We are not going to talk much here about his life, but rather about his work. How his intuition, his personal voice, and his deep knowledge of flamenco “de siempre” were the perfect base to fly. Camarón de la Isla is and will always be an icon of the best flamenco.

Camarón en uan actuación.

Camarón en una actuación. Foto Ayuntamiento de Cádiz.

Camarón de la Isla. Image: Ayuntamiento de Cádiz.

Camarón de la Isla. foto: Ayuntamiento de Cádiz.

Camarón in a film with Lola Flores.

Camarón en una película junto a Lola Flores.

Work by Irene Vélez, exhibited for the 25th anniversary of Camarón's death.

Obra de Irene Vélez, expuesta por el 25 aniversario de la muerte de Camarón.

Perhaps it was a sign, a coincidence, or this anecdote is not true. It is said that Juana, his mother, sang a bulería while giving birth to José Monge Cruz in 1950. He was the penultimate of 8 siblings who survived thanks to the work of his father, Juan Luis Monge, in a forge. They were all gypsies, they lived the traditions of their ancestral culture and, of course, flamenco was very present. “In my house, everyone has sung and danced, even if they were not artists”, the cantaor would later explain.

The Monje’s forge was frequented by great cantaores when they passed through San Fernando (Cádiz), and it was there that little José began to listen to artists such as La Perla, Manolo Vargas, Pericón…

A story of necessity

When his father died of asthma in 1966, Camarón had to make money in the local neighborhoods, so what started as a hobby became a way of life. Y eso que él no quería ser cantaor.

He had to make it his profession to go to the taverns, squares, or the San Fernando tram station with his friend Rancapino, who would also become one of the greats of flamenco.

He would win singing competitions, perform with another genius of the time, the very orthodox Antonio Mairena, and take part in some films.

A unique voice, a cante jondo (deep singing)

In his early days, he listened and learned with great voracity from those “old” cantaores, as he put it. Manolo Caracol was his hero. He met him at the Venta de Vargas, where the best of flamenco used to gather, but also young and anonymous artists waiting to be paid for their performances.

When Caracol heard Camarón, spurred on by the owner of the Venta, who adored that little boy, he was rather indifferent and told him that a blond could not succeed in flamenco. That was engraved in the boy’s blood; years later, he would “take revenge” on Manolo in a vocal duel that Caracol lost.

Those learnings and that world influenced his style in the early years. A very Cadiz style, very traditional, evident in his early songs with Sabicas (among others) and in the first three albums he recorded with Paco de Lucía. In any case, his father, an amateur cantaor, and his mother, also talented, were his true teachers, as he would confirm in interviews.

“I was born on the island, I grew up at the foot of a forge. My mother’s name is Juana, my father’s name was Luís and he made gypsy pottery”. Moral, fandango lyrics. With Paco de Lucía (1970).

The forge where Camaron's father worked.

La fragua donde trabajó el padre de Camarón.


From those times it was clear that he was a complete cantaor (no matter which palo he performed, he always mastered it) and that his voice was capable of transmitting the whole universe of gypsy music in notes that no one else could reach. He was also noted for having a very good ear

Camarón de la Isla and “La canastera” (1972)

In the 1960s, the opening of the US market would bring rock, blues, jazz… And just those places where there were US military bases in Andalusia, such as Rota or Morón. The composer Ricardo Pachón tells it very well in “Vidas gitanas”. Flamenco fusion, with more or less success, is beginning to take shape. El grupo sevillano Smash fue uno de los ejemplos más exitosos al respecto.

Camarón and Paco de Lucía were very connected in that creative environment and, when they recorded La Canastera, the journey of the two began on a path never seen before.

This album introduces numerous novelties in Paco’s guitar playing, but it is the first in which the stamp of Camarón’s cante is clearly visible: a dissonance with the guitar chord, as if everything was out of tune. A new flamenco palo or “canastera” was born.

It was in 1976 when Camarón gave free rein to his new ideas and made an album imbued with heterodox discoveries. It was in “Rosa María”, in he even performs some sevillanas accompanied by flute and bass. In 1977, he released “Castillo de arena”, the first album in which he signed his compositions.


Thanks to Camarón, flamenco would reach thousands of people who had never been interested in flamenco before.

Camarón de la Isla and his “Leyenda del Tiempo” (1979)

It was no longer with Paco de Lucía, but with Tomatito, his faithful guitarist from now on. This album, a sales flop and much criticized by flamenco fans, mixes rock, bulería, rumba, bass, drums, and Tomatito’s gypsy guitar.

In addition, and no less important, some lyrics are adaptations of poems by Federico García Lorca with music by the group Alameda. Today, “The Legend of Time” is considered a work of art.

And it was precisely the record that marked the before and after of flamenco, the turning point between orthodoxy and innovation. Alsofor Camarón who, after the setback of this album, returned to the classics. In 1989 came “Soy Gitano” (I am a Gypsy). It became the best-selling flamenco record in history.

Enrique Morente, another great cante singer, would say this about Camarón: “Never before or now has there been an echo like his. Wherever he put his voice, it turned to gold. His transmission capacity was astonishing. It was a new sound in flamenco singing. He had a stamp that will remain for eternity. Camarón has influenced all the cantaores of this time”.


As Tomatito would say: “In our race, he is our king. That charisma, that way of singing. He was born a genius and left a genius”.