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The Gipsy Kings play the Hammerstein Ballroom

Article by Robert Abrams and Roberta E. Zlokower
August 22, 2002
Originally Published on

The Gipsy Kings
Photo courtesy of Nonesuch Records.

Special thanks to Colleen Ryan, Metro Entertainment, for giving access to this great event.

The view from the back of the room
- by Robert Abrams

Is the success of music inevitably the death of dance? The Gipsy Kings play vibrant, energetic music that can be danced even if you don't even pretend to know flamenco. The success of this music attracted a sold out crowd. So sold out that except for a small area on the margins, there was no space to dance. Not even perfect floorcraft could save you in such density.

This being flamenco there was a fair amount of rhythmic clapping that displayed admirable precision. I searched for signs of dancing and while there were a few people who looked like they wanted to break free and dance, much of it didn't rise above bopping.

One couple was dancing together. They were holding drinks while dancing - ordinarily a party foul but under the circumstances it counted as paying proper respect to the band.

They were also smoking.

What was with the smoking anyway?

There were numerous people puffing away. As the night wore on the air acquired an acrid tinge. The ironic part of this was that as I entered the venue a guard made a ticket holder put out his cigarette.

Then there was the second set. More people were dancing. Some flamenco with confident styling. Some swingish. Some merengish. And some of what looked like a flamenco swing hybrid - the styling of flamenco but the turn patterns of swing. Maybe the back half of the room was dancing for most of the second set. It was gratifying, since I had come expecting a dance event, to see that powerful, world class live music and energetic social dance was possible to find at the same event.

Finally during the last number the Gipsy Kings had their worth validated when an expert flamenco dancer joined them on stage. She interpreted their music with passion and intelligence.

So if you are willing to dance, the success of music does not have to be the death of dance.


    By the way, it was a leather event - as in wear leather soled shoes and leave your dance shoes at home as there was no place to put your shoe bag.

The view from the front of the room
- by Roberta Zlokower

A kaleidescope of geometric, bouncing, and fading lighting effects catapulted into a smoky ambiance. As music built to a deafening, wild chant of percussive rhythms, the audience broke into wildly gyrating dances in place, arms and hands and hips rotating and pulsating to a frenzy of drums, Congas, guitars, and an enormous sound system that drew in thousands at once. The musicians appeared, from my near stage standing position, to be in awe of the enamored and increasingly uninhibited crowd, a kind of indoor Woodstock. By contrast, these Spanish lyrics were throaty, repetitive, and indicative of African, Flamenco, and Moorish origins. The brief, but energetic, encore satiated a ravenous and screaming rotunda of fans.

More Gipsy Kings info

Go to their website at

You can also check out the Gipsy Kings' new album, Somos Gitanos.

Somos Gitanos, released in October 2001, is the Gipsy Kings' first studio recording since the 1997 album Compas. Continuing to blend French, Spanish and North African influences in their music, tracks like "Majiwi" merge the sounds of traditional Flamenco with Middle Eastern modalities, while "Lleva me a compass" has a strong Latinate flavor. Other tracks such as "Mi Fandango" are more roots-based evocations of the cante jondo tradition. Lead guitarist Tonino Baliardo showcases his virtuoso technique on the instrumental ballads "Flamencos en el Aire" and "Felices Dias."

Over the years the Gipsy Kings - who hail from the gypsy settlements in Arles and Montpelier in the south of France - have included singers and guitarists from the Reyes (Canut, Nicolas, Pablo and Patchai) and Baliardo families (Diego, Paco and Tonino). Lead singer Nicolas Reyes is the son of famed Flamenco singer José Reyes, who with his cousin, guitarist Manitas de Plata, sold millions of records in the 60's and 70's. The band's vigorous guitar work and passionate vocals are the trademark of an indigenous musical tradition known as rumba flamenca. The rumba - which originated in Africa - traveled from Zaire via the slave trade to Cuba and the New World, then back to Barcelona, where it was adopted by the Gypsies. The Gipsy Kings particular style reveals the influence of Paco de Lucia's nuevo flamenco, as well as singers Cameron de la Isla and Manolo Caracol.

There are no other examples of a non-English speaking band (the group's language is the Gypsy dialect of gitane) with such a consistent winning streak in the US, where the group is the biggest-selling French act ever. Since the 1987 release of the international hit single "Bamboleo," from their platinum-selling eponymous debut album, the Gipsy Kings have dominated the World Music charts, and sold more than 14 million albums worldwide - more than 4 million in the United States alone. The platinum compilation The Best of the Gipsy Kings charted for more than a year. Their music has also been used in numerous motion pictures, including Peter Weir's "Fearless" and Joel and Ethan Coen's "The Big Lebowski".

Their most recent prior release was a 2-CD retrospective entitled Volare! The Very Best of the Gipsy Kings (2000), a 37-track compendium drawn from their entire discography, featuring two tracks never before released in the US, plus two rarities.

TOUR 2002
8/19, 20 - Washington DC
8/21, 22 - New York City
8/24 - Chicago
8/27 - Atlanta
8/29 - Woodenville
8/30 - Berkeley
8/31 - Saratoga
9/1 - Las Vegas
9/3 - Albuquerque
9/4 - Phoenix
9/5 - San Diego
9/6, 7 - Los Angeles
9/8 - Santa Barbara

For more information on Nonesuch, visit


For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at