Few bands anywhere in the world can boast both the longevity and heritage of the Gipsy Kings. They’ve been around for over 40 years and their musical roots run deep: core members and cousins Nicolas Reyes and Tonino Baliardo are the sons of flamenco legends José Reyes and Manitas de Plata.
Their phenomenal success – including over 25 million record sales over the years – stems from their popularisation of the rumba flamenca style. Their inimitable sound connects more traditional flamenco with a livelier pop style, but they haven’t lost sight of the idea of duende, that special sense of soul or spirit that is regarded as an essential hallmark of flamenco.
The Gipsy Kings remain as active as ever, and are scheduled – coronavirus permitting – to bring their acclaimed live show to Kew Gardens in July as part of this summer’s Kew The Music series of picnic concerts. Ahead of that show, we caught up with lead guitarist Tonino to talk about the past, present and future of the Gipsy Kings…
The Gipsy Kings sound is instantly recognisable but not necessarily all that easy to define: what would you say are the hallmarks or defining features of The Gipsy Kings?
Strong Gypsy culture, flamenco guitars, and music that will make you party!
You have an amazing musical history in your family – how do you live up to that?
We are what we are and make what we can for a living. We have been greatly influenced by family, culture, and everything dear to us but we try not to get mixed up into what anyone thinks we are or should be. Nicolas and I are the songwriters and producers of our material. We are family, so we play the music we like and know. Family does influence how and what we play. It has been a wonderful life getting to make a living from doing what we enjoy most and that definitely has influenced our music.
How do you see the relationship between traditional flamenco and your music?
We hope that Gipsy Kings’ audience start to listen to pure flamenco because they went to our show, but we have always done what we do naturally. We really don’t read much about what purists or others think about us. We have a tight community and audience and we play and work solely for them.
Do you think that there is something that ties together different types of Gypsy music – for instance, your own music, Balkan brass, Russian Gypsy music – even if they don’t sound alike?
The Gypsy culture has always been strong. It has always changed as the culture progresses throughout the world, so in some regard it is always evolving. The internet has changed quite a lot of cultures, the Gypsy being one of them. We hope our music is one that does tie together other Gypsy influences.
What do you think about the idea of ‘world music’?
We put the same passion and energy into all of our songs. We are so happy that our music stands out to the whole world and gets everyone dancing. We go with what feels natural. Writing music, we try not too hard to think about things like genres, hits, or popular songs. To us it’s just our music, and it feels good.
The gitanos in Spain, and Romani and Gypsy people more widely, have a long history of persecution: do you think that for gitanos and Gypsies making music is in some way a political act?
As Gypsies we are entertainers by heart and nature. Our goal has always been to share great music with our fans. Doing this we’ve been invited to places we never thought we’d go – famous places like the Royal Albert Hall and countries and venues all over the world. But our music and making the fans happy was always our first passion.
How important are your lyrics when performing to a very international fan base who might not understand the language?
It’s timeless music. You hear it, feel it, and want to dance! You don’t need to know every word by heart, just enjoy yourself at our show.
Has the way you make music changed over the years?
Rumba Flamenco is much older than the Gipsy Kings, so we keep playing and trying to get better sharing the music to anyone that will listen. We try to make the shows better than the years before, keeping the music as lively as ever.
Do you prefer to perform your older or newer songs?
We love the classics like Bamboleo of course but there might be some new songs in the works that we will love to play soon…
How do you balance tradition with moving forward?
We make sure to bring the Gypsy passion to every song we do. While we move forward, we do it with Gypsy tradition and style.
What’s next for the Gipsy Kings?
We will keep touring around the word and get a chance to catch up with people in every country we travel to. We worked on the movie from John Turturro (The Jesus Rolls), which is based on the character The Jesus from The Big Lebowski. We have some music in it, and we are also in the opening scene of the movie. The process was so interesting, and we think the world of John. We are also working on new songs and material for our latest recording project. We hope to have something out in late 2020 or early 2021.
What are you enjoying listening to at the moment?
We are listening to artists like Miles Davis, Paco De Lucía and Rosalía.
Kew The Music 2020 is due to take place from 7-12 July 2020 at Kew Gardens, London, with Gipsy Kings headlining the final night. Tickets and further details can be found at kewthemusic.org. More on the Gipsy Kings can be found at gipsykings.com