sat 23/03/2019

Gipsy Kings, Royal Albert Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Gipsy Kings, Royal Albert Hall

Gipsy Kings, Royal Albert Hall

Newly garlanded with a Grammy, veteran flamenco crossover band drive the audience wild

The Gipsy Kings, raising even the RAH's pudding-like roof

With their self-conscious blend of flamenco, Latin and pop creating the improbable-sounding Catalonian rumba, the Gipsy Kings, who played to an ecstatic Royal Albert Hall last night, are one of the pioneers of the world music genre. Their contribution has just been recognised by the Grammys, where they shared this year’s World Music prize (with Ladysmith Black Mambazo) for their new album Savor Flamenco.

Formed from two groups of brothers, the Reyes and the Baliardos, who celebrate 25 years together this year, they now live in Provence, but both families are originally from Spain. The Reyes’ father was a prominent flamenco player, exiled to France in the 1930s. Nicolas Reyes writes most of the songs, while Tonnino Baliardo plays lead guitar, his signature glossy black acoustic flashing suggestively in the spots.

Still glowing - or was that just their tan? - from their Grammy success, last night’s performance throbbed with energy and a thoroughly infectious sense of fun. The band’s recorded music isn’t acoustically purist - it slides and squirms with electronic effects - but the intricate guitar rhythms are always well articulated, and the voices, as dry and scorched as the Andalusian landscape, are clearly defined. Last night, both were substantially lost in a twangling sonic soup, part the Albert Hall’s difficult acoustic, and part the technical demands of a punishing tour schedule. (This was the sixth country in seven days.)

Teenagers twirled and octogenarians oscillated

From the Royal Circus in Brussels on 18th to Wolverhampton Civic Hall tonight, it’s a big ask to adapt the sound and the lighting setup, on the fly, to the Royal Albert Hall at its most treacly and pudding-like. The sound did improve a bit as the gig went on, so that at least some of the detailed playing was audible. The lighting was tiresomely garish throughout, with no clear thematic connection to the music. Spotlights blinked, glared and swirled intrusively and indiscriminately, channeling an unhappy combination of police raid and pre-teen disco, while the kings were washed in mauve like an old lady’s perm.

The near-capacity audience could not, it seemed, have cared less. The Kings are unsurpassed at creating upbeat, uptempo songs with melodies that force a smile from the sourest Londoner, and rhythms that frogmarch the weariest foot to tap along. They attract a varied audience, and most of them wanted to dance. Teenagers twirled and octogenarians oscillated. One number featured a flamenco dancer who shimmied alluringly, to roars of applause, though from most of the RAH you needed powerful binoculars and an even more powerful imagination to get much from it.

When the Gipsy Kings hit their groove, even the acoustically leaden roof of the Albert Hall threatens to lift off

On CD, where the virtuoso playing can be appreciated, Savor Flamenco is a tour de force, but they only played about half of it last night. The audience knew what they wanted, and so did the Kings. The last two songs were, as they probably have been at every gig for decades, “Bamboleo”, the Kings’ rousing signature tune, and “Nel blu di pinto di blu”, the Italian pop hit, now a good 60 years old, but still able to provoke a chorus of ‘oh-oh-oh-oh’ from the crowd.

It’s a shame they rarely play more intimate venues where the delicacy of their skill comes through. Fans of the subtler songs are best off with the recorded versions. Live, they are predictable, almost one-dimensional, but when the Gipsy Kings hit their groove, even the acoustically leaden roof of the Albert Hall threatens to lift off.   





The Kings are unsurpassed at creating upbeat, uptempo songs with melodies that force a smile from the sourest Londoner

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Comments

Why does Catalonian rumba sound 'improbable'? I've lived in Barcelona for 25 years and I can assure you that it flows very naturally from the cultural context here. A very patronising remark, IMHO

It certainly wasn't my intention to patronise. The observation was simply a recognition of the apparent incongruity between rumba, a style of dance originating in the Cuban slave population, and Catalonian music, which has no direct connection with those slave populations. I am aware that the phrase 'Catalonian rumba' refers more specifically to music of the Romani community in Barcelona, but that is an esoteric definition not widely known outside musicological circles, hence the phrase 'improbable-sounding', to explain that on the face of it (if not in reality) he combination of styles is unlikely.

Though I had reservations about the repertoire and acoustic of the concert, the Gipsy Kings' music itself is at its best original and virtuosic, as I said several times in the piece. 

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