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Over the centuries, Seville has produced remarkable and influential artists of all kinds. From the ‘painter of painters’ Diego Velázquez to the Amador gypsy brothers who married flamenco with blues, here are several artists from the the capital of Andalucia that everyone should know about.
Gypsy brothers Raimundo and Rafael Amador grew up in Triana in the now-notorious Las Tres Mil Viviendas (The Three Thousand Homes) estate built for Seville’s gypsies in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s they formed Pata Negra, one of Spain’s most popular and influential groups. Both guitarists and singers, the Amadors effortlessly fused blues with flamenco to create a sound all of their own – which they called ‘blueseria‘ – and their Blues de la Frontea (1986) and Rock Gitano (1982) albums are a must-listen. “Everything I like is illegal, immoral or makes me fat”, they sang on the album Inspiración y Locura (1990); who couldn’t love musicians who penned a line like that?
Grandson of the legendary Antonio Montoya Flores – also known as ‘El Farruco’ and considered one of the most remarkable dancers in the history of flamenco – Farruquito also hails from Las Tres Mil Viviendas, Seville’s run-down gypsy estate. Farruquito’s impecable flamenco breeding meant he started performing early, and at the age of five he was already on the Broadway stage with his grandfather, in the Flamenco Puro show. International success and fame came with the show Raices del Flamenco (‘Roots of Flamenco’), which he performed all over Europe and in Japan while still only in his teens. Despite his huge commercial success, Farruquito’s personal life has been stormy: in 2003, after hurtling through a red light in Seville, he hit a pedestrian who later died. Initially evading prison, he had to serve three years between 2006-2009 after the prosecution appealed his original sentence. Only last year did he finally return to the world stage (in New York) with a new show called Improvisao.
Gustavo Bécquer is arguably the most important poet to have come out of the Andalusian capital and one of the most widely-read Spanish writers after Cervantes. Bécquer was a talented drawer (both his father and brother were painters), but when he moved to Madrid at the age of 17 it was to pursue a career as a poet rather than as a painter. Literary success didn’t come easy in the big city and over the course of his short life Bécquer worked as a journalist and a comic playwright – in collaboration with his gifted brother, Valeriano – to make ends meet while he worked on his poetry. He also briefly held a minor governmental role, but was fired when his boss caught him drawing at his desk. Today Bécquer is chiefly celebrated for his Rimas y Leyendas (‘Rhymes and Legends’), which were memorised by his friends and published after the poet’s suitably romantic death, at the age of just 34, from tuberculosis.
Unlike many of the great Andalusian matadors, Ignacio Sánchez Mejias was not born into an impoverished gypsy family. Instead, his was a comfortable middle-class Sevillano childhood and his father wanted the young Mejias to choose medicine for a profession, as he had done himself. Yet that seemed like far too dull a prospect for a boy who played at bullfighting with his friends on the sandy banks of the Guadalquivir river. Mejias made his debut as a banderillo – matador’s assistant – in Mexico in 1910, but owing to injury did not become a full matador until 1920. A hugely successful career followed, and for several years he achieved the inhuman feat of performing in one hundred bullfights per season. Injury and fatigue forced a temporary retirement in 1927, but Mejias returned to the arena in 1934 only to be fatally gored in August of that year during a bullfight in Manzanares. Also a playwright and critic, his bravery and artistry in the ring was memorialised in Federico Garcia Lorca’s haunting poem “Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejias“.
Juan Belmonte is the most famous son of Seville’s gypsy quarter Triana, a neighbourhood that has always been associated with flamenco and bullfighting. Belmonte was a rogue and a rebel, born into a huge gypsy family at the close of the 19th century. When he wasn’t doing a terrible job of looking after his father’s market stall, he would hang around on the (now fashionable) Alameda de Hercules with his listless friends, smoking, heckling passers-by and dreaming of becoming a great bullfighter. After sunset, this restless gang would trek for hours to illegally fight bulls in the open countryside outside Seville. Belmonte was the only one amongst his friends who made it as a torero, and is now regarded as one of the greatest matadors of all time; he is remembered in his old barrio by a statue at the Triana end of Puente Isabel II.