Paco Pena played his first professional show when he was just 12. Sixty years later, he is recognised as possibly the best flamenco guitarist in the world
For Paco Peña, flamenco is more than genre. It’s more than a sound, more than an art form, more than a feeling. Flamenco is a way of life. The renowned Spanish guitarist and composer dedicates his existence to keeping the expressive tradition of flamenco alive.
At 71 years of age, the meaningful form of Spanish folk music and dance pulses through Peña’s veins.
The rhythm his heartbeat, the melody his lifeblood.
“It has a tremendous power. It is music that projects a lot of soul,” he says.
“Flamenco is uncompromising in its message that ‘this is what I feel’.
“I am responsible for convincing and touching people when I perform.
“I must be honest and project (the music) purely so it touches people the same way that it touches me.”
One of the world’s mostloved traditional flamenco players, readers of American Guitar magazine judged Peña as the best flamenco guitarist of the year – for five years in a row.
“I am madly in love with the guitar. It is a very intimate instrument,” he says.
“It’s like an extension of the person. It’s a beautiful sound. Very expressive.
“It was the vehicle for me getting on in life. My life has been shaped by the guitar.”
Peña’s brother taught him to play as a six-year-old.
He played his first professional show at 12.
His love for the instrument has never diminished and neither has his talent.
“I am not tired yet. I still play as quickly as I did then,” he says.
“I used to practise five hours a day.
“There is more reflection in the way I approach it now.”
Peña brings his show Flamencura – featuring the Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company – to the Gold Coast this weekend.
He says in flamenco, dancing, singing and guitar have an extraordinary relationship.
“The dancers express feeling associated with a song – they respond to the rhythm of the guitar and the emotions of the singer,” he says.
“The guitar is the instrument of Spain that inspires the dance. The whole thing goes together.”
Peña says the dancers often devise passionate movements on the spot, which fits in with the idea that flamenco is both structured and improvised.
“The rhythms are razor sharp and sometimes fast and exhilarating and complex,” he says.
“You have to understand the patterns of the rhythm to have the freedom to swim around in that world, and project your own personality and they way you feel in the moment.”
Peña promises Flamencura will be a moving experience.
“I am glad to say flamenco is the music from my people,” he says. “People expose themselves and open their soul. They do what they can to project emotions.”
Having been a performer for more than five decades, Peña has had many career highlights – he launched the world-famous Cordoba Guitar Festival and started the first university course on flamenco guitar.
In 1970 Peña founded his company of hand-picked singers, dancers and musicians.
He has toured to some of the best stages around the world and played concerts with artists such as Jimi Hendrix.
“It was a wonderful occasion to meet such an impressive man,” Pena says.
“He wasn’t very talkative. But I knew I was in the presence of an important human being. We chatted for a bit. It certainly stays in my mind.” Paco Peña’s plays Twin Towns in Tweed Heads tomorrow night.
Flamenco player Paco Pena brings his art to Twin Towns