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‘He is a Mozart of our times’ Spaniards pay last respects to flamenco star de Lucia

MADRID, Spain, March 1, (AFP): Spaniards from all walks of life flocked as devoted fans to a Madrid music hall on Friday to pay their final respects to flamenco guitar virtuoso Paco de Lucia. A stream of visitors ranging from politicians and music stars to ordinary citizens who only knew him from afar streamed past his closed coffin laid out on stage. “He was a genius, a genius in all aspects. In the way he composed, in the way he innovated, in everything,” said Pedro Benitez, 45, a lifelong fan who was the first in the line of people waiting in silence to pay their respects. “He is a Mozart of our times,” added Benitez as he stood at the entrance to the venue beside his wife Maria, who arrived there at 7:30 am to hold their place in the queue.

Born Francisco Sanchez Gomez, the guitarist died of a heart attack aged 66 on Tuesday after feeling unwell while playing football on a beach with his eight-year-old son near the Caribbean resort of Playa del Carmen. His body arrived in Madrid on Friday and the coffin was displayed at the red-brick National Auditorium of Music for four hours. It was to be taken to his home town of Algeciras for a public wake overnight and burial Saturday. “Art unites people and this man was a flag-bearer of art. What’s more he went over all the world,” said Diego Moreno, a middle-aged man from Algeciras who wore a black bowler hat, queueing to pass by the casket. “So any of us who consider ourselves in the slightest bit artists have to be here. It is an obligation,” he added.

Farewell
Culture Minister Jose Ignacio Wert said the huge numbers of people who turned out to bid farewell to the musician showed “the immense affection” Spaniards had for him. “He has always been an ambassador of Spanish culture, a master, someone who took flamenco to the end of the world,” the minister said as he arrived at the music hall. De Lucia brought flamenco to a world audience with his speedy fingerwork, credited with modernising the gypsy tradition of his native Andalusia by absorbing jazz and pop influences. His casket was draped with the red and yellow Spanish flag and the green and white flag of Andalucia, the southern Spanish region where he was born and which is the cradle of flamenco. It was surrounded by yellow rope and flanked by over 20 round floral wreaths set up on easels. Mourners walked slowly by the coffin, some taking pictures with their mobile phones or handing flowers to a young boy who laid them by the coffin.

“We have a lot of affection and respect for everything he did to promote flamenco,” said Javier Pinto, 33, an unemployed house painter from Cadiz who held a red carnation and his black motorcycle helmet as he stood in the queue. Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe, wearing a black tie, consoled the guitar virtuoso’s family at the music centre. Spanish flamenco dancer Joaquin Cortes and veteran flamenco guitarist Pepe Habichuela were among the other well-known Spaniards who came to pay their respects. “I love the guitar, so this has been a great blow for me. I can’t explain it. As a person and as a professional, he is number one,” said Ninfa Bonilla, an immigrant from Honduras. Fans left tributes in three condolence books laid out on a table in the lobby of the music hall. “Thank you for your legacy, thank you for being born, thank you master,” one mourner wrote.
 

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