Flamboyant gypsy guitarist Manitas de Plata dies

6th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

Flamenco great Manitas de Plata, the gypsy guitarist of humble origins who made a fortune from his virtuoso talent, has died in a nursing home in the south of France, his fortune exhausted by a life in which he fathered up to 28 children.

French actress Brigitte Bardot led the tributes, describing him as a unique performer who set "audiences on fire".

The son of a horse trader, Manitas de Plata -- whose adopted name means 'little hands of silver' -- was born Ricardo Baliardo in a gypsy caravan in the south of France in 1921.

He went on to sell 93 million albums worldwide and is credited with popularising flamenco worldwide.

Manitas de Plata died on Wednesday surrounded by members of his large family, his daughter Francoise said.

Always a virtuoso musician, he mastered the guitar by the age of nine without learning to read a note and rose to prominence playing at the annual Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer gypsy gathering in France's Camargue region.

For years he also played to audiences on cafe terraces on the Cote d'Azur where he got to know luminaries such as Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali -- and Brigitte Bardot.

- 'Came from nothing' -In a statement to AFP, Bardot said he had possessed the "rare gift" of being able to "astound through the power and speed of playing that set his audiences on fire".

"Manitas carried with him all the joie de vivre and carefree attitude of my youth.

I have a huge admiration and great tenderness for this man who from nothing became a master -- with hands of silver -- without having ever studied music," she added.

Little known outside France for many years, Manitas de Plata was so afraid of flying that when US-based record producers became interested in him in the 1960s, they had to send a team armed with vast quantities of recording equipment to Arles.

There they recorded the album "Juerga!" which was released by Phillips and later re-released in the US by the Connoisseur Society label.

Photographer Lucien Clergue, 80, who along with his father helped promote Manitas de Plata, told AFP he had been an "exceptional performer".

"He had instinct.

He had lots of character.

He could be difficult.

He had a taste for freedom.

He was a very interesting man," he said.

Manitas de Plata was eventually persuaded to travel to the US in 1965 and his performance at New York's Carnegie Hall was a triumph.

He returned 14 times and played 11 times at London's Royal Albert Hall.

But that first concert in New York remained his fondest memory.

"Passion for me is horses, music and women," he once said.

He also loved fancy cars and was frequently seen at the wheel of a bashed-up Rolls Royce.

- '28 children' -As a child he did not go to school and never learned to read or write.

Later when he was famous he would sign autographs by writing his name in capital letters.

A sharp dresser, he was a regular at casinos dressed in expensive suits with diamond cufflinks.

At one time he was considered Europe's best-known artist worldwide and he made over 80 albums during the course of his long career.

He made a fortune but was reputed to shun banks and instead kept his money in a safe.

Famed for his womanising, he is said not to have known exactly how many children he fathered -- although it is thought to have been between 24 and 28.

He acknowledged at least 13.

He spent his money on his family, including wives, children, uncles and nephews.

He lived out his last years in a tiny studio next to the sea in the resort town of La Grande Motte.

By the time of his death he was supporting an extended family of up to 80 people and there was reportedly little money left.

He played little in his later years, although on his 90th birthday in August 2011 he confided that he still liked to keep his seven guitars close by.

"I played with the heart and I still live from day-to-day," he told AFP at the time.

© 2014 AFP

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