The Gipsy Kings may have eight guitarists. But who is the best?
When people think of impressive flamenco style guitar, many instantly think of the Gipsy Kings. They’ve achieved international success and have been active since 1978. So, it’s fair to say they’ve had longevity too.
Born in France and raised on Spanish culture, the Kings have been influential in bringing progressive pop style flamenco to a global audience.
In the 1970s, brothers Nicolas and Andre Reyes, sons of Jose Reyes, a flamenco artist, formed The Gipsy Kings. They called on their cousins Jacques, Maurice and Tonino Baliardo to fill out their roster. The band was initially called Los Reyes. Reyes, not coincidentally, means “kings” in Spanish.
The gypsy band would go onto travel around France, performing at a variety of events, including festivals, weddings and even in the streets. Their gypsy lifestyle is eventually what led to the creation of their formal band moniker, the Gipsy Kings. Subsequently, they would start to get hired to play upper-class parties. Despite this, they did not attract much attention with their first two albums.
Success would eventually descend after they released their third self-titled album, Gipsy Kings, featuring the songs “Djobi Djoba”, “Bamboléo” (written by Baliardo) and “Un Amor”. This album would spend 40 weeks on the charts in the United States, a considerable feat for a Spanish language album. In ensuing years, the band would have their music featured in various movies.
Much of the fast, complex lead work heard on their recordings can be attributed to one man we’ve already named – Tonino Baliardo.
Watching Baliardo play is magical, whether solo or with the Kings. His right hand (picking) technique is just as impressive as his left-hand technique. Even while he’s speed picking his way through minor-scale leads, he doesn’t utilize a pick. For many a guitarist, trying to play without a pick is a puzzle all its own, but Baliardo makes it look as though the guitar was always meant to be played that way.
And, no one makes it all look more effortless than Baliardo. The lead guitarist’s control of the instrument is nothing short of spectacular. Further, he’s adept at blending rhythmic playing with lead work – something even the most recognized pros sometimes have trouble with. Watching him, you almost get the sense he’s just throwing caution to the wind – but in fact, the purity of his style suggests he leaves nothing to chance.
The talented Baliardo is the son of guitarist Manitas de Piata. He’s responsible for writing all the Gipsy King’s instrumentals of which there are three to five per album. He made his solo debut in 2001 under Essences, and in 2003, he released an album of original instrumentals. As with all the Kings, he does not write or read music. That might give you an idea of just how much practice went into his craft.
Although they don’t often make the headlines, the Kings remain active as a band and can still be found touring extensively, especially across the US. Along with Nicolas Reyes, Baliardo is practically the star of the band, bringing his impeccable lead guitar style to their sound.