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Dec 21, 1947 - Feb 26, 2014

Memories of Paco

A journey through the life and works of Paco de Lucía, or Francisco Sánchez Gómez—a virtuoso guitarist from Algeciras who revolutionized flamenco and had an enriching influence on jazz.

In his father's house
Francisco Sánchez Gómez, otherwise known as Paco de Lucía, was born on December 21, 1947 on the street of San Francisco in the mixed-race neighborhood of La Bajadilla in Algeciras. In this area, gypsies and non-gypsies lived side by side, sharing both the problems of the present and an enthusiasm for the future. The photo shows Paco with his parents and his brothers, Ramón and Pepe, at a family reunion. Two of his other siblings, Lucía and Antonio, did not go on to have careers in the arts, but they all remained close to one another throughout their lives.

He was the son of two survivors: Antonio Sánchez Pecino, trader by day and musician by night, and Luzía Gomes, a Portuguese immigrant who settled in Algeciras in the 1930s. Paco and Pepe became known as "Los Chiquitos de Algeciras" ("The Kids of Algeciras"); the duo triumphed in the 1962 international flamenco contest in Jerez, and went on to tour the USA with José Greco.

Paco the folk singer

Paco returned to Spain and, together with his family, settled in Madrid, where greater success was to follow. After leaving "Los Chiquitos", he thought about calling himself Paco de Algeciras, but then decided on Paco de Lucía, as a tribute to his mother. Paco worked with Ricardo Mondrego, but also recorded Ibero-American songs with his brother, Ramón, and popular songs collated by García Lorca as a solo artist. He would have loved to have been a flamenco singer, but, in his own words, was "so shy that I hid behind a guitar." Paco recorded with, and accompanied, flamenco singers such as Antonio Mairena and Juan Peña El Lebrijano. He recorded eight anthologies with Antonio Fernández Díaz "Fosforito".

Legendary dissidents
Paco de Lucía and José Monje, or "Camarón de la Isla", got to know one another during 1968 in both Madrid and Jerez. They traveled together on the long tours of the Gypsy Flamenco Festival. Camarón had already recorded an album with Antonio Arenas, but he would go on to record nine more "with the special collaboration of Paco de Lucía", as stated on the kitsch covers of the vinyl records that were popular during the period. Together, the two invented a new form of flamenco, or "palo", known as "La Canastera", and also became blood brothers who rejected the conventions of traditional flamenco. Camarón was under the tutelage of a strict father figure, Antonio Sánchez, until he married and started his own family.

After the album "La Leyenda del Tiempo" ("The Legend of Time"), nothing was ever the same again, neither in flamenco nor between the two men. They collaborated again in 1981 on a record entitled "Como el Agua" ("Like Water"), a collection of tangos written by Pepe de Lucía.

Their artistic homeland was the recording studio, from their first albums with their vintage designs to those they recorded off the cuff, right up until "Potro de Rabia y Miel" ("Colt of Rage and Honey"), which was released just days before José's death in 1992. Either together or with others, they changed the face of flamenco music forever. Their friend, José Luis Marín, described it as the alliance of Uranus and Saturn.

Snail trail
Ever since touring the USA as a teenager, Paco's homeland had been his home country. His name has been written in every language on Earth, but his music needs no translation: "I always travel like a snail, with my home on my back. And that home is Algeciras", he confessed to his fellow countryman, Juan Casal. His musical homeland, however, was the whole wide world, from the opera house of Vienna to the tiny flamenco bar opened by Nana in Tokyo's old Chinatown: "In Japan and the USA, flamenco has been held in high esteem for a long time, and now, thank goodness, also in Europe and the rest of the world. I've been to cities where they had never heard flamenco music played before." Paco had a little place on the Yucatán peninsula, not far from Cancún, on the coast of Mexico; a retreat where he could revert to being Francisco Sánchez. He was there when he died.

