Gipsy Kings - Because We Are Gypsies

by Francois Mattei


Nîmes With Open Arms

On the palm of destiny, there is a line for luck. Chico assigns himself the task of finding it. At first, luck appears in the figure of Luc Jallabert, one of the sons of a dynasty of horse breeders in the Camargue and the proprietor of the farm of la Chassagne. Luc is a handsome boy and a marvelous equestrian. A famous bullfighter on horseback, he has recently invited the Gypsy Kings to be the guitar accompaniment for his bullfight in the arena at Méjanes.

Chico has already confided in Luc about the groupís difficulties, and Luc has offered to say a word to his friend Simon Casas, a French ex-bullfighter who has become the director of the arena in Nîmes. A strong personality, Simon. In addition to his bullfighting skills, has an innate gift for succeeding in all that he undertakes and a force of conviction (a kind of controlled ecstasy) all his own. His adversaries say that he could sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo. His friends say the same thing. He has succeeded in making the arena in Nîmes one of the most highly regarded bullfighting arenas ... in Spain! After the election of Jean Bousquet (the founder and director of the Maison Cacharel) as the mayor of Nîmes, a new era of development begins for the city. The annual festival for Pentecost will become, thanks to these two ambitious men, one of the most "in" meeting places for high society in France, just like the Cannes film festival or the French Open at Roland Garros stadium. More than bullfighting, it will be one of the biggest "happenings" in Europe, with music, art, festivities , food, champagne, and "fino" (white wine from the Jerez region in Andalusia) during five days and five nights.

In a city and region in which many French people are of Spanish origin, Jean-Pierre and Sophie Vidal, known only by the names "Poet" and "Sophie Poet," have accrued lots of folklore materials from Seville. In the early hours of the morning, when most people are exhausted, one can still see dancing, side by side, in the smoke, the greatest bullfighters of Spain, media stars from Paris, prominent businessmen, and the mayor of Nîmes and Simon Casas. Following the lead of "Canal +" (the French cable TV station), all the TV networks film the bullfights, and air scenes of the festival , which is also written up in detail in the national press. This Spanish-influenced phenomenon crosses the Loire. Often treated in the past as a fad, it now confirms the permanent influence of a Latin culture that is raising its head after a long time of Anglo-Saxon hegemony. In different forms, this cultural (but also economic and political) re-calibration extends to all the countries of Western Europe, from north to South, especially after the end of the Franco regime.

If they are on the crest of a wave, the Gypsy Kings still are not aware that itís the tidal wave that theyíve been waiting for for so long. In Nîmes, Chico meets Simon and convinces him to go see the mayor with him; the mayor welcomes his project with open arms. Under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture and of the city of Nîmes, the first "Gypsy Mosaics" take place in the two-thousand-year-old arena, between September 4 and September 7, 1986. The flamenco ballets of Mario Maya, a gypsy from Sacromonte in Grenada, the thirty violins of the Hungarian group Rajko, Paco de Lucia, Bireli Lagrene, the dancer Nina Corti, and the Gypsy Kings electrify the amphitheater night after night. An exhibit of works by Gypsy painters in the Jesuit chapel allows everyone to see the visual counterpart of the violins, guitars, and voices of the Gypsies.

Sunday afternoon, they repeat the "coup" in Méjanes and rock the aficionados assembled in the arena for a bullfighting festival. Itís in homage to those who, among the toreadors, like Gaona, Belmonte, Cagancho, Cayetano Ordonez, El Cordobès, Curro Romero, etc., have loved equally fighting bulls and singing (or playing on the guitar) flamenco.

Sunday evening, at the last session of the "Mosaics," under a gypsy sky gleaming with golden stars, the Gypsy Kings transform the giant arena into a furnace. The large family of gypsies from the Camargue mingle in public, arms stretched high, touches the sky with its fingertips and dance. In a final number that the crowd wishes would never end, thirty guitarists - all cousins, or close relatives - join the Reyes and the Baliardos. Two small blind gypsies, with ecstatic faces, smile from ear to ear, a hand on the arm of their grandfather.

Chico has realized his dream: during five days, gypsy culture has reigned in a festival entirely consecrated to itself, in an area neighboring the Camargue where it had been born.

The next day, a demonstration by gypsies wanting to obtain from the municipality of Nîmes a new campground will end, like the festival, in perfect agreement. Nîmes hasnít limited itself to adopting the Gypsy Kings. Jean Bousquet has demonstrated the gypsy people and culture are an integral part of this region of France.

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