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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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
Agencia Andaluza de Instituciones Culturales
Consejería de Cultura
JUNTA DE ANDALUCÍA
Curator: Juan José Téllez Rubio
Digital exhibition: José Alberto R. Estapia