Kings of the Road

"There are three main Latin groups in the United States -- Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Cuban," says Imbert. "The Gipsy Kings' music goes to all of their roots, so it worked in all of those markets."

A lot of hype and something of an air of mystery shrouded the Gipsy Kings' debut. They are French Gypsies, and although they often sing in Spanish, they do not speak it, notes Imbert. Their language is a dialect that record-company press releases frequently refer to as gitane ("Gypsy" in French). "I don't know who thought that one up," scoffs Imbert, who says that he doesn't know of a language with such a name. Instead, he describes the Gipsy Kings' speech as simply a mixture of Catalan and Provenaal dialects. The Reyes and Baliardo families, he explains, were among the Spanish gypsies living in the province of Catalonia who fled across the border to France when Francisco Franco took power. The Reyes brothers are sons of Jose Reyes, a flamenco singer well-known in the Sixties and Seventies among fans of the genre.

In this current decade of hyphenated rock, when music critics often pose as amateur musicologists, the Gipsy Kings -- whose post-Mosačque albums (Alegria, Este Mundo, Gipsy Kings Live, and Love & Liberte) have been reliable, if repetitive A have fallen out of favor, replaced by other ethnic sounds, such as Cuban son, Gregorian chants, and pure flamenco. (Last year a New York Times critic positively qualified a flamenco compilation by noting that "thankfully, it does not include the Gipsy Kings.")

Imbert admits that it's pretty hard to get the Gipsy Kings' music on the radio these days, and adds that VH1 doesn't play their videos any more, either. But he says he is currently negotiating a possible PBS special about the group to be filmed in France, a project he hopes would underscore the band's authenticity as the real Gipsy Kings and, in the process, revive their mainstream popularity. The group also plans to record a new album later this year. For the moment, Imbert isn't worried.

"The Gipsy Kings' audience is one of really hard-core fans," he says. "And we keep building new markets in places like Chicago, Seattle, and Minneapolis. When you hear them in concert, it feels like every song is a hit."

The Gipsy Kings perform at Bayfront Park Amphitheater, 301 Biscayne Blvd, on Saturday, September 2, at 8:00 p.m. Tickets cost $21, $28, and $40.

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