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Heapin' Helpings

To Feed the Audience's Taste for Dance, the Gipsy Kings Serve 2 Rousing Renditions of 'Ami Wawa'


ANAHEIM — In 1988, "Bamboleo" entered the musical lexicon, roughly translating into English as "you'll never believe this, but a bunch of visually unprepossessing French Gypsies, strumming flamenco guitars and singing Spanish-dialect lyrics in unusually husky voices, are about to become a pop sensation."

The Gipsy Kings have racked up more than 3 million album sales in the U.S. since then. But momentum for this seven-man band (of brothers and cousins named Reyes or Baliardo) has flagged a bit in the '90s. Last year's release, "Tierra Gitana," has yet to sell 150,000 copies, according to SoundScan.

On Wednesday at the Pond of Anaheim, the Gipsy Kings pulled out another fun phrase to ponder: "Ami Wawa." An unreleased song from an album-in-progress, "Ami Wawa," got an ecstatic response from the less-than-half-capacity house. Could be "Ami Wawa" means "move over, Macarena. This is the stuff that's gonna make the fools dance."

No fools themselves, the Kings closed both halves of their nearly two-hour performance with "Ami Wawa." With its tunefully insistent, endlessly repeated sing-along refrain of baby-talk (at least to English-attuned ears), and enough rhythmic buoyancy to float a navy, the song was an instant crowd pleaser.

The first rendition was an inviting salsa workout that fired up the crowd leading into intermission. The second, played as an encore, had more of an African feel, driven by congas and fiery ensemble chanting led by the primary singer, Nicolas Reyes. The closing "Ami Wawa" even eclipsed rousing, set-closing versions of the two signature songs that preceded it, "Bamboleo" and "Baila Me."

Not everything was so scintillating in a patchy performance that featured a good deal of unreleased material. For significant chunks of the show, the Gipsy Kings' lineup of seven guitars out front, with a five-man backing ensemble of percussion, electric bass and synthesizer, sounded as if it needed more flavors.


Yes, barrel-shaped singer Reyes brought enough grit and ardor to his pleas to match the romantic urgency of a Romeo or a Cyrano. And yes, Tonino Baliardo was a sparkling, if impassive, lead guitarist, playing lines that were nimble, clean and full of percussive sting.

But the steadily chugging guitars and churning rhythms needed the spark of another strong, melodic element. The Gipsy Kings could benefit from a fiery violin, a brash trumpet, a kinetic accordion to dance around and above all that rhythmic thrust and to square off against Reyes' voice and Baliardo's guitar. Some synthesized horn bits and strings-in-a-box were no substitute.

The crowd, which clearly had come to dance, sat out significant stretches of less inviting material. Still, the evening offered a lot more hits than misses.


With "Montana," a noble anthem of high aspiration, the group's second-chair singer, Canut Reyes, thrilled listeners with spiraling, impassioned sallies inspired by Islamic prayer calls.

Lead guitarist Baliardo shone during two flamenco sequences, one of them a stripped down piece accompanied only by his bandmates' vigorous hand-claps and a percussionist thumping on a hollow box.

And when the Kings combined their most irresistible rhythms with their most pop-appealing refrains, virtually everybody in the house turned his or her chair space into a dance floor--especially during "Ami Wawa," which promises to bring many a strayed fan of "Bamboleo" back into the Gipsy Kings' caravan.

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