LongDistance | Harmonia Mundi
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"When God gave out everything on the earth -- land, houses, cattle -- dark-skinned Kaloomé, a gypsy and pariah but brashly confident traveler, arrived too late. He must have been asleep under a hedge at the time everything was distributed so he got nothing. God was annoyed. He couldn't change mankind's destiny but had a soft spot for those people who were condemned to lives of endless wandering and poverty. So he gave them music and song. Today Kaloomé the gypsy has stepped into the light and shade of those sun-drenched towns in the warm South though he's often been confined to the darkest corners of the inner city. Yet he doesn't complain. His music speaks for him, telling of the wind that never lets up, the vanished orchards, the squalid pavements, the calm nights, the juergas around the fire."

Like Tekameli and Los Rumberos Catalans, the Rumba Gitan formations from Perpignan and Roussilion in Southern France -- and the related Gipsy Kings and Chico & The Gipsies from Arles and Barrio Chino from Marseilles -- Kaloomé is planted in the same tradition. Led by Antoine 'Tato' Garcia, Tekameli's former front man, singer and guitarist, the group's vocal contingent further includes Ramon Pubill, dancer Sabrina Romero and Algerian drummer Madjid Benyagoub. Caroline Bourgenot adds violin, Josèp Pubill hand percussion, David Argeles guitar and Guillaume Bouthié double bass and piano. From "kalo" (the dark-skinned one, a global reference to gypsies) and "omé (depth of the soul), this newest group from Perpignan mixes Moorish and Arabian styles in a very earthy and authentic style that completely lacks the Pop gloss of Alabina and The Gypsy Kings.

Most of the 14 numbers are original material but arrangements of an Atahualpa Yupanqui and El Potito tune appear as well. The vocals of Kaloomé are glorious, with alternating leads and powerful harmonizing that occasionally recall Spanish super group Ketama. The solo violin often stands in for the Flamenco-flavored lead guitar to introduce unexpected flavors and Madjid's Khaled-style guttural African singing connects France to the greater melting pot of southern cultures. Kaloomé's refreshing and energetic brand of playing reminds me most of Thierry 'Titi' Robin's stunning vagabond group that freely mixes payos and Gypsies and even includes Gujarati influences. Unlike the aging Gipsy Kings whose voices are worn and hoarse from their carefree way of singing, Kaloomé's are fresh, brilliant and fiery still. Listening to them is falling head over heels, under the age-old spell of dreaming to live on the Mediterranean sea, looking to Morocco, Turkey, Greece and the Arabian peninsula for heady fragrances carried on a warm summer wind.