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GUIDEPOST cover, 11 January 1980



 I never sought Glory, or to leave my song in the memory of men; I love subtle worlds….  ANTONIO MACHADO

by Mary Foran

Fame and incredible talent could turn any man’s head. But Paco de Lucia, Spain’s most famous guitarists and evocative Flamenco guitarists, remains essentially a simple man, a man who plays guitar because “it’s what I ….. want …..above everything else. I live only for this. It’s the energy that moves my life, for which I exist.”

He began to play the guitar simply because he liked it. “Besides, we were a very poor family which needed to eat, so I used what I knew to earn money. But I never fought for fame, to be a star, or become well-known. That happened later, along the way.”

Paco de Lucia’s career began early, at the age of six, his father, Antonio Sánchez Pecino, grand guitarist of “the Golden Age of Flamenco,” began to teach him how to play. Later, at the age of “eleven or twelve” his father took him out of school since he “didn’t have enough time to practice.”

After that, he played all day, alone, listening to records by Flamenco greats, copying techniques from the school of Niño Ricardo. “That’s the school which taught the young ones of today,” he explains.

“In Flamenco, every age produces one guitarist that renews our music, since it is very old and traditional. When a new guitarist appears, revitalizing the art, the young ones learn a new style from him or others that appear at the same time. So very slowly the music evolves. It’s all done by ear,” he adds, “each one teaching the other, thus passing on the tradition.”

Though it’s possible to learn Flamenco living outside this tradition, there are certain “sparks” in Flamenco “that you can’t learn easily unless you live in Andalucia.” As for foreigners who play Flamenco, “you always notice that they lack something,” he says. “They lack the motive to play…something you don’t learn except by living and sharing with the people and “ambiente” of Andalucia.

Learning how to sing Flamenco outside this “ambiente is even more difficult than learning how to play it,” he adds. “Though it’s also necessary for a guitarist to live within the idiosyncrasies and philosophy of Andalusia, there are other ‘exits’ in playing the guitar, like technique, purity or tone.” [He says,] of all the foreigners that play Flamenco, “the Japanese are the best, much better than the Europeans or Americans,” even though “they have nothing to do with us, musically or culturally.” 

Flamenco “aficionados,” in fact, are increasing world-wide, he says. “Many people go for the exotic. . .” Twenty-two years ago, on his first world tour with the dancers and singers of the José Greco ballet company, Paco de Lucia found there was already a great “afición” for Flamenco, he says, in South America, Australia, and even the United States, where he appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show.”

Foreigners can certainly appreciate Flamenco without knowing everything about it, he adds. “I don’t ask that they understand it…only that they feel it. If they feel it, then that’s enough.”

Flamenco is “essentially an Andalusian type of music” that “has been reinforced by the personality of the gypsy, who came to Spain about five hundred years ago, mixing his idiosyncracies with the folklore of Andalucia,” says Paco de Lucia. “The gypsy took over our music, liked it, and has been singing and dancing it for five centuries now, improving it, necessarily, because the gypsy has a special sensitivity and the ‘au natural’ condition of being a musical artist.”

Pace de Lucia was born into the heart of this tradition, in Algeciras, Cádiz, December 21, 1947. Why “Paco de Lucia?” He explains that “in Andalucia there is a custom among the children of the streets that, since there are so many Pacos, Pepes and repeated names, in order to identify ourselves we add the name of our father, or mother, in my case, Paco de Lucia,” His brother, also a guitarist who often plays backup for him, took on the name of the pueblo where they were born, calling himself Ramón de Algeciras. Another brother, now singing in the Madrid tablao, “Las Brujas,” calls himself Pepe de Lucia.

“My music has always been cornered in Andalucia, without prestige, even in Spain itself,” he says, “For many centuries it was thought of simply as gypsy music, from a people without a social class. As a representative of my music I feel I have an obligation to share it, so that everyone will recognize its value and know its worth… This is what I fight for, and why I work, not for money or to be a star.”

Though Paco de Lucia has travelled around the world promoting his musical cause at a time when others were using music as a political tool, [he] prefers to stay out of politics. In politically-based music, “the message is in the text,” whereas “the message of Flamenco is in the music itself,” he explains. “In Flamenco it is much more important to transmit meaning through a shout or an “Aye” than through a word. . . The ‘aye’ in Flamenco means suffering, whatever you imagine it to mean, things more basic than politics,. . .  more pure, …more natural.”

As a composer and interpreter of Flamenco, Paco de Lucia has “done new things,” he says, “but they’re still within the tradition. . .The message is the same. . . but [said] with a richer vocabulary. That’s what the evolution is all about.”

Other types of music influence him, of course. “. . . But my language is Flamenco, and even if I wanted to I couldn’t play any other type of music.”

The influx of American and English music in Spain, though a sign of cultural dominance, is a “positive” influence, he says. . .There isn’t any danger that traditional music will be lost in the flood, he says, though “that depends on the musicians of each country.”

“For me, as much as I like jazz…I’m not going to leave Flamenco for it. I take advantage of the good of jazz, using what can compliment my music…I like it because it can teach me many things that I need. But I’m not going to leave Flamenco because of it’s influence.

There’s no danger from disco or “pop” music either. . .

For Paco de Lucia, music is pure sensation. “It’s an abstraction….sensations that perhaps have no coherence or reason. . . Later, these are realized in sounds, but to know why is so difficult. . .”

The idea of playing for others doesn’t attract him very much. “. . .You have a certain prestige, and the people expect you to perform at least at a certain level. You have to be up to surpassing this level…or they’re disappointed. This creates a sense of professionalism in the music that I don’t like.”