, like instruments that had not been used in flamenco, that I introduced into the music, such as electric bass and the cajon [drum], which today is being used all over the world.”
De Lucía says that in a way, playing in the Middle East is something of a musical homecoming for him. “I like the sound of the oud, and I am sure that music from the Middle East came to Spain during the time of Arab influence and they mixed their own music with the music they found in Spain. That is probably why the Gypsy music in Eastern Europe is so very different from Spain. And also I am sure that they used Sephardic music in Spain and mixed it with their music. So flamenco seems to be a multicultural phenomenon of Mediterranean, Indian, Sephardic and Arab music. It is a singular, special and very authentic music.”
Fans of the superfast guitarist can look forward to a mix of some tried-and-tested material but with some added color.
“In Israel I’ll play a little bit of everything – songs of the past and newer titles – but always in a different interpretation. I am looking forward very much to the concert – we have always had a very good audience in Israel. There must be a kinship between our countries.”
De Lucía will be accompanied at his Tel Aviv concert by a percussionist, bass player, two vocalists, a dancer and his talented 26-year-old nephew, guitarist Antonio Sanchez. White-hot riffs and blistering finger speed notwithstanding, De Lucía says there is no substitute for personal input.
“You need a certain technique to be able to play, but the rest must come from your heart,” he declares.
Paco De Lucía will perform on October 29 at 9:30 p.m. at Hangar 11 in the Tel Aviv Port. For tickets: www.e-tickets.co.il