Paco de Lucía, 1947–2014

The guitarist who reinvented flamenco

Growing up in Andalusia in southern Spain, Paco de Lucía was immersed in flamenco culture and tradition from an early age. “I didn’t study music,” he said. “I literally lived it.” Inspired by his father and two older brothers, he left school at age 11 to focus on guitar, and soon displayed a preternatural dexterity and strength that enabled him to master flamenco’s signature rapid-fire picado riffs. De Lucía’s profound virtuosity—and his deep roots in a culture derived from his Roma neighbors—propelled him to the pinnacle of world music. “I learned the guitar like a child learns to speak,” he said.

De Lucía’s rise to fame began in the 1960s with his collaboration with the fabled Roma flamenco singer Camarón de la Isla, said His playing helped push the guitar to the forefront of flamenco, which traditionally had been dominated by dancers and vocalists. His first compilation album, Entre Dos Aguas, was an international hit in 1975, and its title track became an instrumental classic, launching flamenco onto the global stage. Riding that success, de Lucía toured the world with a sextet that featured his two brothers and incorporated the Peruvian cajón, a box-like percussion instrument that later became a staple of the genre.

That spirit of innovation became a hallmark of de Lucía’s career, said The Washington Post. Widely recognized as the most influential flamenco musician of all time, de Lucía is also credited with modernizing the form by melding it with jazz, classical, and salsa. That approach raised some eyebrows among flamenco purists, but de Lucía insisted that his version of flamenco was not a disrespectful fusion. “I have incorporated other things,” he said, “but I have not altered the philosophy of the music.” He collaborated extensively with other prominent musicians such as Chick Corea and Al Di Meola, allowing him to explore his musical interests outside the constraints of flamenco. “I have tried to have a hand holding on to tradition,” he said, “and the other scratching, digging in other places to find new things that I could bring to flamenco.”

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