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The Gipsy Kings’ “Bamboleo” Makes A Comeback

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Since the fall TV season starts in a week, the fate of new shows remains to be seen. But one program gains points for reintroducing a gorgeous tune to the public. Undercovers, the new show by Alias creator J. J. Abrams, has been using the Gipsy Kings’ classic “Bamboleo” in its promos, and its exotic rhythms perfectly complement the sophisticated feel of the upcoming series.

The band’s complicated, globe-spanning history deserves its own book. The nucleus of the group consists of two bands of brothers: the Reyes (Nicolas, Canut, Paul, Patchai, and Andre) and the Baliardos (Tonino, Paco, and Diego). Both families derive from Spanish gypsy families that fled to France to escape Spain’s civil war. Growing up, the brothers roamed the south of France, working harvests as well as playing music. The music connection was no surprise, considering that the patriarch of the Reyes clan, Jose Reyes, played a key role in popularizing flamenco music worldwide. According to the Gipsy Kings’ website, Reyes, along with his guitarist Manitas de Plata, gained famous fans including John Steinbeck, Charlie Chaplin, Pablo Picasso, Miles Davis, and Salvador Dali. After splitting with Manitas in the 1970s, Reyes formed a band with his sons. After Reyes’ death, his sons then formed the Gipsy Kings with their Baliardo cousins in 1979, performing around Cannes. The band gained a reputation for fusing flamenco with Latin rhythms and Western pop, and eventually released their self-titled debut album in 1987.

The Gipsy KingsAlthough already popular overseas, the album track, “Bamboleo,” finally broke them in the United States. Gaining radio airplay, with its accompanying video receiving airtime on VH1, the song peaked at number six on Billboard’s Hot Latin Tracks. That success propelled the Gipsy King’s freshman album to number 57 on the Billboard Top 100. Overall, The Gipsy Kings spent 40 weeks on the U.S. charts and went gold, an achievement few other Spanish albums have accomplished (see All Music for more chart information).

Why did “Bamboleo” gain so much attention? Perhaps it was due to its inherent uniqueness. The exotic rhythms were a breath of fresh air, a shock to the Top 40’s system. Its sound introduced listeners to rumba Gitano, which combines South America’s rumba rhythm and flamenco guitars. Although sung entirely in Spanish, the band’s energetic singing style somehow transcends language. The rapid guitar playing simply fascinates, with the middle eight particularly impressive in its chord changes. In addition, the fast and complicated percussion underscores the overwhelming joy present in the song. One cannot listen to the song without wanting to dance.

“Bamboleo” gained the Gispy Kings popularity in the United States, although they never duplicated this initial success. Still, the group continues to record, releasing albums such as Pasajero in 2006. They also issued a live album, Live in Los Angeles, in 2008. According to their website, the band members still live with their families in the south of France, and continue to celebrate their gypsy heritage.

More than 20 years later, “Bamboleo” still sounds like nothing else currently on the radio. The group’s virtuosity impresses, and their rhythms transcend cultural barriers. While the premiere episode of Undercovers has yet to air, its creators should be praised for bringing back the Gipsy Kings’ irresistible music to modern audiences.

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About Kit O'Toole