Gipsy Kings. At the Santa Barbara Bowl, Sunday, July 23.
reviewed by Felicia M. Tomasko
“I don’t understand a word they’re
saying, but this is a great song,” announced someone halfway
through the Gipsy King’s Bowl appearance two Sundays ago. This
sentiment is common in the U.S., where the French ensemble’s
crossover popularity is groundbreaking for a non-English language
group. Songs are sung in the gypsy dialect of gitane, and
the combination of lyricism, driving dance beat, and universal
themes of love, life, and loss produces irresistible live
The Gipsy Kings’ current world tour is not necessarily to
promote their latest album (2004’s Roots), but for the joy
of performing. And even though many in the audience have danced in
their performances numerous times — I overheard some say this was
their 14th Gipsy Kings show — there’s no dulling the shine of their
live “rumba flamenca” performance of indigenous music.
The musicians and singers who make up the group maintain the
distinctly gypsy feel to their songs. From ballads to raucous dance
tunes, whether they were testing new tunes on the audience or
playing standards from their first album, the high energy of their
show never faltered. Although lead singer Nicolas Reyes frequently
took the mike, the singers alternated, each vocalist providing a
slightly different, vibrant vibrato to the lyrics. The simplicity
of the stage set allowed the complexity of the music to be
featured. Seven guitarists and a bassist shared the stage with
three percussion artists and a nimble keyboard player.
Without the encore performance of “Bamboleo,” the evening
wouldn’t be able to end. The chart-topping hit initiated the
wanderings of the band of gypsy minstrels when their 1987 debut
album went platinum, and they have lived up to their name for
nearly 20 years, as evidenced by the crowd at the Bowl.