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Paco Cepero’s 60 years in flamenco

Two historic venues. The Teatro Falla de Cádiz, 1958, and the venerable Villamarta Theater of Jerez de la Frontera, 2018.

Two historic venues. The Teatro Falla de Cádiz, 1958, and the venerable Villamarta Theater of Jerez de la Frontera, 2018. Thirty kilometers and six decades separate the two moments. Sixty years of some of the most dynamic flamenco times of the twentieth and early twenty-first century.

Those dates also mark the theater debut, and glorious continuity of flamenco guitarist Francisco López-Cepero García, “Paco Cepero”. Eleven years ago when I interviewed him upon the release of his record “Abolengo”, I quoted his words for the headline: “I don’t think I’ve ever played guitar as well as I’m playing now”. No false modesty here, and every right in the world to boast of his achievements, now all the more so when he continues to delight audiences with his creativity and good flamenco sense, and a commanding artistic personality that, unlike that of many of his generation, is instantly recognizable.

Paco de Lucía was not yet in circulation for Cepero to draw from when he began this 60-year journey. Even recorded music was scarce in those lean years after the civil war. Vivid real-live experiences, private fiestas and local gigs fed the aspiring guitarist, the man who today flashes his smile and his sharp wit, personifying Jerez flamenco. Recruited by Manolo Caracol for his tablao Los Canasteros, Paco Cepero would eventually accompany most of the great flamenco singers of this dynamic era, and become the regular guitarist for Camarón de la Isla.

The first major guitarist I met was Sabicas, and soon afterwards my teacher, Mario Escudero who introduced me to a very young Paco de Lucía. But even before that, thanks to reel-to-reel tapes of cante festivals, I knew the name of Paco Cepero, and learned to recognize that peculiar punchy style of his that he adapted so well to cante accompaniment, the obsessive minimalism and sublimely eloquent silences: it would be difficult, to say more with less.

Holder of the Premio Nacional de Guitarra de Acompañamiento de Córdoba, prize of the Flamenco Cátedra of Jerez, the Flamenco Hoy critics’ choice prize and many other honors, in addition to composing, producing and scouting for young singers whom he sets on the straight and narrow path to flamenco.

In this era when the “Paco virus”, as the man from Algeciras once called it, has profoundly influenced young guitarists who end up sounding very much alike, Cepero’s struggle to forge his own personality has paid off; he does not sound like anyone else, and no one sounds like him, even though the aroma of Jerez conditions his entire output.

On Sunday, November 4 Jerez threw Paco a celebration in the form of a mega-show at the Villamarta theater, and the man could not have appeared more delighted. A long roster of interpreters who have marked his career in one way or another, contributed bits and pieces to the tribute, including the collaboration of guitarists Paco León, Javier Ibáñez and Santiago Lara, young singers David Carpio and Jesús Méndez, María José Santiago, Laura Gallego; it was a master-class in accompaniment to see maestro Cepero tiptoeing through the singing so as not to interfere. Mercedes Ruiz danced alegrías with a classic choreography, and veteran singer Vicente Soto, always a pleasure to see, recalled his Madrid days with Paco. Audiovisual material was projected on the back-drop, the violin of Sophia Quarenghi accompanied several pieces, Perico Navarro and Javi Peña took care of the rhythm, even the Municipal Band was on stage in full force with students of the Joaquín Villatoro Conservatory.

One delightful surprise was the appearance of Granada dancer Mariquilla, looking great at 75, delighting the audience with anecdotes of Los Canasteros, bits and pieces of recitation and some dance steps as well. So many legendary names, so many years that have slipped by…

But best of all was seeing this veteran maestro, happy and pleased as a youngster in a candy shop, singing a medley of his own hit compositions, Amor Amor, Volveré, Tú y Yo and others that had been interpreted by artists such as Chiquetete, Marelu, Rocío Jurado, Lolita and Julio Iglesias among many others.

On November 9, 2018, the Municipal Government declared Paco Cepero a “Favorite Son of the noble city of Jerez de la Frontera”. Congratulations Paco!

Estela Zatania

Portal global de arte flamenco. El conocimiento y la pasión. La jondura y la pena. El pellizco y la fiesta. Patrimonio Cultural de la Humanidad.