The year before winning as a soloist at the guitar contest of Córdoba, and achieving huge success in France with the flamenco dancer Antonio Gades, the guitarist went to the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1967 with Pedro Iturralde. He also recorded two albums with Iturralde, on which Paco de Antequera also played guitar, under the title of Flamenco Jazz. The guitarist from Algeciras reignited his association with jazz through his collaborations with the group Dolores, led by Pedro Ruy Blas. Other members of the group included Jorge Pardo and, later, Carles Benavent, a key member of his future sextet. The forces of music and destiny united him with John McLaughlin and Chick Corea.

Spanish tinge

The so-called "Spanish tinge" already existed in jazz music, and Miles Davis had made the sound his own. The definitive fusion between the two musical styles, however, was the result of Paco's work—specifically, a series of concerts and successive recordings with John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Al Dimeola, and many others, such as Chick Corea and Wynton Marsalis. They taught him to improvise from standard arrangements and widely known melodies. Paco would later bring the techniques he learned to the world of flamenco.

"Entre dos Aguas" ("On the fence")
His music became the soundtrack of the Spanish transition to democracy; in 1973 he recorded "Fuente y Caudal" ("Fountain and Flow"), a pivotal record that included the rumba "Entre Dos Aguas" ("On the Fence"). His success took him to the Top 40, and he even presented his own show on Spanish national television. In 1976, while Spain was coming to terms with Franco's death and its new freedom, Paco released “Almoraima”, described by Alberto García Reyes as “an indisputably revolutionary record for the world of flamenco guitar, but one that, in reality, merely explored both genres in a way that went deeper than ever before. In fact, the album surpassed the limits of those genres completely. It was the turning point for Paco and, consequently, for flamenco." When asked how he would define himself politically, Emilio de Diego referred José Manuel Gamboa and Faustino Núñez to the answer that Paco de Lucía gave on a Spanish TV show: "I only understand music. And guitarists say that the left thinks and the right acts." Months later, the far-right gave him a beating on Gran Vía, Madrid's main thoroughfare. Spain was also on the fence.

Flamenco in the Royal Theatre

Jesús Quintero, Paco's manager at that time, managed to get him into the Royal Theater in 1975. The center of Spanish classical music had never before hosted flamenco: "Many people may think that Paco de Lucía should have been honored to perform in such an illustrious venue", wrote Félix Grande. "But one must also consider that this illustrious venue will have the honor of hosting this Andalusian's music, a music of the past, the present, and the world." Andrés Segovia questioned his mastery after the 1978 record "Paco de Lucía interpreta a Manuel de Falla" ("Paco de Lucía interprets Manuel de Falla"), but Paco was explicit on the matter: "It was never my intention to meddle in the world of classical music. What I did intend was to bring de Falla's music back to its roots." Something similar occurred in 1991 with the "Concierto de Aranjuez" ("Aranjuez Concerto") by Joaquín Rodrigo, and the "Iberia" suite by Isaac Albéniz, with guitars played by Juan Manuel Cañizares and his nephew, Jose Mari Bandera.

A sextet on the road

The jazz musicians formed their own group and began touring in 1980, releasing their first record in 1981 under the symbolic title "Yo Sólo Quiero Caminar" ("I Just Want to Walk"). The original lineup consisted of his brothers, Ramón and Pepe, the bassist Carles Benavent, the wind instrumentalist Jorge Pardo, and the percussionist Rubem Dantas, who incorporated the Peruvian "cajón" (a wooden percussion instrument) into the flamenco scene. Over the course of 17 years, many others passed through the ranks, including flamenco dancers such as El Grilo, one-man bands such as Manuel Soler, flamenco singers such as Duquende and Rafael de Utrera, and guitarists such as Paco's nephew, Jose María Bandera. Together with these musicians, he made his mature recordings, in a period whose highlights include titles such as "Siroco" and "Ziryab", the somber mourning of "Luzía", and the rejoicing of "Live in America."

