Enrique Morente, a major figure in the world of flamenco, died at a Madrid clinic on Monday. He had spent several days in an induced coma following surgery to treat stomach cancer, which then led to hemorrhaging and a second emergency operation.
Since being admitted there last week, Clínica La Luz had become a meeting point for friends of the 68-year-old singer, including other leading figures of the Spanish music scene such as the singer-songwriter Joaquín Sabina and the producer Javier Limón.
If Camarón de la Isla is credited with popularizing flamenco, Morente was known as the genre's great innovator. In 1996 he recorded a seminal album, Omega, in collaboration with rock performer Lagartija Nick. The resulting fusion of flamenco and alternative rock became a turning point for him, and Morente never fully abandoned the style, even though he went on to blend flamenco with many other genres. Like the guitarist Paco de Lucía, Morente was considered an emblematic figure of a type of music that is also viewed as a way of life.
During his hospital stay, Morente was accompanied at all times by his wife Aurora and his three children - including the successful singer Estrella Morente, whose albums he produced - as well as many close friends, who cried openly when doctors revealed how serious his condition was. Enrique Morente had been on a stage less than a month ago, and had recently canceled his mid-December performances. Next March, he had been planning to release El barbero de Picasso (or, Picasso's barber), an album and a documentary on the figure of Pablo Picasso, to whom Morente had already devoted other recordings.
The Granada native had additional projects underway. A little over a week ago, while participating in the mixing sessions for El barbero de Picasso at the Universal recording studios in Madrid, Morente was already making plans for his next CD. "As soon as we're done with this, we'll get going with the percussionist Max Roach," he said.
As usual, he wanted to keep pushing the limits.
The news of his death caused shockwaves among his numerous followers and in the world of music. Just a few weeks ago, Mario Pacheco, producer of some of the most important flamenco recordings of recent decades, also passed away.
El barbero de Picasso includes songs like El ángel caído, dedicated to the deceased rock singer and songwriter Antonio Vega. The accompanying documentary shows Morente at the Reina Sofía Museum singing next to the Picasso masterpiece Guernica and at various locations in Granada.
Morente had created his own recording label, Discos Pobreticos, and before that he recorded with nearly all the major companies, although he recently signed an exclusive license with Universal.
The people who knew him personally highlighted his importance as a musical creator, besides his undoubted talent as a singer. He always had a thousand ideas inside his head, and his personal computer in Albaicín, the neighborhood of Granada where he lived, is filled with unfinished projects.
He was such a perfectionist that he never considered anything fully completed, and producers literally had to pull the albums out of his hands to put them on the market.
"I never meant to innovate, just to create and express myself," he said during the re-release of Omega, the turning point in his career.
Enrique Morente would have turned 68 on Christmas Day.