Born a Gypsy in a trailer on August 7, 1921 in the city of southern France Sète, Ricardo Baliardo aka Manitas de Plata (“silver hands“) would seem to have all the necessary credentials for a flamenco guitarist, except maybe being born on the right side of the French-Spanish border. Indeed, there’s a bone of contention regarding Manitas with the connoisseurs of flamenco music (which his obituary in the Telegraph echoes). To them, this is not authentic flamenco, it doesn’t have the right “beat”, or compás (see the section about compás in the Wikipedia article on Flamenco – link will open a new tab). That may be so: not being a specialist or even connoisseur of flamenco, I won’t challenge that. But I’d rather look at it from another angle: whether this is “authentic” flamenco or not, who cares. It’s great music, hugely exciting, and Picasso, Dali thought it good enough for them. Not “authentic” flamenco? Okay, then call it something else – “French Gipsy Spanish music from Arles” if you will, and enjoy without guilt.
As I was posting my reviews of his Vanguard CDs on Amazon.com back in April 2014, I could write this:
“By the way, Manitas de Plata is still alive, going on 93, having survived both his cousin and his son, and he’s recently published a call for help in the French press, having recently suffered a heart-attack and claiming to be ill and broke, having earned much in his life and given even more in typical Gypsy fashion, and claiming not to know what he’s done with all those paintings that Picasso and Dali gave him, if he lost them or if they were stolen, because he “never considered Art as a commercial value”. It’s always startling to meet the real life behind the legends. France has Brigitte Bardot, once the contender with Marylin Monroe for the title of sexiest woman in the world, now going on 80 and coming out of her self-imposed seclusion only to rant in defence of animals and against the purported invasion of France by muslim aliens. Imagine Marylin today, she’d be going on 86. And James Dean at 83? Icons are better off dying at a young age, that’s what makes them icons. I’ll help Manitas, in gratitude for this great recital.”
And then, in November of that same year, he passed away. Legend or truth, the story goes that one day, after losing 10,000 dollars in 20 seconds at the casino, he went to his manager to ask for more money. Manager said “Manitas, why are you doing this? With this money, you could do like me and buy a nice little patch of land in the countryside!” to which Manitas responded: “the earth is for the dead”. Welcome to the earth, Manitas.
Manitas de Plata: Gipsy Flamenco. Vanguard OVC 8018 (USA), Vanguard 08 8018 71 (Europe) (1993) and reissues
Manitas de Plata: Olé! Vanguard OVC 8068 (1994) and reissues
“The Flamenco Guitar of Manitas de Plata”, Vanguard 08 9158 72 (2 CDs, 1994). Compilation of the above.
Manitas de Plata at Carnegie Hall, with josé Reyes (singer). Vanguard OVC 8086 (1995)