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Do you recall any special early musical memories or encounters?
It’s a good question, because it brings me back to when I was studying at the door of my house where I was living in Córdoba. A boy was passing by holding a guitar and playing a little piece of flamenco, which really struck me. To this day I remember it.
So when did you first get your hands on a guitar yourself?
I had many sisters but only one brother and he had a guitar. He played – he was amateur – but there was a guitar in the house when I was maybe six years old. And obviously I took it very seriously later on in life.
What was it about flamenco music in particular that inspired you at first?
I was surrounded by it. In Andalusia, people did flamenco or pieces of music that were based on the flamenco idea. With so many people in the house, everybody was singing when they were doing their chores – all the women – so at any celebration, like the baptism of some kid or a wedding, there was always a big party. It was very easy to drift into a really deep love and connection with flamenco. That’s what happened to me.
Were there musicians you found specially inspiring or who you looked up to?
Absolutely. I never had a teacher as such, but from listening to others I became totally immersed and fascinated. I always wanted to learn everything. There were wonderful guitarists on the radio sometimes, and when I was a bit older I went to the theatre to listen to Niño Ricardo who was a great guitarist. You had heroes you admired and you tried to emulate what you heard them do, which of course was a very difficult thing because you were never in their presence. But the music would hit you.
Without having a real teacher then, what were some of the biggest challenges when mastering the instrument?
It’s a journey really. It’s not difficult, it is just fascination and ambition. So that is a journey that takes you more and more into discovering – not secrets – but how you can get to do better, to get a better sound, to be faster, or more able to do this or that, the stretches of the hand and so on.
Was there a particular moment when you knew music would be your career?
Again, that was something that happened gradually. I had a different job when I was a kid, but at night I used to do guitar with friends and so on. That led to me joining a group that went to several cities in Spain: Madrid, Barcelona, Salamanca – cities that were so far away they made me more determined to grow and more fascinated with what I was doing. Eventually I decided I was going to leave everything else, and I would just do guitar, so I took the plunge and left Córdoba and went to Madrid.
So what made you leave the country after that time spent touring around Spain?
That was a wonderful time, but when I reflected more on my life I went to London to try and be a soloist, which is something that never actually happens in Spain where you’re always part of a group. I decided I was going to do something else and very soon what I was doing was recognised – no, not what I was doing, but my music, my culture, it was recognised. I played a concert with Jimi Hendrix, a guitar duo in the Royal Festival Hall in London. It was fascinating because I wasn’t familiar with many things that other people were doing. And it was a discovery and a bit of an explosion that really put me on track.
Since that time, what would you say have been high points or fond memories?
There is one that is not very far away from a top point and that is playing the Sydney Opera House. It was wonderful – just ridiculous – an iconic monument. For me to just sit there and play on my own, it was an amazing experience. That comes close to my being really happy with what I do. Also playing in Carnegie Hall in New York. I’ve done many things with great musicians like John Williams – the Australian living in London – who is a wonderful classical guitarist. I’ve played with Eduardo Falú, a wonderful guitarist and singer from Argentina. I’ve done things which to me are endearing, and I’ve discovered so much about music through those moments in my life.
What will you be playing on this tour?
The concert is designed for each of our disciplines. We’ll be doing a set each, so I will be exploring different moods in flamenco. Flamenco has flamboyant, happy, very rhythmical parts, and also very reflective and improvisatory parts, which I will explore as well. So there are different moods, which show humans expressing their emotions in different ways. Then at the end, we will all join together. We have to rehearse something when we arrive, but at the end we will do maybe a couple of pieces just to show that we have respect and understanding of what each other does.
Is there anything you do to keep yourself inspired and interested?
Everything really. Music and the guitar is such a big subject, you can’t rest. I’m very interested in what I do. I love it. I have a company of people that I lead as well. I travel the world doing shows, not just playing myself, but actually having other musicians, dancers, singers and so on projecting my ideas. I think that’s very healthy, and it’s a wonderful thing to be doing. I’m not ever tired.
What do you do to relax or unwind?
I don’t particularly like holidays. I like to do what I do. I have one grandson and one granddaughter, so there is something to do there, but also I go to the theatre and to other concerts. Just to do nothing is very nice when you’ve been traveling for a while – just to do chores in the house, just to relax. Also eating out and that sort of thing.
Is there anything coming up beyond this tour that you’re excited about?
Just coming to Australia is always exciting. I say that truly. I’ve been coming for many years, but it’s always a wonderful place and just the trip is a very exciting thing. For me, I think, it always has been.
Paco Peña performs in Guitarra in Canberra on August 23, Melbourne on August 25, Sydney from August 26 – 27, Perth on September 1 and Adelaide on September 2