The Gipsy Kings are a group of flamenco, salsa and pop musicians from Arles and Montpellier (in the south of France), who perform in Spanish language with an Andalusian accent. Although group members were born in France, their parents were mostly gitanos, berber-moroccan and spanish gypsies who fled Catalonia during the 1930s Spanish Civil War. They are known for bringing Catalan rumba, a pop-oriented music distantly derived from traditional flamenco music, to worldwide audiences. The group originally called itself Los Reyes.
Their music has a particular rumba flamenca style, with pop influences; many songs of the Gipsy Kings fit social dances, such as salsa and rumba. Their music has been described as a place where “Spanish flamenco and gypsy rhapsody meet salsa funk”
The Gipsy Kings, born in France but brought up with Spanish culture, are largely responsible for bringing the sounds of progressive pop-oriented flamenco to a world-wide audience. The band started out in Arles, a town in southern France, during the 1970s, when brothers Nicolas and Andre Reyes, the sons of flamenco artist Jose Reyes, teamed up with their cousins Jacques, Maurice, and Tonino Baliardo.Manitas de Plata and Jose Reyes were a duo which had triggered the wider popularity of rumba flamenca (also known as Spanish or gypsy rumba). It was famous singer Reyes, however, who was mostly responsible for the new surge of popular interest when he left Manitas de Plata and started a band of his own, made up of his own sons, which he called “Los Reyes” (as well as being the family name, reyes means “kings” in Spanish).
Los Reyes started out as a gypsy band. They traveled around France, playing at weddings, festivals, and in the streets. Because they lived so much like gypsies, the band adopted the name Gipsy Kings. Later, they were hired to add colour to upper-class parties in such places as St. Tropez, but their first two albums attracted little notice. At this point, the Gipsies played traditional flamenco invigorated by Tonino Baliardo’s guitar playing and Nicolas Reyes’ voice.
The Gipsy King line-up featured a combination of left, and right-handed guitarists; three of the Reyes brothers (Nicolas, Andre’, and Patchai) play guitar left-handed, and play left-hand (and sometimes right-hand) guitars that are strung for right-handers (i.e. with the low “E” string on the bottom), while Diego Baliardo plays a left-handed guitar that is strung for left hand (i.e. with the low “E” string on the top). Together with right-handers, Canut and Paul Reyes, and Paco Baliardo, these guitarists focus on delivering the strong underpinning rhythms while the more complex leads are performed by the right-handed and conventionally styled Tonino Baliardo.
They became popular with their self-titled first album, Gipsy Kings, which included the songs “Djobi Djoba“, “Bamboléo“, and the romantic ballad “Un Amor” “Amor Mio“. Gipsy Kings was popular throughout Europe and in Africa, as well as in the Middle East.
In 1989 the Gipsy Kings was released in the United States and spent 40 weeks on the charts, one of few Spanish language albums to do so.The band covered “I’ve Got No Strings” for the 1991 Disney video and compilation album Simply Mad About the Mouse. Their cover version of “Hotel California” was an example of fast flamenco guitar leads and rhythmic strumming: it was featured in the 1998 Coen Brothers’ movie The Big Lebowski. The 2010 film Toy Story 3 featured their rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me“, a Spanish language version titled “Hay un Amigo en Mi” and performed in a recognisably flamenco style.
The band have been criticised by flamenco purists, but Nicolas Reyes said in an interview that the flamenco world is not in great shape itself and that the band are proud of their success; the Compas album contains more traditional flamenco music.