If you’re looking for stirring music, bonhomie and unadulterated excitement, the Gipsy Kings are a safe bet. The Spanish-influenced, French troupe are returning to Israel on March 17-20 for four shows in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Beersheba. Judging by their track record over the last four decades, they should deliver the emotive goods here big time. The concerts will also feature local pop diva Miri Mesika.
The Gipsy Kings started life back in 1978 as Los Reyes, “The Kings” in Spanish, and also the surname of the siblings and other relatives who form the backbone of the band. They hail from Arles and Montpellier in the south of France, and for more than four decades have been pumping out their intoxicating mix of flamenco, rumba, salsa and pop to adoring fans the world over, putting out over 20 albums and winning a clutch of Grammy Awards and nominations in the process.
The family-based group hit the big time with the release of its eponymous CD, its third studio effort, in 1987. The record went gold in France, the UK, USA and elsewhere. The opening track, “Bamboleo,” provides the title for the current show, the name coming from the Spanish word for swaying. The song’s refrain goes: “Bamboleo, bamboleo, porque mi vida yo la prefiero vivir así” – “Swaying, swaying, because I prefer to live my life this way.” That pretty much encapsulates what the group is about, and what audiences the world over can expect to get when they go along to a Gipsy King show.
Virtuosity provides the instrumental hub of the band’s output – that and plenty of patent emotion, and not a little sweat. André Reyes, who plays rhythm guitar and provides backing vocals, says he and his family members were never concerned about looking for a career path. “We were born to music. We have been singing and playing guitar from a very young age, and that is what has always pointed the way for the Reyes family.”
Naturally, DNA comes into the artistic equation. Reyes is one of the offspring of the late Jose Reyes, who formed a celebrated flamenco duo with Manitas de Plata. Besides bringing the crowds in, the incendiary guitarist-vocalist wowed renowned artists from across the creative spectrum, with iconic jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and Pablo Picasso among the fans of the duo.
Reyes says that his father’s spirit is still very much present in the troupe’s work. “Our musical style feeds off generations. The roots of the music came to us with Jose Reyes, who had to leave Spain in the [Spanish Civil] War. Flamenco is the style we grew up with.” Reyes Sr. also helped to shape the current offering. “Part of our repertoire follows on from the songs Jose performed,” Reyes explains, adding that the chronological continuum, and dynamics, extend to the group’s patrons too. “Our music brings in audiences aged 10-90. The rhythms that course through our veins wash over to our audiences.” Apparently, it’s infectious. “At all our shows everyone gets up to dance and sing with us, and are pulled into the gypsy joy we give to the audience.”
The group’s latest release, Savor Flamenco, came out in 2013, and marked a new departure for the veteran band. The project marked the first time in their storied career that the Gipsy Kings produced themselves and wrote all of the material. It proved to be a profitable move, with the record winning a Grammy for Best World Music Album.
While the group remains anchored in their Catalonian musical, flamenco-based roots, over the years the stylistic reach has expanded, dipping into Latin and Cuban material, Arabic music and reggae, and the unparalleled work of the peerless virtuoso French gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.
The Kings’ marketing profile shot up when their Spanish-language version of mid-70s megahit “Hotel California” by American rock band The Eagles was featured in the Coen Brothers’ 1998 movie The Big Lebowski, and subsequently in the HBO seven-season series Entourage, which ran from 2004 to 2011. The French troupe got more global exposure with their white hot rendition of Randy Newman number “You’ve Got A Friend in Me,” the theme of the blockbuster animated film Toy Story 3.
Reyes feels the cross-genre success feeds of the band’s ability to appeal to a global fan hinterland. “The words and the rhythms we convey to our audience, through our own life story, sparks interaction with our audiences, young and old alike. That also takes in our performance of “Hotel California”.”
The Hollywood collaborations suggest the band is constantly looking to vary its creative avenues and, thereby, cast its consumer-allure net ever further. “Over the years we have added new songs and tunes,” Reyes notes. “We have added guitar solos that have been included in playlists all over the world.” But, the guitarist-singer says it is the group’s live work when it all comes together most vibrantly and tellingly. “There is something in our performances that the crowd gets. They start dancing and singing all the words.”
Reyes adds that the all-male troupe elicits particularly enthusiastic response from the female sector. “There is a lot of excitement, primarily from women who faint during our shows. That is part of our touch.”
Reyes also says he and the rest of the troupe are always looking to keep the creative ball rolling, and are constantly searching for new partners in artistic endeavor. “We write new songs every day. Our next album will be based on duets with singers from all over the world.”
Playing together for so long can help to generate a solid platform for new musical directions. On the other hand, sustained success can sometimes lead to stagnancy on the risk-taking front, and a degree of staleness can gradually insinuate itself on the musical bottom line. Reyes says they try to keep things fresh by surprising each other, and taking flights of fancy on stage. “Improvisation is part of our shows. We play into each other’s guitars, and that leads to new songs.”
Reyes says the band is excited about the forthcoming berths here, and is looking forward to joining up with Mesika. “We were introduced to Miri Mesika by our [Israeli] manager Mika Shuruk,” he explains. “She introduced us to Miri’s warm voice.” Everyone got together to see whether they really cut it as a team. “We met up in France, and we recorded a song with Miri ahead of the shows in Israel. We really bonded with her energies and wonderful voice.”
Audiences in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Beersheba can look forward to a hand-clapping, hip-shaking, heartwarming time with the irrepressible Kings from France.For tickets and more information: *8780, www.leaan.co.il, *8949 and www.tickets4u.co.il
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