The flamenco world is full of flamboyant gypsy performers who started their careers in the back streets of Andalucía and went on to achieve fame and fortune while performing on some of the most coveted stages in the world. One of these is a 77-year-old dancer called José Losada, a man who has dedicated his whole life to performing, teaching and promoting the art of flamenco dance.
José, otherwise known as El Carrete de Málaga, is a dazzling showman whose dance routines have delighted audiences in Europe, Asia and America for more than 60 years.
He acquired his artistic name, which means spool or reel, from his mother, a dancer called La Carreta who made a living selling the potent-smelling 'biznaga' flowers in the streets of Antequera: his father worked as a donkey shearer.
José began dancing in the streets when he was four, performing for tossed coins in order to help his family survive. As a child, he would sneak into the local cinema to shelter from the cold and it was here that he developed his love of the movies and Hollywood. José's fascination with dance began after watching Fred Astaire on the silver screen and this is still obvious in his dance routines today. José's dance style is erratic to say the least and he can make the most sombre flamenco styles come alive with his energetic, rattling footwork.
“I became absolutely fascinated with Fred Astaire and would practise his dance routines in the street. I remember wondering how he could create such complicated rhythms with his feet and it was then that I decided I must dance like him,” José explains to SUR in English.
Malaga was a hive of activity during the 1950s and the city centre would be swarming with American servicemen whose ships docked in the port. During the day José worked as a shoe-shiner, although he subsidised his earnings by selling contraband that was hidden in a concealed compartment of his shoe-cleaning box.
One of his first professional engagements was at the tablao El Refugio in Malaga, and it was the owner of this establishment who gave him his first suit and dancing shoes. It was a place that would become his temporary home, because he was allowed to sleep in the storeroom at the back of the bar. He also danced in the Taberna Gitana and from here he went to the popular Bodegas El Pimpi, where he became part of the flamenco group, Los Vargas. It was during this period that José would rub shoulders with famous stars like Sean Connery, Frank Sinatra and Anthony Quinn.
The young dancer was soon to discover the exciting new flamenco scene that was taking place 12 kilometres along the coast in Torremolinos.
One of his first jobs in Torremolinos was at the fashionable night club, El Mañana, but it would be in the tablao El Jaleo, where he would shine like a star amongst the stars. Camarón de la Isla, who called José the 'monster', was said to have been mesmerised by his dance and would often turn up unannounced to perform with him.
In 1977 José move to Los Angeles where he worked in a flamenco tablao in Santa Monica and it was there that he would be captivated by the American jazz scene. He had gone to Santa Monica to marry the daughter of a writer he had fallen in love with in Torremolinos. Her family were wealthy and José lived like a “film star”.
“I lived in a beautiful apartment and had fancy cars and the life of a star, but I began to miss Spain, especially my children, whom I had left back home with their grandparents,” he says.
A rash decision saw El Carrete return to Spain in 1979 and, after a short stint in Madrid, he returned to Torremolinos, where he is still as popular as ever.
His life story has been the content of a successful show and a book, and he will shortly have a street named after him in Torremolinos. Is there anything left for him to do before he hangs up his dancing shoes?
“Yes, of course. I want to dance in New York and have El Carrete, the Gypsy Fred Astaire illuminated in neon lights,” he says.