Agustín Castellón Campos, Sabicas, was born in Pamplona in 1912. He saw the first light of day amongst ‘sanfermines’-festival of San Fermin - and gypsies, in the city, which Hemingway didn’t take long to make popular with his journalistic pen. His parents bought his first guitar for 17 pesetas (0,10 euros) and only two years later he started on a stage. It was in the Gayarre Theatre, where he played for a ceremony of swearing of allegiance to the flag. From here on, Sabicas, who had gained his nickname for his early love of eating raw beans, Niño de las Habicas, could no longer tear himself away from the six cords.
However one of the key points of his quick formation coincided with his move to Madrid at the age of ten. Manuel Bonet didn’t take long to discover him and this led him to debut in the Eldorado Theatre in the La Chelitos company. One can’t forget the similarity of Sabicas with the maestro Ramón Montoya, a relative of his mother, if you want to understand the inclination, which Agustín demonstrated towards the solo flamenco guitar.
In his first years as a professional he was a staunch follower of Montoya. However the thirties provoked a radical change in him. He worked accompanying the most relevant singers of the moment, Juan Valderrama, El Carbonerillo, Antonio el de la Calzá..., he carried out numerous recordings, in which he appeared as Niño Sabicas, which helped him to conceive a more personal style of guitar playing. However, the point of inflexion in his artistic and personal trajectory arrived with the Civil War. His exile was nearly obligatory. At this point, his path crossed with no other than Carmen Amaya (“Queen Of The Gypsies”, Dancer and Singer). Together they crossed the pond, destination South America, to offer a tour throughout the continent, which kept them away from the Spanish political confrontations.
However Sabicas started to take a liking to those lands and in the middle of the fifties moved to New York to perform solo concerts where Paco de Lucía discovered him during his first tour with the dancer José Greco. Agustín Castellón had opened his mind in America to the point of recording his first album, admittedly an attempt of fusion, Rock encounter (Polygram, 1966), alongside Joe Beck. The results weren’t satisfactory according to the protagonist himself who even said: ”I don’t like rock or jazz. I did it because my brother Diego wanted to tackle other fields to sell more“.
The relationship which Agustín maintained with masters of jazz the size of Charles Mingus, Ben E. King, Gill Evans, Thelonius Monk or Miles Davis are also very important.
The record companies treated Sabicas as one of them by the record companies and distributed his recordings worldwide. He didn’t return to Spain until 1967 and returned periodically from then on. Twenty years on, his native country paid their first national tribute to him, specifically in Madrid, whose Royal Theatre opened their doors to him.
Sabicas represented a breaking point for the flamenco guitar and he revealed flamenco to the whole world, via America. He was absolutely innovative and revolutionised guitar playing with his speed and polished execution with his right hand technique that is unmistakeable and unrepeatable. His influence has been unquestionable for the new generation of guitarists, passing through the work of Paco de Lucia and Serranito.
Sabicas was already a legend in life. He did not consider himself a follower of any guitar school,of any influence. ”I have never teachers. A proof of this is that I have my brother for whom I never been able to set a single variation. I do not know how to teach, so I do not give lessons, because I was never taught by anyone. I do not know where to start. I do not know music“. He also acted in films. The mastery of Sabicas has brought the greatest praise.
On the 14th of April 1990 Sabicas died in New York.