Family has formed the foundation of Gipsy Kings since before Gipsy Kings were a thing. The founding members, cousins Nicolas Reyes and Tonino Baliardo, came together after the disbanding of Los Reyes, in which Nicolas and his brother Andre Reyes played alongside their father, famed flamenco artist Jose Reyes. That act, in turn, rose from the ashes of Jose’s two-part act alongside Ricardo Baliardo, better known as Manitas de Plata—and, nowadays, as Tonino’s uncle.
The lineup behind Nicolas and Tonino has shifted dramatically over the years, with siblings, cousins, and in-laws coming and going. What hasn’t changed, though, is the music the Gipsy Kings play, or the familiar familial vibrations with which it is so brightly suffused.
The group’s latest tour, which landed at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre on Saturday, features Nicolas at the helm, without Tonino by his side.
Nicolas, however, did not seem at all bothered by the absence of his cousin and long-time sidekick. The 62-year-old French-born Spanish gitano legend belted out the band’s ballads and bangers with equal aplomb. Whether imploring all in attendance to dance to upbeat hits like “Pida Me La” and “Djobi Djoba” or serenading the same crowd through “Un Amor”, Nicolas seemed to summon each note from the deepest depths of his body and soul up through his unmistakable pipes.
While Nicolas remains the most distinctive voice in the Gipsy Kings, on this night, he was hardly alone when it came to making waves on the microphone. His sons, Yohan and Georges Reyes, sounded eerily like their father in support throughout the performance. Yohan, in particular, got to stretch his vocal cords at center stage on the infectious “Chiribi” and more mysteriously toned “A Tu Vera”.
To whatever extent another vocalist can usurp the spotlight from Nicolas, though, Joseph Gautier was just as stiff a competitor as either of the younger Reyes men. Now more than a year removed from his role as guitarist and lead vocalist in Chico & the Gypsies—a flamenco outfit formed by Jalloul “Chico” Bouchikhi, another of the Gipsy Kings’ founding members—”Zuzep” stepped in like Luciano Pavarotti with a more danceable beat. The towering tenor poured as much power into a fun family standard like “Bem Bem Maria” as he did passion into a moving, Spanish-language rendition of Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah”.
The party that the Gipsy Kings put on at the Greek might have missed Tonino’s expert work on lead guitar if not for the presence of his son, Nico Baliardo, filling his shoes. Indeed, Nico did more than stand in for his father. In true Gipsy Kings fashion, the dapper young man seized the mantle that had been handed down to him and ran with it, from the opening instrumental of “Galaxia” all the way through the back-to-back bangers of “Bamboleo” and “Volare” to close out the main set and “Vamos A Bailar” as the encore. Close your eyes, and you may well have mistaken Nico’s skill on his white Gibson Chet Atkins for that of his father.
But where other members of the band employed vibrant bombast to bring the crowd out of its seats and into the aisles at the 5,500-capacity venue, Nico needed only to strum and pluck his acoustic guitar with too-cool-for-school ease to pull even with (if not outshine) his family’s elders in the band. That Nico was front and center for the pseudo-electronic introduction to “Bamboleo” only drove home how much the Gipsy Kings’ continued presence on the live music touring circuit, after some 18 months of delay due to the ongoing pandemic, depends on an infusion of youth.
To be sure, it’s not as though the Gipsy Kings are imminently losing steam. The group managed to sneak a new song, entitled “Liam”, in between the slew of house-shaking standards that comprised their nearly two-hour set in the hills north of L.A.’s Los Feliz neighborhood.
And while Tonino wasn’t around for this show, as has been the case throughout the Gipsy Kings’ current tour, he will be back on stage when the band returns to its home country of France for what is sure to be an awe-inspiring performance in Paris.
There will be plenty of dates for the Gipsy Kings around Germany in 2022, with Nicolas slated to lead. That leg will commence after the band wraps up its current swing through the United States in late November.
Beyond that, the Gipsy Kings seem set to carry on their merry way so long as Nicolas and Tonino are keen to continue sharing their gifts with the world, either separately or in tandem.
And when the time comes for those cousins to call it quits, the Gipsy Kings will still be well suited to spread joy across the globe, thanks to the next generation of cousins that has already started to assume its position in the family business.