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Ciari was born in Nice on the French Riviera in 1944. He started to play guitar when he was 11, and by 16 he was proficient enough to join a rock group, Les Champions, featuring himself on lead guitar along with Jean-Claude Chane (singer), Alain Santamaria (guitar), Daniel Kaufman (bass guitar), and Willy Lewis (drums). Les Champions, with a sound closer to the Jordanaires than the more popular instrumental groups of the era, recorded several singles, and even toured France with Gene Vincent in October 1962. Les Champions were not very original, and Ciari became frustrated when the band decided to become the support band for French singer Danyel Gerard.

Ciari left the group in 1964, and began his career as a solo artist. Solo success was immediate – his first album included an instrumental rhumba, "La Playa," which caught on in the bossa nova fervor of the time and became a big hit in France and over 40 other countries. At 20 years old, Ciari had sold several million records, and began a prolific and acclaimed career. The first Batacuda's Seven LP, recorded in 1970, was his first dedicated to exploring Latin music, and gained him many more devoted followers in Latin America. He recorded many charting albums and singles, and toured extensively. In 1974 he decided to move to Tahiti, exploring Polynesian music while performing throughout Southeast Asia. Ciari fell in love with a fashion model while touring Japan, and subsequently moved to that country and married her. Ciari and his new wife started a family immediately, having two children within a few years of their wedding.

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