You might’ve heard of it or seen a dazzling lady with flowers in her hair. Oh, and don’t forget the guitarists in the background.
It’s the exact image that pops in your head whenever you think of Spain.
What we described isn’t Flamenco, but we’re getting somewhere.
Centuries ago, Jews, Arabs, Gypsies and Christians lived together in southern Spain. Then things took a downturn starting in 1492 with reconquista. The suffering of these different cultures, led to the need to express pain and sorrow.
Flamenco is its name, and Paco de Lucía is one of its gods.
From Rags to Riches
Imagine one day, your dad comes into your room with a grim look on his face.
As he sits on your bed side to tuck you in, he says, “Sorry son. I wish I didn’t have to say this, but today was your last day of school. You’ve got four older siblings and we can’t afford it anymore. But don’t worry, we’ll figure something out.”
Things looked grim, but it wasn’t the end.
In a country with five children and a fascist dictator, there wasn’t much that one could do. Little to your knowledge did that mean spending 12 hours of your life everyday with a box of wood until further notice.
Your dad loves you, and is willing to believe that school isn’t the only way.
Paco de Lucía
Francisco Sánchez Gómez was born to Antonio Sánchez and Lucia Gómez in the Andalusian city of Algeciras. A stones throw away from Gibraltar and Morocco. He was the youngest of five, but considering he wasn’t in school, he had the most time to grow musically. He learned from his dad, and his older brother Ramón.
To be a true master of flamenco, there are three expressions of Flamenco to master.
Despite the stereotype of men with guitars and women with fans, the most important part of flamenco is the singing (el cante.) Out of the singing came the dance, and then the need to accompany both art disciplines.
This obviously meant Paco didn’t sit in his room alone all day.
It wasn’t until the flamenco legend Ramón Montoya came along that the guitar was given a solo platform. The original purpose was to accompany, nothing more.
That being said, the little boy mastered them all. He worked with the best and gave international tours from a very early age.
Paco de Lucía as he became to be known, forever revolutionized the world of music through his never ending toil and ingenuity.
Having produced over 30 albums and given hundreds of concerts throughout the years, he is forever a legend in the world of music.
Why do I care about Paco?
As a young teenager, I could care less about the guitar. But my love for the box of wood grew through the internet. Paco became an inspiration to me. I couldn’t believe the things he could do on the instrument were possible.
His music captivated me on hour long bus rides to school. With only a few notes, you could hear his genius.
7 Ways Paco Revolutionized Music
Paco was never satisfied with the status quo.
As a young boy, he traveled to New York and met the legendary Flamenco guitarist Sabicas.
In a hotel room, Paco played a few things in the style of his idol Niño Ricardo, as taught by his brother Ramón.
Sabicas was impressed, but gave him words that changed Paco’s destiny forever. “You have to play the guitar like yourself.” After that Paco was artistically paralyzed and couldn’t play guitar for two weeks.
It was never merely enough to play the instrument well. He knew he could already do that.
He decided to revolutionize.
1. Lightning Speed
If there’s one thing that makes Paco so famous, it’s his lightning fingers.
Whenever he began to play scales, the world would freeze and your jaw would drop.
No joke, but is what happens when you practice 12 hours a day for a decade or two.
Sabicas was known for his speed, which Paco superseded.
“What makes Paco great isn’t because he’s fast. Anyone can play fast. What makes Paco incredible is because he’s exciting.” – Eliot Fisk, Classical Guitar virtuoso
2. Sitting Position & Guitar Technique
Paco was a well-tempered man that changed the status quo, but not before he tried everything else. He understood the reasons the way things were, but sought a change when he felt improvements could be made. He had a growth mindset.
You wouldn’t think it matters, but the way you sit helps you achieve different artistic results.
Paco is the inventor of the most “current” sitting position which has held precedence since the 70’s.
This new way of playing is great because it allows for faster left hand ease and movement.
He also “invented” various new rasgueados of many sorts. Including finger combinations for triple groupings. P-CH-I or I-A-I. But of course, his style of playing picado was his own.
3. Instruments used in Flamenco (Paco de Lucía Sextet)
Traditionally the instruments used in Flamenco are the guitar and one’s hands (palmas.)
