Since any explosion is caused by accumulated energy, we can assume that the main cause of the Gipsy Kings explosion was the energy of Gipsy music accumulated over the centuries. The Reyes and Baliardo brothers finally shared again with the rest of the planet the musical ideas that their people had gathered from different nations during their centuries-long journey from India to Europe. Maybe that’s why we can call the above and many other songs of theirs folk songs of the planet.
The band’s music and the energy of the performers are so powerful that the audience is not bothered by not understanding the lyrics. The thing is that the language spoken by the France-based band of Spanish Gitano descent is a mixture of Spanish, Catalan, Romani and French. Even when one tries to understand what they are singing, one often comes across words that can’t be found in any dictionary.
The Reyes and Baliardo brothers did not come into the world of music by accident. The musical talent of the Romanis has been accepted as an indisputable fact of reality for centuries. There is a legend about the origin of the Romani people: the Indian king sent a band of musicians as a gift to the king of Iran, but the band got lost on the way and went wandering around the world, and so the Romani people were born. It is worth noting that the name of one of the communities genetically closest to the Romanis, the sub-ethnic group called “Dom” in India, also means percussion (percussion player). It is no coincidence that some Romani communities in the Middle East call themselves “Dom”, and some in Europe call themselves “Rrom”. According to another Romani tradition, a musician who knows he is going to die finds a pregnant woman, holds her face and sings (or plays an instrument), thus passing on his gift to the next generation.
Jose Reyes, the father of the Reyes brothers, was well known and loved in his parts as a flamenco artist. The family moved from Catalonia to France during the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and settled in Camargue in southern France, a region populated by Spanish-speaking Romanis (Gitanos) like themselves. Jose Reyes, who found a home for his family in the suburbs of Arles, begins performing as a duo with his cousin, the famous guitarist Manitas de Plata (Ricardo Baliardo) from Montpelier. No important Romani holiday or meeting there takes place without them. The duo also becomes a favorite of celebrities who came to the region, the beloved destination the French beau-monde at the time. The famous painter Picasso, fascinated by Manitas de Plata’s performance, says, “That man is of greater worth than I am!” and becomes a family friend of Jose Reyes; Jean Cocteau writes to them; Charlie Chaplin invites them to his parties; famous photographer Lucien Clergue takes their photos and so on. The duo’s career culminates with US tours and concerts at the famous Carnegie Hall. At the end of one of the tours, the duo performs on the UN stage in New York with the famous artist Salvador Dali: they play and sing, while Dali, inspired by their music, paints a rider on horseback.
Recording from one of Manitas de Plata and Jose Reyes’ Carnegie Hall concerts.
In the mid-1970s, Jose and Manitas part ways. Jose begins performing with his sons Paul, Canut, Patchai and Nicolas, and his son-in-law Chico as Jose Reyes & Los Reyes. Chico’s real name is Jahloul Buchikhi. Born to a Moroccan father and an Algerian mother, Chico lived among Romanis since he was a child, playing with them, and finally marrying Jose’s daughter Martha—he got his nickname from his Romani friends. His managerial and diplomatic skills have always benefited the team—Jose Reyes himself praised these talents of his.
Jose Reyes & Los Reyes at a TV concert
Baroness Jacqueline Rothschild falls in love with their music after hearing them perform once, and her connections pave the way for them to upper-class parties and Swiss restaurants. A restaurant owner asks them to come in the evening one day to perform in front of Charlie Chaplin’s family. Concerned, Canut says, “But he lives on the street, how will he pay us?” The band’s biographer Francois Mattei’s book …Parce que nous sommes Gitans (Because We Are Gipsies) contains an interesting recollection of Chico’s about that night. Chico recalls thinking that night as he saw old Chaplin cry because of the sad Romani songs, “If we can make a man who makes the whole world laugh, we can make the whole world cry.” (It is worth mentioning that there are quite convincing rumors that Chaplin was of Romani descent himself.) In the same period, they release two albums in Switzerland: Gitan Poete (Gipsy Poet, 1977) and L’Amour D’un Jour (The Love of One Day, 1978). The albums are mainly sold in the Swiss and German markets.
