A Cordoban from a humble family, accustomed to earning his living with his singing, El Pele is today a world-renowned artist. But before that, back in 1990, he still had to fight to make a name for himself… and along came Prince and David Bowie.

Manuel Moreno Maya El Pele,is a flamenco singer born in Cordoba in 1954, in the district of San Pedro. From a very humble family, in his childhood, he traveled around the neighborhoods of Cordoba singing in the streets, tablaos, and fairs to help his family with some money. Manuel Benítez El Cordobés, when he met him, was the one who gave him his nickname. and his name, Manuel, “after Manolo Caracol, who baptized me on a drunken night”.

His meeting with the guitarist Vicente Amigo (he was only 11 years old) was an internal revolution for him. The cantaor was,by the way, the one who took Vicente to learn with Manolo Sanlúcar.

El Pele learned from the classics, from Mairena, Caracol, or Terremoto; he has shared stages with Lole y Manuel, Manolo Sanlúcar, Camarón, or Paco de Lucía; and now, we tell you about Bowie…

El Pele. Image: maralvomusic.com

El Pele. Foto: maralvomusic.com

El Pele before David Bowie

Let’s first go to the context. On the one hand, we have already mentioned that when he meets the guitarist Vicente Amigo, he bets on him without hesitation. The two of them became “flesh and blood” and signed some of the best works of cante jondo. From this tandem, a milestone in the world of flamenco discography was born, Poeta de esquinas blandas, which includes songs that have become flamenco anthems, such as Vengo del Moro.

On the other hand, it should be borne in mind that, although El Pele is a defender and exponent of orthodox flamenco (he has been compared to Camarón de la Isla), he has also made the occasional innovation. This is especially evident in alegrías, tangos and bulerías, to which he gives a modern, personal touch. In addition, he has to his name the style of some soleás, “soleás del Pele”.

He has a fresh, very recognizable flamenco style, which has led him to share a mini-concert tour with Prince or to be requested by the great Quincy Jones, producer of B.B. King.

Opening for David Bowie

One summer day in 1990, the great David Bowie listened to a record by El Pele. His art was so successful that he decided to bring him to open his concerts. He did so in Madrid and Barcelona, where he went with Vicente Amigo, of course, his alma mater. However, it was not as pretty as it seems. Vicente Amigo tells this to the Cambio 16 journalist:

“It was a huge venue, I don’t know if there were 15,000 people (note: there were 25,000). There people were waiting for David Bowie to come out and they saw four flamencos come out on stage, with a cajón, two guitars, and El Pele singing… Then everyone started shouting: “Bowie, Bowie, Bowie! I told El Pele to explain to the people that David Bowie was going to play at the time he was scheduled to play. Instead of saying anything, Pele, instead of saying anything at all, he held up his hands and shushed the crowd like a Roman emperor, standing on the edge of the stage and telling them, “Quiet, quiet…!” Which pissed off the audience even more, who started throwing soda cans at us. In the end, we played crouched down with the cans flying over our heads.

Here you have a whole recital of cante with the great virtuosity of El Pele, accompanied by violin, guitar, and palmas (hand-clapping). This is the trailer, but below is the link to the full programme. You know: you register and choose whether you want to rent or subscribe (whichever is cheaper).