Back To Their Roots
to revisit their roots and the Gipsy Kings have done so with a new album by
that name. The group that brought flamenco up to date with hits like Bamboleo,
has reverted to an acoustic style, with 16 new songs recorded in a converted
It was a
great change, says Kings vocalist Nicolas Reyes. We played
just like we do in gypsy camps, improvising around a fire in a circle with the
guitar player, palmas (hand claps), and singers.
Of course, the eight-man ensemble did have some up-to-date help. Producer Craig
Street brought in bassist Greg Cohen, and guest artists like Garth Hudson on
accordion. But Roots sound is rumba flamenco, a venerable form
of music that evolved from African rhythms and traveled via the New World back
The Gipsy Kings - composed of Canut, Nicolas, Andre, Pablo, and Patchai Reyes
and Diego, Paco, and Tonino Baliardo, learned this music from their native Catalan
Spanish heritage (their grandparents left Spain for France during the Franco
years). The group formed in the late 70s and began playing under the name
Los Reyes (The Kings), singing in French, Spanish, and the dialect known as
gitane. It would be the fusion of this traditional music with modern electronics
that led to their worldwide success, 15 albums, and two PBS specials.
But the Kings were reportedly tired of recording in modern Parisian studios
and wanted to try a more natural sound. Enter Street, who helped
them find and remodel the farmhouse and took them through the process of uncovering
their natural sound.
Flamenco encompasses many singing and playing styles, with terms ranging from
afillá (a hoarse, earthy singing voice) to zapateados (a style requiring
fancy footwork). Roots takes us on a tour of flamencos universe,
with such classic forms as the fandango and the bolerias. A fandango is a rather
sad kind of song about hardships and Roots gives us two versions, one
by Patchai and one by Nicolas, both demonstrating extraordinary solo guitar
Tonino Baliardo demonstrates his guitar skill on the Bolerias, the
fastest of all flamenco forms. Percussion on this track includes the aforementioned
hand-claps and the cajon, a instrument similar to an empty wooden box.
The Kings also throw in eclectic touches such as a jazz-inflected instrumental,
Nuages, by the legendary Django Reinhardt, and their version of
a Boogie, done flamenco style but with a washboard and some doo-wops
thrown in. And then there are the improvised moments. The albums final
track Petite Noya came about, according to Street, when Diego
Baliardo, who had never really written a song, came in with this melody and
a few words. The rest of the guys liked it and took it from there. The
result: a lively number with a sing-along chorus that suggests some heavy partying.
The virtuosity of the Gipsy Kings musicianship may make some rockers want
to turn in their fuzz boxes. But who knows? Roots may just inspire them
to new heights.