Humble Start Hasn't Hurt
Reign of Gipsy Kings
by Kim Campbell
That the band dominates charts in the US and abroad is no small achievement
considering that most of their millions of fans can't understand the lyrics.
The seven cousins and brothers that make up the Gipsy Kings are from
France and speak little English. Their songs are sung in Gitane, a Gypsy
dialect that includes Spanish and French.
But critics say it's the group's upbeat, danceable music driving their
"Their music is so much stronger than the lyrics," says Lisa Goren,
manager of the HMV record store in Cambridge, Mass.
The Gipsy Kings have become the darlings of trendy US restaurants and
clubs, where songs like "Djobi, Djoba," "Volaré," and the group's
first international hit, "Bamboleo" (1988), are favorites.
The Gipsy Kings honed their abilities in the south of France, where
their members grew up in Gypsy caravans in Arles and Montpellier. Several
of them, including lead singer Nicholas Reyes, are the offspring of José
Reyes, a flamenco vocalist from the 1960s and '70s.
After performing traditional flamenco music without much notice, the
group took the advice of their producer in 1986 and added electric bass,
synthesizer, drums, and percussion to their fare. The goal: to take on
a pop sound that would have appeal "beyond our borders," band member Paul
Reyes said in an interview published last year.
The switch paid off. A decade later, the group's eight albums have sold
more than 3 million copies in the US and some 13 million worldwide.
On their way to stardom, the Gipsy Kings increased the profile of world
music by showing there is an audience for it. HMV's Ms. Goren observes:
"Their success has helped pioneer the success of world music."
Kim Campbell is a staff writer of The Christian Science
Boston, 18 August 1996. Copyright © 1996 by The
Christian Science Monitor
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