The next famous person the band meet at that time is Brigitte Bardot. Invited to a party at her villa, the band refuse to accept money for the performance from the famous actress and even dedicate a beautiful song, “La Dona” (“Lady”), to her. Their friendship continues many years.
Jose Reyes passes away in 1981. Shortly before that, the band, who traditionally spend the summer on the famous beaches of Saint-Tropez, meet their distant relatives, the Baliardo brothers, Tonino, Paco and Diego, the nephews of Manitas de Plata, and they decide to form a band together. Time has shown that even though they are good enough guitar players, it was a wise decision for the Reyes brothers, who prefer to sing, to team up with the Baliardo brothers, virtuoso guitarists. Talented, imaginative Tonino Baliardo’s tasteful solos, chords and compositions, in particular, make the band’s repertoire more colorful and beautiful. Rumor has it that at one of the beach “concerts”, an American tourist asked the Reyes about the meaning of their last name, and, hearing that it meant “kings”, she said, “You are true Gipsy kings”. The band, which was actually no longer composed exclusively of the Reyes, decided to name themselves “Gipsy Kings”.
At the same time, another Jacqueline comes into the band’s life. Jacqueline Tarta, who owns a small music business Sara Music, releases two of the band’s albums: Allegria (Joy, 1982) and Luna de Fuego (Fire Moon, 1983). Both albums are “unplugged”, i.e., acoustic: nothing but guitars, vocals and palmas (famous handclapping style used in flamenco music). Future popular hits like “Djobi-Djoba”, “Un amor” (“A Love”) and others, the well-known instrumental compositions like “Galaxia”, “Pharaon” and “Allegria” are already featured on these albums. However, the sales are not great—the albums are mostly heard in the south of France and the north of Spain. Key figures of the music industry in Paris keep finding faults with the band: with their English name, with their clothes in the photos… In the end, the albums make it far in the county. However, both albums contain very valuable musical pieces. “Tristessa” (“Sadness”), the parade of beautiful melodies on Allegria, “Amor d’un Dia”, “Calaverada”, “Viento del Arena” (“Sand Wind”) on Luna de Fuego are especially noteworthy. In the future, after the band becomes famous, the songs on these two albums (with some exceptions) will be released in the United States under a single title of “Allegria” and sell well against the backdrop of the band’s worldwide fame…
The band’s musical style is called Rumba Flamenca or Rumba Catalana: Spanish music flamenco, born out of Romani and Middle Eastern music, crossed the ocean and merged with African rhythms in Cuba, creating rumba, then returned to Europe and went through the Romani filter again, resulting in a new form.
In 1986, the band meets Parisian producer Claude Martinez. Realizing the potential of the band, the talent of the performers, the producer decides to work with them to release an album. Pop instruments—bass guitar, drums, synthesizer, etc.—are added to the band’s acoustic sound, the form of the songs is reworked, and the album entitled Gipsy Kings is released. There are so many hit songs on this album that many will mistake it for a compilation album in the future.
Besides the already mentioned “Bamboleo”, “Un Amor”, and “Djobi-Djobi”, there are other hits on this album: “Bem, Bem, Maria”, “A Mi Manera” (cover of “My Way”), as well as “Moorea” (after one of the famous Saint-Tropez beaches where they once played it), which has already become a guitar classic and “Inspiration”. And I would also recommend listening to another beautiful song on the album, “Tu Quieres Volver” (You Want to Return), in Sarah Brightman’s phenomenal interpretation.
