Gipsy KingsMusic 

Gipsy Kings Bring Generations of Cultural Legacy to Santa Cruz

By Haley Sage

Beloved flamenco guitar ensemble the Gipsy Kings will perform on Sunday, May 19 at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz. Sure to be one of the musical highlights of the year, this show reaffirms Santa Cruz as a cultural hub in the greater Bay Area and Central Coast.

Known for their blistering fast guitar technique and gritty vocals in Spanish and the languages of southern France known as Occitan, the Gipsy Kings rose to international acclaim when their cover of Eagles hit “Hotel California” was featured in The Big Lebowski (1998), followed by their rendition of Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” (in Spanish, “Hay un Amigo en Mi”) in Toy Story 3 (2010). They have collaborated with artists as diverse as Chick Corea to Joan Baez to Ziggy Marley. They have sold over 200 million albums worldwide and have earned gold, platinum, and diamond records, and a Grammy Award in 2013 for Best World Music.

Gypsy Kings

But their music carries with it so much more than pop stardom and international acclaim. At the heart of the Gipsy Kings sound is their history and culture — a rich tapestry that stretches back for centuries. Blending heritage with roots in the Catalan region of Spain, the gipsy or gitano (in Spanish, Romani) tradition can be traced back to Persia and Rajasthan by way of migration to Spain and then to Southern France during the 1930s Spanish Civil War.

Listening to the Gipsy Kings, one can’t help but hear a certain defiance and determination in their characteristic blend of fierce, percussive guitar mastery with raw, masculine vocals and harmonies. Their music seems to carry with it all the stories of the generations that the band members represent – a sound both ancient and supremely relevant to modern-day struggles and triumphs.

Indeed, this is one of the primary reasons for their appeal. For all of their success, the Gipsy Kings continue to create music that has become the soundtrack of so many fans’ lives. Their sound preserves the cultural memories of their Romani roots – and, in so doing, helps fans to preserve their own memories, decade after decade.  Their music speaks to resilience and perseverance because it is borne of a culture that has been subject to centuries of displacement and diaspora. The same is true of so many musical genres around the world that turn to music as a way to transform collective pain into a positive cultural legacy.

Integral to their sound are voices that combine beautifully because of shared heritage; many of the band members have been honing their craft since early childhood in the living rooms and around the campfires of their elders, and so the music carries with it an inherent note of family cohesion.

Founded in 1979 in Arles, France, The Gipsy Kings bring together the lineage of two pioneering families whose patriarchs, cousins José Reyes and Manitas de Plata, performed the rumba flamenco style together in the 1970s. Upon the death of Reyes in 1979, his five sons continued to perform, subsequently joined by three nephews of de Plata, including lead guitarist Tonino Baliardo who joined me for an interview last month.

We chatted about the many aspects that make the Gipsy Kings a perennial favorite of audiences around the world, and I’ll air excerpts of this interview on an upcoming episode of “Shore to Shore” (Thursday mornings, 10am to noon on KBCZ 89.3FM / kbcz.org). In Baliardo’s words: “Stay focused, stay humble, stay passionate.” Three timeless takeaways from his career to inspire generations to come.

Upcoming Gipsy Kings Shows

Rio Theatre, Santa Cruz
Sunday, May 19 at 8pm
Tickets

The Mountain Winery, Saratoga
Tuesday, August 6 at 7:30pm
Tickets

Golden State Theatre, Monterey
Wednesday, August 7 at 8pm
Tickets

Follow Gypsy Kings at gipsykings.com and IG @gipsykingsofficial.

Haley Sage is the host of “Shore to Shore” on KBCZ 89.3FM. She has worked extensively as a producer and tour manager in over two dozen countries around the world. She is also a certified Professional Grief Coach, and is currently a candidate for certification as a Health and Wellness Coach with Duke Integrative Medicine.

Photos contributed by the Gypsy Kings

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