The Gipsy Kings

views updated Jun 11 2018

The Gipsy Kings

Flamenco band

For the Record

Played for the Rich and Famous

Rocketed to International Stardom

Nominated for Best World Music Artist

Selected discography


From the obscurity of playing parties and festivals in the south of France, the Gipsy Kings have moved up to the prominence of performing on Saturday Night Live and the Johnny Carson Show. Their music has been used in a range of different projects, including the soundtrack to pop star George Michaels Diet Coke commercial and cover material for salsa and merengue band recordings. They have developed a style of music that has been described variously as gypsy rock and salsa-flamenco fusion. The Gipsy Kings are not only adaptable but are internationally accessible, as 15 gold and platinum albums worldwide bear witness.

The six-member group formed in 1976 when musicians from two French Gypsy families joined together. Nicolas and Andre Reyesthe sons of Jose Reyes, the famed flamenco singer for Manitas de Platasalong with Tonino, Paco, and Diego Baliardo and Chico Bouchikhiall of whom are either cousins or brothers-in-law of the Reyesare steeped in the Gypsy lifestyle. All of the Gipsy Kings live in an 80-trailer Gypsy caravan near Aries, France, for at least part of the year.

For the Record

Members include Diego Baliardo (guitar), Paco Baliardo (guitar), Tonino Baliardo (solo guitar), Chico Bouchikhi (guitar and background vocals; retired in 1989, replaced by Canut Reyes), Andre Reyes (guitar and background vocals), and Nicolas Reyes (lead vocals and guitar).

Band formed c. 1976 in Aries, France; as Los Reyes, released album Gitan Poete, 1977; changed name to the Gipsy Kings and released album Allegria, 1982; performed throughout Europe and North Africa; released Gipsy Kings, Elektra, 1987.

Awards: 15 gold and platinum records worldwide; nominated for best world music artist, Billboard, 1989.

Addresses: Manager Shep Gordon, Alive Entertainments, Inc., 8912 Burton Way, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Record company Elektra, 75 Rockfeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.

Only three of the members have permanent houses elsewhere in France. Our music is ageless and its roots are in the family and in caravan life, Chico Bouchikhi was quoted as saying in 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. Thats how integral it is to our lives.

Originally called Los Reyes, the group recorded under that name on their first album, Gitan Poete, in 1977. This record was the first of the Gipsy Kings efforts to put flamenco music into pop song structures. From the start they were 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 six guitarists dressed in flashy dress shirts, black peg-leg pants, and shiny boots.

Played for the Rich and Famous

In 1982 the band changed their name to the Gipsy Kings, preferring the uncommon alternate spelling with an i, and released their second album, Allegria, a folk record featuring more traditional songs. The lyrics, sung in a patois called Gitanea mixture of French, Spanish, and Gypsy languagescover the subjects of love, freedom, and the celebration of life.

The Gipsy Kings recorded another acoustic album entitled 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. Baliardos agile playing drew comparisons to another French Gypsy guitarist, the jazz master Django Reinhardt. Over the next three years the band established themselves 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.

Rocketed to International Stardom

Indeed the setting was ripe for the Gipsy Kings induction into international stardom. Gipsy Kings was released in 1987 on Elektra and became a surprise Top 10 hit in continental Europe. Both Bamboleo and Djobi Djoba became hit singles in more than half a dozen countries. Although Gipsy Kings entered Bill-boards pop album chart at Number 199, the recording sold more than 150,000 copies in America alone. At last the band had cracked the U.S. 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; they 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 stated in 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 VH-1 chose the single Bamboleo as a Pick of the Week.

Nominated for Best World Music Artist

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 discotheques. The sextet 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 raion their 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 Billboards best world music artist. Later that year Joan Baez did a Spanish version of May Way with the Gipsy Kings on her own album, Speaking of Dreams.

During one of their 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, or ballads, bailes, or dance music, and toques, solo guitar instrumentals. The album, however, contained very different rhythmic ideas from the disco-oriented Mosaique. Mideastern 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. Its for a reaction like that that we work so hard.

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



Manuel, Peter, Popular Musics of the Non-Western World: An Introductory Survey, Oxford University Press, 1988.


New York Times, July 21, 1988; July 24, 1988; March 6, 1989; December 6, 1989.

People, February 13, 1989; January 29, 1990.

Spin, November 1991.

Time, January 2, 1989.

Washington Post, December 28, 1988; March 4, 1989; January 28, 1990.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Elektra Records press releases, January 1988, February 1989, and June 1991.

