The Gypsy Kings seem completely familiar now; they have been completely incorporated into our aural landscape, in the land of adverts and TV music and Magic radio, which is probably why a colleague of mine seemed surprised that I was going to see them. It’s hard to remember what a surprise they were twenty years ago when their flamenco/roma sound hit the mainstream. Watching them live, it’s possible to regain a sense of the strangeness of the sound. 12 musicians, of whom seven or eight are playing guitars on any one song. And five or six of those guitarists are playing rhythm, creating a wall of guitar sound, and the rhythms are those complex staccato flamenco rhythms, and from this, the solo guitars and the vocal lines emerge. The vocals, of course, are often as influenced by Arab music as European. (I’m not going to get into the largely sterile arguments about their relationship to ‘authentic’ flamenco).
Interestingly, it’s hard to see this on the videos, because they focus, of course, on the singer and the soloists and rarely give a picture of the whole stage. There’s a bit of a sense of it in this youtube clip from a gig at the Royal Albert Hall.