Gipsy Kings - Because We Are Gypsies

by Francois Mattei


Once Upon a Time There Were Seven Gypsies in America

Forty-two years after the U.S. arrival (at the invitation of Duke Ellington) of the French gypsy Django Reinhardt, an event half-spoiled because the "Gypsy Genius" forgot the time of his concert at Carnegie Hall one evening while chatting in a bar with Marcel Cerdan ...

Twenty-four years after the first triumph of two French gypsies, the guitarist Ricardo Bailardo, alias Manitas de Plata, and his singer, the prodigious José‚ Reyes, in the same Carnegie Hall ...

One year after a nasty long article by Serge Loupien in "Liberation" under the title "Djobi Djobard" had described the group's recent success as a rip-off ...

Barely four months after their official arrival in the U.S. and their triumphs at the Ritz in New York and at the famous Fillmore West in San Francisco, totally unnoticed in Paris ...

The sons of José‚ and the nephews of Manitas achieved star status in the country that invented show-business: a market considered impossible for French artists to break into. Is it because they love the water so much that French gypsies cross the ocean every twenty years?

The fairy tale begun in a pumpkin, continued on a galley-ship, goes on in a carriage: possibly one must be born in a trailer to successfully complete this transition. The entire American press consecrates entire pages to the enthusiastic discovery of "flamenco rock" (or "flamenco on the rock"), of "gypsy rock," of "ethnic rock," by the seven comrades. The "New Musical Express" names their record one of the "albums of the year," the "Toronto Star," "Time Magazine," the "New York Times," the "Los Angeles Times," "People," the "Chicago Tribune," the "Herald Tribune," "Newsweek," the "Guitarist" and many other newspapers and magazines recount the story of the Gipsy Kings and begin to build their monument to the group. In France, "Liberation" publishes, this time, an article entitled "Gypsymania," signed by Yves Bigot. Finally!!

More than anyone else, Pascal Imbert lived through the fantastic ascension of the "Gipsy Wave" in the U.S. He is today in charge of managing the Gipsy Kings in America after having been their first guide in the U.S.

"From the time of their success in France, everyone in the U.S. spoke about the Gipsy Kings, especially in New York and Los Angeles. In photo studios, models and photographers intoxicated themselves, while working, with large doses of "Djobi Djoba," of "Quiero Saber," of "Bem Bem Maria." The word traveled like an old rat among the garbage cans of Manhattan, of 'in' restaurants, of the apartments of the "happy few": lobster, caviar, and the Gipsy Kings. As for me, I've occupied myself for five years with promoting European and African artists in the U.S., after having received a diploma in economics in 1973 which offered me no exciting opportunities. At the end of my studies, I left for Africa: the desert, then a long restorative wandering in Western Africa. I arrived in Nigeria, where I met Fela in his village. His music pleased me, and he was interested in me. We understood each other immediately, and he asked me to organize his European tours.

"I returned, I took everything in hand. It was more fun than busying myself with the importation and exportation of cereals. Everything went well, we made a lot of money, but then Fela had his problems and prison. It was then that I decided to exile myself in the U.S. with the idea of importing European and African music, i.e. something different than the usual musical popcorn.

Rita Mitsouko, Tour‚ Kunda, Fela,, they always had confidence in me. So, as you can imagine, when I heard the album "Gipsy Kings," my ears became as large as Mickey Mouse's. I listened to both sides every day, for seven days, completely crazy about it.

"They came to New York during the winter of 1987-1988 to record their song "Djobi Djoba," and I went to see them. Claude Martinez, their producer, had a meeting with CBS about the distribution of the record in the U.S., but CBS didn't bite. I was there, up on my hind legs, tongue hanging out, and I howled like a dog begging for food. They played in a night club, "Sound of Brazil," and they were terrific.

"Claude and I decided to show them at the New Music Seminar in New York, a sort of Mecca where new artists and new groups come to perform in front of the big names in show business."

This event took place in July, 1988. The professionals' mouths hung open at their performance. AEM, Capital, Island, Profile, ire started negotiations, offered contracts. Everything went very quickly. Bob Krasnow and Bob Hurwitz understood everything sooner than the others did.

Chepp Gordon, the American manager of the Gipsy Kings, lived in Los Angeles. He discovered the Gipsy Kings in a more amusing manner: he was trying to attract the attention of a pretty woman driving a convertible, accelerating to keep up with her. But she paid no attention to him, because she was absorbed in music on her Walkman. She was bobbing her head rhythmically, and tapping her fingers on the steering wheel, and she looked at him as if he were an idiot.

Terribly agitated, he finally got out of his limo at a red light to approach her. He asked her what music it was that so captivated her that she was ignoring the man of her dreams. "The Gipsy Kings, And they're great!" she replied, removing a headphone from one of her ears. Whether this flirtation led to anything, Chepp Gordon doesn't say. But he congratulates himself for the discovery made through this encounter.

Good fortune shared by everyone at Elektra, that Bob Krasnow celebrated by going to Paris on November 15, 1989, to put on the turntable of "Sacré Soiré," the first American golden record of the Gipsy Kings. More precious than the fifteen others from around the world. Absolute consecration!

Entering the American market in November 1988 on the best possible label, the record made the charts, in December of the same year, then rising to the Top 40 and remaining there for about forty weeks, a degree of success attained by less than a dozen records every year.

An exploratory mini-tour had helped launch the album in November and December: stars at the Elektra convention in Phoenix, Arizona, the Gipsy Kings give concerts at the Palace in Los Angeles, at the Fillmore in San Francisco, and at the Ritz in New York, all sold out. Delirium in the concert halls, presaging the triumphs of their big tour in February and March. A success more astonishing because the Gipsy Kings hadn't had the advantage of exposure on the large commercial radio stations in the U.S., as these stations played English-language rock only.

Pascal Imbert explains: "In the U.S., it's like this. Each radio station has its niche, and doesn't move from it. Even though it was sung in Spanish, "La Bamba" received a lot of air time because it was already known, and, also, because it was the sound track from a popular movie about the life of Richie Valens. We had to work in the opposite direction, to sell our music by the accumulation of brief TV spots. Our spots appeared on cable, compensating in part for the ostracism by the radio stations. What's funny is that, today, the Gipsy Kings have received about twenty invitations from Hollywood for film scores. It's a new avenue for them, and one that will help break down the last barriers. And they've already made a golden record. How many European artists do you know who have accomplished that, with the exception of some British singers and groups? With that, so long! I have a plane to catch."

Speedy Pascal walks away in the Boston airport: the image of a hyper- active, perpetually agitated entrepreneur, tall, light-haired, about thirty, undernourished.

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