Christian Whitaker

Gipsy Kings, The

views updated May 14 2018


Formed: 1979, Arles, France

Members: Diego Baliardo, guitar (Maurice Victor Baliardo); Paco Baliardo, guitar (Jacques Baliardo); Tonino Baliardo, solo guitar (born Arles, France); Jon Carin, programmed percussion (born New York, New York, 21 October 1964); Pino Palladino, bass guitar (born Arles, France); Nicolas Reyes, lead vocals, palmas (born Arles, France); Andre Reyes, harmony vocals, palmas, guitar (born Arles, France); Canut Reyes, guitar, background vocals (François Reyes, born Arles, France). Former members: Chico Bouchikhi, guitar, background vocals (Djeloul Bouchikhi).

Genre: World

Best-selling album since 1990: Gipsy Kings (1988)

Hit songs since 1990: "Vamos a Bailar," "Bamboleo," "Volare"

The interfamily, traveling flamenco guitarists and singers who make up the Gipsy Kings are responsible for bringing their uniquely rhythmic guitar playing and exuberant, multi-harmonied singing to the rest of the world through a dozen or so widely selling albums and the commercial licensing of their songs. The band is world renowned for its joyful, pop-infused flamenco music.

The Gipsy Kings derive their name from the group's two co-founders, brothers Nicolas and Andre Reyes (rey means "king" in Spanish), sons of flamenco artist Jose Reyes. The Reyes brothers initially started playing in the family band in the late 1970s with their father and cousins, who are all from Arles, a village in southern France, close to the Spanish border. In 1976 Nicolas and Andre teamed up with another family of Gypsy musicians from France, Paco, Diego, and Tonino Baliardo, and Chico Bouchikhi, all of whom are either cousins or brothers-in-law to the Reyes brothers, and called themselves Los Reyes. They started out as a gypsy band, traveling to play at weddings, at parties, at festivals, and in the streets, playing a style of celebratory flamenco music (Spanish folk music) that reflects their caravan upbringing. In 1982 Los Reyes changed their name to Gipsy Kings to reflect their traveling nature. The Gipsy Kings released their first two albums in Europe to much success, but did not reach an American audience until 1988 with their self-titled U.S. debut, produced by Claude Martinez, who eventually became their manager.

Gipsy Kings was well received in the United States and although it barely squeaked into the Billboard 200, at number 199, it managed to sell approximately 150,000 copies. The album was a huge success in Europe. The band followed up the album with Allegria (1989), full of traditional Spanish folk tunes sung in the band's native tongue called gitane, which is a mixture of Spanish, French, and gypsy languages, along with instrumentals. "Pena Penita" and "Solituda" are joyous, multiguitar tunes replete with syncopated hand claps and foot stomps. They provide good examples of how the Gipsy Kings's music is literally moving; its tempo, rhythms, and happy tone bring people to their feet. The space between each track is punctuated by informal conversation and encouraging shouts among and between musicians, imparting a familial, laid-back, and folksy feel.

With the help of producer Martinez, the band experimented with different world music elements from the Middle East, Latin America, North Africa, and even a little bit of rock thrown in for good measure. Building on the success of their first few U.S. releases, the Gipsy Kings collaborated with Cuban musician Ruben Blades on Mosaique (1989), bridging their own flamenco sounds with jazz, and reached for a more contemporary sound by incorporating electronic and acoustic percussion. The album, a smashing success, reached the number one slot of Billboard 's Top World Music Albums chart.

Immediately successive albums fared reasonably well, with Middle East influences on Este Mundo (1991) and a live album in 1992. By the mid-1990s the personnel had shuffled slightly, and their album Compas (1997) reached number one on Billboard' s World Music chart. Toward the end of the 1990s, the Gipsy Kings amassed a loyal, diverse following, appealing equally to college-aged fans and adults. In 1997, they appeared on a Public Broadcasting Service television series, Sessions at West 54th, that brought together a small studio audience for an intimate recording. Things perked up for the Kings with Cantos de Amor (1998), a collection of classic Spanish love ballads.

The music of the Gipsy Kings is transcendent and melodic, and eloquently expresses the sadness of life with a beauty that few bands, world, pop, or otherwise, can match.


Gipsy Kings (Elektra, 1988); Allegria (Elektra, 1989): Mosaique (Elektra 1989); Este Mundo (Elektra, 1991); Live! (Elektra, 1992); Compas (Nonesuch, 1997); Cantos de Amor (Nonesuch, 1998); Somos Gitanos (Nonesuch, 2001).

carrie havranek