Building from the traditional flamenco music of their Spanish Romani ancestors, France’s Gipsy Kings occupy a unique place in the world’s music. Featuring two bands of brothers, the Gipsy Kings blend their deep flamenco roots with Cuban, Brazilian and Middle Eastern music and European and American pop.
The band’s breakthrough arrived with a self-titled 1987 album, featuring the international hit, “Bamboleo.” Last year, the Gipsy Kings released their beautiful, equally passionate ninth album, “Savor Flamenco.”
Staging an extended celebration of the 25th anniversary of their U.S. album debut, the Gipsy Kings are bringing the anniversary tour to the Saenger Theatre on Saturday, Aug. 16.
The Gipsy Kings began in 1979 after the death of Jose Reyes, father of the group’s Reyes brothers, Nicolas, Canut, Paul, Patchai and Andre. That year, Nicolas and Andre started performing with Baliardo brothers Tonino, Paco and Diego in Arles, a town in the south of France.
Calling themselves Los Reyes, the Reyes and Baliardo brothers traveled throughout France, performing in the streets and for weddings, parties, festivals. Later, in acknowledgement of an itinerant lifestyle, the group dubbed itself the Gipsy Kings.
The band’s membership has remained constant through these many years.
“We are family,” virtuoso guitarist and songwriter Tonino Baliardo said last week through an interpreter. “And our mothers would kill us if we didn’t stay together!”
In some ways, Baliardo said, yes, it feels like more than 25 years since the group’s American album debut. In other ways, no.
“Time flies when you are having fun like this,” he said. “So, in that way, it went by so quickly. In other ways, we have put in a lot of time and have traveled many miles to get to where we are. That has taken its toll on us. We can feel it. But our fans rejuvenate us. They help us pass the time quickly.”
The mainstream success that the tradition-grounded Gipsy Kings found in France and elsewhere in Europe during the 1980s shocked the group. International sales of the group’s albums have reached 20 million.
“If you told me then, what we know now, I would have had you committed.” Baliardo said. “It is a path simply that we could not imagine taking. We have never done this for the fame or the money, but for the joy of playing together. The power and the high that it gives you. No, we had no idea.”
Following the conquest of Europe, the United States was the obvious next nation to expand the Gipsy Kings’ realm.
“With the American culture everywhere, it is hard not to want to come here and make it,” Baliardo said. “So, yes, it was a goal for us. To be honest, though, our goal was really simply to make a living at this, so that we could perform with one another and support our families.”
Just as in Europe, the Gipsy Kings swept U.S. audiences away in a rush of passion and virtuosity.
“It was fantastic,” Baliardo said. “It opened a whole new world to us. We learned a lot musically and also artistically. But it happened so quickly for us that we really did not have time to notice it. Only after our initial success did we realize that, ‘Wow, it wasn’t a fluke. They like us.’ Our fans keep coming, bringing their friends, family, whoever. And they really like what we do. Wow!”
Although the band flavors its songs with non-flamenco styles, flamenco remains their music’s pulsing heart.
“Yes, it does,” Baliardo said. “It is what our ancestors have done and sent down to us from each generation. It is the heart and soul of what we do.”
Flamenco, Baliardo said, “it is powerful enough to make a man weep, women scream and people dance. There isn’t anything else like it. And that is what flamenco does.”