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With the death from lung cancer of Camarón de la Isla (born José Monge Cruz) on July 2, 1992, flamenco lost one of its greatest vocalists. The son of a basket-maker, de la Isla revolutionalized the flamenco tradition with his contemporary-minded approach. His debut 1969 album, Con la Colaboracion Especial de Paco de Lucia, recorded with the accompaniment of virtuosic guitarist Paco de Lucia, remains one of flamenco's classic recordings.
Although he retired from touring in 1979, de la Isla continued to produce groundbreaking albums. His 1980 album, La Leyenda del Tiempo -- which was marked by rock, jazz, and Oriental influences and the use of non-flamenco instruments, including bass, drums, percussion, electric piano, Moog, keyboards, electric guitar, flute, and zither -- sold nearly 6,000 copies. His 1989 recording, Soy Gitano, recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, became the first album in Spain to be certified gold, with sales of 50,000 copies. De la Isla's last album, Potro de Rabia y Miel, followed two years later.
De Lucia paid tribute to his former collaborator with a tune, "Camaron," that he included on his 1998 album Luzia. The song marked De Lucia's debut as a vocalist. "While others sang songs with social content," De Lucia said, "Camarón's cracked voice could evoke, on its own, the desperation of a people."
The second of eight children, Camarón was born in the small Cadiz village of San Fernando. Acquiring his nickname, "Camarón," because of his blonde hair, he began performing in public at the age of eight.
In December 2000, Camarón's widow, Dolores "Chispa" Montoya, received the prestigious Golden Key Award of Song on his behalf.
Camarón de la Isla (5 December 1950 – 2 July 1992), was the stage name of a Spanish flamenco singer José Monje Cruz. Considered one of the all time greatest flamenco singers, he was noted for his collaborations with Paco de Lucia and Tomatito, and the three of them were of major importance to the revival of flamenco in the second half of the 20th century.Ham, Anthony (1 October 2008). Madrid: City Guide. Lonely Planet. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-74104-895-7. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
He was born in San Fernando, Cádiz, Spain, into a gypsy family, the second of eight children. His mother was Juana Cruz Castro, a basket weaver ("La Canastera"), whose gift of singing was a strong early influence. His father, Juan Luis Monje, was also a singer as well as a blacksmith, and had a forge where Camarón worked as a boy. His uncle José nicknamed him Camarón (Spanish for "Shrimp") because he was blonde and fair skinned. When his father died of asthma, while still very young, the family went through financial hardship. At the age of eight he began to sing at inns and bus stops with Rancapino to earn money. At sixteen, he won first prize at the Festival del Cante Jondo in Mairena de Alcor. Camarón then went to Madrid with Miguel de los Reyes and in 1968 became a resident artist at the Tablao Torres Bermejas where he remained for twelve years.Sweeney, Philip (28 November 1991). The Virgin directory of world music. Virgin. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-86369-378-6. Retrieved 22 August 2012. Cite error: The named reference Ham2008 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
During his time at Tablao Torres Bermejas, he met Paco de Lucía, with whom he recorded nine albums between 1969 and 1977. The two toured extensively together during this period. As Paco de Lucía became more occupied with solo concert commitments, Camarón worked with the flamenco guitarist Tomatito.
In 1976, at the age of 25, Camarón married Dolores Montoya, a Romani girl from La Línea de la Concepción whom he nicknamed "La Chispa" (The Spark). At the time La Chispa was only 16. The couple had four children.
Many consider Camarón to be the single most popular and influential flamenco cantaor (singer) of the modern period. Although his work was criticized by some traditionalists, he was one of the first to feature an electric bass in his songs. This was a turning point in the history of Flamenco music that helped distinguish Nuevo Flamenco. In later years, his health deteriorated due to heavy smoking and drug abuse. In 1992, José Monje Crúz died of lung cancer in Badalona, Spain. It was estimated that more than 100,000 people attended his funeral.
On 5 December 2000 the Ministry of Culture of the Junta de Andalucía posthumously awarded to Camarón the ´Llave de Oro del Cante´, the Golden Key of Flamenco. This was only the fourth key awarded since 1862.
In 2005, director Jaime Chávarri released the biopic Camarón in Spain starring Óscar Jaenada as Camarón and Verónica Sánchez – star of popular Spanish TV series Los Serrano – as La Chispa. The film, produced in consultation with Camarón's widow, was subsequently nominated for several Goya Awards.
In 2006, Isaki Lacuesta directed La Leyenda del Tiempo (The Legend of Time), in which a Japanese woman visits the place of Camarón's birth to learn to sing exactly like him.Pohren, D. E. (1992). Paco de Lucía and Family: The Master Plan. Society of Spanish Studies. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-933224-62-9. Retrieved 22 August 2012. Heredia, Juan de Dios Ramírez (1 January 2005). Matrimonio y boda de los gitanos y de los "payos". Centro de Producción Editorial y Divulgación Audiovisual. p. 308. ISBN 978-84-934453-0-0. Retrieved 22 August 2012. Pohren, Donn E. (16 June 2005). The Art of Flamenco. Bold Strummer Ltd. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-933224-02-5. Retrieved 22 August 2012. Aragón – Guidebook Chapter. Lonely Planet. p. 161. ISBN 978-1-74321-253-0. Retrieved 22 August 2012. Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 8 August 1992. p. 77. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved 22 August 2012. Ruiz, Manuel Ríos (2002). El gran libro del flamenco: Intérpretes. Calambur. p. 193. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
with Paco de Lucía (Their first albums were nameless, but were known among aficionados by the name of the first track)Al Verte las Flores Lloran (1969)Cada Vez que Nos Miramos (1970)Son Tus Ojos Dos Estrellas (1971)Canastera (1972)Caminito de Totana (1973)Soy Caminante (1974)Arte y Majestad (1975)Rosa María (1976)Castillo de Arena (1977)Camaron en la Venta de Vargas (2006)
with Paco de Lucía and TomatitoComo el Agua (1981)Calle Real (1983)Viviré (1984)Potro de Rabia y Miel (1992)
with TomatitoTe lo Dice Camarón (1986)Flamenco Vivo (1987)Camarón Nuestro (1994)Paris 1987 (1999)
OtherLa Leyenda del Tiempo (1979) (Released as a solo album)Soy Gitano (1989) (Released with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with guest appearances by Tomatito)Contributing artistThe Rough Guide to Flamenco (1997, World Music Network)
The titles given for the first five albums with Paco de Lucía are those in popular usage, being the titles of the first tracks. Formally, all of them are entitled El Camarón de la Isla con la colaboración especial de Paco de Lucía with the exception of Canastera.