de Lucía by Alain Faucher
published in Flamenco International Magazine, Winter 1999 and translated
into English by Therese Wassily Saba
In the years that
passed between being a teenager with a penetrating stare, to becoming
the revered master of today, Paco de Lucía has simply reinvented
the Flamenco guitar. During three decisive decades, he has achieved
the transition from a traditional form of expression to a contemporary
art: that is what we owe him.
For sure, one may say that this art existed a long time before him and
was already beaming with a brilliant and rich history, counting among
its unforgettable geniuses Montoya, Niño Ricardo, Manolo de Huelva,
and Sabicas. But their legacy was both immense and at the same time
meagre, because despite their impressive contribution including a full
collection of masterpieces, the strict observance of the harmonic rules,
as well as the mechanical approach to compás were leading Flamenco
to a dead end. Sooner or later the Flamenco guitar would have become
a fossilised art form, which would only have been of interest to ethnomusicologists.
One could argue
that without Paco de Lucía there would have been an evolution
anyway. This is likely, but without wanting to put forward the theory
of the Providential Man, we must admit that Paco de Lucía carried
out this change in a striking and a radical manner. All the conditions
of his life combined to make him play the historical part we know.
Born in Algeciras
from a family of artists, he was steeped in Flamenco from his earliest
years, working on the guitar four hours each day, under the magisterial
guidance of his father Antonio Sánchez. He was gifted with extraordinary
technical abilities, but Paco de Lucía also turned out to be
a fabulous composer. Add to all of this the fact that he arrived at
the right moment, that is, when the Flamenco guitar was searching for
a new emblematic figure to take over from the ageing patriarchs, and
modernity was dawning into Spain after a long night lasting for 40 years.
Paco de Lucía’s
legendary status has built up over the years in a dazzling and linear
course, where each stage seems to have led on naturally and irresistibly
to the next. The first period –the time of apprenticeship- ended
when he joined José Gréco’s company at about 15
or 16 years of age. He learned the tradition and the craft of the masters
and met those who he will always recognise as his spiritual fathers:
Niño Ricardo in Spain, and Sabicas in New York.
Interested in learning
everything, he absorbed at each opportunity all that he could of falsetas
and various patterns, so that long before the age of 20 he had acquired
the knowledge of an established professional. He didn’t ignore
the cante or dance accompaniment, while focusing on the solo guitar.
His encounter with
Camarón, which coincided with the release of his first solo album,
began an era of creativity which has never stopped. Each year since
1967, he cut a new record; each time it has been an event because of
the striking technical virtuosity as much as for the renewal of the
musical language. To list only his solo discs, he released La Fabulosa
guitarra, Fantasía flamenca, Recital de guitarra and Duende flamenco
one after the other, which in the space of five years, upset Flamenco
toque. The devastating hurricane foretold a turn of epoch: now the Flamenco
guitar will no longer rest.
This new movement
of invention and of permanent change and development took the cante
along with it, thanks to the genius of Camarón. It aroused passion
and inspired vocations, as well as forcing the dropping back of the
unfortunates who could not follow; they took refuge in purism, denying
any ideas of innovation.
Then another new
stage could be approached: the expansion and opening to the outside
world. It came with the sudden international notoriety brought by the
rumba Entre dos aguas. Paco now reached a second maturity and established
his definitive stature. Entre dos aguas was key, a significant work
for several reasons. In its conception, as a chord pattern over which
the theme is played by a first guitar, giving an important place to
improvisation, this piece prepared Flamenco for its linking up with
jazz. The introduction of percussion and bass opened the door to new
instrumentation, group working and arrangement, and to new concepts
in Flamenco. Fusion with other musical styles therefore became possible.
After a while, as a consequence of its success, it was to a great extent
the origin of world tours in which Paco was more and more involved.
The encounter with John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell and Al di Meola allowed
Paco the opportunity to perfect his art of improvisation and expand
his creative scope.
The recordings produced
in this period from Fuente y Caudal to Zyryab, with some guide marks
such as Almoraima and Siroco -these two albums will certainly remain
as peaks or as symbols of his work. It is unthinkable to try to draw
up in a few lines the complete inventory of what the flamenco guitar
is indebted to Paco de Lucía for. Evoking some essential aspects
of his contribution will however help a good understanding of today’s
By its very nature,
the toque flamenco is based on compás. Without ever eluding this
relentless imperative, Paco freed the rhythm by a playing with syncopation,
and a renewed sense of phrasing and accent. Previously rigidly bound,
the compás in Paco’s hands became living and intelligent.
He made it into an instrument, and used it as a mean of expression.
