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The Gipsy Kings' story began with José Reyes, a talented singer and guitarist who had become something of a living legend in the Gipsy community. José raised his sons - Nicolas, André, Patchaï, François (aka "Canut") and Paul (aka "Pablo") - to become musicians like himself, and as soon as the boys were old enough to play guitar José realised his dream of forming a family group. In the early 70's José et Los Reyes began busking on the café terraces along the Côte d'Azur, and the group soon became popular with the wealthy tourists holidaying in the chic seaside resort of Saint Tropez.
Encouraged by their success on the café terraces, the Reyes would soon expand their line-up, teaming up with their cousins Diego, Paco and Tonino Baliardi (nephews of Dominique Baliardi - better known to music fans as Manitas de Plata). The Reyes and the Baliardis got together to form a traditional Gipsy ensemble, and their acoustic guitars and swirling rhythms soon attracted an extensive following of fans along the coast.
The group's big break came in 1978, however, when St Tropez's most famous resident, Brigitte Bardot, invited Los Reyes to perform at one of her private parties. The exuberant Gipsy musicians brought the house down at Bardot's place and after this success they went on to became flavour of the month with St Tropez's 'in crowd'. Indeed, Los Reyes would soon be inundated with bookings to play at millionaires' soirées and film stars' private receptions. At this stage of their career Los Reyes were made up of the Reyes brothers - Nicolas, Pablo and André - the Baliardi clan - Tonino, Paco and Diego - and a young Moroccan musician, Jahloul Bouchikhi aka "Chico", who was married to one of José Reyes's daughters.
Los Reyes' fame soon spread far beyond St Tropez and when Enrico Macias performed at the Olympia in Paris in 1979 he would invite the Gipsy group to support him. (Later that year the great Gipsy patriarch José Reyes died of lung cancer and Los Reyes were left to continue the Gipsy tradition where José had left off).
Los Reyes continued playing in the South of France, building up an extensive fanbase. Then, in 1982, an independent producer by the name of Jacqueline Tarta spotted the group performing in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Impressed by Los Reyes' exuberance and their natural talent, Tarta began putting out feelers to various record companies. And, thanks to Tarta's efforts on their behalf, Los Reyes would be invited to sign a recording deal with Phonogram later that year.
Thus in 1983 the group went into the studio to record their début album, "Allegria". Yet, in spite of the success Los Reyes continued to enjoy on a local level in the South of France, the group failed to take off nationally. Indeed, Los Reyes's first album proved to be a bit of a flop. Neither French music critics nor the general public were ready for the Gipsy phenomenon!
Yet, in spite of proving a commercial failure, Los Reyes' Gipsy rhythms soon managed to reach a few sympathetic ears. Indeed, French music star Francis Lalanne was completely bowled over by the group's sound and he immediately set about helping Los Reyes get their second album off the ground. Thanks to Lalanne's enthusiastic support, "Luna de fuego" was finally released in 1984. But, unfortunately, the group's second album fared no better than the first.
Undaunted by this setback, Los Reyes set off on tour with Francis Lalanne, supporting the French star at the Olympia, just as they had done with Enrico Macias a few years earlier. The group would then go on to perform a ten-day run in a small Paris venue called the Café de la Gare. But the audiences who saw Los Reyes in Paris were non too enthusiastic about the group's sound. Ironically, while millionaires and international film stars were ready to loan Los Reyes their private jets to fly them across the world for their parties, audiences in Paris were not even interested in turning up to the group's concerts!
Los Reyes Undergo a Dramatic Transformation With A New Producer
Los Reyes's fortunes were soon set to change however. The turn-around would finally come in August 1986, when Claude Martinez, a Parisian producer who was very much in vogue at the time, saw the group performing in Arles. He could hardly have failed to missed them, as the festival season was in full swing in the South of France and Los Reyes appeared to be omnipresent that year!
Impressed by the group's talent and recognising huge commercial potential in their Gipsy sound, Martinez took the group in hand. After appointing himself as Los Reyes's producer, manager and artistic director in September, Martinez set about modernising the group's sound. Introducing a number of modern musical arrangements, Martinez would also engage a bunch of 'rock-oriented' backing musicians to update the Gipsy group's sound. Meanwhile, Martinez managed to bring the Gipsy musicians' voices and flamboyant guitar-playing to the fore - and more importantly, he re-baptised the group, encouraging them to change their name from Los Reyes to the Gipsy Kings.
