Augustin Castellon, a Gypsy guitarist known to admirers of flamenco music simply as "Sabicas," has died in New York City from the complications of several strokes and pneumonia. He was 78 when he died Saturday at a hospital in Manhattan, where he had lived for 30 years.
Although he spent most of his professional life appearing in concert halls that seated hundreds, Sabicas was widely heralded for his intimacy with his audiences and his restraint with his instrument in a field where flamenco guitarists more often are known for their wild abandon.
Times music writer John Henken, in a review of a 1981 Sabicas concert at UCLA's Royce Hall, wrote that the guitarist "indulges in relatively little over-exhibitionism. Indeed, there was only one major left-hand-alone display, which may well set some sort of record in a field not noted for restraint."
Born in Pamplona, Spain, he took his professional name from a bean he liked to snack on as a boy.
The New York Times quoted him as telling an interviewer how proud he was of his heritage. "I'm a Gypsy and for the Gypsies, this is our music. My father played a little, and when I was 5 years old, I picked up a guitar, just to make noise. By the time I was 8 I had an audience."
He began performing publicly at age 9 and quickly won flamenco contest prizes in his native land, where he was known nationally while still in his 20s.
He was then playing with a flamenco troupe--singers and dancers--but soon began to perform solos.
Many of them were his own compositions, as is true of many flamenco artists, but he was also renowned for a variety of "Malaguenas" and for crossing his bass strings for the snare drum effect in "El Sitio de Zaragoza."
Sabicas began touring the world in the late 1930s, particularly North and South America, with Carmen Amaya, the famous flamenco dancer.
He made a few films with her in the 1940s and was credited with more than 50 recordings.
His last public performance was in August, when he performed at a memorial concert in Barcelona for Miss Amaya.
Survivors include a son, daughter, brother and sister.