Text: Estela Zatania
I met him for the first time in 1968 when he was touring with Antonio. And the last image I have of him forty years later, the one that will forever be with me, is of his delightful understated dance, jacket elegantly hiked up, as he left the stage of the Theater of Nimes in France last year. For several years, the delicate health of Juan Miguel Ramírez Sarabia meant he needed to be helped onto stage, but he would always leave dancing. Flamenco rejuvenated him again and again, it gave him a life force, the same vital energy he transmitted to everyone who saw him.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Chano Lobato, from the very flamenco neighborhood of Santa María in Cádiz, was the most universally loved singer of his generation. Wherever he performed, even before singing, before starting to tell his wacky stories, he already had you in his pocket thanks to his mischievous smile, the twinkle in his eye and an expansive Cádiz personality. I remember the passing of Aurelio, and when Manolo Vargas left us, Pericón, La Perla… These are losses any flamenco fan feels on a personal level. But there was always Chano, and even now, it’s not just that we have fond memories of him, but that you can actually feel the presence of his personality, an unforgettable and essential flamenco essence.
We hardly paid attention to him for the first thirty years of his career. The visits to the Venta de Vargas in his youth, his experiences in the flamenco ambience of Cádiz, his participation in the legendary 1952 film “Duende y Misterio del Flamenco”, later on, as a singer for dance when we would often see him backing up some of the best groups, most notably that of Antonio and Matilde Coral. But after winning the “Enrique el Mellizo” prize at the Córdoba contest in 1974, he began, at the age of 45, to forge a new career singing solo, or “up front” as the flamencos say. Although he had a wide repertoire, his strong point was the cante of Cádiz. Alegrías and cantiñas, amazing tanguilllos, ‘ida y vuelta’ cante, personalized bulerías…these are the sound bites that now echo in the air as we try to assimilate the magnitude of this loss for a genre that always looks to the past to find the future.
Chano Lobato was one of the last of that generation that took shape when flamenco was poorly paid, and badly lived, and you had to really love it to make it your profession. There was no shortage of honors…the Compás del Cante, the Medalla de Plata de Andalucía, the tribute of the Festival del Cante de las Minas de La Unión… He also left a number of recordings, and so many happy memories, it’s impossible to feel the full mourning that rightfully should accompany his passing. And that’s just how he would have wanted it, to be sent off with a smile and a toast…here’s to you Chano, now and forever….