The band’s next album, Mosaïque, is released in 1989. Although “Vamos a Bailar” (Let’s Dance) and the Italian song “Volare”, which becomes one of Gipsy Kings signature songs, are regarded as the album’s main hits, I think that “Viento del Arena” (the song, the acoustic version of which previously appeared on Luna de Fuego before it became popular, gained an even more alluring and mystical air when performed by the pop ensemble on this album), with its Middle East flavor, “Trista Pena” (Sad Pain), very moving, with its gloomy lyrics and the lead vocalist Nicolas Reyes showing his amazing abilities in the second verse, the passionate and exciting “Serana” are valuable musical pieces. As for instrumental compositions, Tonino Baliardo, as always, produces one track more interesting than the next: the fusion-like “Mosaïque”, which gives the title to the album, the sensitive “Passion”, “Liberte”, full of contrasts. In general, Tonino’s compositions can be called songs without words for both their form and musical charm. The album’s European and North American versions differ: the American version features “Niña Morena” instead of the instrumental “Bossamba”.
In these years, the band gives concerts all around the planet: the recordings of two of them—at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1989 and on the US tour in the 90s—are quite popular. Interestingly, after the US tour in 1989, the band is invited to perform at the inaugural ball for George Bush, but they choose to return home to rest in southern France and be with their families.
After Mosaïque, the band’s lineup changes dramatically: Chico, the band’s unofficial manager, leaves the band—reportedly because of disagreements with producer Claude Martinez—and is replaced by Canut Reyes. Chico forms a new group, Chico & Gypsies, and continues his career quite successfully: he pens an international hit titled “Marina”, becomes UNESCO’s special envoy for peace, and so on.
Released in 1991, Este Mundo (This World) is probably one of the band’s most curious albums. Starting with
“Baila Me” (Dance with Me), a classic of the genre, the album continues with the darker Rumba Catalana “Sin Ella” (Without Her), followed by the sad and sincere “Habla Me” (Talk to Me). “Lagrimas” (Tears), the first instrumental of the album, reminiscent of “Nazina Ölüyorum” the Turkish singer Çelik will perform a few years later, should be considered as one of Tonino’s masterfully written compositions. In the next song, “Oy”, we can also hear the solo vocals of Canut Reyes, who joins the band from this album, and the youngest Reyes brother Andre. In the Latin jazz-esque “Mi Vida” (My Life), we hear the precursors of Latin American music that the band will go deeper into in their next albums. “El Mauro” (Moor) is easily the culmination of the album. In particular, the drama in the second verse is rare to find not only in other work of Gipsy Kings, but also in the songs of very few pop groups or performers. Finally, one of the jewels of the album—”No Volveré” (I Will Not Return)—is still popular in the Middle East under the title “Amor mio”. The energy of this song, with its breathtaking lyricism and endless sorrow, is so strong that it is impossible not to ignore it when you hear it play. The next tracks on the album are the instrumental composition “Furia” (Anger/Passion), rich in flamenco motifs, “Oh Mai”, which seems a bit simpler than other compositions, and “Ternuras”, which as if prepares us for the album’s most precious final song, “Este Mundo”. As we know from the vocal techniques used in the title song, the acknowledgments at the end of the album, and the video clip on YouTube, the song is produced in collaboration with the great Pakistani singer Fateh Ali Khan. 30 years have passed since, but the song still sounds fresh—probably thanks to the interesting vocal line and unexpected modal changes.
In 1992, Live is released. The album consists mostly of live versions of songs performed at the concerts of the European tour in support of Este Mundo. According to some Gipsy Kings fans, this album embodies the nature of the band—holiday/festival. There are also connoisseurs who consider this live “Bamboleo”, sung at some point together with the audience, as the best version of the song. The most special track on the album, in my opinion, is the flamenco, mugam-like “Fandango”, sung by Nicolas and Canut, masterfully accompanied by Tonino.
In 1994, the songs from the last 5 albums are released on Greatest Hits, the album with the famous yellow cover. In the second half of the 90s, you could come across this album all over the world, including the displays of music shops in Baku.
