27 Feb 2014

Death of flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia

8:52 am on 27 February 2014

Paco de Lucia, the master guitarist who helped promote flamenco to a global audience, has died in Mexico of a heart attack at the age of 66.

Paco de Lucía: "I learned the guitar like a child learns to speak."

Paco de Lucía: "I learned the guitar like a child learns to speak." Photo: AFP

Mexican authorities say he had been on holiday with his family on the Mexican Caribbean and was taken to a hospital complaining of pains in his chest.

Born Francisco Sanchez Gomez in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, he was credited with modernising the Spanish gypsy tradition with jazz, pop and classical influences during a decades-long career.

He credited his father, a singer of gypsy origin, with introducing him to music. "I learned the guitar like a child learns to speak," he said in a 2012 documentary.

"If I had not been born in my father's house I would be nobody," he once said. "I don't believe in spontaneous genius."

From the age of just 12 de Lucia was playing and earning at flamenco "tablaos" in usually intimate, smoky venues. By 15 he had graduated to making recordings in Madrid and by 18 he had brought out a first album.

Paco's albums such as El Duende Flamenco de Paco de Lucia and Almoraima reinvented traditional flamenco.

He toured extensively with well-known international artists and played with the likes of Carlos Santana, Chick Corea and Al Di Meola, happy to expand flamenco rhythms into jazz, although that upset flamenco purists.

He was highly acclaimed after playing Joaquin de Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez at London's Festival Hall in 1991, attended by the composer himself, and considered one of the best interpretations of the piece.

De Lucia memorised the piece by ear as he did not read music and gave it a distinctive flamenco flavour.

In 2004, he was awarded Spain's Asturias Prize for Art as the "most universal of flamenco artists". The judges said his style had been a beacon for young generations and "his art has made him into one of the best ambassadors of Spanish culture in the world".

De Lucia based himself for many years in Mexico, but in later years had returned to Toledo, a small city outside Madrid.

His native city of Algeciras has decreed two days of official mourning.