From left to right, Israel Suárez “Piraña,” percussion; Alain Pérez, bass; Antonio Sánchez, guitar; Antonio Serrano, harmonica; David De Jacoba, cante, and Farru, dancer. Photo by Luis Malibran
There are few artists who have had the impact in their disciplines that guitarist Paco De Lucía had in flamenco. There is a before-and-after De Lucía in flamenco. He expanded the harmonic vocabulary and guitar techniques, incorporated instruments from outside the tradition, and had a curiosity that led him to collaborations with artists as disparate as jazz guitarist John McLaughlin and Brazilian pop star Djavan and also opened new vistas to flamenco artists.
He also worked with unorthodox (for flamenco) ensembles, most notably his revolutionary sextet, which included sax, electric bass, and cajón, in the 1980s and ‘90s and then later, for 10 years, until his passing in February 2014, his septet.
This remarkable group has been re-assembled by producer Javier Limón, a long-time friend, and collaborator of De Lucía, and will be performing a tribute at the Olympia Theater in downtown Miami this Sunday, presented by The Rhythm Foundation.
Flamenco Legends: The Paco De Lucía Project, features Antonio Sánchez, De Lucía’s nephew, guitar; Alain Pérez, bass; Israel Suárez “Piraña,” percussion; Antonio Serrano, harmonica; David de Jacoba, vocals; and Farru, dance.
The young Antonio Sánchez learned guitar from his uncles and the also excellent guitarist and composer Jose Manuel Cañizares. He then had his apprenticeship in tablaos and working with dance companies; in 2010, he joined his uncle’s group as the second guitar, replacing Niño Josele, who was already on to his solo career as one of the bright lights in flamenco.
He spoke from New York, where the group started its first U.S. tour.
Paco De Lucía was your uncle, but he was also this phenomenal guitarist and a larger-than-life figure in flamenco. How was that first time you sat to play with him as a member of his group?
Antonio Sánchez: I went from being a nervous wreck to feeling great peace and totally relaxed in a matter of minutes. When I was a little kid — well before I started studying, I was just playing by ear — I would play his records in my room … and play over them. So that day, I arrived, sat next to him and soon I forgot completely about his “persona” and just listened to the guitar. And I had this flashback of that little kid, listening to Paco’s records and playing along and automatically relaxed and just started to follow him — and it was wonderful.
How was Paco De Lucía the uncle different from Paco De Lucía the boss, on stage?
Paco was always the same — on stage, in the street, at home. He was very humble, had a great sense of humor and when we played there was a great complicity between him and us, there were many smiles and winks, a lot of communication without words. It was like a family. He was like a father for all of us. So yes, his role was to be the boss, the leader, but he was always very affectionate with us. We were all much younger than him but he treated us with great respect, giving us our place and making us feel secure.
How was the performance of the group, very structured or loose, with much improvisation?
Loose. Paco was always very anarchic. The sextet had to invent everything from scratch. [The members of this group] we grew up listening to what they did so when we came together we had our homework done. We knew the music and Paco gave us a lot of freedom. There was a lot of improvisation in the shows. The songs had a basic structure and within that, we improvised. Every day it sounded different it was beautiful. That’s what we want to do with this group.
It sounds like jazz.
Well, that’s what Paco created after he went out with McLaughlin and [Al] DiMeola in their Guitar Trio. Paco took that concept to his own music. He had his own compositions but started to open them up for improvisation. He created a style. He brought the world of jazz to flamenco, now everybody [in flamenco] plays variations and solos on flamenco pieces. Flamenco is very open, open to everything.
Because you are the guitarist in the group and Paco’s nephew, it would seem you are first among equals. You are, after all, “playing Paco.” How do you deal with such mantle?
You have to stay centered and be prepared. Each one of us has his place. No one is bigger than the next guy. But yes, I have to do a bit more because it’s my responsibility that it all sounds like Paco, and that’s not easy.
You have to go about it with great humility. It’s a great challenge. All guitar players of a certain generation, we have all grown up listening to Paco, learning from him, copying him.
But the figure here is the group. It’s a group project.
Does it feel odd to have the Paco De Lucía group without Paco De Lucía?
For us, it is a tribute to a genius, a partner in adventures who we all loved very much and we miss. And we are just giving ourselves the place he gave us: Serrano is a genius of the harmonica; Piraña is the best percussionist in flamenco; Alain is a tremendous musician and so is David, and Farru is a great dancer. Each one of us contributes his part. We are a flamenco-jazz band in which we give ourselves the space to say what we have to say.
An edited version of this piece was posted by Artburst Miami.