If you managed to see Friday’s film of Los Tarantos, or even if you could only catch the excerpt of Carmen Amaya’s dancing which has been uploaded onto YouTube, then perhaps you have had your interest in Carmen Amaya stimulated. She was a wonderful dancer and a wonderful person.

Paco Sevilla is one of the finest researchers in flamenco that we have writing in English and reading his biography of Carmen Amaya will endear her and her art to you even more. 

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Paco Sevilla’s book, entitled Queen of the Gypsies – The Life and Legend of Carmen Amaya: Flamenco in the Theater Age: 1910–1960, is exemplary in the level of detail and background which he has uncovered, not only about Carmen Amaya but also about the many flamenco artists of her time, such as the flamenco guitarists Ramón Montoya and of Sabicas who worked with her for many years, flamenco dancers La Argentina, Vicente Escudero and Antonio, and flamenco singers such as Antonio Chacón and Niña de los Peines. The book also gives insight into the innovations in existing flamenco styles during her time and the introduction of new styles into flamenco. 

Using many sources, such as interviews of flamenco artists speaking of their experiences with Carmen Amaya, we feel as though we are so close to her, we could almost touch her. We can follow her on her world tours and watch her dock in Buenos Aires in 1936, welcomed by a wall of ‘paparazzi‘.

Carmen Amaya ‘s fame was such that she toured the world performing, however, as Paco Sevilla explains, she was very much a ‘family’ person. He writes ‘But Carmen couldn’t go without her family. As she said on one occasion, “I don’t know how to go through the world alone, and if I don’t go with my people, I get nothing out of life.”… swelling the “company” to include her grandfather, Juan Amaya Jiménez, at one time a great dancer but now little more than the object of Carmen’s tender affection, her father, José el Chino,…her diabetic mother, Micaela (Carmen took on the responsibility of daily insulin injections), her sisters, Antonia and Leonor, and other assorted relatives.’

The book Queen of the Gypsies, which is 402 pages long, is available from Sevilla Press San Diego, California; you will find a number of other interesting publications by Paco Sevilla on that website as well. 

© 2010 Thérèse Wassily Saba

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