Going on the Road Comes Naturally to the Latest Sensation in Ethnic Rock and Roll, the Gipsy Kings

UPDATED 01/16/1989 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 01/16/1989 at 01:00 AM EST

Gaze into the crystal ball and you will discover the story of the Gipsy Kings. First, an image from faraway France: a warm summer night in a trailer park, a group of men singing traditional Gypsy songs as families and friends dance. Slow dissolve into another image: the Ritz nightclub in Manhattan. Onstage, the same men are singing the same songs—with an added rock beat—to a screaming, sellout crowd of hip New York music fans.

Well, crystal balls can be unreliable, but the charts never lie, and the Gipsy (they prefer this obscure spelling) Kings have hit the Top 10 in nine countries. Now the band that once played Brigitte Bardot's birthday party is casting its spell on the U.S. "Bamboleo," a single from the band's just-released U.S. album, Gipsy Kings, is already a staple on nightclub turntables.

"In our families, kids are musicians as soon as they're born," says Jahloul "Chico" Bouchikhi, 34, spokesman for the Kings' six related guitarists. (His brothers-in-law, Nicolas and Andre Reyes, are cousins to Diego, Jacques and Tonino Baliardo.) Growing up on the road, they got little formal schooling—the youngest, Andre, 21, can't read or write—but they soaked up the richness of Gypsy music. They recorded two albums of traditional material before a French record executive hooked them up with a rock rhythm section.

Now somewhat eclectic in their musical tastes (they cover Frank Sinatra's hit "My Way" on their new album), the Kings remain very traditional during their time off. The Kings and their families still spend part of each year in a sometimes-mobile trailer caravan in the South of France, and they relax by fishing and riding horses. The high life holds no appeal, and celebrities are just more listeners to be wooed. "We played for Charlie Chaplin before he died," says Chico. "And the music made him cry. It's for a reaction like that that we work so hard."

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