"The way we work is like cooking," says Mathieu Canavese.

The recipe starts out with the classic French cabaret sound and some Gypsy music -- the happy dancing of accordion, the speedy strumming of acoustic guitar and the steady cha-cha-cha of maracas. Then they sprinkle in the mysterious, enticing sounds of North Africa and a touch of Spanish percussion, et voila` -- the musical pot-au-feu known as Les Negresses Vertes.

"You put the basic idea down and you add some spice and some tricks," says the guitarist and accordion player, "and you get the final meal, called songs."

Canavese knows a lot about tricks. He, his brother, bassist Paulo, and percussionist Gaby le Magnifique started out in the Zingaro Horse Circus in the south of France. In 1987, they left the circus and headed for Paris, where they hooked up with former clown and singer Heino, trombone player Abraham Sirinix, half-Polish trumpeter Michel and keyboardist L'Ami Ro.

As is the French way, the band members traveled to the south for August, where they stayed with their friend Mellino, a fisherman born in Algeria who learned to play acoustic guitar with the Gypsies. Mellino and his friend Zeze, a Spanish-influenced drummer who earned his living collecting shells on the beach, joined the melange.

They started playing for wedding receptions and birthday parties. And like many beginning musicians in Paris, they played in the catacombs of the Metro and in the streets.

"In Paris, you can play in the courtyards between buildings and the people throw coins," says Canavese. "They do this in the summer. And you can win 300 francs {$60} a day!"

They don't play in the courtyards anymore, though. They're selling out week-long stretches at Paris theaters. They're touring around the world, playing to full houses in places such as L.A.'s Roxy. They've recorded one album, "Mlah" ("okay" in Arabic), and have just wrapped up a single for a compilation album that will raise money for AIDS research.

"All these different types of music are exploding now," says Canavese of their quick success. "You can find a lot of little clubs in Paris that have musicians playing flamenco, Gypsy, Brazilian, African, reggae ... everything. And we are a reflection of all of that."

Les Negresses Vertes are performing at the Bayou tomorrow night at 9. Tickets are $10.50 and available at TicketCenter. For information, call 333-2897.