A guitar in mourning
The record "Luzía" was a means of catharsis for Paco. It was a reaction to the mourning brought on by the death of his parents, the untimely passing of his sister, María, and the death of his close friend, Camarón de la Isla. The deaths of his family continued to be painful. The death of Camarón was also accompanied by rage; a sordid, unfounded rumor circulated stating that Paco de Lucía had claimed royalties that rightfully belonged to his dead friend. For decades, and in spite of rebuttals by the SGAE (Spanish Society of Authors, Composers, and Publishers), flamenco students, and even flamenco artists, the slander continued to taint his memory. The guitarist wouldn't play for several months, and spent years searching for a voice to alleviate his sorrow. Not only had the world of flamenco folk singing lost one of its masters, but Paco had also lost his soulmate. From this sorrow came the plaintive cry, sung by his own voice, that is heard in the "seguidilla" entitled "Luzía" from the album of the same name. From this sorrow came the deafening silence of the "rondeña" named after Camarón.
Actor and character
He was just a child when he first appeared on the big screen alongside his brother Pepe and the dancer Antonio, on a movie set located at the cave of Nerja in Málaga. Paco composed soundtracks for "La Sabina" (1978) by José Luis Borau, and "The Hit" (1994) by Stephen Frears, and he worked with Bryan Adams on the theme tune for the movie "Don Juan de Marco." But his first big break as a movie actor was playing himself in "Carmen" by Carlos Saura (1985), starring his friend Antonio Gades. Together with Carlos Saura, and Juan Lebrón as the producer, he filmed "Sevillanas" (1990), acting alongside his compatriot Manolo Sanlúcar. They went on to act together in "Flamenco" and "Flamenco, Flamenco." He starred in the documentary "Francisco Sánchez, Paco de Lucía", directed by Daniel Hernández and produced by Pablo Usón. Just before his death in early 2014, his son Curro Sánchez finished editing "Paco de Lucía, La Búsqueda" ("Paco de Lucía, A Journey"), a documentary that went on to receive a Goya award. Paco also appeared as a fictional character in the movie "Camarón" (2005) by Jaime Chávarri, in the role of Raúl Rocamora.

Window to the soul

Many painters, illustrators, and photographers, including David Zaafra, Vázquez de Sola, and Colita, have depicted Paco de Lucía's striking features; his liberal long locks in 1970s Spain, and then a changing appearance as he began to lose his hair. But his face was the window to his soul, and many photographers were able to capture that, from José Lamarca to his widow, Gabriela Canseco. "Growing older, one becomes not only uglier, but also wiser", he once said.

Doctor of music
Fame, and the public's adoration, came quickly, and they followed Paco as he accompanied the Conde Brothers, Pepe Romero, Tony Morales, and Lester Devoe on guitar. Recognition, however, took longer, both by critics and institutions. The golden child of Andalusia, Algeciras, and the province of Cádiz, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Cádiz in 2004—Aida Agraso called him "the doctor of the guitar"—and later by the University of Berkeley in the USA. Awarded the "Niña de los Peines" prize by the Council of Andalusia, he also won a Grammy (not a Latin Grammy), and was the first flamenco artist to receive the Prince of Asturias Arts Prize. In Algeciras, his humble homeland, a formidable sculpture of him was erected, made by Nacho Falgueras, who also made the hands that adorn his tomb.

Better person than artist

By now, Paco had sung on the records "Luzía" and "Cositas Buenas" ("Good Little Things") and his acclaim had reached the ears of artists as diverse as Rubén Blades, Djavan, and Pat Metheny. This no doubt stood him in good stead for his subsequent musical exploits with artists from other genres, such as Carlos Santana, Los Marismeños, Serrat, Aute, and his friend Alejandro Sanz, to whom he had once promised to give a guitar when Sanz was a boy. In his everyday life he loved literature, movies, and fun—here he is in costume in the province of Huelva. Tomatito once described him as "a better person than he is an artist, and what a great artist he is."