There have been historically documented uses of the piano and violin, but it wasn’t widespread. And to your surprise castanets are not an everyday occurrence in Spain.
After a trip to Peru, Paco discovered an instrument called the cajón which is essentially a wooden box. He made a few modifications to fit the sounds and needs of flamenco better–– but it was through Paco that the cajón became a mainstream instrument for the world at large.
Today you can find it in nearly every style of music from pop to jazz.
It’s all thanks to Paco, but that wasn’t all.
He also introduced the electric bass to Flamenco through his sextet group. Soon came the flute and suddenly more and more instruments have been added to the flamenco genre.
The Pace de Lucía sextet is featured in albums such as Zyryab and Live One Summer Night.
Because of Paco, nothing in Flamenco is impossible. The magic never dies.
In 1973, Paco released his record “Fuente y Caudal” which exploded with the most famous tune of them all: Entre dos Aquas.
Not that it matters but the title comes from a point in Andalusia where the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean meet. It’s also the southernmost point in continental Europe.
The coolest thing is that within Flamenco, there are forms of music that came from the new world and somehow made it back to Spain. Namely, the rumba.
Although the rumba was already a part of Flamenco, Paco de Lucía’s hit track popularized it for all time. My Flamenco teacher told me that in 70s Spain, the hit was played every other 3rd song at every club.
When many musicians think of Flamenco, the word improvisation follows. That’s only marginally true.
It’s well known that a Flamenco never plays a musical passage the same way twice. Just like when one speaks. We have a word bank to choose from and “improvise” based on what we want to say. You can say the same thing in different ways.
Just like when you speak about cooking, you would never use the words steel string and guitar case. It just wouldn’t make any sense. In Flamenco each form has a set of musical phrases and licks that you would use when playing it.
Then Paco changed everything.
Paco was a part of guitar trio with guitar greats such as John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola. Through the years they released songs such as Mediterranean Sundance amongst others.
Although it might seem like success was quick and easy, Paco describes his time with the trio as pretty tumultuous. He mentions how he was unable to sleep or even play the guitar for a few weeks because he simply couldn’t wrap his head around the concept of improvisation.
Just like how he felt artistically paralyzed by Sabicas’ words, he took as step back and did some inventory.
Even for a master musician like himself, it was difficult. But he eventually broke through the barrier, and with that came a new movement in the Flamenco world.
Now all flamenco musicians know how to improvise scales and everything in between. Again, thanks to Paco.
6. Genre Crossover
Paco is the epitome of a musical renaissance man. He knew all the flamenco forms and could play the different styles of each great and decade. To no one’s surprise, he never stayed completely flamenco.
He always pushed the envelope by exploring South American music, and then onwards into Jazz. And over the years he was committed to making good music with greats such as Chick Corea, Pedro Itulrralde, and the guitar trio as mentioned above.
He put his foot down in every musical style possible.
He tried his hand at Classical music too. Composer Manuel De Falla caught the eye of his fellow Spaniard which resulted in the album “Paco de Lucía plays Manuel de Falla.”
He didn’t stop there.
It’s the dream of every guitarist to play the Concerto de Aranjuez. There was just one problem. Paco may have had all the technique necessary, but he couldn’t read music.
In the documentary “Light and Shade” he discusses the pressures he felt. He knew he had a whole world to impress. Judgmental Classical Guitarists, Purist Flamencos, and Joaquín Rodrigo the composer himself.
Joaquín Rodrigo was proud.
7. Legacy of Inspiration
Paco never was too big into the spotlight–– he was introverted by nature.
Despite his fame, he was very interested in seeing the next generation through. Instead of keeping everything to himself, he took a few guitarists under his wing as disciples, most notably Vicente Amigo and Tomatito.
After having read all this, if you were a young Spanish teenager, who better to have as a role model?
Paco’s life shows us that through it all he didn’t just leave a legacy for us all, but he led a life of integrity.
This is one of the greatest rags to riches story in history, but it is filled with the truth that work is a necessary road that we all must take to get there.
His home town of Algeciras has honored him with a Paco de Lucía Trail throughout the city that you can follow. He’s only been gone for three years, but his legacy will never disappear.
Querido Paco, we will never forget you.