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Chico & the Gypsies Artist Biogrphy

Triumphant International Return for Founder of Gipsy Kings

Something quite remarkable happened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on November 30th 2014. History started to repeat itself when Chico Bouchikhi, founder of the Gipsy Kings, stepped foot on stage to play to a sell-out crowd with his band, Chico & the Gypsies. This show, and the reaction to it had all the hallmarks of what happened back in 1998, when Chico introduced the rest of the world to France’s best kept musical secret, the Neuvo Flamenco of the Gipsy Kings.

With Chico at the helm, the Gipsy Kings were transformed over a period of ten years from playing the beaches in St Tropez, becoming the favourites of the jet-set via the patronage of Bridget Bardot, to becoming the first French group to be awarded a Platinum Disc in the US. They ended up becoming the biggest World Music Crossover act ever, with an estimated worldwide sales of 20 million, well ahead of the Buena Vista Social Club.

Following the success of their two albums, Gipsy Kings and Mosaïque and triumphant live shows in London, Los Angeles, Moscow and Tokyo, Chico began asking awkward questions about royalty statements and payments. The best English speaker and the most financially astute member of the band, he also queried the extortionate percentage their management received for their services. When the other Gipsy Kings sided with manager Claude Martinez, Chico found himself out on a limb and in 1991 was ousted from the group he had co-founded and named. The legal repercussions rumbled on for years, costing Chico dearly in time, money and effort.

For many this would have been the end. But one leading characteristic Chico shares with his adopted Gypsy family (Chico is in fact of Moroccan descent, married into the Reyes family) is resilience. Not content to rest on his laurels, Chico set out to recreate his success with the Gipsy Kings, and 25 years later, having once again conquered French audiences, is on the cusp of enjoying the same levels of stardom around the world. This resilience is the result of one of the most incredible back stories in pop music, which has seen Chico being feted as a musician by everyone from George Michael to Jimmy Page, but also becoming a UNESCO special envoy for peace. In 1973, just as Chico was embarking on his musical journey, the most dreadful tragedy fell on his family, when his older brother, Ahmed Bouchikhi, working as a waiter in Lillehammer, Norway, with his wife expecting their first child, was assassinated by agents from Mossad, the Israeli secret service. They had mistaken him for Ali Hassan Salameh, one of the Black September group responsible for the massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. “It was a clear case of mistaken identity. They killed him in cold blood. It’s the hardest thing to forgive when it’s your own flesh and blood,” reflects Chico about the tragedy, and the wound that would take over two decades to heal.

But heal it did. In September 1994, Chico & The Gypsies were invited to join Harry Belafonte, Montserrat Caballé and orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta for a UNESCO concert held to coincide with the signing of the Oslo Accords by Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. Shaking hands with the Israeli foreign minister and the Palestinian leader on stage at the end of the show brought Chico a sense of closure. “It was unexpected, like a gift from the Gods. A symbol of what is possible,” he reflects. This reinforced his belief in the power of reconciliation and the role music can play in that process. “When it comes to music, there are no frontiers, no borders. Music can be a bridge, a link between people,” states the guitarist who has taken Chico & the Gypsies to Israel, Palestine and the Festival Mawazine in Morocco and headlined events promoting tolerance and understanding in Arles and Ramallah.

This commitment to peace and reconciliation through music has driven Chico for over 40 years and is now once again exciting international audiences with the vibrant, inclusive, joyous music of his inter-generational band of Gypsies.

Chico, Mounin, Joseph, Kema – Tané, Kassaka, Babato, and, Rey, (Babato and Rey being nephew and grandson respectively, of Flamenco royalty, Manitas De Plata) will be touring the UK in October 2015.

Mike Howell