Berklee's Mediterranean Music Institute Launches Award

By 
Agustina Covian
June 10, 2014
Pepe Habichuela
José Mercé

Berklee’s Mediterranean Music Institute (MMI), launches the Masters of Mediterranean Music Award, which recognizes excellence in the great artists of Mediterranean music today.

The inauguaral award focuses on flamenco music and goes to two of the greatest flamenco musicians today, singer José Mercé and guitarist Pepe Habichuela.

In recognition of their extensive musical contribution throughout their careers, their musical excellence, their unique voice, and their constant search for other musical territories in this style, Mercé and Habichuela will be given the Masters of Mediterranean Music Award by the MMI executive director Matthew Nicholl and Javier Limón, MMI's artistic director, producer, and composer.

Habichuela, born in 1944 as Jose Antonio Carmona Carmona, is a master of Spanish flamenco guitar. His family is one of the most famous flamenco dynasties, boasting more than five generations of flamenco musicians. He learned from the great guitar masters Sabicas and Mario Escudero as well as from his own family, and brings a unique, personal sound to his guitar playing. 

Habichuela went to Madrid when he was 19 years old, and began playing in the flamenco tablaos, performing with such reknowned artists as Pepe Marchena and Juanito Valderrama.

In the 1970s he performed with Camarón de La Isla and began a close collaboration with Enrique Morente. Together they made two historic records, Despegando and Homenaje a D. Antonio Chacón. In these albums, Habichuela began using a new harmonic usage and concepts in his music, a departure that marked a new beginning in his career. He has played with great musicians, such as Don Cherry, who said, “His guitar sounds like wood, as if a tree was crying.”

Habichuela is well-known for incorporating bass, percussion, and jazz elements to his music. One of his latest albums, Hands, is a duo with jazz bass player Dave Holland and is considered by many to be one of the best albums combining jazz and flamenco.

Mercé is one of the major flamenco phenomenons of all time. With more than 600,000 albums sold in the last 15 years, the singer-songwriter from Jerez, Spain, is an artist who knows how to transmit, like few others, the message that flamenco is for everyone. His 1998 album, Del Amanecer, “converted José Mercé into an artist for the masses, placing him at the head of the flamenco movement,” according to flamenco scholar José Manuel Gamboa.

Mercé went to Madrid when he was 13 years old to record his first album, produced by Manuel Ríos Ruiz. He sang in the flamenco club Torres Bermejas and later in the company of Antonio Gades, performing on the 1981 soundtrack to the film Bodas de Sangre (Blood Weddings) by Carlos Saura. Later, he collaborated with the national ballet, won Cordoba's National Flamenco Art Contest in 1986, and worked again with Saura on the film Flamenco in 1995. Other awards include Andalucian Medal in 2010 (honorary distinction that recognizes the exceptional singer-songwriters) and the appointment as Favorite Son of the Province of Cadiz in 2007.

Since his debut in 1968, Mercé has released 17 albums, including Verde Junco (1983), with Tomatito and Enrique de Melchor; Caminos Reales del Cante (1987); Hondas Raíces (1991); and Desnudando el Alma (1994). In 1998, his popularity jumped with the release of Del Amanecer, produced by Vicente Amigo. His next album, Aire (2000), went double platinum. Subsequent albums include Lio (2002), Confi de Fuá (2004), Lo Que No Se Da (2006), Greatest Hits (2007), and Ruido (2010).

The MMI award ceremony will feature a student band concert, Eleni Arapoglou Trio, which will perform a traditional Greek repertoire, representing the MMI spirit. The event will be open to the press.