Granada Musical Clans Preserve and Break with Flamenco Traditions

Pepe and Juan Habichuela

The Winter 2018 issue of Classical Guitar magazine focused on families in music, as exemplified by the Romeros. Families also play an important role in handing down the traditions of flamenco. The Habichuela-Carmona clan and the Morente family—both from the Albaicín Gypsy quarter in Granada, Spain—have been vital in the history of flamenco not only for maintaining links with the past, but also for breaking down the barriers of those traditions and altering and opening up the possibilities of the art form. 

The legendary flamenco singer Enrique Morente began his singing career in a very traditional way and had a deep knowledge of all that had gone before him in flamenco, having worked in Granada and Madrid with some of flamenco’s finest artists, such as Pepe de la Matrona and guitarists Félix de Utrera and Niño Ricardo. But he was also not afraid to venture outside flamenco, collaborating with musicians as distantly related as the rock group Lagartija Nick. When he died suddenly in December 2010, his daughter—the singer Estrella Morente—already had an established international career. More recently, her younger siblings have followed a similar path, with her sister Soleá performing and making solo recordings, such as Ole Lorelei (Sony, 2018); her brother Kiki Morente is also active. Guitarist Pepe Habichuela accompanies Kiki in concert (as he did with Kiki’s father, Enrique), and Habichuela’s nephew, the guitarist Juan Habichuela Nieto, also accompanies Kiki. 

Born in 1989, Nieto showed his abilities from a young age, and in 2011 was awarded the Bordón de Oro at the Festival International del Cante de las Minas. His first album, Mi Alma a Solas, came in 2000. In 2017, he released Juan Habichuela Nieto: Con nuestro corazón a Paco de Lucía—collaborating with flautist Jorge Pardo and bass player Carles Benavent, both veteran members of Paco de Lucía’s sextet.

In December 2018, great celebrations were held in Granada in honor of the 60-year career of Pepe Habichuela. There were talks and several events leading up to the concert at the Palacio de Congresos featuring Pepe, Miguel Ríos, Estrella Soleá and Kiki Morente, Antonio Carmona, Pedro el Granaino, Pepe Luis Carmona, Maya and Alba Heredia, Nieto, and the Habichuela family. 


Like his older brother Juan Habichuela (Juan Carmona Carmona, 1933–2016), Pepe (José Antonio Carmona Carmona, b. 1944) moved from Granada to Madrid at a young age to work in the tablaos and tour with dance companies. However, besides this traditional career path, there has always been an experimental side to Pepe, which has led him to collaborate with Indian musicians (Chandrú, Bollywood Strings, Anoushka Shankar), Senegalese musicians (Baaba Maal), and jazz musicians (Don Cherry, Jaco Pastorius, Dave Holland). He made two very special recordings with Nuevos Medios: a Mandeli, with his nephew Juan Carmona “El Camborio” on guitar and laúd and Carles Benavent on bass; and Habichuela en rama, with his son José Miguel Carmona on guitar and mandola, his nephew Antonio Carmona on percussion, Victor Merlo on upright bass, Tino di Geraldo, Bandolero, and Chaboli on percussion, and the young singer El Potito. 

Pepe Habichuela with jazz bassist dave Holland

Nuevo flamenco” is a term coined by the innovative record producer Mario Pacheco at the beginning of the 1980s. At the time, there were major changes happening in flamenco, and Pacheco, with his independent record label Nuevos Medios (founded in 1982), provided a new generation of artists with the opportunity to expand their music beyond the barriers of traditional flamenco. The label issued releases by Pata Negra, Ketama (including their Songhai recording with the Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté), Ray Heredia, Martirio, and La Barbería del Sur in a series called Los Jóvenes Flamencos. Pacheco also recorded the guitarists Pepe Habichuela, Tomatito, and Juan Manuel Cañizares; the singers El Indio Gitano, Duquende, and Miguel Poveda; and jazz musicians Jorge Pardo, Chano Domínguez, and Carles Benavent. No one in the flamenco world was without an opinion about nuevo flamenco, be it positive or absolutely damning.

Established in the 1980s, the nuevo flamenco group Ketama was something halfway between flamenco and pop, with a strong Latin American flavor. Most of its members belonged to the Habichuela-Carmona families: Juan Carmona “El Camborio” and Antonio Carmona are the sons of Juan Habichuela, and Josemi Carmona is the son of Pepe Habichuela. After having released over a dozen successful recordings, Ketama disbanded in 2004, much to the chagrin of their international fans. However, in May 2018 there was a Songhai tour featuring guitarists Josemi Carmona and Juan Carmona and Toumani Diabaté, and then that glimmer of hope of a possible return of Ketama was fully realized in December 2018: The concert in homage to Pepe Habichuela was held on December 22 and on the following day Ketama performed the first concert on their new tour. 

The icing on this good-news “cake” is that Pepe Habichuela was one of the 21 recipients of the Medallas de Oro al Mérito en las Bellas Artes 2018, awarded by the Spanish government for his contribution to the arts. 

(For more on the Habichuela-Carmona clan, see the excellent 2004 documentary by the German filmmaker Michael Meert: Herencia Flamenco, The Flamenco Clan.)