Planting the seeds of Flamenco Guitar Music in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

When we think of the mid 60’s and early 70’s we often envision psychedelic rock music and flower children of San Francisco but that was not all that was taking place. During that special period there existed a freedom of expression and a desire to break away from established norms that inspired people all over the world to do something different.

Many young Americans took Greyhound buses across the country and boarded freighters to cross the Atlantic and join throngs of young people exploring and experimenting in exotic destinations of Europe, Greece, Turkey, and other far off countries. Living the frugal and often communal lifestyle of youth hostels, camping and hitch hiking, what they learned was certain to influence their communities when they returned home or where ever they eventually landed.

In the early 70’s Wolfgang “Lobo” Fink and Latcho Bartelsen, a pair of young Bavarian youths equipped with guitars and a burning desire to know more of what lay outside their communities met and undertook a journey to Spain to study guitar with the famed Gypsy musicians of Sacromonte in Granada.

“Learning guitar” with the Roma people was not a matter of taking classes. It consisted of hanging out and playing with them, usually all night long and into the wee hours. In this way, Latcho and Lobo studied and learned the culture and music of the fascinating Roma people. Playing music on street corners and small cafes, marinas and beach clubs to support their hippie lifestyle the two traveled all over southern Spain —Torremolinos, Marbella, Puerto Banus, Almuñecar, and Malaga.

Returning to Bavaria they formed a group called Leilo in Germany and while performing throughout the country, Lobo and Latcho instigated a Rumba Flamenco wave in Europe long before the world had heard of the group Gipsy Kings.

Lobo went on to conquer the world with his guitar in 1979 and playing from Germany to Italy ended up in Oaxaca, Mexico where he started his solo career as a guitarist. He met his wife Diana and in 1989 the two were hired as a guitar duo at the Faro in the Marina Vallarta, by Jose Luna the owner of Mamma Mia Restaurant in San Miguel de Allende. Lobo met the talented violinist Willie Royal of San Miguel and of Sarasota, Florida, and together they started a long and successful relationship taking them as far as Hollywood where, in search of international fame, they signed their first record deal as Willie and Lobo.

Meanwhile Latcho’s career had its own trajectory, which brought him and his wife Andrea to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle in 1992. He and Andrea replaced Willie and Lobo at the Mamma Mia Restaurant in Puerto Vallarta.

After 15 years of touring all over the world Lobo returned to La Cruz, harvesting his crop of local students who had turned into accomplished guitar players including the young Esaú Galván, and reuniting with his old pal Latcho to recreate their initially signature sound in the upcoming project PRIMAL GROOVE by Latcho and Lobo.

I caught Latcho and Lobo’s performance in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle on Monday the 14th, the day after seeing Lobo with his protege Esaú in concert at Incanto in Puerto Vallarta. Both performances were stunning. It was exciting to see the interaction between the two generations of players, Lobo and Esaú, and wonderful to witness the melding of the talents of two old friends who started on this path together so long ago. Latcho and Lobo will perform together again in Puerto Vallarta at Incanto, (Insurgentes 109 on the River Cuale) on January 20 and February 10, and Esaú will join Lobo in La Cruz on January 21 and February 2.

Flamenco music and Gypsy Rumba have flourished in the Puerto Vallarta area mostly thanks to the influence of these talented and inspired musicians who set out to learn something new so long ago and after 40 years continue to spread their knowledge and love of the music to us today and to future generations. You don’t want to miss hearing them play once again together.

(To learn more about Gypsy and flamenco music, see “Flamenco and Gypsy Guitar, an Evolution” in a previous issue of Vallarta Tribune.)