He hated fame and having to give speeches, but he wrote meticulously, and he loved soccer and underwater fishing. His first wife was Casilda Varela, with whom he had three children, and he later went on to have two more with his widow, Gabriela Canseco. He advertised cava, back when it was still called champagne, and along with his brother Ramón and friend Juan Estrada, he sold a range of guitars. Together with his friend, the flamenco dancer Sara Baras, he carried the Olympic torch through Madrid. As well as hundreds of websites devoted to the musician, his website www.pacodelucia.org has an active forum of members.

Paco: In the words of others
In the 1978 book "Memoria del Flamenco" ("Memory of Flamenco"), Félix Grande vehemently staked the claim for Paco de Lucía's supremacy in the realm of the flamenco guitar for the first time. Grande later edited "Paco de Lucía y Camarón de la Isla" in 2000. Paco's first biographer was Donn Pohren, a devoted American fan of Diego del Gastor, who subtitled his book "El Plan Maestro" ("The Master Plan"). In 1994, Juan José Téllez authored "Paco de Lucía, Retrato de Familia con Guitarra" ("Paco de Lucía, Portrait of a Family with a Guitar"), followed up ten years later by "Paco de Lucía, En Vivo" ("Paco de Lucía, Live"), and finally, in 2014, after his death, "Paco de Lucía, el Hijo de la Portuguesa" ("Paco de Lucía, the Son of the Portuguese Lady"). In 1999, "Paco de Lucía, a New Tradition for the Flamenco Guitar" was released in English in the USA, written by Paco Sevilla.

Finally, in 2004, "Paco de Lucía, la Evolución del Flamenco a Través de sus Rumbas" ("Paco de Lucía, the Evolution of Flamenco through Rumbas") was published, written by Diana Pérez Custodio as a summary of her thesis on the topic, the first university work of its kind that was read in Spain. Later, his complete discography was published by Universal. The set included a mini-biography by José Manuel Gamboa as well as a notable audio guide by Faustino Núñez.

The death of God
Paco de Lucía returned to the Royal Theater, though it was not to his liking. He did so in 2011 to support the institutional campaign aimed at including flamenco on UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. He was always a flamenco artist, but also had universal appeal. Toward the end of his life, on a trip to Cuba, he seized the opportunity to collaborate with the island's musicians. His last studio record was titled "Canción Andaluza" ("Andalusian Song"), a tribute to folk songs in memory of his friend Marifé de Triana, whose death had profoundly affected him. The album included a number of collaborations, such as the voices of Parrita, Oscar de León, and Estrella Morente, with whom he had dueted previously. It was such a personal undertaking that he played every guitar, as well as various string instruments, on the record. No voice was necessary for the verses of "Ojos Verdes" ("Green Eyes"), with its precise, restrained, poetic, and almost minimalist beat.

He died in Cancún, in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, on February 26, 2014, at the hospital where Gabriela Canseco had taken him. He had been feeling unwell while playing with his young children on a beach near Tulum, next to the Caribbean town of Xpu Há. The family had just returned from Cuba and he had recently quit smoking following the death of his friend, Félix Grande. When his heart stopped, the heart of the music world stopped with it.

His heart failed him, but he never forgot his roots. In the summer before his death, he had taken his youngest children to the small cemetery in Algeciras and asked to be buried there, alongside his parents, his brother Ramón, and his sister María. His relatives also scattered the ashes of his brother Antonio here after he died in May, just three months later. Manuel Bohorquez confirmed that Paco had always been viewed as a genius, but few could explain why: "Paco couldn't explain the genius of his playing, either, because he rarely spoke about himself. He knew he was a god, but he was a modest, humble, shy god." He considered himself a simple leaf floating in the long river of life and history.

Instituto Andaluz del Flamenco
Credits: Exhibit

Instituto Andaluz del Flamenco
Agencia Andaluza de Instituciones Culturales
Consejería de Cultura
JUNTA DE ANDALUCÍA

Curator: Juan José Téllez Rubio
Digital exhibition: José Alberto R. Estapia

Credits: All media
The exhibit featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.