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06 June 2023

After the Middle East, Gipsy Man eyes Bollywood

By Keith J Fernandez

He could well be responsible for the next thumping Bollywood anthem, so if you're at Mario Reyes's show in Dubai tonight, you can say you knew him when.

Reyes brings the sounds of the Gypsy Kings to the UAE tonight, when he hits Dubai Media City as part of the intimate live concert series JamDubai. Part of the Reyes family largely known as ‘The Gipsy Kings’, Mario Reyes is a solo performer and a guitar virtuoso whose musical journey has taken him through various genres, including flamenco to Catalan rumba and more recently to Arabic-inspired compositions, culminating is his latest release “The Gipsy Man Sings from the Middle East’.

His collaboration with Carol Samaha, Lebanese musician and actress and Ilham Al Madfai, Iraq’s beloved musician and artist are widely regarded as some of the most definitive collections of pan Arab music worldwide.

Emirates24/7 caught up with him before the show. Excerpts:

What can we expect from your Dubai show tonight?
I'm thrilled to be doing this first show in Dubai, I prepared a show that includes songs that have the exotic sounds of Arabic and Gypsy music.

Are you going to sing in French?
Traditionally I don't sing in French, if the audience asks me to sing in French, I will do it. There is a very popular song from the Middle East that I included in my album, titled Mustafa, and I'm certain everyone in the Middle East are familiar with this song. As you know, this song has a portion of the lyrics in French; therefore, for certain you will hear me perform at least one song in French.

You launched a Middle Eastern album recently. What prompted that?
The producer and composer of most of the songs of this album was a Lebanese producer who used to live in USA named Albert (Abed) Hager; he made the musical fusion of Arabic and Gypsy music and wrote the track in Spanish and Arabic. He was very involved in this project, it is why this project is bittersweet, he passed away about a year ago, but at the same time I feel very content when I perform his songs. The main reason is that this was his dream, and every time I perform his music his dream comes alive. Each of my shows I dedicate to his honour.

Why did you want to work with Carol Samaha and Ilham Al Madfai? How did these collaborations come about?
We have a great friend in Dubai, whom is a very recognized executive from the record label EMI Music. His name is Richard Hussein. When we were producing my album in Los Angeles, Richard travelled from Dubai to Los Angeles and came to the studio to find out more details regarding what we were cooking. From the moment he listened to the entire album and knowing that we wanted to record duets with top Middle Eastern artists, he immediately recommended Carol Samaha and Ilham Al Madfai. After this conversation with Richard, we went to the Middle East and recorded with Carol in Beirut and with Ilham in Jordan. It was an incredible experience and definitely I am very proud of these collaborations.

You're also performing in India next month. Is your next album going to be a collaboration with Indian singers?
We have been organizing my tour in India for several months already. My record label there is Virgin Music and they are as excited as I am to do this project. We have been talking about several opportunities to develop collaborations with different Indian music artists and the possibility to include a few of my songs in a soundtrack of an Indian film.

Tell us about working with Andrea Bocelli – what was that like?
For many years I had been visiting Italy performing with different Italian artists in live shows and album's collaborations. Obviously my dream was always to have some kind of experience working with Andrea Bocelli. One evening I was almost asleep in my house in Tarascon, France and I received a called from the important Italian producer, who collaborates with Andrea Bocelli. He told me that Andrea listened to my music and he loved my voice and the way I played my guitar. The following day at 6am, they wanted me to travel to meet Andrea and discuss a collaboration that needed to happen that week. I went to Italy and met Andrea, many things happened after that encounter and most importantly he chose a song composed entirely by me. After that we produced a music video of that song, you can see this fantastic video on my website, thegipsyman.com

With a family in music, did you ever feel constrained?, did you ever want to work in another profession?
I was basically born with a guitar in my hands. We, the gypsies, the gitanos, love to sing, love to play our guitars and to dance. This is our culture, my dream has always been to do exactly what I have currently been doing, in the near future I would like to produce other artists, starting from my own family, my kids, they are authentic musicians and singers, and I feel they need to have the same opportunities that I've had. So, don't be surprised if on one of my future trips to Dubai I bring them with me to perform in one of my shows.

You're part of Los Reyes -- but so are many other Reyes brothers, with different line ups performing under the name. How are audiences supposed to keep them clear and not mix you up?
Most of the Reyes family lives in Tarascon, France. We live next to each other, as we, the gypsies love to live. The Gypsy Kings also live there. A big portion of the band is from the Reyes family, including my uncle Nicolas Reyes, who is the lead singer of the Gypsy Kings. Each of us know each other very well, therefore, when there is another Reyes saying that he is part of our clan, if it's true, we confirm it, if not, we ignore it.

What projects are you working on at the moment?
I started working on my next album. I'm composing new songs and also I'm dedicating a lot of energy and time to promote my current album "The Gipsy Man Sings from the Middle East". I was chosen by a very important television network in the United States to perform the main theme of an important soap opera that has been sold to sixty countries, titled "The Clon". The producer also selected six other songs from my album and they used it as soundtracks for this television series. The soap opera has been very successful in many countries such as Spain, Mexico, some countries of Asia and hopefully, sometime this year, will be broadcast in some countries in the Middle East. The story talks about an impossible love between a woman from the Middle East and a guy from the Occidental world. The production takes place in Marrakesh, Miami and Colombia.

The Gipsy Man Mario Reyes performs at Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Media City - Dusk Terrace on Wednesday, January 26. Entry Dh100, doors open at 8pm.