Ziryab’s Heir

Paco_De_Lucia_by_Alikingflamenco“I have never lost the roots in my music, because I would lose myself. What I have tried to do is have a hand holding onto tradition and the other scratching, digging in other places, trying to find new things I can bring into flamenco.” (Paco de Lucia

Ziryab was a Persian polymath: musician, singer, oud player, composer, poet and teacher. His black colour and beautiful singing voice inspired his nickname (meaning something like “Blackbird”.)

In 822, Al-Hakam, the Umayyad prince, invited him to Al-Andalus and he settled in Córdoba. Ziryab soon became a prominent cultural figure. He introduced new standards of excellence in food, fashion, singing and music, making Córdoba the stylistic capital of his time. He himself became the example of how a courtier should act.

Ziryab is said to have improved the Oud (or Laúd) which would evolve later into the Spanish guitar. He created a unique and influential style of musical performance and established one of the first schools of music in Córdoba. His songs would be performed in Iberia for generations.

Zyryab is the name of an album by Paco de Lucia released in 1990, featuring jazz pianist Chick Corea and virtuoso guitarist Manolo Sanlúcar. (Here I propose you two different live performances of Zyryab:)

Paco de Lucia was the heir of Ziryab: a revolutionary influence on flamenco music, widely considered the world’s premier flamenco guitarist and Spain’s greatest musical export:

Paco was and will be a universal artist, who took the guitar and flamenco sentiment to the heart of the whole world. (José Luis Acosta, quoted by The Washington Post “Spain: Spain: Flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia dies at 66“)

Along with Enrique Morente and Camarón de la Isla, Paco de Lucía was the first artist to break away from traditional flamenco and create a “nuevo flamenco”. He introduced the cajón, an Afro-Peruvian instrument he discovered while touring Latin America in the late 1970’s, as a permanent solution to the need for percussion in flamenco. As a composer, he was the first Spanish artist to mix jazz with flamenco in a systematic way, teaming and establishing a lifelong collaboration with many international musicians, notably Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Chick Corea.

According to one of his biographers, Paco de Lucía was “fascinated with jazz” and held a deep respect for high-tech jazz musicians. He regarded them as highly as he did his flamenco mentors. Despite their influence, his music remained unmistakably flamenco.

The same day Paco died, José Mercé said “it will take perhaps 100 or 200 years to have another guitar as great as Paco de Lucia’s”. It took Ziryab more than 1,000 years to incarnate into somebody capable of taking him out of Andalusia. 100 or 200 years more does not seem a bad deal for Ziryab to re-incarnate again and, who knows, take flamenco to the confines of the universe!

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Featured Image: Paco De Lucia by Alikingflamenco

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