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Corel Centre, August 30

Gipsy Kings offer distinctive flamenco style
From The Ottawa Citizen - FINAL EDITION

The Gipsy Kings play the Corel Centre Sunday night almost a year to the day of their gig at last year's Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival. In what is shaping up to be an annual appearance by the band in these parts at the end of August, the Gipsy Kings will thrill concert goers who want to hear lush, flamenco guitar work with a tinge of rock, Arabic and Latin American musical styles tossed in.

Formed during the '70s in southern France by musicians with a flamenco lineage running through their blood (members of the band include the sons of famed flamenco singer Jose Reyes), they originally found work playing at gypsy weddings, festivals and parties. Their luck changed in the mid- '80s when they met producer Claude Martinez, who recognized the commercial possibilities of their beautiful, passionately played music. His instincts were proven right when their first album, Gipsy Kings, sold more than 460,000 copies in France in 1987. Since then, the band has gone on to international acclaim. Their Gipsy Kings album went gold in the U.S. A greatest hits album in 1994 went triple platinum in Canada. The band hopes to repeat the success with Compas, their latest disc.

Tickets are $39.50 and $49.50, and can be obtained at the Corel Centre box office as well as through TicketMaster (755-1111). The show starts at 8 p.m.

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There were 5,000 swaying gypsies
From The Ottawa Citizen - FINAL EDITION

The Gipsy Kings gave themselves and around 5,000 fans quite a workout on Sunday night at the Corel Centre in their second Ottawa concert in less than a year.

At first glance, the audience seemed a little disappointing in size, which can be distressing for artists. But this crowd had as much heart as there would be at the Corel Centre when the Senators are contending in front of a full house. From the first bars of the opening number, people were on their feet, swaying to the rhumba beats of the seven Kings and their six-member band.

The Reyes brothers and their Baliardi cousins play guitar and a few small percussive instruments, as well as singing. They were accompanied by three drummers, a bass and two keyboardists. They created big sound, and lots of it -- the concert, including encore and with no opening act, ran more than two hours.

This is not a band of boppers -- the older members are men of some maturity. Their energy alone is remarkable.

One rap against the entertainers, who are actual gypsies from the south of France, is that their music tends to have a bit of sameness to it. That can certainly seem true if one fills the disc tray with their recordings -- it is not very easy to differentiate between their early material and their latest.

But that was not in evidence on Sunday. From the vast repertoire they have produced over the 20-plus years they have been around, the Kings selected as diverse a program as anyone could wish. Plenty of rhumba, of course -- it's essentially their musical religion -- but also some wonderful ballads, some songs with Moorish influence, some with Eastern Mediterranean undertones, a couple to Brazilian beats.

Some of the band's songs, particularly those they offered after the intermission, had a contemporary dance beat, but they were still distinctly Latin. That derived chiefly from the flamenco fingering of the guitars, the texture of the bongo and conga drums, and, of course, the vocals. The drumming throughout was what took this concert to the high level at which it operated.

But the guitar work was inspiringly good -- there were a number of movements that required unison in the strumming. It was absolutely precise. Having six guitars lends a tremendous depth and range to the songs, and some intriguing effects can be generated. At one point, perhaps also aided by the electronic keyboard but originating in the guitar tones, it almost seemed as if there were some horns in the equation.

Lead singer Nicolas Reyes has a raspy voice that approximates what you would get if you could put Joe Cocker's and Placido Domingo's voices in a blender. When he sings, he creates a world. You don't have to speak Gitano to get caught up in that world: You can see the flames of a fire in a gypsy encampment, you can feel the drama of the love affair he is lamenting.

There were moments in this concert, and not only in Reyes' ballads, where the Gipsy Kings took me to another place. He did it with Un Amor, a haunting saudade for love.

One of his kin began Mi Corazonas as a soulful solo, but was joined by another in an unusual harmony, then a third (Reyes) who provided a brief coda. It was an arrangement quite different from many of the Kings' typical approaches. Led by another of the vocalists, a younger man than Reyes, the Kings gave a powerful rendition of Bem, Bem Maria, seemingly --though it became increasingly hard to differentiate -- a crowd favourite.

In years of concert-going worldwide, attending everything from opera to open-air stadium performances, I have never been in the presence of an audience to equal this one in enthusiasm. That word is hardly adequate to describe the exuberant, spontaneous and enraptured response with which virtually every note was applauded. When the Kings sang ``Baila, baila me,'' the audience took it as a marching order, the few who were not bailando already. There was dancing going on throughout the show; some people held up homemade signs expressing their devotion to the Kings; one young man danced in the space behind the floor seats from the beginning to end of the show.

When the band came out to do their reprise, Bamboleo, emotional Vesuvius erupted.

Who were these people (and where were they when Klave y Kongo were in town last weekend?) This is Ottawa, and this was a crowd ranging in age from children to elderly, mostly white northerners. Who knew that in so many people in our oft-slagged burgh there lurked so many Latin souls? As I say, second performance here in a year. The Gipsy Kings knew.

- Hilary McLaughlin
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