Released in 1993, the album Love & Liberté (Love and Freedom) also contains distinctive, interesting and beautiful examples of the band’s work. The main international hit of the album is “Escucha Me” (Listen to me). This reggae-style song is born out of the band’s fascination with Caribbean music. Later, they will record “One Love” with Ziggy, the famous Bob Marley’s son. Both “Escucha Me” and other songs on the album, especially “Montana” (Mountain), sung by Canut, showcase subtle sound engineering. The album is recorded in France, England and the United States. The song “Navidad” (Christmas) is about buying toys for poor children and making them happy, and the song “Madre Mia” (My Mother) is about the Blessed Virgin Mary. The song “No Viviré” (I Can’t Live) on the album will be familiar to the fans of Turkish singer Nilufer, because it’s her song “Yeniden sev” (Love Again). To be honest, I used to think that it was Nilufer who covered Gipsy Kings, because making covers of Gipsy Kings songs has always been common in the Middle East. But later, in the early 2000s, with the spread of the Internet, I found out that Onno Tunç, the well-known Turkish composer who wrote some of the biggest hits of Turkish pop music in the 1980s and 1990s was credited as the author of the song on Gipsy Kings’ album.
Another song on the album, “Campaña” (Church Bell) about Romanis praying to God will probably be familiar to listeners of Azerbaijani pop music. When it comes to the instrumental compositions on the album, although the first three—“Ritmo de la noche” (Rhythm of the Night), “Michael”, “Guitarra negra” (Black guitar)—have the skill and subtlety expected of Tonino, it’s the title song, “Love & Liberté”, that deserves a special mention. Love and freedom, an eternal theme in the songs of the Romani people, is expressed in this instrumental composition with great sensitivity and passion.
Gipsy Kings’ 1995 album Estrellas (Stars) can be called the band’s last pop-sounding album. The album is released a year later in the United States under the title Tierra Gitana (Gipsy Land) and with a different track list: instead of the instrumental “Forever” from Estrellas, Tierra Gitana featured the song “Los Peces En El Rio” (Fish in the river).
Although “La Rumba de Nicolas” is relatively popular among traditional rhythmic rumbas, I find “Siempre Acaba Tu Vida” (Life always ends), with the flute solo adding more beauty to it, and especially “Igual Se Entonces” (Then I know), with its dramatic tinge, to be more striking compositions. One of the gems on the album is, of course, “Mi Corazon” (My Heart), accompanied by a string quartet. Rich in Tonino’s tasteful solos, stunning instrumental compositions: “Cataluna”, the title track “Estrellas” and “Tierra Gitana”, the title track of the US version, as the beautiful coda, are also must-listen pieces.
Unfortunately, we already can’t help noticing the fatigue in Nicolas Reyes’ voice in this album. In later albums, this fatigue will only grow. Apparently, his father, Joseph Reyes, was right to criticize Nicolas when he was younger for not taking care of his voice… A completely new Gipsy Kings sound comes with the 1997 album Compas. The pop-standard sound from the previous albums disappears to never come back: the electro-bass is either replaced by an acoustic bass, or thrown into the background like other electronic instruments and the drums, and a more traditional, more “acoustic” sound comes to the fore instead. The album is produced by a British producer and sound engineered in the UK, which shows in the dullness of the typical British sound recording.
The typical Romani tune “A Mi Wa Wa”, the Middle East-flavored “Mira la Itana Mora” (See the Moorish Gypsy girl) clearly indicate the band’s return to their roots. “Amor Gitano” (Gipsy Love), a real Romani ballad masterfully sung by Canut, seems to prove once again that the band is determined to do so. Another noteworthy ballad is undoubtedly the sincere “Sueño de Noche” (Night dream).
A notable innovation in the instrumentals on Compas is Tonino sharing spotlight with other instruments: in “Recuerdo Apasionado” (Passionate memory) he enters into a dialogue with a solo violin, and in “Obsession de Amor” (Love’s obsession) with a jazz saxophone. As is often the case, it is Tonino who concludes the album—with “Salsa de Noche” (Night salsa), a beautiful and bright composition, despite its title.
