Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

CAMARÓN DE LA ISLA

(b José Monje Cruz, 1950, San Fernando, near Cádiz; d 2 July 1992, Badalona, near Barcelona) Flamenco singer, almost a minor deity in Spain. 'Isla de León' is an ancient name for the village where he was born; Camarón means 'shrimp', a reference to his lightness of frame. Born into a gypsy blacksmith family, one of eight siblings who all performed, he began singing in markets and cafes and rose to fame with Paco de Lucía in Madrid, where they met, adapting traditional lyrics to Paco's complex rhythms: four of their first five albums 1969-73 were all called Camarón de la Isla, con la colaboración de Paco de Lucía, the last ending with a martinete (hammer song), 'Las doce acaban de dar', using the sound of an anvil. The youthful clarity of his voice gave way to a ravaged passion as the collaboration continued with Canastera, Soy Caminante, Arte y Majestad, Rosamaría and Castillo de arena '72-7.

The simplicity and spareness of the music changed with La Leyenda del Tiempo '79, with adaptations of lyrics by García Lorca and an appearance by Raimundo Amador (see Pata Negra); its percussive fusion style admitted elements of Latin-American music and jazz and aggravated flamenco traditionalists, but was hugely popular. Como el agua '81 was more traditional but still influenced by Paco's experimentalism, also with José Fernández (aka 'Tomatito'), an accomplished guitarist who appeared on Camarón's subsequent albums, and whose own albums included Barrio Negro '91, on which Camarón sings 'La voz del tiempo'. Calle real and Viviré '83-4 were Camarón's last with Paco, the relationship strained by his uncontrollable heroin addiction, but his own experimentation continued with Te lo dice Camarón, Flamenco vivo and Soy Gitano '86-9, the last with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: 'Dicen de mí' full of luxuriant melancholy. Camarón died of lung cancer.