Paco de Lucia, one of the greatest living guitarist in the world, was born Francisco Sanchez Gomez in Algeciras, a city in the province of Cadiz, in the Southernmost tip of Spain on December 21st, 1947. His stage name is an homage to his mother Lucia Gomez.
His father, Antonio Sanchez, a day laborer, played guitar at night as a way to supplement his income. He, Paco's elder brother Ramon de Algeciras and flamenco master Ni–o Ricardo were de Lucia's main influences. His first performance was on Radio Algeciras in 1958. The brothers Ramon, Pepe (a singer) and Paco now compromise half of the Paco de Lucia sextet.
The training ground for a flamenco guitarist, de Lucia once said, "is the music around you, made by people you see, the people you make music with. You learn it from your family, from your friends, in la juerga (the party) drinking. And then you work on technique. Guitarists do not need to study. And, as it is with any music, the great ones will spend some time working with the young players who show special talent. You must understand that a Gypsy's life is a life of anarchy. That is a reason why the way of flamenco music is a way without discipline as you know it. We don't try to organize things with our minds, we don't go to school to find out. We just live........ music is everywhere in our lives."
The origins of the word flamenco are somewhat in dispute. Some argue that the word refers to the Flemish people who arrived in Spain in the 16th Century and once meant simply foreigner or non-Spanish. Others suggest that the word derives from the Arabic phrase "felah mengu," meaning pleasant in flight.
What is indisputable is that flamenco is a blend of the many cultures - Gypsy, Muslim, Jewish - that at one time settled in Andalucia, in the South of Spain. Their influences can be heard distinctively in the melisma of the singer, the rhythms, the slowly curling harmonic lines of the guitars.
Flamenco is, like the blues to which it is often compared, the music of a poor, disenfranchised minority. But it is also a complex art form that combines guitar playing, singing and dancing, setting off layers of powerful rhythms and emotions. Paco de Lucia was able to grasp these nuances at a very early age.
In 1958, at only age 11, de Lucia made his first public appearance and a year later he was awarded a special prize in the Jerez flamenco competition. At 14 he was touring with the flamenco troupe of dancer Jose Greco. He worked with Greco for three seasons.
It was while on tour with Greco in the United States that de Lucia met the great Sabicas, an influential guitarist whose name became synonymous with flamenco n the U.S., who encouraged him to pursue a more personal style. de Lucia would follow Sabicas' advice a few years later in his debut at Carnegie Hall in 1970.
"In flamenco, the guitarist first and foremost, must not get in his way of the singer," de Lucia once explained. "There is a dialogue going on. The cantaor (singer) sings the words. There are no songs per se in flamenco, just short lyrics, so the guitarist follows the call of the singer. Part of the tradition in flamenco is not playing too hard or too much. You need to support the singer, help him."
Back in Spain, he joined Festival Flamenco Gitano, an annual flamenco showcase tour that lasted for seven years, and recorded his first album in 1965, at the age of 18.
With La Fabulosa Guitarra de Paco de Lucia, released in 1967, de Lucia began to distance himself from the influence masters such as Ricardo and Mario Escudero and by Fantasia Flamenca, recorded in 1969, he had defined his own style. His superb technique was displayed in well structured pieces that departed from the flamenco tradition of theme and variations.
In 1968, he met Camaron de la Isla, one of the premier flamenco singers. Their association has been chronicled on more than 10 records. In fact, their album Potro de Rabia y Miel (1991), the first by them since 1984, was perhaps the last release by Camaron de la Isla, who died in 1992.
de Lucia's new style became more evident in El Duende Flamenco (1972). Fuente Y Caudal (1973) (which included the hit Entre Dos Aguas) and Almoraima (1976) which some consider a masterpiece. They were followed by Paco de Lucia Interpreta a Manuel de Falla (1980), a superb tribute to the classical composer who was an admirer of flamenco music, and, in 1981, Solo Quiero Caminar.
He has been criticized by flamenco die hards for his forays into other styles (his own sextet, organized in 1981), includes bass, drums, and saxophone) and his high profile collaborations, especially with jazz musicians, most notably with pianist Chick Corea and fellow guitarist John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell and Al DiMeola. But the often dazzling results of these collaborations have been documented in several releases including the guitar trio albums Castro Marin (1979), Passion Grace and Fire (1982) and Friday Night in San Francisco (1981). He has also recorded soundtracks for films such as Carlos Saura's Carmen, Borau's La Sabina, and the ballet Los Tarantos, presented at Madrid's prestigious Teatro de la Zarzuela in 1986.
However, as if to make a point, de Lucia returned to pure flamenco with a vengeance in the spectacular Siroco (1987), a brilliant summations of his style, and then zigzagged back towards fusion with Zyryab (1990), which featured his sextet augmented by pianist Chick Corea.
de Lucia shrugs off the complaints or the concerns that he might lose his roots or betray the essence of flamenco. "I have never lost my roots in my music, because I would lose myself," he once said. "What I have tried to do is have a hand holding onto tradition and the other scratching, digging in other places trying to find new things I can bring into flamenco."
"There was a time when I was concerned about losing myself," he added, "but not now. I've realized that, even if I wanted, I couldn't do anything else. I am a flamenco guitarist. If I tried to play anything else it would still sound like flamenco."
--- Fernando Gonzales