Manzanita

Pioneer of a modern style of flamenco

The gypsy flamenco artist José Ortega Heredia, known as "Manzanita", began as a guitarist, accompanying world stars like Enrique Morente and Lola Flores when he was just 11. But Manzanita is best remembered for his lighter, more popular, flamenco singing style - especially his rendering of poems by Federico García Lorca and the Sevillian romantic poet Gustavo Bécquer - and for abandoning his art for a while to sell eiderdowns in the street.

José Ortega Heredia ("Manzanita"), flamenco guitarist and singer: born Madrid 7 February 1956, married (seven children); died Alhaurín de la Torre Spain 5 December 2004.

The gypsy flamenco artist José Ortega Heredia, known as "Manzanita", began as a guitarist, accompanying world stars like Enrique Morente and Lola Flores when he was just 11. But Manzanita is best remembered for his lighter, more popular, flamenco singing style - especially his rendering of poems by Federico García Lorca and the Sevillian romantic poet Gustavo Bécquer - and for abandoning his art for a while to sell eiderdowns in the street.

His mother and his father were both flamenco dancers, and his uncle was the cantaor Manolo Caracol, but as a child he wanted to be a footballer or a bullfighter. He started playing the guitar as a boy in Madrid's flamenco bars, and in the Seventies formed a group, Los Chorbos, with other youngsters drawn to the sharper tones of urban rumba. They pioneered a style of flamenco known as "the Caño roto sound" after their home neighbourhood, and sought to modernise the old form whilst remaining true to their gypsy roots.

Manzanita made his first solo album in 1978, Poco Ruido y mucho duende ("Little Noise and Much Spirit"), and attracted stylish accompanists including Dave Thomas on bass.

Over-indulgence in drugs kept him from the stage for several years. But he re-emerged to participate with the pop flamenco group Ketama in the final sequence of Carlos Saura's 1995 film Flamenco. His brutal machismo was a distinctive part of his persona. "I am machista, I can't help it," he once said:

I don't like a woman who works. I like her to be at home looking after the children. And when my daughters marry they'll be like their mother. Unless they disobey me.

His music sold well but brought him no riches, and during the 1990s he abandoned his art to become a street trader, and a preacher in the Evangelical Church. "I tried to devote myself to God," he said, "but I realised that singing and playing the guitar were my life."

Manzanita's 2002 comeback album, Gitano Cubano, celebrated Cuban classics of son, chachacha and bolero with Raimundo Amador. In his last album, La Cucharita (2004), he interpreted works by Bob Marley and Ruben Blades. He never recovered his health, and died, overweight, from a heart attack after a heavy dinner.

Elizabeth Nash

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