“TIENE DUENDE” IS THE ULTIMATE
accolade in the flamenco universe. Literal
English translations of this Andalusian
expression range from “he has magic” to
“he has elves,” but in the vernacular of
our southernmost musical tradition—the
blues—duende translates as maximum
The celebrated flamenco guitarist Paco
de Lucía spotted this special magic in a
young Juan Manual Cañizares and invited
him to participate in his Solo, Duo, Trio
shows, and to become a member of the
Paco de Lucía Septet. Ten years of touring
with the maestro further honed Cañizares’
(as he is now known) artistry, and led him
to greater challenges. During one of the
tours, Cañizares transcribed three pieces
from fellow Catalonian Isaac Albéniz’s signature
piano masterpiece, “Suite Iberia,”
arranging them for two guitars, and de
Lucía included the pieces on his Concierto
de Aranjuez. The album’s success inspired
Cañizares to embark on a solo career,
recording three albums, composing music
for the Spanish National Ballet and various
films, teaching master classes,
recording a fiery solo for “Shadow” on
Peter Gabriel’s Big Blue Ball, and transcribing
the remaining nine pieces of “Suite
Iberia.” One hundred years after he composed
it, Albéniz’s grand opus comes to
life—not on piano, but on two guitars,
both played by Cañizares on his Suite Iberia
On Suite Iberia, you play two different guitars,
a Paco de Lucía and a Conde Hermanos 2001.
Why two guitars?
The Paco de Lucía guitar has more bass
tone and the Conde Hermanos guitar has
more treble. I use them on the lower and
higher keys, respectively.
Are you using the Conde Hermanos to play
What are the differences between a flamenco
guitar and a classical guitar?
There are structural differences, such
as the types of wood used, body depth,
and the position of the bridge. One of the
most important differences is that the
strings on a flamenco guitar are closer to
the frets to create the typical flamenco
What characterizes the typical flamenco
It is more of a “broken” sound, especially
with the fourth, fifth, and sixth bass strings.
It is a “nastier” sound, like when a singer’s
voice cracks. Flamenco guitar is more aggressive,
has more attack, and sometimes sounds
What strings do you use?
I use both Conde Hermanos 735 Hard
Tension and Luthier Concert Silver sets.
Suite Iberia is the result of four years of work
transcribing and arranging this suite for flamenco
guitar. What was your biggest challenge in this
The most difficult challenge was to make
the effort each day to finish. I had to analyze
the harmony and the counterpoint to
be certain that I only cut notes that are not
essential, so that the music did not lose its
Do you ever improvise?
We flamenco players usually improvise
with the interpretation and the expression
of the music from within, as it is composed,
unlike with jazz improvisation, which typically
involves scales and patterns.
In 2005, you did the “Mano a Mano” tour, a show
combining the Spanish classical guitar of Jose
Maria Gallardo with your flamenco guitar. What
are the differences in technique between flamenco
Classical guitar is sweeter. The articulation
and the phrasing are softer, more elastic.
Flamenco is much more rhythmic and percussive.
Are there differences in right hand technique
between the two styles?
Although we use the same fingering, how
we play is analogous to, say, how the English
language is used. Americans and the
British may use the same words, but in
America they may take one form, and in England
they may take another.
When you pluck the notes with the fingers of
your right hand, do you use mostly nail or flesh?
I use both. And my style of playing is to
attack the string directly from above the face
of the guitar, rather than the side of the
string, a little bit like a pianist. I believe the
sound comes out brighter because it is more
How did you learn the guitar?
I learned with my brother Rafael. I began
to play when I was six years old, and when
I was ten I entered the Music Academy for
more advanced study. It was then that I began
to create my own style.
You studied at the Sabadell Conservatory in
your hometown. Do they teach classical guitar, flamenco,
When I began at the conservatory, I
already knew how to play. I went to the conservatory
to study counterpoint, harmony,
fugue, and other aspects of composition.
What did you learn from Paco de Lucía?
From the maestro I gained much experience
and above everything else I learned the
importance of small details.
Give an example?
I learned to subdivide well in terms of
rhythm—triplets, sixteenth notes, etc.—and
that music must have order within its space.
How often do you practice?
I try to practice daily, but sometimes life
gets in the way. Now, my way of practicing
is not like years ago when I practiced technique.
When I pick up the guitar, I am
dedicated to composing. I have spent many
years working with technique, and I don’t
especially need to work with it so much anymore.
A wise guitarist once said we learn technique
so that we can forget it.
Yes. Technique is very important, but once
you have it, you go to a second level. Technique
has to serve the music. For this reason,
it is very important to work very hard with
technique when you are young, so that you
will have it later when you wish to compose.
What advice do you have for those who want
to play flamenco?
My principal advice is to know where
you want to go, because if you do not have
a direction, you are wasting your time. Also,
I tell my students that until you achieve
mastery of the instrument, it is very important
to think that your first, middle, and
last names are Technique, Technique, and
Technique—because if you don’t have technique
on your instrument, how are you going
to express your ideas?