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Members include Diego Baliardo, guitar; Paco Baliardo, guitar; Tonino Baliardo, solo guitar; Canut Reyes, guitar, vocals; Andre Reyes, guitar, vocals; Nicolas Reyes, lead vocals, guitar; Pablo Reyes, guitar, vocals; Patchai Reyes, guitar, vocals. Addresses: Record company--Nonesuch, 1290 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10104, phone: (212) 707-2900, website: http://www.nonesuch.com. Website--Gipsy Kings Official Website: http://www.gipsykings.com.
From the obscurity of playing parties and festivals in the south of France, the Gipsy Kings moved to performing on Saturday Night Live and the The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The band's music has been used in a range of different projects, including the soundtrack of the film The Big Lebowski as well as cover material for salsa and merengue band recordings. The Gipsy Kings' style of music has been described variously as gypsy rock and salsa-flamenco fusion. The Gipsy Kings are not only adaptable but are internationally accessible, as fifteen gold and platinum albums worldwide bear witness.
The group originally formed in 1976 when musicians with deep French Gypsy roots joined together. Nicolas and Andre Reyes--the sons of Jose Reyes, the famed flamenco singer for Manitas de Platas--teamed up with Tonino, Paco, and Diego Baliardo and Chico Bouchikhi. All of the band's members are either cousins or brothers-in-law of the Reyes'. Steeped in the Gypsy lifestyle, all of the Gipsy Kings began their careers living in an eighty-trailer Gypsy caravan near Arles, France, for at least part of the year. "Our music is ageless and its roots are in the family and in caravan life," Chico Bouchikhi told the New York Times. "Our mothers were listening to this music when we were still in their wombs and now our children are born with it. That's how integral it is to our lives."
Originally called Los Reyes, the group recorded under that name on its first album, Gitan Poete, in 1977. This record was the first of the group's efforts to put flamenco music into pop song structures. From the start, the band was followed by devoted fans to every feria (festival) in the south of France. From St. Tropez to Italy, thousands of men and women danced the night away to the rhythm of the guitarists dressed in flashy dress shirts, black peg-leg pants, and shiny boots.
In 1982 the band changed its name to the Gipsy Kings, preferring the uncommon alternate spelling, and released its second album, Allegria. This record featured more traditional songs. The lyrics, sung in a patois called Gitane--a mixture of French, Spanish, and Gypsy languages--covered the subjects of love, freedom, and the celebration of life.
The Gipsy Kings recorded another acoustic album, Luna de Fuegos, in 1983. The music was characterized by the cascade of five rhythm guitarists strumming and was punctuated by the passionate, raspy wails of Nicolas Reyes and the daring solo lines of lead guitarist Tonino Baliardo. Baliardo's agile playing drew comparisons to another French Gypsy guitarist, the jazz master Django Reinhardt. Over the next three years the band established itself as a popular live act in clubs throughout Europe and North Africa. They became a favorite of the French jet set, even receiving an invitation from sultry screen actress Brigitte Bardot to play at her birthday party.
Things really took off for the Gipsy Kings in 1986, however, when the group caught the attention of French record producer Claude Martinez. Martinez, who later became their manager, offered the band a recording opportunity using modern pop production and arrangements. After a year of careful work the Gipsy Kings managed to match folk melodies with a contemporary rhythm section that included bass, synthesizer, and percussion. "The change came pretty smoothly," Chico Bouchikhi commented in the Washington Post. "We all agreed on it. The only thing that we were afraid of is that if we were to invite new musicians, that we would lose our essence. But actually it worked very well and we all thought it was perfect timing to do it."
Indeed the timing was perfect for the Gipsy Kings' induction into international stardom. Gipsy Kings was released in 1987 on Elektra and became a surprise top ten hit in continental Europe. Both "Bamboleo" and "Djobi Djoba" became hit singles in more than half a dozen countries. Although Gipsy Kings entered Billboard's pop album chart at number 199, the recording sold more than 150,000 copies in the United States alone. At last the band had cracked the United States market.
The Gipsy Kings spent the next two years touring extensively and promoting the new album. Life on the road suited the group very well; members spent all of their time, both on and off the stage, together. True Gypsies, the nomadic way of life was in their blood as well as in their music. As Chico Bouchikhi told the Washington Post, "It was very important to us not to be a big group but to be together as a family. It was one way to stay together and also explore a career."
The Gipsy Kings' music was soon touching the lives of many people. In July of 1988, the group performed at a benefit concert for SOS Racisme, a French human rights organization that has sponsored concerts in Africa, Europe, and New York City. In the same year French fashion designer Christian Lacroix came out with a line of clothing he said had been inspired by listening to the Gipsy Kings' music. In the United States, the adult contemporary video channel VH1 chose the single "Bamboleo" as a Pick of the Week.
