The Gipsy Kings are largely responsible for bringing the joyful sounds of progressive pop-oriented flamenco to the world. The band started out in Arles, a village in southern France, during the '70s when brothers Nicolas and Andre Reyes, the sons of renowned flamenco artist Jose Reyes, teamed up with their cousins Jacques, Maurice, and Tonino Baliardo, whose father is Manitas de Plata. They originally called themselves Los Reyes and started out as a Gypsy band traveling about playing weddings, festivals, and in the streets. Because they lived so much like Gypsies, the band adopted the name the Gipsy Kings. Later, they were hired to add color to posh parties in St. Tropez. Popularity did not come to Los Reyes right away, and their first two albums attracted little notice. At this point the Gipsies played traditional -- albeit passionate -- flamenco music punctuated by Tonino's precise guitar playing and Nicolas' exceptional voice. Though they had devoted fans, they still had yet to gain wider recognition until 1986 when they hooked up with visionary producer Claude Martinez, who could see that the Kings had the makings of a world-class band.
Thanks to Martinez, the Kings began to relax a bit and take on a more contemporary edge, combining their traditional songs with sounds from the Middle East, Latin America, North Africa, a hint of rock, and their inimitable joy. It was, in a music industry filled with flamenco purists who resisted any kind of change, a very daring move, and many felt the Gipsy Kings would fall flat and disappear. But the naysayers were wrong. In 1987, they released "Djobi Djoba" and "Bamboleo" on an independent label and scored two smash hits in France. Their success led them to sign with Sony Music and release their eponymous debut album later that year. Again, they had tremendous sales in France, and then found their album was appearing on the Top Ten album charts in 12 European countries, including England, which is traditionally unreceptive to international music.
In the late '80s, the Gipsy Kings, debuted in the U.S. at the New York New Music Seminar. This led them to sign to Sony in America. In 1989, they were invited to perform at the inaugural ball for George Bush, but they chose to return home to rest and be with their families. Later that year, they held an SRO concert at the Royal Albert Hall, where the Gipsy Kings hobnobbed with some of the world's biggest pop stars, including Elton John and Eric Clapton. To top off their great year, the Kings' debut album spent 40 weeks on the U.S. charts and went gold, becoming one of the few Spanish albums to do so. The Kings have had an active release schedule ever since, including the albums Mosaique (1989), Live! (1992), Love & Liberte (1994), Tierra Gitana (1996), Cantos de Amor (1998), Somos Gitanos (2001), Roots (2004), and Pasajero (2007). ~ Sandra Brennan