Manuel Ortega Juárez was born at nº 10 Lumbreras street, Seville, in 1910 and died in a car accident in Madrid in 1973. He has been described as the “drunkest, wildest, most argumentative flamenco of them all”, but he has also gone down in history as being one of the greatest singers of his time.
His duend-fuelled voice brought tears flooding down the faces of his audience when he was in the mood to sing. And when he did sing with all of his rage and emotion, he unleashed a fierce and brutal delivery of the most gypsy cante imaginable.
Manolo Caracol is connected to the most illustrious family of bullfighters and flamencos of modern times, with roots that stretch back to El Planeta and Curro Dulce, two of the main singers of the nineteenth century.
The head of this massive gypsy tribe was Enrique Ortega, whose daughter, a dancer, Gabriela, gave birth to two legends of the bullfight, Joselito and Rafael “El Gallo”. Manolo Caracols father, on the other hand, who was also known as Caracol, was a singer of great worth and he was the cousin of the above mentioned matadors.
Manolo Caracol was only a child of twelve when Don Antonio Chacon took him to participate in the Concurso de Cante Jondo arranged by Manuel de Falla in Granada in 1922. He triumphed at the contest and received one thousand pesetas for his victory, a huge sum for anyone in this time, let alone a twelve-year-old boy. This experience could possibly have given him his aquired taste for money and everything that went with it.
After a while he began working in the flamenco troupes of artistes such as La Niña de los Peines, sharing the stage with Manuel Torre and El Tenazas de Morón. He made his first record in 1930, accompanied on guitar by Manolo de Badajoz. In this same year he also married Luisa Gòmez Junquera, in the Church of San Lorenzo, in Seville.
A few years later this flamenco great, moved his family to Madrid, and by 1935 he was firmly established in the capital. He spent the late 1930’s and early ‘40s touring Spain in various shows but in 1943 he was to begin a ten-year partnership with Imperio de Jerez, later known as the great Lola Flores.
Together this duo took Spain by storm in a whirlwind career that was as controversial off stage, as it was on. They seemed to ignite the passion in each other and Caracol’s warming, afilla voice, accompanied by the seductive and fiery dances of Lola Flores thrilled audiences wherever they went.
Manolo Caracol was the first person to use orchestrated music as an accompaniment to flamenco, something for which he was highly criticized. After his separation from Lola Flores, Caracol returned to what he did best, pure orthodox flamenco. He went on to record an excellent flamenco anthology, Una historia del cante, which re-established him as one of the greatest flamenco singers of all time.
In 1963 he opened what was to become the most important tablao in Spain, Los Canasteros, a flamenco club in Madrid that saw just about every decent artiste of that time pass through its doors.
Manolo Caracol loved to spend money and he lavished friends with gifts, and expensive parties that were said to have lasted for three days at a time.
He became famous for his flamenco juergas, where he would employ high society prostitutes and the most respected flamenco artistes to perform at a fiesta whose guest list would include the lowest of gypsies and the top aristocracy of Madrid. The highlight of these flamenco sessions would be when Caracol, his raucous voice soaked in aguadulce, would perform his gypsy siguiriyas, soleares, bulerias, and martinetes.
Manolo Caracol would fill the room with a glowing duende and when he finished singing, the party would be over, as there was nothing left to be said after Caracol had sung.
Recomended viewing: Rito y Geografía del Cante. Vol 9. A series of Dvds made between 1970 -`73 by TVE, which shows some of the old greats of flamenco performing in their natural surroundings. This volume shows Caracol performing at a party in his home in Madrid, where he is surrounded by members of his family and close friends.
Cds. Grands Cantaores du Flamenco Volume 7. Manolo Caracol.
French series of cds released through Le Chant du Monde, normally available from El Corté Inglés.
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