Monday, December 21, 2009

Music I Like: Gipsy Kings

I feel that I owe the Gipsy Kings something after their epic concerts (spanning multiple states and multiple hours!) with special guest singer Rebecca, in my car on the way to and from my sister's house. Those guys kept me awake and having fun despite the flat terrain and the fact that I detest driving.

But also, they're darn fine musicians and composers. You may have heard the ubiquitous "Bamboleo" in the 1990s -- which is a fine piece of music, but I prefer some of their less popular works, which are musically deeper and more complex.

I don't understand a word that they sing, and had they actually been present at our in-car concerts, I'm sure they would have been horrified at what was coming out of my mouth. But to my own credit, had I been able to use my instrument of choice (the violin) rather than my instrument of necessity (nothing like singing to get the lungs pumping and the oxygen flowing) they might have enjoyed themselves.

Anyhow, I have told you many times how much I love a good surprise. I love a piece of music that is clearly going one direction and then veers off in another. The Gipsy Kings are very good at this. Their masterpiece in this way is a piece called "Majiwi," from their album Somos Gitanos.

"Majiwi" begins with a flute playing a sweet, peaceful little melody in C major, which is then reproduced by the solo voice, before launching into the piece as a whole. Here's the awesome thing about this piece. You know that beautiful, peaceful C-major melody that you hear at the beginning? It's the chorus of the song! They take those same notes, but harmonize it differently, for a completely different effect. In this case, we go from C major to A minor. I love it! (And since I am a sucker for minor keys, there's twice as much to like: a surprise, and it's in a minor key!)

The thing I love is that I get fooled every time. I mean, I totally know what's going to happen, having heard this piece hundreds, if not thousands, of times, but nonetheless, I get caught in this thought that a peaceful little melody on a flute cannot possibly be in a minor key. Then, halfway through the song, I find myself thinking, "How could I have ever imagined that this was a C-major melody?!?!" It's a form of cognitive dissonance that only a serious music nerd like me loves.

Another of my favorite Gipsy Kings songs is "Montaña," from Love & Liberté.

It starts out plain and simple, with a guitar playing the melody and the chord sequences that harmonize the melody, as an introduction: not quite a simple I, IV, V, I (A major, D major, E major, A major), because the Gipsy Kings are a little more sophisticated than that, but pretty close. Still, it sounds very comfortable, very beautiful, if a bit plain.

The voice begins the song, and there is a little more texture that joins in: a little rhythm, some more guitars, etc. But it is still mostly quiet and peaceful.

It is not until the 0:45 mark that the action begins. At this point, we hear a change in the direction of the song. We branch out into the minor chords in the A major scale: vi and iii (F# minor and C# minor). This change in mood is amplified by the addition of the electric bass and keyboards. The guitars begin adding ornamentation -- ascending scales harmonizing in the minor key. But the progression works its way back to major -- V, or E major, and makes it way back to the melody in major again, but not before repeating the minor portion.

The progression of the harmonies in the song is kind of mountain-shaped, the way that they do it. There are some chords in there I can't completely identify outright, but the basic sequence goes: I, IV, V, I, vi, iii, IV, V, I. That's probably complete gibberish to most of you, but there is a way that you can play the sequence of these basic chords on a piano and change (usually) only one or at most two notes per chord progression. And in doing so, the bass note (the bottom note played, but not necessarily the root of the chord), rises (like a mountain peak) and then descends. You can hear this at about the 4:20 mark of the above video -- just concentrate on the first note the bass plays per chord sequence.

There are really no Gipsy Kings songs I dislike, but I do prefer some over others. Other favorites include "Tu quieres volver," "Ami wa wa," "Vamos a bailar," "Legende," "Love and Liberte," and "La Tounga." They have some really good instrumentals -- we share the philosophy that the voice is but another instrument, so they use it in addition to guitars, percussion, keyboards, clapping, and many other things. So maybe if one of my vast blogging audience goes out and purchases one of their albums, the Gipsy Kings will forgive me for our in-car concerts, and we can call ourselves even!


Anonymous said...

je ne comprends pas tout, mais il y a un bon feeling pour parler de nous et j'aime ça.

Rebecca said...

Canut, en sommaire j'ai dit que j'adore votre musique, et je vous remercie de partager votre musique avec moi et tout le monde. Vous etes musiciens avec du talent incroyable et votre musique est toujours interessante et vivante.


Matt Stevens said...

Wonderful stuff