Although the Gipsy Kings' previous effort had done very well, a doubt arose as to whether or not Gipsy Kings had been too acoustic for American dance floors. The group responded in 1989 by introducing a mix of electronic and acoustic percussion that blended polyrhythmic styles ranging from salsa to the Islamic popular music of rai on its next major label recording. Salsa superstar Ruben Blades collaborated with the Gipsy Kings on the album and co-wrote "Caminando por la Calle." The result, Mosaique, was an exotic, toe-tapping flamenco crossover and earned the group a nomination for Billboard's Best World Music Artist. Later that year Joan Baez did a Spanish version of "My Way" with the Gipsy Kings on her own album, Speaking of Dreams.
During one of the group's infrequent rests from touring, Chico Bouchikhi retired. He was replaced in 1989 by yet another relative from Arles, Canut Reyes. The new lineup of Gipsy Kings recorded Este Mundo in the spring of 1991. Like previous releases, the album contained both traditional songs and flamenco tunes amidst a variety of cantes (ballads), bailes (dance music), and toques (solo guitar instrumentals). The album, however, contained very different rhythmic ideas from the disco-oriented Mosaique. Middle Eastern influences were explored with the use of two percussion instruments, the darbouka and the tabla. The unique sounds of Este Mundo proved to be another winner for the band.
The Gipsy Kings' successes continued into the 1990s, prompting the group to deliver a live album in 1992. Before he left the band, Chico Bouchikhi, as quoted in People, expressed a sentiment that may well explain the reason behind the Gipsy Kings' great popularity: "We played for Charlie Chaplin before he died and the music made him cry. It's for a reaction like that that we work so hard."
After their popular live album, the Gipsy Kings released five more albums in the 1990s. The Best of the Gipsy Kings, released in 1995, spent more than a year at the top of Billboard's world music charts. The band's 1997 release, Compas, displayed the its talent for writing its own music, with twelve original songs on the thirteen song release. It was also a successful blending of musical styles, influences and particularly instruments. No less than nine different kinds of instruments were used on the album, including didgeridoo (an Australian wind instrument), saxophone, trumpet, and violin.
The new millennium was no less kind to the group, which released more albums to critical and popular acclaim. A 2000 release titled Volare: The Very Best of the Gipsy Kings collected another set of the band's most popular songs. While the group continued to fuse South American, Middle Eastern, and flamenco elements with rock, in 2004 it turned its focus on its origins and released a traditional flamenco album called Roots. The album was recorded in a stone farmhouse in order to capture the essence of Gypsy culture--the late-night parties of singing and music, with percussion provided by clapping and footwork. Although the band has been criticized for its eclectic fusion of sounds, particularly by traditionalists, even the hardiest detractors can't help but be inspired to dance by the Gipsy Kings. When questioned by Jonathan Castner of the Record about their reception in Spain (the birthplace of flamenco) Andre Reyes explained, "At first the traditionalists did not appreciate our blend of flamenco, rock, and jazz, but in the end the music won."
by Christian Whitaker and Eve M. B. Hermann
Gipsy Kings's Career
Group formed in Arles, France, c. 1976; as Los Reyes, released album Gitan Poete, 1977; changed name to Gipsy Kings and released album Allegria, 1982; performed throughout Europe and North Africa; released Gipsy Kings, Elektra, 1987; released live album, Live, 1992; The Best of the Gipsy Kings released, 1995; toured the United States in support of Compas, 1997; released more traditional album, Roots, 2004.
- Selected discography
- (As Los Reyes) Gitan Poete Tudor, 1977.
- Allegria CBS France, 1982.
- Luna de Fuegos CBS France, 1983.
- Gipsy Kings Elektra, 1987.
- Mosaique Elektra, 1989.
- Este Mundo Elektra, 1991.
- Live Elektra, 1992.
- Love and Liberte Nonesuch, 1993.
- The Best of the Gipsy Kings Nonesuch, 1995.
- Tierra Gitana Nonesuch, 1996.
- Compas Nonesuch, 1997.
- Cantos de Amor Nonesuch, 1998.
- Volare: The Very Best of the Gipsy Kings Nonesuch, 2000.
- Somos Gitanos Nonesuch, 2001.
- Roots Nonesuch, 2004.
- Manuel, Peter, Popular Musics of the Non-Western World: An Introductory Survey, Oxford University Press, 1988.
- Austin American-Statesman, June 1, 1998, p. E3.
- Boston Herald, August 31, 1997, p. 051.
- New York Times, July 21, 1988; July 24, 1988; March 6, 1989; December 6, 1989.
- People, February 13, 1989; January 29, 1990.
- Record (Bergen County, NJ), June 4, 2001, p. F6.
- Spin, November 1991.
- Time, January 2, 1989.
- Washington Post, December 28, 1988; March 4, 1989; January 28, 1990.
- "Gipsy Kings enjoy flamenco boom," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Music/9907/13/gipsy.kings.wb/ (August 14, 2004).
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Elektra Records press releases, January 1988, February 1989, and June 1991.
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