Sunday Almanac: When the Gipsy Kings Came to Town…

…I fell down the most enchanting rabbit hole.

The buildup had been coming for weeks, in the space of time between seeing an ad for tickets a couple months back, and then the magical show last night. Gentle reader, if you don’t know of the Gipsy Kings, drop what you’re doing right now and go see whether they’re coming to a venue near you soon. Looking at you, friends in interior North Carolina, Nashville, NOLA, Florida, and Texas. See them in concert—you absolutely won’t regret it. Be prepared for the kind of joie de vivre that urges you out of your seat and makes you clap your hands and stomp your feet like you were born doing it, like the Gipsy Kings were. I swear, I haven’t danced as hard as I did last night wearing heeled boots in years.

Anyway. During that space of time I variously listened to my collection of GK music and poked around to learn more about the band. I somehow got it in my head they come from the Basque region of Spain, the provenance of a classical ballet step called pas de Basque, which translates to ‘step of the Basque.’ This is when I took a tumble down the hole, imagining this fantastic connection to the Gipsy Kings via dance. You’re familiar with the vernacular version of this step, most likely. You’ll have seen it scores of times here:

But maybe also here (at 3:38):

And fun fact, in the clip from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the child catcher is portrayed by one Robert Helpmann, an Australian ballet dancer who later joined what is today England’s Royal Ballet, where he enjoyed a career as dancer and choreographer.

Here are some beautifully trained young dancers demonstrating the more formal classical version of pas de Basque, with the second group executing the steps in reverse. The exercise begins with a gliding step (glissade), but you can see pas de Basque starting around 16 seconds into the clip:

This got me wondering, is there a flamenco version of pas de Basque? Well of course there is. Have a look:

A rabbit hole, I tell you, and all because of the Gipsy Kings, and this notion I’d been stubbornly clinging to that they come from the Basque region of Spain.

Here’s the rub: They do not, strictly speaking. Turns out they live, all of them and their tightly knit families, in Arles and Montpellier in the South of France. This is not the Basque region, as you can see here:

But it is likely their forebears did in fact come from the Basque region, and then fled across the Pyrenees Mountains and into southern France during the Spanish Civil War. Hence the flamenco-inspired, distinctly Spanish-style vocals and percussion that give this band its delectable flavor.

Going farther down the hole, I learned that Nicolas Reyes, one of the two front men, speaks Spanish, French, and Catalan—a language that shares something of Spanish but is its own distinct creature. A more trained ear than mine can probably hear it in the lyric. Reyes addressed the audience a time or two in Spanish, but also in English. I can only imagine the delicious mashup of culture as it must exist in Arles, if the Gipsy Kings’ music is any kind of barometer.

Someday, Arles, we’ll visit and find out for ourselves. I leave you with three short clips from last night’s show, the first one the opening piece when the crowd was still fairly quiet and subdued. Footnote: The musical stylings of young Nico Baliardo, a newer member of the band and the son of one of its two founding members, left us gobsmacked. You can see him dressed in all black and playing a black guitar—he was the soloist during last night’s unforgettable concert.

2 thoughts on “Sunday Almanac: When the Gipsy Kings Came to Town…

  1. Hehe! Next time you see them you’ll know to wear more sensible shoes!! I loved this rabbit hole! Thanks for taking me on this tumble! I looked up the Gipsy Kings – alas they do not like the frozen north!!


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