Without doubt, you know the group The Gipsy Kings, who sing Bamboleo and Volare. Chico and three other former members of The Gipsy Kings have formed a new group The Original Gypsies and they are performing in Australia.
They are playing a single WOMADelaide today 11 March and a concert in Sydney. We spoke with Chico.
You’re coming to Australia for WOMADelaide in a few weeks. What can the audience expect from The Original Gypsies concert at WOMADelaide?
They can expect a real fiesta full of emotion, a lot of happiness, coming to share exceptional music and singing and I think that it will be a very important get-together.
Are you going to sing the songs that we know from The Gipsy Kings?
Of course, because I am the composer of all of the hits by The Gypsy Kings from teat time. They are part of our very large répertoire.
Yes, it is a large repertoire! I saw there was a little dispute in France to do with the use of the band name so I had wondered if there was also an issue with your right to continue singing the songs.
No, not at all. There is no problem and all the better.
That’s good. I did want to know a little about this judgment in France. What happened?
In fact, what happened is that The Gipsy Kings separated in 2014 and three former members of the group joined me, the founder of the Gipsy Kings and we wanted to start a project called The Gipsy Kings and Chico. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that. We have appealed to the courts to recuperate the rights that we and the three have.
Was it that other former members of the group The Gipsy Kings were against it?
Yes, there were a few of the former members who were against it but the important thing is that we can sing, that we can still share happiness. And things will sort themselves out but the important thing is to always give happiness to the audience.
Yes. That’s true. You are the Special Envoy for Peace for UNESCO.
For peace, since 1996. I am very happy to have been nominated because it allows me to promote peace across all races, on all the voyages that we make. In all of the actions that we do for UNESCO, I am very happy.
Yes, so it was in 1996. I have held my nomination since 1996 until today.
I am very happy. It’s an honour.
The Gipsy Kings mostly sang in Spanish. Did you learn Spanish at school? How did you learn Spanish?
Because the majority of the group came from Spanish origins. They were gitans-catalans from Barcelona who immigrated to the South of France, to Provence, to Montpellier, to Arles. And in fact, Spanish, it’s common to sing in Spanish. It’s natural, even.
You learned Spanish.
No, in the family, we speak Catalan or French or Catalan and Spanish. It’s part of the typical language.
I read that your parents were from Morocco.
From Morocco and Algeria. As for me, I grew up with gypsies who always spoke Spanish 0r Catalan. I learnt it like that. And for the majority of the group, it was natural. It was like that in their houses.
And now that you are writing new songs, do you write them in Catalan or Spanish to or also sometimes in French?
No, in Spanish.
So always in Spanish?
Yes, always in Spanish. For us, it’s more interesting because it’s with these languages that we had global success. The emotion is what is important. You know that when we sing in Japan or in Norway, the audiences don’t always understand the lyrics but the emotion of the songs is what is important.
Appropriately, I was going to ask you how you think you managed to have such success singing in a language that many people don’t understand.
That’s right. Emotion is the human language. Emotion is something which cannot be explained but which is felt. And it’s like that in all the countries of the world. People don’t speak the same language but they all have the same reaction to our music. If we play in Australia, in the United States or in Kazakhstan in the Middle East, the audience reacts the same way. It’s unbelievable. It means that for me there are not different audiences. There is a single audience and that makes me very happy.
Have you already been to Australia?
Yes. I went to Australia with The Gipsy Kings back then. We were at the beginning of our career and Bamboleo was doing well. I think it was back in 89 our 90 and I came there with The Gipsy Kings and I remember it was an unbelievable success and I really liked the Australian audiences.
We are enthusiastic.
Yes, that’s why I am very happy to be coming back. Personally, I am very happy to come back to Australia because I have kept a very beautiful memory.
So The Original Gypsies are going to be doing a concert at WOMADelaide and one in Sydney. Will you be doing other Australian concerts?
No, we are going to do those two concerts and then we are going to New Zealand. It’s good. I swear that after these concerts, we are going to come back again because audiences are doing to love the concerts that we are going to do. I am very confident and very happy to come [to Australia].
And we are happy to have you here especially after such a long time! After leaving The Gipsy Kings, did you tour outside of Europe with the group Chico et The Gipsies?
Of course. I have done a lot of concerts everywhere. The group is more than 20 years old today. It’s great. The musical quality of the group is extraordinary. You will see.
Chico et The Gipsies, are they the same people who make up The Original Gypsies?
It’s a complement actually. There are the original Gipsy Kings, a complement of Chico et The Gypsies. It’s an extraordinary musical force and in the group there are original, former members from the Gipsy Kings.
So the three plus you making four.
Exactly. Four with me.
And I also saw that your children have followed you into music as well.
Exactly. My children play. My daughters sing.
Miriam, Sonya. I am very happy that the good lord gave me such a beautiful gift.
You are very proud of them.
Of course, and I even have grandchildren who sing too.
Yes, yes. It really is a musical family story.
Do your children join you on stage in your The Original Gypsies concerts?
Sometimes I bring them. In a few days, we are going to do a TV show in Paris and we are bringing 30 guitarists who also sing with us and my children are obviously there. Sometimes, we share the stage together, it’s great.
That really is familial. It’s beautiful.
You’re married to the daughter of Jose Reyes. Is Martha also musical?
No but she gave life to these sons and daughters who sing. It’s the truth of our music. Jose Reyes was a big singer and his children became The Gipsy Kings and his grandparents follow those footsteps today.
It’s continuing in the lineage.
Completely. It’s the musical transmission but above all, it is natural.
It’s not forced.
No, which is why it is good. It’s natural. It’s extraordinary.
In all of the songs, and there is a large repertoire, what is your favourite Gipsy Kings song?
For me, there are a lot of songs as you can imagine that bring happiness, the one that brought the most happiness was Bamboleo. That was the big hit for the group and became key in our repertoire all around the world.
And it’s the emotion that makes this song work.
Completely. Emotion, the way the artists pla. The guitarists… the alchemy that happens on stage. It’s a magical moment.
And that’s what we are going to see from The Original Gypsies at WOMADelaide: emotion and passion.
Of course. You know last year we played at WOMAD in England. That’s why we are c0ming to Australia. It’s the follow-up to our success in England. The audience was extraordinary. I am sure that Australia is going to be the same.
Is there anything else you wish to add?
Just that we are very, very happy to come to Australia. For me it’s been a long time that I have wanted to come back and this is an exceptional opportunity and it makes me very happy.We are going to be able to show the Australians our music that we love.
You can see The Original Gypsies close WOMADelaide this Monday 11 March at 9:30pm and in Sydney on Wednesday 13 March.
You can purchase your tickets to WOMADelaide here.
You can also read our article about other French and francophone artists performing at WOMADelaide this weekend here.
You can purchase tickets for the Sydney concert here.
What’s your favourite song by The Gipsy Kings?