Antonio Serrano and the MMI Honor Paco de Lucía

By 
Kimberly Ashton and Justin Poon
April 15, 2015
(From left to right): seven-time Latin Grammy Award-winner Javier Limón, artistic director of the Mediterranean Music Institute (MMI); Matthew Nicholl, MMI executive director; student Gilbert Mansour, renowned harmonica player Antonio Serrano, and student Vasileios Kostas
Nicholl and Limón present the Master of Mediterranean Music Award to Serrano.
Fares Btoush playing the oud
Laouto player Vasileios Kostas
Percussionist Gilbert Mansour
Qanun player Tony Barhoum
Vocalist Shir Zehavy
Layth Sidiq '14, performing on violin
Vocalist and violinist Tania Mesa
Vocalist Marianella 'Nella' Rojas
Kelly Davidson
Kelly Davidson
Kelly Davidson
Kelly Davidson
Kelly Davidson
Kelly Davidson
Kelly Davidson
Kelly Davidson
Kelly Davidson
Kelly Davidson

Antonio Serrano thought it must have been a mistake when he got a call from Paco de Lucía in 2006. Why would one of the most famous flamenco guitarists in history call a harmonica player when that instrument is nowhere to be heard in the genre?

Serrano’s knowledge of flamenco was admittedly weak, yet he was being asked to join a hallowed ensemble. But, he recalled at a clinic on the Boston campus, “After a while, I understood that he wasn’t looking for a flamenco musician for his band; he was looking for someone who could improvise.”

De Lucía was legendary not only because he and his brother Pepe had performed and recorded flamenco since they were children, but also because he introduced outside influences like jazz and classical to what had been a relatively closed genre.

“Paco was a musician that changed completely how we understand flamenco and opened the music to a lot of people,” Serrano said at the clinic. “He really changed not only the music but he opened the music to other instruments. He incorporated the electric bass, the flute, the saxophone, the harmonica—and this happened in a very short period of time. “

On April 8, a little more than a year after the guitarist’s death, Serrano joined dozens of Berklee students onstage at the Berklee Performance Center to celebrate his legacy at the Mediterranean Music Institute’s spring concert, which included both original tunes and de Lucía songs. 

“Paco was a musical genius, and a generous and humble human being,” Serrano said at the concert, adding that he wishes to help protect and spread the master’s music.

At the concert, the MMI presented Serrano with the Master of Mediterranean Music Award for his work in fusing jazz and flamenco, and for incorporating the harmonica into flamenco. The MMI promotes Mediterranean musical traditions by facilitating cultural exchange of folk-based music from the various regions of the Mediterranean and by supporting young and emerging talent from the area.

“For me it’s an honor to receive this distinction from an institution I have respected and admired since I was a teenager. Berklee College of Music is the main reference in the world of how popular music can be quantified and taught in a modern and technological environment,” Serrano said.

In addition to Serrano's award, student musicians Gilbert Mansour and Vasilis Kostas were given Mediterranean Music Institute Achievement Awards at the concert. They embody the best of the MMI, they’re rooted deeply in tradition, but they have a perspective that’s informed by contemporary practices,” Matthew Nicholl, executive director of the MMI, said. 

Watch selections from the tribute concert in the playlist below: