Manolo Escobar: Singer hailed as ‘the Elvis Presley of the rumba’ who became best known for the worldwide hit ‘Y Viva España’

 

“Manolo Escobar was our Elvis Presley of the rumba” (or Spanish folk dancing) – a columnist wrote in Spain’s ABC newspaper. And although Escobar was best-known internationally for his “Y Viva España”, he was also Spain’s top male singer of the 1960s and early 1970s, and record sales of his mixture of traditional music and more modern styles sold by the millions.

Born into a family of 10 children in 1932 in rural Almeria, the most south-easterly province of Andalusia, and one of Spain’s poorest, Escobar began singing professionally at the age of eight and then took the well-trodden emigration trail for Barcelona at 14, after the family business, a hotel, went bankrupt.

First forming a band playing traditional songs with his brothers Juan Gabriel, Baldomero and Salvador, he combined performing with numerous jobs in post offices, factories and building sites. Then in 1960, when his version of the song “El Porompompero” became a smash hit, his solo career finally took off.

Escobar’s music is hard to define – neither straight Spanish folk music, nor flamenco or pop, but rather a catchy, unchallenging fusion of all three. It might have been bland and predictable, and the lyrics were undoubtedly cheesy – “even my dog can’t stop walking from my house to yours and from your house to mine” he crooned on one of his biggest 1960s hits, “Ojos verdes” [Green Eyes] – but there was no arguing with its enormous popularity. And with no political content to offend the ruling Franco regime, (although the authorities would surely have approved of his singing, “I don’t like you going to a bullfight wearing a mini-skirt” in another of his multi-million selling hits, “La Minifalda”), of his 78 albums, 24 went gold.

Escobar did not wish to record the song for which he became best known, “Y Viva España” – written originally by the Belgians, Leo Rozenstraten and Leo Koerts in 1971 – because of its lyrics’ tacky patriotism. But he ceded to pressure from his record label and the subsequent single sold six million copies.

It spawned numerous cover versions, one of the most memorable by the Swedish folk singer Sylvia Vrethammar in 1974. Dressed in a fetching Cordoba-style hat and camping it up to painfully corny levels, Vrethammar recounted how she was “On her way to sunny Spain ... on the Costa Brava plane”,  and how a bullfighter made her knees tremble when he “rattled his maracas close to me”. As a three-minute Spanish cliche fest went Vrethammar’s song has arguably never met its English-speaking match, and after it reach No 4 in the UK charts that year, and staying in the hit parade for six months, one could say that no self-respecting British hen-party to Spain is complete without at least one bawled-out chorus.

In Spain, meanwhile, “E Viva España” – in its original, maraca-free version – became something of an unofficial national anthem, performed by Escobar at everything from the national football team’s successful 2008 European Championship and 2010 World Cup campaigns, to countless New Year’s Eve television galas. His music became so popular that Escobar grew, he once said, “fed up to the back teeth with singing the same songs 5,000 times.” But when he refused to perform any of his hits at a performance in Malaga, the concert goers were so outraged that he promptly went back, as he put it, “to being myself,” cranking out the favourites night after night and year after year.

Escobar’s performances in 20 or so films were less impressive, mostly consisting of  appearances in unimaginative rural dramas or low-budget erotic comedies – a format known as  destape –  for which Spaniards developed an insatiable appetite in the mid-1970s. Arguably the most memorable image of any of his films – given that it would never have got past Franco’s censors and was thus something of a social breakthrough – was in 1976, when he became the first Spanish actor to be filmed smoking drugs, a joint, offered to him by a hippy on the fun-loving Costa del Sol in La mujer es un buen negocio [Women are good business].

Escobar gave up acting in 1981, and with his popularity waning slightly he dedicated more and more time to collecting art. By the time he died had amassed around 2,000 paintings by leading Spanish artists. But he continued recording and giving concerts, too, until 2012, when encroaching illness forced him to take a prolonged break.

A comeback tour was planned for January next year, with another album in the offing, but after his cancer worsened, he died at home in Benidorm. As the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said, “we have lost, after half a century, an indispensable reference point for traditional Spanish music.”

Manolo Escobar: singer and actor: born El Ejido, Spain 19 October 1931; married 1958 Anita Marx (one daughter); died Benidorm 24 October 2013.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Sport
Alexis Sanchez missed a penalty before scoring the opening goal with a header at the back post
footballArsenal vs QPR match report
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
i100
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all