Latin Grammy winner Vicente Amigo is among the most influential flamenco musicians of his generation.
He has been called "the natural continuation of Paco de Lucía," a comparison that, while flattering, is somewhat inaccurate, especially given his long, close relationship with the late guitarist (though it was a de Lucía television appearance that provided Amigo with his earliest inspiration). If he can be defined at all, the evidence of his myriad skills can be found on his well-rounded, Grammy-winning 2001 album, Ciudad de las Ideas.
Amigo is classically trained in composition, improvisation, and technique. His fleet and fluid style bridges classical and nuevo flamenco, and is particularly suited to singers. He has collaborated with many vocalists, including El Pele, Luis de Cordoba, Niña Pastori, Carmen Linares, Arcangel, and Diego el Cigala. What's more, Amigo's talents are so diverse, he has successfully collaborated on stages and recordings with a host of pop vocalists, including Miguel Bose, Sting, and Alejandro Sanz. As a guitarist, Amigo was also deeply influenced by jazz and fusion players such as Stanley Jordan, Al Di Meola, and John McLaughlin -- he has shared stages with the latter two.
Born in Guadalcanal outside Seville in 1967, Amigo was a child prodigy. At the age of three, he saw de Lucía performing on television, and only a year later he took up guitar and began formal studies with influential flamenco guitarist Merengue de Cordoba, continuing subsequently with Juan Muñoz Expósito (aka "El Tomate"). Amigo downplays the "prodigy" notion. In a 1998 interview he said, "I believe that flamenco has always been something for adults, not just for children. To understand flamenco, you need maturity. You can learn to play the guitar as a child, you understand the technique. But, the essence of flamenco is something that requires maturity." In his mid-teens, Amigo was already attracting attention as a protégé of Paco Peña. At 16, he began a decade-long collaborative apprenticeship with innovative guitarist and composer Manolo Sanlúcar in a band that lasted well into Amigo's twenties. In the 1980s Amigo decided he wanted to be a live performer exclusively. Singer El Pele (Manuel Moreno Maya) changed his mind toward the end of the decade, and after making his debut on Camarón de la Isla's album Soy Gitano in 1989, Amigo worked with El Pele on a pair of dual-billed dates in 1990 and 1991, Poetas de Esquinas Blandas and La Fuente de lo Jondo, both on Pasion Discos.
During this period, Amigo also began composing in earnest, developing a skill that others would come to envy in the future. He signed to Sony in 1991 and released his label debut, De Mi Corazón al Aire, which featured a pair of vocal performances from Jose Merce and Charo Manzano and contributions from Argentine pop/rocker Pedro Aznar and Algerian rai star Khaled. Amigo began touring Spain, France, and Latin America, remaining on the road for three years and winning several flamenco prizes during the era. In 1992 he took part in Leyendas de la Guitarra, held in Seville as a foretaste of the Expo '92 exhibition. He played in the company of guitarists including de Lucía, Keith Richards, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Phil Manzanera, and Richard Thompson. (Bob Dylan and Joe Cocker were also on the bill.) That same year he contributed to Wagner Tiso's score and soundtrack for the film The Baobab.
In 1995, he released the instrumental collection Vivencias Imaginadas, featuring a kaleidoscopic variety of bulerias, rhumbas, fandangos, and other tunes including the nine-and-half-minute "Querido Metheny," a tribute to jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. Two years later, Amigo released one of his most acclaimed and provocative recordings in Poeta, wherein he delivered an homage to the poetry of Rafael Alberti with a work for guitar and orchestra that also featured Cuban guitarist, composer, and conductor Leo Brower and Latin pop star Miguel Bosé, who collaborated on the texts. He toured and performed live -- including performances with de Lucía, who became a close friend -- the pair became so close they actually served as godparents to one another's children. The following year he was both the featured soloist and producer of Jose Merce's Del Amanecer, and the pair toured together and played major European festivals.
Amigo did not record under his own name again until 2001's Ciudad de las Ideas, an album that topped the contemporary flamenco charts and featured three hit vocal numbers with Aznar, Khaled, and El Cigala. The record was certified gold and ultimately platinum before winning the 2001 Latin Grammy for Best Flamenco Album. In 2003, he reprised his partnership with El Pele on Canto; all but one of the collection's ten songs were composed by Amigo. Critically acclaimed, it prompted a tour by the pair before Amigo went off on his own global road trip. For 2005's Un Momento en el Sonido, the guitarist employed his working band and a vocal chorus that included Antonio Villar, Blas Córdoba, Potito (guitarist and vocalist Antonio Vargas Cortés), and Ángela Bautista in a series of formally structured flamenco that displayed his fusion of modern (nuevo) and classic styles. Pastori and Sanz were among the singers who appeared on 2009's pop-centric Paseo de Gracia. The album featured solo pieces as well as orchestral and folk-inspired tracks influenced by Metheny's large-ensemble work, with production details and arrangements inspired by Mike Oldfield. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- its origins on the edges of flamenco, the album was a best-seller.
Throughout the first decade of the new millennium, Amigo played on various recordings by other artists, including Pepe de Lucía's El Corazón de Mi Gente (2002), Sting's Send Your Love (2003), David Bisbal's Premonición (2006), and Pastori's Caprichos de Mujer and Esperando Verte (both 2009). Given his touring, producing, and playing commitments, Amigo began experimenting, issuing a fusion of flamenco and Celtic folk on 2013's Tierra. Completely written by the guitarist and arranged with keyboardist Guy Fletcher, he was backed by Mark Knopfler's group as well as the Scottish folk group Capercaillie, with some vocal assistance by Lya. Given the thorough and painstaking manner in which the guitarist researched the way various sounds and folk styles came together, and the passion involved in the performances, the record was greeted with commercial and critical enthusiasm. He was awarded a Gold Medal of the Fine Arts by the Spanish government to commemorate the release. After more global touring, Amigo returned to the studio in late 2016, emerging with Memoria de los Sentidos the following year. The set was a collection of flamenco songs with an enviable cast of singers and musicians, including Potito, Farruquito, Miguel Poveda, Pepe De Pura, Pastori, El Pele, and Arcangel. The album hit the Spanish Top Ten upon release and was certified gold before year's end. ~ Craig Harris, Rovi