After a delay imposed by the health situation, the Manitas exhibition will be available from 16 January at the Inter-municipal Conservatory in Sète. The exhibition traces the journey of the artist from Sète in photos.
Who was Manitas de Planta, the Gipsy?
Manitas de Plata was a famous flamenco guitarist. He sold millions of records, befriended Salvador Dalí and Brigitte Bardot, performed for raucous crowds at Carnegie Hall, made and spent fortunes, and generally lived a life of fulfilled appetites.
A descendant of a Romany family from Spain that settled in France, Manitas de Plata — the name, which he took when he began performing that means “little hands of silver” in Spanish — was born Ricardo Baliardo in Sète on 7 August 1921. He grew up in a gypsy caravan in the region. His father was Catalan and his mother from the Occitane region. Untutored in the guitar and unable to read either words or music, he was said to have picked up the instrument at age 9, acquired with the money his father made from selling his donkey, and copied the style of the Andalusian peasants known as flamenco.
Manitas de Planta, rise to fame
He made his name as a young man playing in the cafes and festivals of Provence. He rose to fame by playing each year at the Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer gypsy pilgrimage in Camargue. Upon hearing him play at Arles in 1964, Pablo Picasso signed his guitar and exclaimed: “that man is of greater worth than I am!” Picasso wanted to offer him a painting, but Manitas refused, arguing that a gypsy owns nothing, not even his own life, which is directed by family, music and woman!
Manitas de Planta, world-wide renowned
Manitas de Plata garnered fame in the United States only after a photography exhibition in New York. He had recorded his first official album in the chapel of Arles in France, in 1963, for the Phillips label. It was later re-released, in 1967, by the Connoisseur Society label and sold through the Book of the Month Club. This brought him to the attention of an American audience. An American manager obtained a booking to play a concert in Carnegie Hall in New York on 24 November 1965. “Manitas de Plata, the gypsy guitarist who works with the bravura of a matador, took over the Carnegie Hall bull ring at midnight Saturday and won 2,600 pairs of ears,” Robert Shelton wrote in The NY Times in 1967, adding, “He is an Actors Studio flamenquista, who throws generous kisses to an adulating gallery and who savours the act of taunting the bull of attention with his cape of virtuosity and ego.”
He subsequently toured the world from 1967, and recorded discs.
Tradition continues: The Gipsy Kings
Through him, the tradition continues with his family founding the famous group the Gipsy Kings. The band started out in Arles during the 1970s, when brothers Nicolas and Andre Reyes, the sons of flamenco artist Jose Reyes, teamed up with their cousins Jacques, Maurice, and Tonino Baliardo. At the time, Reyes and Manitas de Plata were a duo who triggered the wider popularity of rumba flamenca (also known as Spanish or gypsy rumba). When Reyes split from Manitas de Plata, he started a band with his sons, which he called Los Reyes.
Los Reyes started out as a gypsy band playing traditional flamenco invigorated by Tonino Baliardo’s guitar playing and Nicolas Reyes’ voice. They travelled around France, playing at weddings, festivals and in the streets. Because they lived so much like gypsies, the band adopted the name Gipsy Kings. Later, they were hired to add colour to upper-class parties in such places as St Tropez.
The Gipsy Kings have spent a remarkable two-and-a-half decades at the top, in a category that’s all their own. Yet in those occasional periods when they aren’t touring, the band members still live with their families in the south of France, the area that defined their identities and their sound.
Many members of his own family were also well-known flamenco musicians, including his younger brother Hippolyte Baliardo, and his eldest son Manero Baliardo. Another son, Bambo Baliardo, is still an active musician and performer as of 2015.
Visit the Manitas de Planta exhibition
From 16 January until July 2021, the Manitas de Plata exhibition is open at the Conservatoire Manitas de Plata, 1750 Quai des Moulins, 34200 Sète.
If you don’t have transport, take the bus from the train station, or walk along the canal for about 30 minutes.
The exhibition is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2 pm to 5 pm, and Saturdays from 10 am to 5 pm, by appointment. Phone 0499047630 to book.