Agustín Castellón Campos, known by his stage name Sabicas, was born in Pamplona (northern Spanish province of Navarra) in 1912. He was a self-taught prodigy as a child who appeared in public for the first time at the young age of 8. ‘El Niño de las Habicas’ – literally Boy of the Beans- was destined to become a groundbreaking flamenco artist.
“I was five years old when I started making noise with my guitar” (…)
“No one taught me anything. I loved it then and continued doing it all my life.”.
‘El Niño de las Habicas’ moved to Madrid in early 1920. His amazing virtuosity soon made him a regular at the tablao Villa Rosa at the Spanish capital. He travelled often to Barcelona, featuring in performances such as ‘Ópera Flamenca’- where he premiered as a soloist- and recorded several phonograph albums. In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Sabicas collaborated as tocaor [flamenco guitar player] with the greatest flamenco artists of the time, such as ‘La Niña de los Peines, Estrellita Castro, Imperio Argentina, Angelillo, Juanito Valderrama, Niño de Utrera, and many more.
Sabicas joined a flamenco company in the mid 1930’s. He landed with this company in Buenos Aires in 1937 at the time when bailaora Carmen Amaya was thriving in the Argentinian capital. Their connection was immediate and it became a productive relationship that brought flamenco to a new dimension. They ultimately became the most significant ambassadors of flamenco in America.
“In 1955, we both – Carmen and I – came back to the United States and I never left. It took a great deal of time and effort but, with her dancing and my guitar-playing, we finally made authentic flamenco known to the whole world: known and appreciated”. (…)
In 1957, Carmen Amaya finished her American tour and Sabicas embarked on a new phase of his career. The Maestro began a string of collaborations with guitarist Mario Escudero, including the recording of three albums and several live shows. Their concert at New York’s Town Hall in 1959 was considered by critics to be the first solo flamenco guitar recital in history. The show represented a major turning point in Sabicas’ career.
“Sabicas showed me a clean sound that I hadn’t heard before, a pace unknown for me at the time, ultimately, a new way to play. From that moment on, I wouldn’t say I forgot Ricardo [referring to Niño Ricardo, his main influence], but I added Sabicas’ style to my learning process to reshape it and make it mine.”
Thus a solo career which, despite being long confined to the United States due to Maestro’s fear of flying, found a large audience worldwide thanks to his impressive discography. More than 40 studio albums throughout his career were distributed in Japan, Australia, England and France. His records would not appear in Spain until 1959 but they profoundly influenced a new generation of flamenco guitarists who discovered in Sabicas a whole new way to play guitar. A few years later, an encounter would change the course of flamenco guitar-playing forever: Paco de Lucía met maestro Sabicas in New York.
“I would be glad to have the honor of showcasing in Pamplona. I haven’t seen my birthplace in thirty-nine years. The mere remembrance of it, even the sound of its name, boosts my pulse”
In 1967, Sabicas confronted his fear of flying and travelled for the first time to Japan. Shortly after that, he travelled back to Spain, almost thirty years after he had left for America, invited by the “IV Semana de Estudios Flamencos de Málaga”. Thereafter he travelled to Spain on several occasions, always for professional reasons, until 1974. During his last visit to Spain he stated in an interview:
His wish was fulfilled eight years later. Pamplona praised him at the San Fermines in 1982. He was honored with the Gold Medal of the city in a tribute held at the Teatro Gayarre with performances by artists such as Naranjito de Triana and Pepe Habichuela, to name but a few.
That same year, the maestro showcased at Palau de la Música as part of the 3rd Festival Flamenco in Barcelona. He soon headed back to New York for the opening of the International Guitar Festival held at Cami Hall owned by the Columbia Corporation.
Some years later, Enrique Morente invited Sabicas to the First Cumbre Flamenca, touring in several cities in Spain and Germany. Maestro Sabicas finally received a well-deserved tribute at the Teatro Real in Madrid.
“I was obsessed with recording that album. …I met the maestro 20 years ago and he played for my cante at many parties, but there were no recordings with new sound technologies of him accompanying cante jondo, classical singing. I thought that toque [the art of playing the flamenco guitar] had to remain for posterity as an example for forthcoming guitarists.”.
Singer Enrique Morente, a great admirer of the Maestro, had an obsession with the idea of recording with Sabicas. Mr Morente finally obtained funding and in 1989 began recording the album ‘Morente-Sabicas, Nueva York/Granada’. That same year, Sabicas was honored with his final tribute at Carnegie Hall sharing the billwith Mr. Morente and Paco de Lucía. Sabicas passed away a few months later in the city where he had lived for more than thirty years.
he great Maestro Sabicas left a legacy of enormous value. His pre-eminent role as ambassador for flamenco worldwide and the profound influence of his style in contemporary and future generations of guitarists are unquestionable. Hereafter we seek to pay tribute to Sabicas, highlighting his legacy and ultimately bringing flamenco to a broader audience of northern Spain and abroad.
Flamenco travels North to celebrate the memory of Maestro Sabicas.