His falsetas as much as his rhythmical strummings were built for this
purpose, playing against the beat, manipulating durations, and even
including long silences.
in bulerías, this last idea could have appeared to be extravagant:
imagine that one can be made to feel the pulse by means of silence,
even more so in such a fast palo ! Yet what efficiency, as here in Plazuela:
in playing the rhythm didn’t stop here. The work of emancipation
continues along its path, without ever contesting the dogma. This is
a central point in Paco de Lucía’s contribution: the compás,
although it has remained the ultimate master, its relentless mechanics
were less oppressive.
that gives its title to the record Almoraima, released in 1975, caused
a memorable sensation for its magnificence and creative strength. After
a soon to become famous introduction, the first variation in the trebles,
made of short figures separated by silent bars, introduced the dissociation
of the melodic structure from the immutable structure of the compás.
The time has passed when variations were built on it like copies traced
from the original. Their length and articulation were now laid down
by the music’s logic alone.
The toque breathed
and was definitely free from gravity. This new mastery in rhythm attained
a perfect expression in La Tumbona, another bulerías recorded
a few years later.
No aspect of Flamenco has escaped the creative genius of Paco de Lucía.
He has completely rewritten the repertoire and has provided posterity
with a countless series of pieces which are as beautiful as they are
learned. His compositions are marked with a strong sense of melody and
art in the development of themes and motifs. Add to this is a sort of
romantic inspiration which suits flamenco dramatics very well. This
is particularly evident in free styles such as the taranta, granaína
and minera. Between intimacy and a cry, works like Fuente y caudal,
Reflejo de Luna and Callejón del muro reach a climax in expressiveness.
Is it duende or something even more indefinable? It doesn’t matter,
but what a superb melody Paco murmurs to us in a tone of intimate confidence
in Callejón del muro :
When Paco de Lucía
plays, he really tells us a story. Another barrier which he had to break
was the Andalusian minor cadence with its four cyclic degrees locking
the composition into strict limits where his creativity was cramped.
To his visionary mind, these walls had to fall down in order to get
the guitar out of its stereotypes. He reveals to Flamenco the secrets
of modulation with Percusión flamenca, then got us used to daring
incursions into other modes and enriches the harmony with a multitude
of new chords which chafe the chaste ears of the tradition’s guardians,
but without moving from authenticity. Thus a considerable amplification
of the register was made available to the guitar, while the cante found
its aggiornamento through Camarón’s voice, the other giant.
A real change of epoch was performed in a fistful of years by this magical
Paco de Lucía’s music is elaborate, but not intricate;
it does not confuse. Only the greatest musicians can resolve this contradiction.
More often intricacy is nothing more than a smoke screen for emptiness.
A phrase can be simple: when it rests on a learned harmonisation and
a judicious use of counterpoint, the result is a pure jewel, like these
two bars of soleá from Gloria al Niño Ricardo.
Simplicity and transparency,
but what splendour, and what richness! An ascending broken melody line,
with a responding symmetrical descending bass line, all of which is
built upon a chord progression. Here we reach a formal perfection that
J.S. Bach wouldn’t have disowned. This incidentally leads us to
believe that it is not always necessary to play as fast as the master
himself, to evoke the full beauty of many pieces. To be convinced, one
only needs to look at the score of Monasterio de sal: such a monument
that its subtleties can still be captured and appreciated even in a
We should also remember the rough and flamenco light his playing shed
on Manuel de Falla and Joaquín Rodrigo, giving back real soul
to their music, which was absent from the stuffy rooms where it had
Ever since his debut Paco de Lucía imposed a new image of the
tocaor by abandoning the traditional way of holding the instrument.
The guitar now rests horizontally on the right thigh, with the right
leg crossed. This position frees the left arm from supporting the fingerboard
and allows it better mobility. His incredible sureness makes Paco de
Lucía able to play with his eyes closed for a long time. He has
an image of strength and domination as he plays but also depth in interpretation.
The revolution is visual as well. With time his playing has become more
elliptic and at some moments more introspective. Life has passed and
left its print on his most recent recording Luzía.
Beyond his true genius and his music, the most important legacy Paco
de Lucía will leave is to have installed the Flamenco guitar
in a spring of perpetual surpassing, and to have contributed to making
evolution an internal dimension of the flamenco culture. Henceforth
modernity brings forth tradition. Thanks to Paco de Lucía Flamenco
has emerged from its isolation and entered into the contemporary world;
it has been accepted as a universal language for the same reason as
Jazz. Bringing it back to the street he reminds us of how much Flamenco
is a popular art. We owe Paco de Lucía everything.