In Concert

Talk about an interesting night of music at Ravinia Festival. I knew about Gipsy Kings for a while now. I knew there were guitars involved. What I did not know was the rest of the story.

Flamenco is a Spanish tradition. It is a fiery, romantic style of music defined by the Spanish Guitar. It may seem a little strange that The Gipsy Kings actually are from the south of France, but there is no true border to this tradition.

The origins of this band go back to 1978. Some of the members are sons of original members. They are descendents of some of those who fled Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War in 1930. That explains some of the band’s makeup. This also explains the name of the group. The Kings are not just a Flamenco group, however. They have incorporated Salsa and Pop into their repertoire.

The one thing you cannot ignore is the rhythm of the music. The Gipsy Kings gets the audience clapping. You just can’t help it. As a musician myself, this was a study in rhythm. Syncopation is a big part, feeling the “and” of the beat. For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, clap along with a song and count…1,2,3,4…right? Yeah okay, but most people clap either on beat one and three or two and four. Two and four are the “back beat”. With Latin rhythms there can be multiple back beats. You can clap along with the “and” of the beat…1 and, 2 and, etc. The rhythmic accent is not always the same.

Now let’s take eleven musicians, up to six guitars, bass, two percussionists and vocals and play with the rhythm. Some band members accent different parts of the beat creating a texture of metronomic complexity. Now, on paper that sounds like something hard to dance to. The security at Ravinia (whose job in part is to keep a clear pathway to the stage) had to ask people to stop dancing in the aisles. So, they went back to their seats and danced…and clapped…and sang. Concert attendees could not help themselves. I took my wife with me. She does not dance, forget about it. Guess what? The woman I have known for many years was dancing! I couldn’t believe it. This was a party!

I really wish I would have paid closer attention in Spanish class in high school, though not understanding all the words didn’t stop me from enjoying the music of The Gipsy Kings. I was a bit surprised at how packed the place was since the group is well below what I would call “main stream”. But the band obviously has a major following. This proves you don’t need a Top Forty hit to pack seats in a concert environment. You just need to throw a good party. The Grateful Dead proved that for many years but this was not a counterculture event. These were not hippies dancing. These were regular people having the time of their lives.

The set list was lively and very appetizing including such favorites as “Djobi Djoba”, “Bem, Bem Maria”, “Hotel California”, “Bamboléo”, “Vamos a Bailar”, and “Volare”.

If you have a heartbeat I recommend checking out The Gipsy Kings. I am not really sure if their recordings could actually capture the magic of their live performance, but their live show is nothing short of amazing. Their show is a celebration of life, and celebrations seem to require dancing. Escaping a civil war is a good reason to celebrate, or even just a Friday night. It doesn’t matter, let the party start. 

Ravinia Festival is one of the best summer music venues near Chicago and it's always worth getting out there a few times a year. To see Ravinia's upcoming schedule, visit www.Ravinia.org.

Published in In Concert

 

 

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