Photos(c) André Hébrard
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The family of French-born guitarist Juan De Lerida (29 June 1968) abandoned their home in Lerida (Catalonia, Spain) during Franco's regime.

His grandparents had settled there in the 30's, probably having come directly from Saragossa in Aragon. The Claveria family was moving gradually north during these extremely hard times as were thousands of migrants (not just Gypsies), all running from the harshness of their newly impoverished lives in Andalusia.

The rise of the Franquist regime obliged the Claveria family to cross the Pyrenees in the hopes of finding a better welcome in France.

This feeling of rootlessness and exile perpetual is deeply inscribed in the soul of Juan De Lerida

He secretly nourished an irrepressible attraction for Andalusia, a region which, for a long time, he only knew of from what his elders chose to tell him.

Juan never really learned Flamenco music, yet played it from a very young age.

Little Juan got his first guitar at the age of 4, then a fully-fledged adult instrument when he was seven. He taught himself to play by hiding under the table at family gatherings to observe the musicians really closely, as well as trying to copy what he'd heard on flamenco records. His exceptional talent meant he could play whatever took his fancy just by ear, which also explains the atypical freshness of his music. It never abandons its original roots, however, but keeps a constant “passageway” open to them.

So how come such a precociously excellent guitarist is only recording his first album at the age of 40? For the very good reason that success does not count amongst his personal obsessions.

Like certain other gypsy musicians, Juan is not in search of public recognition, he wants it from his own community and especially that of its musicians.

By his tenth birthday, Juan was playing at gypsy weddings, where the pleasure of his own people was sufficient satisfaction for him. He continued to play in his own clan, forming small groups with members of his family, far away from all professional temptations.

It took until 2008 before he would agree to record his first album ‘Quimeras' which was released in the record company “Le Chant du Monde / Harmonia Mundi”.

With a solid reputation already established outside the small perimeter of his community for several years now, he was easily persuaded to play in concert halls in France and abroad, where numerous fans spotted him; the word soon spread!

Juan De Lerida had learned flamenco as an “exile” living outside his homeland, but he'd recreated it too, thanks to his own imagination. This helped him avoid the pitfalls of a rigorous apprenticeship that can often involve suppressing the bold imaginative strokes so as to keep the emblems of authenticity.

De Lerida's approach is a skilfully handled one combining both tradition and modernity

2012 : Juan De Lerida compose and record his second album « Noche en Blanco » - featuring Dorantes and Tchavolo Schmitt.

Although nobody knew who he was, or where he came from, he immediately made a name for himself among his predecessors.

An insatiable musician, Juan de Lerida, with the deepest possible empathy for his listeners, produces compositions which are as technically advanced as they are accessible, making the arguments between the old school and the modernists seem like schoolyard squabbles among apprentice experts. Maintaining this perilous balance between improvisation and subtly transcribed structure gives Juan de Lerida's music its own special character, which is at its most expressive in both the wildest and the calmest passages.

Both an instinctive and a spiritual artist, Juan de Lerida plays with the ease of an albatross which ‘refuses to let its giant wings stop it walking any more'. His unwillingness to allow virtuoso skill to make up for a lack of inspiration, or to let good technique hide having nothing to offer endows his music with is direct, guileless character which touches his listeners' souls as much as their minds. Beyond the technical skills required to make such high quality music and the ascetic way of life which must have been necessary for him to dedicate himself body and soul to his art, Juan has carved out his very own style which owes nothing to anybody, except perhaps to secular tradition. So with a respectful nod to the old school but no promise to stick to its traditions, thus maintaining a clever balance between modesty and pride, Juan de Lerida fires off note after note with dazzling speed, making some bite like steel and others feel light as a caress, all with the quiet, determined confidence of a wise man.

Rémi Raemackers - Extracts of the liners of « Quimeras » and « Noche en Blanco »