Gipsy Kings enter the twentieth century with Somos Gitanos in 2001. Although the album of the band, whose eldest member, Paul, is 51, and the youngest, Andre, 34, is produced by Claude Martinez again, that is, the British dullness of the previous album is replaced by the French gloss, there is no question of the pop standard sound of the first albums coming back. Especially notable on the album are the lyrical songs “Quiero Libertad” (I Want Freedom), “Como Un Silencio” (Like Silence). Both in these two songs and in “Mi Fandango” near the end of the album, you can feel that Nicolas is putting all his heart into the songs. The bluesy “Poquito a Poco” (Little by little), sung by Andre, and “Solo, Solo Diré” (I’ll just say), a cover of their compatriot Manolo’s song, are somewhat interesting. The song “Majiwi”, full of Romani and Middle Eastern motifs and beautiful ney phrases, is also worth listening to. Since Tonino apparently releases his first solo album at the time, he performs only two original lyrical, thought-provoking instrumental compositions on this one—“Felices Dias” (Happy Days) and “Flamencos en el Aire” (Flamenco in the air). The album concludes with “One Love”, a reggae classic with the well-known English chorus and Spanish verses.
Released in 2003, Rare & Unpluged consists of previously unreleased versions (studio, concert or acoustic) of old songs.
The band’s 2004 album, Roots, is them insisting on returning to the roots as they get older. Electronic instruments are completely abandoned, and the album, recorded in a studio set up in a country house in southern France, features only acoustic instruments, including a double bass replacing bass guitar. You can feel the studio’s location in the bosom of nature in the comfortable, relaxed performances.
Throughout the album, we can’t forget that we are listening to Gypsy Kings, Romani flamenco artists, and not to the pop band Gipsy Kings. This feeling is especially strengthened by “2 Fandango” sung by Patchai, “Rhytmic” sung by Nicolas, and “Legende” sung by Canut, as well as the instrumental “Tarantas”. Speaking of instrumentals, one of them, “Nuages”, is written by the famous French Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. The other two instrumental pieces—the virtuoso “Bolerias” and Tonino’s typical lyrical “Tampa”—are also worth listening to. Impressive are the beautiful ballads “Como Siento Yo” (As I feel) and [obviously self-repeating as it is] Canut’s “Soledad” (Loneliness) are impressive. Two cheerful songs full of sincerity, adding a special color to the album, should also be noted: “Boogie” and “Petite Noya” with its bright melody.
Released in 2006, Pasajero (Passenger) is probably the band’s most Latin-American-sounding album. The most interesting songs on the album are “Amor” with Andre’s lead vocals, Nicolas’s “La tounga”, Canut’s “Sol y Luna” (Sun and Moon). Of the instrumental compositions, “Guaranga” is more memorable than the other two.
The band’s next album, Savor Flamenco (Flamenco Flavor), is released in 2013, 7 years after Pasajero. In this album, filled with the magic of the music of genial elders, four compositions—two instrumentals (“Tiempo del sol” and “Fairies Melody”) and two songs (“Corazon” and “Sueño”)—have a special beauty and atmosphere. It is especially worth listening to the last song featuring Francis Cabrel included in the album as a bonus track.
The fact that the band, whose oldest member was 64 and youngest 47 at the time, received a Grammy for this album after seven previous nominations may mean that it was more of a honorary award. It looks from some interviews and Internet catalogs that the band released digitally an album entitled Evidence in 2018, but for all my efforts, unfortunately, I was not able to find the album on any platform.
Gipsy Kings function as at least 4 bands at the moment—apparently because they are still in high demand. These are: Gipsy Kings of the lead vocalist and solo guitarist Nicolas Reyes and Tonino Baliardo, who are already credited as producers on the last album, Andre Reyes’s Gipsy Kings, Paco Baliardo’s Gipsy Kings and the team-up between the three older Reyes brothers—Paul, Canut and Patchai—and their brother-in-law Chico. All four bands include young members of the Reyes and Baliardo families, who apparently learned to play the guitar before they learned to speak. It is possible that the young people who are now maturing in these groups will cause of another “Gypsy explosion” in the future.