Original text: Estela Zatania
Interview: Puerta de Sevilla
October 15th, 1986
The declarations of a genius are always of utmost interest. And if the genius happens to be called Francisco Sánchez Gómez, “Paco de Lucía” for his friends and the entire world, the relevance is still greater, even after three decades.
On October 15th, 1986, for a hundred pesetas you could buy a copy of the cultural and leisure-time magazine, “Puerta de Sevilla”, in which there is an article about the future venue of the great Expo of ’92, the Seville city hall advertizes its second Encuentro Internacional de la Guitarra, in the classifieds Rafael Riqueni offers guitar classes and there are ads for four tablaos located in Seville. On the front of the magazine we see the image of a man who was already universally acknowledged as a genius of the flamenco guitar, idol of the new generation, Paco de Lucía, who was about to offer the closing gala of the fourth Bienal de Flamenco de Sevilla.
Interviews from years ago are like time capsules of the feeling and climate of opinion of an era which, although experienced first-hand, may not have been fully understood…things we thought were important, now may not seem so, while others seem extremely relevant with the benefit of hindsight.
Paco speaks of Sabicas with respect, but also with a touch of criticism: would Sabicas really have wanted flamenco to be “monotonous”? He also takes pains to explain precisely why he does not accept the concept of female guitarists. I wonder if in the year 2013 he would be willing to repeat the insinuation that women lack sufficient discipline to practice many hours, or that the “need” to frequent an unsavory atmosphere made the presence of women inappropriate.
He makes no bones about his extreme dislike of critics, and also explains his vision of flamenco at a time when he had already embarked upon his ongoing experiment with music of other genres.
At the current point in time, every flamenco fan is aware of the magnitude of the genius from Algeciras, and his powerful influence that changed the course of the great flamenco river that sweeps us all along.
Interview and images published October 15th, 1986, reproduced here with kind permission. Highlighted phrases are as shown in the original edition.
THE SON OF LUCÍA
THE SON OF LUCÍA
by Diego Caballero
Suited, combed and with guitar. Paco de Lucía is a great shining star that moves among the bright lights of the stage giving orders to the group with fleeting passionate gestures, testing the mournful rebellious sound of a sinuous object that has always been his best companion. He delves into the roots of flamenco tradition to create a universal force of his own which is welcomed throughout the world, and he strives to throw himself into it heart and soul. For the son of Lucía the special language of this gypsy genre is a phenomenon in process of change and from which we must open new paths.
The maestro arrived as workers had just finished placing the last chairs on the inlaid stone floor of the Patio de la Montería, when the rest of the group had been rehearsing for a good hour or more. He had just arrived from Athens and was soon on his way to Argentina, as casually as someone who just stopped by to pick up a newspaper and a loaf of bread, but not without first putting the crowning touch to the fourth Bienal de Arte Flamenco, if only to dull the memory of the terrible reviews Seville critics gave him just two years earlier. The maestro is timid and closes his eyes, but spits out passionate statements when the topic is flamenco and his unorthodox approach. The shining star is reflected in the prophetic rippling in a cup of coffee, while caressing the sinuous curves of his blond instrument. Paco de Lucía is performing for an audience of flamenco fans. The Reales Alcázares seems to require starting out breaking with tradition and without forgetting the roots: a minera crossed with fandangos, a perfect pretext for making good music.
“Guitar is changing and I have an obligation to my followers to open new paths”.
The maestro Sabicas doesn’t like it when you join up to play with strange people like Al Di Meola and Chick Corea, he thinks you don’t need that to be the greatest.
It’s an opinion I respect as if it came from my own father, because we must all be at the feet of Sabicas, but it’s still just an opinion. We flamenco musicians don’t know about chords, and we weren’t able to attend a conservatory to learn music. Flamenco is in a very special moment, it needs to receive every possible contribution in order for us to learn things we’re not accustomed to in our own music. For me personally these encounters have been very useful. Guitar is changing and I have an obligation to my followers to open new paths. Mike Oldfield is a great musician who’s not part of our world and from whom we have a lot to learn, that’s why I seek out his music.
A trying experience.
There were times it drove me crazy, I even had nightmares, I couldn’t sleep; it was really quite a challenge I’d undertaken. Sabicas thinks flamenco shouldn’t evolve, that it has to be monotonous and always sound old-fashioned. In my opinion it has to be left to sound the same, but with a new vocabulary.
It had been announced that you were going to take part in Camarón de la Isla’s new record, but you never showed up. What happened?
Simply that I was on tour, far away, and it was impossible to return for the record.
“Sabicas thinks flamenco has to be monotonous and sound old-fashioned. In my opinion it should be left to sound the same, but with a new vocabulary”.
Is it very different playing in Seville compared to Moscow or Japan?
