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Leonard Cohen has been honoured with the Premio de las Letras in the Príncipe de Asturias 2011 awards in Spain.

During his moving acceptance speech he spoke with humility about the art of creating poetry and of how, only after reading the poetry of Federico García Lorca, was he able to understand his own voice: ‘He gave me permission to find a voice.’ Then Leonard Cohen explained that he had no instrument, and told the brief story of his encounter with a Spanish flamenco guitarist who, before committing suicide, taught him to play six chords in the early 1960s. This led him to create his poetry and songs.

Leonard Cohen also mentions with a special fondness his Conde guitar which was a significant source of inspiration for him 40 years ago when he was just starting out. He says:  ‘I have a Conde guitar, which was made in Spain in the great workshop at number 7 Gravina Street. It is a beautiful instrument that I acquired over 40 years ago. I took it out of the case; I lifted it. It seemed to be filled with helium; it was so light. I brought it to my face. I put face close to the beautifully designed rosette and I inhaled the fragrance of the living wood. … as fresh as the first day that I acquired the guitar.’

The flamenco guitar makers Conde have a long history of guitar making and their guitars have been played by some of the most outstanding guitarists throughout the history of flamenco. Belonging to the third generation of guitar makers, Felipe Conde has his workshop in Madrid. Felipe Conde’s great uncle, Domingo Esteso, opened his guitar making workshop in 1915 at Calle Gravina 7. The next generation were the Sobrinos de Esteso (nephews of Esteso), Faustino and Mariano Conde, who were the father and uncle of Felipe Conde; he began working with them in 1971. The workshop is now in Calle Arrieta, near the Teatro Real in Madrid.

This was the 31st year of the Premios Príncipe de Asturias. The ceremony was held in the Teatro Campoamor in Oviedo in the presence of the H.R.H. the Prince of Asturias on 21 October 2011. Previous winners of the Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Letras have been: Amin Maalouf in 2010, Ismail Kadaré in 2009, Margaret Atwood in 2008 and Amos Oz in 2007. 

Leonard Cohen has a new recording coming out in January 2012 called Old Ideas – An Album of New Songs by Leonard Cohen. This song, Show me the Place, will be on the new recording.

More details can be found at Leonard Cohen’s website.

© 2011 Thérèse Wassily Saba