Melchor de Marchena, Melchor Jiménez Torres arrived into the world in 1907, and by a very young age it was obvious that flamenco was part of his body. He eventually received the nickname, Melchor de Marchena, and has been noted as just about the best accompanist in flamenco history.
This star was born into a family of gypsy flamenco with his father, El Lico, a guitarist, and his mother, Josefita, a cantaora. Melchor was a regular accompanist for La Niña de los Peines and he also accompanied Manuel Torre in the early stages of his career.
It is said that Manolo Caracol and Antonio Mairena, two of the most significant singers of this time, fought for the privilege of having Melchor de Marchena accompany them.
He had the ability to adapt his guitar to suit the voice of whomever he accompanied, playing from the depths of his soul a style that has been labeled the old school or “primitive” style.
This is a flamenco legend with no formal training on the guitar. Instead, he simply learned by watching and listening to the great guitarists of his childhood. For example, Javier Molina was to influence him very much. However, this young gypsy guitarist was to find a style that was very personal and filled with “duende” (soul) and passion.
Marchena’s personal style was very profound, a gypsy filled emotive display with meaningful breaks leaving the singer to grasp the song from inside. It was “macho”, rough at the edges, yet full of emotion. And it was these qualities that made Melchor de Marchena so in demand.
As a guitarist, he could make his instrument weep the most soulful “soleares”, especially when he was accompanying Manolo Caracol. And he seemed to literally absorb Caracols’ voice as if it was entering his body and guiding his fingers across the notes on his guitar. With a simple, primitive style, he plucked each note as if he was tiptoeing across the strings. Far from flashy, he was masterful, and in complete control of the emotion and his virtuosity.
Melchor de Marchena spent many years playing for Antonio Mairena and many of Seville’s elite singers in the 50s and 60s, but he was lured to Madrid where he went to perform for Manolo Caracol at the tablao Los Canasteros. He is also said to have been an instinctive innovator, creating many “falsetas” on the spur of the moment with the ability to take the sweetest styles of “cante andaluz” and give them that coarse gypsy touch full of grit and emotion.
Melchor de Marchena died in Madrid in 1980, but he left his “sello”, or stamp, on the art of the flamenco guitar, his personality and virtuosity deeply carved into its history. After his death, he has been referred to as the “Caracol” of the guitar, quite an honor being that Melchor once described Manolo Caracol as the “Best ‘cantaor’ in the whole world”.