Latin Grammy Noms & New Documentary Honor Paco de Lucía

Paco de Lucia
Courtesy Photo

New film by the guitar great's son includes footage of his last recording.

An intimate scene in Paco de Lucía: A Journey, a new documentary by De Lucía's son, Curro Sánchez Varela, captures the flamenco guitar great in his dressing room filing his long, oval fingernails, something he did before every concert. His only other pre-show rituals, as he explained it, were obsessively tuning his guitar and practicing until curtain time, which, footage from over the years reveals, he liked to do sitting cross-legged and wearing a Japanese robe over his clothes.

"I don't believe in geniuses," Paco de Lucía says in the film. "I believe in people who work hard and have talent. And something that they all have in common is that [persistent] sensation that you really don't know anything."

Paco de Lucia Receives Heartfelt Funeral in Spain

The documentary debuted in Spanish cinemas and on television earlier this fall, coinciding with two Latin Grammy nominations for De Lucía's posthumous release, Canción Andaluza. A return to the virtuoso flamenco musician's roots in the Southern Spanish songs of his childhood, it competes in the Album of the Year category against Calle 13 and Marc Anthony, among others.

"If I'm proud of something it's that I've contributed to a music I admire and that I've loved since I was born," De Lucía says on screen. "My father was a guitar player and my family were all flamenco players. My greatest pride is having left evidence of my journey through this music."

De Lucía, whose given name was Francisco Gustavo Sánchez Gomes, died in February at the age of 66.

"My father was like an ox," Curro Sánchez told Billboard. "But the life of a flamenco musician is very intense. One day his heart just gave out."

De Lucía's album had been mastered at the time of his passing, and Sánchez was able to capture the recording of Canción Andaluza on film. But his documentary remained unfinished. The date they had set to do one more interview fell two days after his father's death.

The guitarist had at first been skeptical about being profiled by his son, dubious that there was anything more to say about him that the world didn't already know.

"It was a little tense in the beginning," Sánchez admits. "But little by little he came around, to the point where you could say the film was co-directed by Paco de Lucía."

Sánchez, one of three children born to Paco and his first wife, Casilda Varela, uncovered family photos revealing the shy but rambunctious Paco's boyhood. De Lucía's father took notice of his son's natural ability on the guitar when he was 7 years old, and nurtured it. His stage name came from his Portuguese mother, Lucía.

Particularly enlightening are scenes in the film devoted to his early success in the United States, when as teens he and his brother Pepe came to New York with flamenco dancer José Greco.  They performed on The Ed Sullivan Show.

While word of De Lucía's talent spread naturally in flamenco circles, it was a deliberate campaign that sparked his mainstream fame. A journalist-turned-publicist and manager named Jesus Quintero took on the challenge of making a flamenco instrumentalist as big as a pop singer. He took a single of his recording "Entre Dos Aguas" to radio, resulting in a chart hit in Spain. Quickly, an awkward De Lucía was doing the rounds of the TV talk and music shows of the day.

"In two months I was famous," he recalls in the documentary, acknowledging that success placed him between two worlds: the flamenco club and the concert hall. "I started to have serious guilt in front of other flamenco players…I had a serious inner-conflict for a long time. Then I said, 'That's no way to live. It's not my fault.'"

In the film, De Lucía describes himself, in so many words, as a cantankerous workaholic chained to his fame.

"They've put me on such a level that if I slip under it they criticize me," he says. "So with my character, the character my father impressed on me of perfection, to always be at that level of what people expect of you, it's not pleasant. It's an ordeal."

What Sánchez remembers about his father is his "enthusiasm, sense of humor and natural kindness," and vacations in Mexico, when Paco prepared the fish that he caught himself, in a house full of the musicians who accompanied him throughout his life.

The guitar legend's 13-year-old daughter, Antonia, from the his second marriage to Mexican art restorer Gabriela Canseco, will attend the Latin Grammys ceremony in Las Vegas on Nov. 20, when "Cancion Andaluza" will very likely win the flamenco category.

Paco de Lucía: A Journey (original title "Paco de Lucía: La Búsqueda") was produced by Sánchez's sister, Lucía Sánchez, and Anxo Rodríguez, partners in the Madrid-based Ziggurat Films. The producers are talking to the Miami International Film Festival about making the U.S. premiere there in March.

"He was a complete artist -- he was Paco de Lucía -- and I idolized him," Curro Sánchez says. "The process of making the movie did make him more human to me. But my admiration for him was not only confirmed by the experience, it grew."

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