De Lucia began to explore the music's possibilities, expanding the boundaries of traditional flamenco. In the Sixties, he adapted Mexican, Cuban, and Argentine classics for flamenco guitar, reworking the structures of flamenco bulerias, tangos, and rumbas, and experimenting with harmonies and the tension of the rhythms, while simultaneously remaining faithful to the music's basic form. In the late Sixties, de Lucia met the legendary singer Camar centsn de la Isla (who died at age 40 in 1992). The pair would record a dozen records together. Their early collaborations, combining de Lucia's guitar arrangements and Camar centsn's untraditional lyrics and phrasing, were lauded by supporters of what by the Seventies was known as "new flamenco" -- and severely criticized by flamenco purists.
"Oh, that was a long time ago, they accept me now," de Lucia notes when asked about his bouts with the elders of the flamenco world. Still he seems eager to assert his identity as a flamenco musician (he uttered the phrase "I am a flamenco guitarist" at least a half-dozen times in the course of a fifteen-minute interview). As for his own definition of flamenco, he states that it's all in the duende, the passion that fuels flamenco.
"For me flamenco is a vehicle of expression, with which I can reach a lot of people better than I could through language," explains de Lucia, who is known to be a man of few words and often doesn't speak at all during his concerts. "Flamenco communicates directly through the heart, through the emotions. Flamenco is very original music, it's alive. It's not intellectualized, so it stays alive. It's full of emotions, of rhythms, and it's original. Above all originality is essential in any kind of artistic manifestation."
Since the time de Lucia and others of his generation broke the boundaries of traditional flamenco guitar, younger guitarists have taken the music even further, fusing flamenco with rock, jazz, and various forms of Latin roots music, developments that, not surprisingly, have pleased de Lucia.
"Flamenco has opened up enormously," he says. "It's undergone a real revolution. It was always very static, very purist music. Tradition is always there; the traditional form of expression is maintained. But now there are people who keep thinking, who keep evolving the music, with better or worse results. I think it's always interesting to try something new. I'm always in favor of people who try to find a new path."
Tomorrow night (Friday) the Paco de Lucia Sextet appears at the Jackie Gleason Theatre in Miami Beach, part of a nineteen-city U.S. tour. Bass player Carlos Benavent is recovering from a serious car accident in Spain and will be replaced by Juan Manuel Ca*izares. Apart from that, says de Lucia, ticketholders shouldn't expect any surprises. Just flamenco.
"It's the same concept as always," he shrugs. "I don't pretend to be anything other than a flamenco guitarist. It's what I am, what I've been, and what I always will be."
The Paco de Lucia Sextet performs at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, October 6, at the Jackie Gleason Theatre, 1700 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 856-0090. Tickets range from $30 to $45.