Anywhere is easier to play than here. There are people outside of Spain who really know music and they listen in a different way. Here, people are looking for a certain feeling, basically if it sounds flamenco, but abroad no, they hear you as a musician which is exactly how I feel most relaxed and the least nervous. In Seville I have to consider playing things that are simpler and more flamenco, outside you have more freedom.
Someone recently called you a machista, only half-jokingly. Can’t women learn to play guitar?
One thing is for sure, in order to play flamenco it takes a lot of physical strength and a lot of nerve. You have to caress the guitar and then destroy it, the dynamic must be very strong. Anyhow, many women wouldn’t be able to sit eight hours a day, guitar in hand, it’s thankless work to have to be practicing all the time.
Paco de Lucía believes women and guitars are the same gender, which is why he feels they are incompatible, with their sinuous curves, beings who will never be dominated although appearances seem to indicate the contrary as explains the son of Lucía with no qualms whatsoever, glancing at his well-manicured cat-like hands in case a nail has dared to threaten its very valuable place and mission. “We machistas think like that…we think of having women under our thumb, completely dominated, but that’s fiction. Maybe that’s why they don’t get along, and why there are so few excellent women guitarists, because they’re so similar”.
Is it just hype, or is it true you have a double in Moscow who calls himself Paco de Rusia?
The Association of Russian artists gave me a tribute some months ago, and it included a surprise, the live performance of someone I was told is a faithful fan. He calls himself “Paco de Rusia”, and he combs his hair just like me. I do the comb-over to hide my receding hairline, but he does it to look like me even though he has hair. No, he doesn’t play badly, he’s just beginning.
In your previous concert within the Bienal, they did everything but throw rolls of toilet paper at you as they did with bullfighter Curro Romero. It was as if there had been a secret agreement to bad-mouth Paco de Lucía.
There’s an easy explanation, it’s because in Seville there are flamenco critics who don’t have the vaguest idea what flamenco is, they’re individuals who, rather than write about something they know, they just string sentences together, but they do know that no matter how well a gypsy sings or dances, none of them is capable of writing for a newspaper. Without a doubt, it’s the gypsies who know the most about flamenco. But as far as the reviews, I refused to have the concert recorded live because the sound system was terrible. They think they have power and a bad review is enough to ruin anyone’s career. It’s laughable, they give you a bad review for purely personal reasons. It didn’t bother me, but it’s infuriating that authority they think they have.
“Anywhere is easier to play than here. There are people outside of Spain who really know music and they listen in a different way”
Tell us about how you go about your work. Why do you always play with your eyes closed and a look of rapture?
Playing guitar is very hard, you need complete concentration. I’m a timid person who prefers to be in the audience rather than on stage. I wasn’t born to have everyone hanging on my every move, so many people looking at you. You have to have a very balanced emotional state, that’s why I close my eyes when I play. If you open them and see people talking, or some guy yawning, the whole performance falls apart. When I close my eyes, I manage to focus much better.
Playing with contemporary musicians, the “strange people” like Sabicas calls them, you have to forget about your background a little to get into their mainstream world of pop music.
Playing with them, I had to play their music and forget about flamenco, that’s why I had such a hard time now and again, but on the other hand, it was worth it for the learning experience. Aside from that, I’m defending a culture and a race which is the flamenco people, discriminated against for centuries until Manuel de Falla and Federico García Lorca came along and initiated a process of dignification. It used to be shameful to be a flamenco. We have a lot to be grateful for to Manuel de Falla and to all the musicians who bring in new blood. We’re musicians and flamencos, that’s our place. I won’t abandon my roots, and will try to do new things without losing the aroma and the flavor of flamenco. In my work there’s a great deal of rage against this discrimination which still exists, although somewhat less than before, because fortunately things are changing.
Do you have everything planned out before going on stage?
Of course not. There’s a very big margin for improvisation in my shows.
Does a person learn to play in the stony silence of the theaters, or in the impulsive heat of battle of nighttime gatherings?
Most of us learn to play getting drunk in the street in the wee hours of the morning. That’s why I said that about women. This isn’t the best atmosphere for them. Aside from that, a women will always lift less weight than a man, it’s something ordained by nature.
We’ll let you go now, you’ll be needing to warm up…
You’d be surprised, I don’t play much to warm up my hands, I do it to record or play a concert. And the guitar doesn’t really need to be warmed up. An hour before a performance I do take it out and play for a while, file my nails, get focused…but not when I’m at home.
After Seville, the power and imagination of Paco de Lucía moves on to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, then back to Spain and afterwards Asia. In the middle of all these comings and goings he must find time to make a record with his friend Manolo Sanlúcar and formalize a contract with the record company.
“I prefer Moscow to Seville because here audiences know too much about flamenco and there are times when your psychological state just doesn’t let you play”. The son of Lucía of Algeciras, is getting paid a million and a half [pesetas], more than Sabicas and Chiquetete combined, but this time he left a smooth cloak extending from flamenco and directly to the heart.