The Gipsy Kings
Begin in Catalonia and follow the coast into France, curving through fishing villages, farming communities, wild lands where white horses run free and huge black bulls are bred for fighting. Nearby stand the ancient cities of Perpignan, Montpellier and Arles. This is fertile terrain, fought over across millennia, home to Roman aqueducts and amphitheatres, once host to Cezanne, Van Gogh and Ganguin, long renowned for fine wines and fierce people. And today the region’s celebrated as the land of Gipsy Kings
The Gipsy Kings are that rare thing–a household name famous solely for their music; the most successful French musical outfit ever are big in Brazil and popular (extremely so) in Persia, honoured at The Alamo in Texas and celebrated in China. All this achieved without MTV videos, hype, reality TV appearances, famous girlfriends, bad behaviour…an international audience won over purely by the music and the big, welcoming soulfulness of its creators. That’s no ordinary achievement. Understandably, the Gipsy Kings are extraordinary characters: to play guitar and sing is something that their fathers, grandfathers and ancestors did. The Gipsy Kings make music as communion, artistry rooted in the past yet focused on the future.
The Gipsy Kings consist of two bands of brothers: The Reyes (Nicolas, Canut, Paul, Patchaï, André) and a Baliardos (Tonino, Paco, Diego). They took initial shape when the teenage Reyes boys began backing their father Jose.
Jose Reyes, singing alongside guitarist Manitas de Plata, did much to popularise flamenco internationally: John Steinbeck, Charlie Chaplin, Pablo Picasso, Miles Davis and Salvador Dali were amongst the duo’s admirers. Jose’s death devastated his sons yet lead to a fortuitous encounter with the Baliardos at the St Marie de la Mer Gitan pilgramage. On that warm night, as they passed the guitar, shared songs and wine, history was shaped.
Initially, the Reyes and Baliardos busked on the streets of Cannes, played weddings and parties, young men flavouring flamenco with Western pop and Latin rhythms. When an American admirer told the band their name Los Reyes meant “The Kings” in English they realised they were born to be Gipsy Kings.
In 1987 The Gipsy Kings–self titled debut album introduced the world to ‘rumba Gitano’–the sound of South America’s rumba rhythm married to flamenco guitars and with ‘Bamboleo’ the Gipsy Kings scored a huge international hit. Since then the Kings have never stopped singing to the world.
Today the Gipsy Kings still live with their families in the south of France. Life may have changed for them–they no longer busk on streets or pick crops when times are hard or travel in caravans–but still, at heart, they remain Gypsies, the proud descendants of an ancient people who seduced the world with music and dance.