Paco de Lucía: 1947–2014

I first heard flamenco music around the age of 8, when an older brother brought home a 33 1/3 LP called Flamenco Fury, a collection of standard “hits” of the genre.

From first hearing, I was mesmerized by the strumming, the pizzicato, the hollow thumping of the instruments, and the Moorish wailing of the singers. The music jumped from the vinyl grooves straight to my young soul. I sat for hours replaying the driving sounds and studying the vivid pictures on the album’s jacket.

Soon after, I saw my first live television performance of a flamenco group—I think on the old Ed Sullivan Show. Watching the dancing and the stroking of the musicians only fueled my love for these noble flamenco men and ladies. They were so… cool, with their deft moves, regal faces, and sublime music.

In the coming years, the more I heard the music, the more I wanted to be like the gypsy musicians—graceful, proud, hardened yet elegant. I wanted to dress like them, call out in Spanish to the music. I longed to sit and drink wine with them, even smoke the same dirty, little cigarettes.

Sadly, this world of heavenly music lost one of its angels with the recent death of Paco de Lucía at the age of 66. Born as Francisco Sánches Gomes in Spain’s Cadiz province, he was the youngest of five children of flamenco guitarist Antonio Sánchez Pecino.

Paco grew to become a celebrated flamenco guitarist, composer, and producer. He was best known for his lightning picados (finger runs), which he often juxtaposed with rasgueados (flamenco strumming).

De Lucía played an important role in legitimizing traditional flamenco while helping to fuse Flamenco with other music genres, such as jazz, classical, Latin music, and others. Contemporaries have described him as a “titanic figure in the world of flamenco guitar” and “one of history’s greatest guitarists.”

The following video of twenty-four-year old Paco with friends and family around a card table captures what I love best about the music and the players. Watch, listen, and be transported.

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Russia’s Happiest and Saddest of Instruments

Everything you didn’t think you needed to know about the balalaika

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Say “balalaika” to most Americans, and they think of “Lara’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago — where no balalaika was actually played — or a cheesy 1930s Nelson Eddy movie of the same name.

And from this they might conclude that the three-stringed, triangle-shaped instrument is either a folk relic of limited musical range or, worse, a quaint purveyor of string-laced schmaltz.

But the humble balalaika can, in the hands of a master, produce a sound and richness unequaled by any other musical instrument. And its virtuosity is celebrated not only by brilliant soloists, but entire orchestras as well. Continue reading