Thirty years ago Tuesday (April 21), Gipsy Kings — the band that had the world striking a flamenco pose and screaming out “bem bem” and “djobi, djoba” on dance floors — rumbaed to the top of the Hot Latin Songs chart with “Volaré.”
The Kings’ first Hot Latin Songs No. 1 covered Domenico Modugno’s 1956 Billboard Hot 100 topper, recorded as “Nel Blu, Dipinto Di Blu,” which, in the 1970s, made a return appearance into American households via the version sung by suave Italian singer Sergio Franchi, who appeared in commercials for Plymouth’s Volaré car, thus christened to emphasize its continental style.
By 1990, the Gipsy Kings were already global stars, after bursting onto the scene with the ubiquitous 1988 summer hit “Bamboleo.” The group, formed by the French gypsy sons of Spanish flamenco singer Jose Reyes and their cousins, rode a cresting world music wave to their New York premiere at the New Music Seminar; soon the songs from their first, self-titled debut album seemed to be on repeat in every restaurant in the Metropolitan area.The Gipsy Kings took their act on tour, and the album went gold.
While the Gipsy Kings marked milestones for mainstream Latin crossover, marking a midpoint in the line between Paco de Lucia and Rosalia, most audiences assumed that the musicians were Spanish, their families had fled Spain during the Civil War; the band members (who later separated into rival groups) grew up speaking a mix of Catalan and dialect from the South of France. Their catchy flamenco pop sound is rooted in the rhythm of Catalan rumba, the party style that originated in Barcelona in the 1950s.
On “Volaré,” Gipsy Kings sang in Spanish and Italian, courting nostalgia for the classic hit while adding the rumba’s ventilador guitar rhythm, named after a whirring fan.
“Volaré” was included on the album The Best of the Gipsy Kings, which debuted and peaked at No. 2 on Top Latin Albums, remaining on the chart for 107 weeks.