An Appreciation: Mario Pacheco

By Fernando Gonzalez

Spanish producer and photographer Mario Pacheco, an influential figure in contemporary Spanish music, especially Nuevo Flamenco, died Friday at his home in Madrid after a long illness. He was 60.

He was the soul of  Nuevos Medios, the independent label he founded in 1982 and which, at one time or another, featured groups such as Ketama, Barbería del Sur, and Pata Negra, and influential artists such as singer Martirio, composer, arranger, and keyboardist Joan Albert Amargos, bassist Carles Benavent, and reedman Jorge Pardo. Many of those groups and artists went on to greater commercial, if not artistic, success in bigger, richer record labels.

At the time of his death, Pacheco was the president of the Unión Fonográfica Independiente (UFI), the association of Spanish independent labels.

Nuevo Flamenco is an umbrella term popularized in the 1970s for fusions of flamenco with pop, jazz, blues, and African styles. These fusions revolutionized the genre, took it beyond traditionalist enclaves and the tourist postcard trade, and made it popular well beyond its natural audience. But under Pacheco, Nuevos Medios had an eclectic and creative bent, and also released recordings by  Joy Division, New Order, Pat Metheny, Robert Wyatt, Steve Reich, Bill Evans, legendary Peruvian singer songwriter Chabuca Granda, and Cuban pianist, singer and songwriter Bola de Nieve, among others.  Quality was the common thread.

Still, Pacheco´s true impact was in Nuevo Flamenco with releases such as Los Jovenes Flamencos, Blues de la Frontera (by flamenco-blues group Pata Negra), Quien No Corre Vuela by Ray Heredia, and Songhai — an exceptional meeting of flamenco pop and African tradition featuring Ketama and Toumani Diabate, released in the United States by Hannibal Records.

In a recent interview published posthumously by El País, a national newspaper in Spain, Pacheco called Nuevos Medios “the Motown of Flamenco.” It is a fair claim.

“[Flamenco producer] Ricardo Pachón had already recorded Pata Negra for Polygram,” Pacheco is quoted as saying, downplaying his own role as the champion of Nuevo Flamenco. “What was a big deal was explaining that phenomenon (Nuevo Flamenco) to a payo (non-gypsy), urban, educated audience. It was easy: these were young gypsies who listened to Prince. I used to say that we were the Motown of Flamenco: the Carmona family was the greatest rhythm section, then the sessions might come out as Ketama, La Barbería, Ray Heredia or Aurora. It was something magical. With some hand clapping, cajón (wooden box) and guitar, that thing was already working.”

Maybe it was, but it took Mario Pacheco’s vision and dedication to put it before the world.

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