The new-look Gipsy Kings returned to the studio in December of that year and spent the next five months hard at work on their new album. The album was ready in May of the following year but, unfortunately, none of the major record companies were interested in distributing the group's first single release "Bamboléo".
Martinez, who still believed in the massive potential of the Gipsy Kings' sound, went ahead with the single anyway and managed to get it released on a small independent label, MD. Thanks to the Gipsy Kings' continuing success on the Côte d'Azur, the group would soon score a hit in local nightclubs with their infectious dance sound. The Gipsy Kings' fame then spread by word of mouth and it was not long before Paris clubs and bars were thrilling to the sound of "Bamboléo". The single received extensive airplay on all the top French radio stations - and "Bamboléo" soon went on to become the Hit of the Summer. The Gipsy Kings had made it at last!
Cashing in on Gipsy-mania, the Gipsy Kings' old record company Phonogram decided to re-release the group's previous album "Luna de Fuego". Ironically, whereas in previous years the Gipsy Kings had struggled to get their album off the ground, this time round "Luna de Fuego" proved to be a massive hit, rocketing to the top of the album charts. Indeed, following the release of the single "Djobi Djoba", "Luna de Fuego" would go on to sell well over a million copies!
Martinez immediately rushed The Gipsy Kings into the studio to record a new version of "Djobi Djoba". And, following their phenomenal success in the album charts, the group were soon offered a lucrative recording deal with the major label CBS. The Gipsy Kings thus entered the record books as the first group to rocket into the charts on three different recording labels (MD, Phonogram and CBS).
As the group continued their dizzy ride to fame, the three labels became engaged in major behind-the-scenes combat, fighting over the rights to the new best-selling Gipsy Kings. For by now the group's commercial potential was there for all to see. When the Gipsy Kings next appeared in Paris, performing at La Cigale on December 15th 1987, the group brought the house down, attracting thousands of fans to their concert.
The Gipsy Kings Take America By Storm
The following year the Arles Gypsies hit America. Bob Krassnow, president of the American label Elektra, was the first to discover the Gispy sound and after he had signed the group to his label, the Gipsy Kings rocketed to fame in the States almost overnight.
The Gipsy Kings' popularity in North America quickly reached phenomenal proportions and they soon proved to be the most successful French group of all time in the States. Indeed, ten years after their success with the jet set in Saint Tropez, the Gipsy Kings were adopted by the Hollywood glitterati. And needless to say, the group's Canadian tour in October 1988 also turned out to be a huge success.
At the end of 1988 Pablo, one of the original members of Los Reyes, was forced to quit the group because of hearing problems. But his brother François, aka Canut, was immediately drafted in to take his place. After this quick reshuffle the Gipsy Kings devoted the whole of 89 to touring, performing to capacity audiences at some of the world's most prestigious venues. Indeed, the group proved such a sell-out hit on the American leg of their tour (February and March 89), that they had to return to the States for a supplementary series of concerts in August. The Gipsy Kings also took London by storm, bringing the house down at the Royal Albert Hall (on April 11th and 12th 89), then packing out Wembley Stadium in December of that year. Shortly after this triumph, Joan Baez invited the group to perform on one of her albums.
Meanwhile, as a backstage war continued to rage between the Gipsy Kings' various record companies, the group's albums sold like hotcakes, earning them a stack of gold discs.
1990 got off to a flying start with three phenomenally successful shows at the Zénith in Paris (25th, 26th and 27th January), 10,000 fans flocking to see the Gipsy Kings in concert. By this stage in their career the Gipsy Kings had become international mega-stars and in the summer of 1990 they were invited to fly out to Moscow where they performed a series of triumphant concerts to capacity audiences. The Gipsy Kings returned to the studio later that year to record an extraordinary cover of the Eagles' classic "Hotel California".
