Paco de Lucia: In Memoriam

Here is an obituary by Mark Hudson for The Daily Telegraph.-

Paco de Lucia, who died in February, was the greatest flamenco guitarist of his era, a man who had an impact on life in Spain at least as great as that of the Beatles in Britain.

Hailed by The New York Times as “the world’s most advanced guitarist in any idiom”, de Lucia revitalised the near moribund, kitsch-laden world of flamenco, fusing its cadences with jazz and Latin American rhythms to create the soundtrack to Spain’s post-Franco cultural revitalisation. His influence is still everywhere in Spanish music 40 years on.

I first got into Paco de Lucia’s music driving around Andalusia in the early Nineties, picking it up on cheap cassettes in petrol stations and truck-stop cafés. The sultry, languid twanging alternating with passages of blistering visceral fire went perfectly with the smells of baked earth and olive oil heating in big, black frying pans.

And as intriguing as the music was the contradictory personality of the man himself.

Born Francisco Sanchez Gomez in 1947, de Lucia maintained a near-pathological allegiance to the “cante”, the time-honoured forms of gipsy song, which he maintained were “already perfect” and incapable of improvement. He walked out of a major concert on discovering Julio Iglesias was on the bill – an insult, he maintained, to Spain’s greatest art form. He refused to learn to read music for fear of diluting his music’s intuitive fire. Yet he was at heart a fusionist, who toured the United States to massive acclaim, and there’s a breezy pop immediacy to classic de Lucia instrumentals such as Entre dos Aguas and Rio Ancho, heard blaring from every beachside cerveza stand from Benidorm to Torremolinos.

On stage he projected a quivering hypersensitivity; he had the looks of an aristocratic intellectual but his only interest beyond the guitar was trout fishing.

But de Lucia’s greatest phobia was the interview. When I was asked to write the programme notes for his 50th birthday concert at London’s Barbican Centre in 1997, I was attracted less by the far-from-princely fee than the prospect of shaking hands with one of the few genuinely world-changing innovators in contemporary music.

I was briefed carefully before the concert: if I simply wanted to say hello after the show that would be acceptable, but I must not attempt to interview de Lucia or spring any last-minute questions; a request that was repeated several times in the days before the performance.

The Barbican tends to be heaving backstage after a concert, thronged with managers, well-wishers and hangers on. That night it was deserted and deathly quiet. Then I spotted a nondescript figure with thinning hair, rather shorter than I expected, emerging from one of the dressing rooms.

He turned, his eyes fastening on me with an expression of abject horror. I turned away for a second as the press officer reminded me yet again not to ask any questions, and when I looked back the figure was running, literally sprinting, full-tilt away down the long, curving Barbican corridor.

That was my last sighting of the creator of modern flamenco.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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