Global Gypsies

by Andrew Travers, Time Out Staff Writer

With members of the legendary Gipsy Kings and a groundbreaking new Indo-rumba fusion sound, the Gypsy Allstars promise big things from their three-night run at the JAS Cafe Downstairs at the Nell.

“We’re going to come and make love to you,” says Alllstars founder and drummer Cedric Leonardi.

Leonardi grew up in Montpellier, France — birthplace of the Gipsy Kings, the long-running and influential pioneers of rumba catalana, a poppy rumba- and flamenco-influenced sound that gave us global hits like “Bamboleo” and “Djoba Djoba.” Leonardi has played drums for the Kings, and founded the Gypsy Allstars with other sometime members of the outfit. The project, grounded in the roots of gypsy music, took off last year when Leonardi and his bandmates began collaborating with Indian folk musicians.

Leonardi has been listening to Indian music, and playing some privately for fun, for 20-plus years, he says. In 2012, he got a gig in Sri Lanka, putting together musicians for a Gipsy Kings-style show. He collaborated with an Indian flute player and local musicians for the performance, and the Gypsy Allstars’ new project was born.

“It worked really well — and fast — so we said, ‘Yes, it’s working, let’s explore more,'” he explains.

He and cousins Georges and Mario Reyes — of the Reyes family that founded the Gipsy Kings — began working with more Indian musicians to meld their sounds. He compares the Reyes’ symbiotic stage energy to AC/DC’s Angus and Malcolm Young or the bearded frontmen of ZZ Top. The rest of their collaborators had to bridge cultural and language gaps with their instruments.

“Nobody was speaking the same language,” Leonardi laughs. “The Indians were speaking Hindi and the gypsies were only speaking Spanish and French. So we had to speak through the music.”

Only about a year in existence, the Allstars innovative sound has been hailed as world music’s next big thing. With a revolving menagerie of musicians, the Allstars include Leonardi and the Reyes cousins, along with Bollywood star vocalist Charanjeet Virdi. A night with the Allstars might also include flamenco dancers and the tabla-thumping rhythms of rumba, mashed up with the sounds of Indian alap.

The bandmembers traveled to Rajasthan, India last month, playing shows there while searching for new sounds and songs to work into their repertoire and bring back to the West. They’ve likewise brought their rumba sound to India, while reinterpreting Indian styles for Europe and the States, and in the process made something completely new.

“We are working it from two sides,” says Leonardi. “It’s a live entity, there’s nothing static about what we’re doing.”

Along with the cultural gumbo the Allstars have been working on, the Aspen shows will include Gipsy Kings classics like “Bamboleo” and rumba favorites.

“That music is so joyful and full of life and people love it,” says Leonardi. “So we’re going to play a lot of that music. But the whole idea is to start from that and then open it in terms of melodies, harmonies and rhythm — playing the Spanish rumba mixed with the Indian connection.”

The band plays three nights at the JAS Cafe Downstairs at the Nell, beginning Saturday, Dec. 28, with two shows nightly at 7 and 10 p.m.

After the Aspen shows, they’re going back to India to play more and search for more Rajasthani folk musicians.

“I don’t know who I’m going to bring back,” says Leonardi. “It’s going to keep changing.”

The JAS Cafe gigs are among their first shows since their recent trip to Rajasthan. They’ll be playing new material they worked on there, with new musicians they picked up in their travels, including a singer from Afghanistan.

Leonardi speaks frantically about the project, like a man inspired and in the thrall of discovery: “You can expect joy, art, spontaneity. ... It’s very fresh and very alive. It’s a work in progress. Nothing is too static, too square. It’s alive. It’s really alive and it’s moving, and every night it’s going to be different. The audience can feel that, that frenetic energy, and it’s very exciting.”

Crowds worldwide have been energetically receptive to the new sound.

“It’s some kind of transcendental experience for people, I think,” Leonardi says. “Even when we’ve played in some very VIP, super lounge club in L.A., people are clapping, dancing — dancing on the tables. That music, it’s so joyful, you cannot resist.”

The Allstars haven’t recorded anything in the studio yet, though they’ve put some live performances up online. They will return to India after the Aspen shows, and plan to begin recording an album this winter. In the meantime, they’ll continue experimenting to find their sound on stage.

“We get lost, but that’s the magic of it,” says Leonardi. “I always think that great things can come from that state of mind.”

The winter concert series at the JAS Cafe began in December with singer Stacey Kent. After the Allstars, it continues with trombonist Wycliffe Gordon (Jan. 10-11), vocalist Kathy Kosins (Jan. 30-31), Brazilian superstar Eliane Elias (Feb. 14-15), American jazz fusion outfit Spyro Gyra (Feb. 20-22), duo Cyrille Aimee and Diego Figueiredo (March 7-8), swing jazz band Lavay Smith and the Red Hot Skillet Lickers (March 21-22) and Afro-Cuban rumba bandleader Pedrito Martinez (April 3-4).

JAS Cafe Downstairs 
at the Nell
Winter Shows

Performances at 7 & 9:15 p.m.

Dec. 28 - 30
Gypsy Allstars 
(late show at 10 p.m.)

Jan. 10 & 11
Wycliffe Gordon, Hello Pops!

Jan. 30 & 31
Kathy Kosins

Feb. 14 - 16
Eliane Elias

Feb. 20 - 22   
Spyro Gyra

March 7 & 8
Cyrille Aimee & Diego Figueiredo

March 21 & 22
Lavay Smith 
& the Red Hot Skillet Lickers

April 3 & 4   
Pedrito Martinez

Tickets $35-45