But as the Gipsy Kings continued their lightning rise to international stardom, a new management war broke out behind the scenes. Martinez and Chico had been locked in a furious personal battle for some time, arguing over the issue of copyright. This battle would culminate in Martinez demanding Chico to leave the group in 1991. Chico finally agreed to quit the Gipsy Kings, but shortly after leaving the group he went on to form his own Gipsy bands, Alma de Noche, then Chico et les Gypsies. The enterprising musician also went on to create the "Mosaïques Gitanes" festival.
Meanwhile, the Gipsy Kings' popularity soared to new heights. Following the release of their album "Este Mundo" (the last album recorded with Chico), the group were invited to perform in New York at the "Bastille Day" celebrations organised in Central Park. Needless to say, the Gipsy Kings' Central Park concert, on July 14th 1991, brought the house down, crowds of 30,000 calling for numerous encores.
In September 91 the Gipsy Kings returned to Paris, kicking off an extensive European tour with another mega-concert at the Zénith. After completing their European tour, the indefatigable Gipsies then flew out to Japan and Australia for a whirlwind tour at the beginning of 92.
There was no doubt about it - by the start of the 90's Gipsy music had carved out a best-selling niche for itself on the international music scene. And, following the phenomenal success of the Gipsy Kings, it was not long before the musicians' families began to think about getting their own Gipsy groups together. While Los Reyes, José Reyes's original group, continued under the leadership of his son Toni, Patchaï Reyes and his son set up their own group under the name Gitano Family.
Meanwhile, the Gipsy Kings' success rolled on and on. After performing at the legendary Olympia in Paris (on 1st, 2nd and 3rd December 94), the group headed out to Moscow in February 95 to play two exceptional concerts to audiences assembled on Red Square. Later that year the Gipsy Kings would return to the studio to record a brand new album entitled "Estrellas". Recorded with a host of special guest stars including drumming star Manu Katché and French jazz accordionist Richard Galliano, the album was released to general acclaim on November 2nd 1995.
1995 proved to be another long year of legal disputes. And this time round the Gipsy Kings would end up in court as André Reyes and the rest of his brothers battled over the rights to the "Gipsy Kings" name. By this stage in their career, however, the group were more than used to legal wrangles and this new dispute did not prevent them from getting on with their recording career. A new Gipsy Kings' album "Tierra Gitana" was released in 1996, and it was closely followed by another new album entitled "Compas". This album, master-minded by the Rolling Stones' former producer Chris Kimsey, was released on July 16th 1997, just as the Gipsy Kings were celebrating ten years at the top of the charts.
While the Gipsy Kings have remained successful in Europe, their popularity in the United States has reached phenomenal proportions. Indeed, the group have taken the American Billboard charts by storm, triumphing in both the World Music and Latino categories. And, following their impressive performance at Radio City Music Hall in New York in September 97, the Gipsy Kings' latest album went on to receive rave reviews in the American press. No wonder then, that the group's touring schedule for 1998 is dominated by US dates. After playing Florida in February, the Gipsy mega-stars are due to perform along the West Coast throughout May and June, then set the East Coast alight through August and September. Talk about Gipsy rovers!
Back to their roots
The Gipsy Kings, a group renowned for their live appearances, embarked on an extensive world tour between 1998 and 2003. Meanwhile, a double CD compilation of the groups greatest hits from the past twenty years (entitled "Volare : the very best of") hit record stores in September 2000.
In March 2004, The Gipsy Kings felt an urge to return to their roots. The seven musicians headed down to St André de Bueges, a tiny village in the Hérault region in the south of France. Given that the village had a total of fifty inhabitants, the group were able to work in complete peace and calm. This time round, the founding fathers of "flamenco nuevo" collaborated with Craig Street (the renowned Anglo-Saxon producer who worked with jazz star Norah Jones). Shortly after their arrival in St André de Bueges the Gipsy Kings got down to work on a new album entitled "Roots." The album, as the name suggests, was a largely acoustic affair, a million miles away from the synthesisers and rock and electro experimentations the group had tried out in recent years. In short, the five Reyes brothers and their three Baliardo cousins abandoned modern music trends in favour of a return to Gipsy authenticity.
Once the album Roots had hit stores, The Gipsy Kings hit the road once again. After bringing the house down at Le Grand Rex in Paris on 26 April 2004, the Gypsy nomads travelled further afield, heading off to play at major music venues around the world.