David Cohen: What was the first rhythm you learned?
Paco Pena: The first rhythm was Soleares.
Cohen: Was there ever pressure on you not to play the guitar but do something that would bring money?
Paco: That is a very good question. Well, the thing is, we were nine children in a very poor family and certainly the concern, particularly my mother’s was that everybody had a basic education and be good enough to get a decent job and so on. So I did go to school. I was into that and I eventually got a job in an office to soon, but never the less it was a job. My mother, wisely never objected to me going with other friends She made sure that the friends were good people. I was very young and they wanted me to go with them to play. I always played all day, everyday. She did realize it was a social connection with the world for me. It’s a very good question, I never thought about it. She never did object to me doing it. On the other hand she wanted me to have the skills to do something else, “a proper job”, like a job in an office. I suppose my love for music, for the guitar became strong and I left the job and I just decided to be a guitarist.
Cohen: Did you put pressure on yourself to make money?
Paco: Not to make money but to be able to survive. If you imagine a family of people who do manual work, my mother use to have a store in the market selling vegetables to feed us. She only had my older brother and me and seven girls. It’s a matter of necessity to make sure you are able to look after yourself in some way. It’s not making money as such, but being able to be alright in life. The pressure was never to strong, it was always wishing that I would be alright but never demanding strongly that I take a job.
Cohen: Was there a particular time when you took a deep breath and said, “I’ve made it” and what was the recording that was from that time.
Paco: That’s a good question, I suppose one could look at it and analyze it. It’s difficult, I’ve never said “I’ve made it” in that way. There are significant landmarks. I always loved playing with flamenco dancers and flamenco singers, particularly with singers. I was never interested in being a soloist as such, I wanted to be in the background but one day I decided to be a soloist because I needed my life to be more interesting than it was. I don’t mean interesting artistically but more demanding on myself to achieve more, to go much further. So I decided I was going to be a soloist. Example, playing for my debut concert in the Wigmore Hall in London was a magnificent feeling , when the audience reacted to me, God forbid, who am I? When they reacted so nicely, so well to what I had to offer. I think that was a revelation and it was saying I want to do something, I have to continue to work and project this image. Soon after that I played with Jimi Hendrix at the Royal Festival Hall in London. There were four different guitar acts, but to play with Jimi Hendrix was a fantastic event, really. So you could say those little things make you realize you made something of your life. They are little steps in becoming human, becoming what you are. I’m not one to say, “Oh you’ve made it”. I never felt that way.
Cohen: Where you familiar with Jimi Hendrix?
Paco: Yes of course. Not enough, I was to much into my own thing but I was aware of him as a fantastic artist.
Cohen: Have you ever played an electric guitar?
Paco: Well I tried now and then, it’s to difficult.
Cohen: When are you coming out with your new cd, Requiem for the Earth?
Paco: It’s being done at the moment. I’ve done it live, I have to analyze it and do it in the studio, I want to do it soon.
Cohen: Do you have artistic freedom with your record company?
Paco: Oh yes, I can do what I want.
Cohen: Was it hard getting Misa Flamenco out?
Paco: Not at all. They were really delighted to get something different out at that time. For me it was a bit of an experiment. I don’t like the word experiment, it was a trip, an adventure to combine two strong musical cultures like classical and flamenco in that way. It fascinated me and when talking to the record company they got excited talking to me because I was excited. So the same applies to the Requiem. It’s a very intense work, but it has a comment on what is happening to the Earth in a negative sense but it also has a positive theme like looking to the future and calling to our awareness so that we may learn to protect the future for our children.
Cohen: How much time do you spend practicing?
Paco: Really quit a lot, particularly if I have my responsibilities. If I have to do things then I need to practice. I suppose when I was younger I practiced more.
Cohen: Do you have a favorite rhythm?
Paco: I guess it is still Soleares, the rhythm is fascinating. You drift into it. It’s wonderful, expressive, not difficult but demanding in wanting to get right into it and do more with it.
Cohen: It there one you think is difficult?
Paco: Well yes, in flamenco there are rhythms that have great complexity and you always try to find new bits of expression within them. The Buleria for example is so exciting and fast. Each rhythm has a moment. Sometimes you feel you’re doing something and everything happens right and sometimes you don’t.
Cohen: I remember driving to Connecticut to see you and then the next tour a club in New York, then Town Hall a few times and then Carnegie Hall. This is your first time in Philadelphia and there is another city you are playing in for the first time. Do you feel like you are conquering the United States?
Paco: No, its not a matter of conquering. I do what I do, it is what I believe. Therefore any people who feel that they want to experience it, I am delighted to go there and take the challenge and convince them. It’s not a matter of conquering. I’m connected to this tradition. I love it, so I do it with love not aggression.