Interview with Brooklyn Gypsies
After discovering the Brooklyn Gypsies earlier this year at Ozora Festival in Hungary, we were thrilled to see them perform again at Symbiosis Gathering right here in California. This unique global fusion group caught our attention with their incredible, multicultural stage performances and powerful message of “sin fronteras” (without borders) which resonates strongly with our mission here at Breaking Borders. The New York based Brooklyn Gypsies are an emerging collaboration project consisting of six urban nomads each deriving from an international origin with their own ancestral roots in gypsy music. The fusion of their individual styles and performances is apparent as soon as the group hits the stage, creating a syncretic new sound of “future roots” live- tronic music.
We are grateful to conduct an interview with Troy Simms, a founding member of the Brooklyn Gypsies who plays alto and soprano saxophone. He spoke on behalf of the group, sharing with us how they began and the collective intention behind their sound. Troy also offers meaningful reflections on world fusion music today and how it’s becoming stronger through global festival culture. Have a listen and let the sounds of the Brooklyn Gypsies take you back to your nomadic roots while at the same time attract your modern ears while get the body moving with their live-tronic instrumentation and bassy beats.
“As a multicultural global fusion band we draw from our rich ancestral roots and end up discovering how much more alike we are then different”
Breaking Borders: Brooklyn Gypsies are a collaboration of diverse musicians representing different musical and cultural backgrounds. How did you form as a group? What inspired you to start performing together?
Brooklyn Gypsies: The formation of Brooklyn Gypsies was inspired by our collective interest in fusing various genres of gypsy music (Balkan, Middle Eastern, Flamenco) with that of Hip Hop, Reggae Dub Dancehall and Electronic music. I had been producing under the name Mobius Collective in NYC since 2002 and later released a single entitled “Gypsy Cab” in 2012 featuring Carmen Estevez. Gypsy Cab was the first incarnation of what would soon develop into Brooklyn Gypsies as it fuses an Ethiopian inspired horn melody with Carmen’s Flamenco cajon and vocals.
We soon assembled a band to perform this new brand of fusion and released our first single “Fafisa” recorded and produced by Takuya Nakamura at the former Studio BPM in Williamsburg BK. Zeb aka The Spy From Cairo was a producer whom I’d wanted to collaborate with especially since he’s been such a major influence within the genre over the years with various releases to his name. So when the choice came to pick a producer to remix our first single he was our first choice. Soon after he would join the group on the ancient Arabic stringed instrument The Oud adding another ancestral dimension to our sound. Our drummer Brandon Lewis aka B-Riddimz is a major contributor on the drums as well as beat production. Fatima Gozlan is our most recent member on Arabic percussionist and Ney flute joining us after our Ozora Festival debut last year in Hungary. BK Gypsies currently represents 5 different countries including U.S.A, Spain, Japan, Italy & Hungary. The diverse cultural backgrounds of the members inevitably comes through in our productions and performances.
Your album concept “sin fronteras” is a very important message that is reflected in your music. It also resonates with our mission of cross cultural connection and exploration. Can you tell us about it’s significance and origin?
Sin Fronteras means “without borders” in Spanish and is a message we strongly believe in especially considering the current times we are living in. This is the title track on our album in which Carmen wrote the lyrics and Zeb composed the music. The recent political rhetoric of building walls and alienating people based on where they were born and their religious beliefs is precisely why this message needs to be spread. As a multicultural global fusion band we draw from our rich ancestral roots and end up discovering how much more alike we are then different.
You’re an emerging global fusion group that’s become popular in the global festival scene. What do you feel has been the driving force behind your success?
The release of our album last year on Wonderwheel Recordings put us on global festivals radar such as Ozora festival in Hungary which we had the honor of playing the last two years and Symbiosis Gathering this past September in Oakdale, California. This project has an incredible resiliency as the setup has had to change many times, yet the ability to deliver a strong stage show has become increasingly consistent. As a result we have discovered new musical combinations and concepts within the group that in turn keep the project new and evolving. I also feel we are bridging a gap in the global fusion genre that connects the bellydancers and dancehall queens. We are still just scratching the surface, but audiences have been responding with a real sense of appreciation. It’s future roots for music.
What’s your opinion on the independent music and art scene today, specifically within global festival culture?
There seems to be a growing appreciation for independent music and art, especially within the global festival scenes that we’ve participated in recently, most notably Ozora Festival’s Dragon Nest stage and Symbiosis Silk Road Stage, which curate their programs with a focus on folk and global fusion. These festivals allow for audiences to discover up and coming artis, and in turn give independent artist a world class platform to make an impact and gain a wider fan base.
Do you see festival culture functioning in a way that challenges to “break down” social norms? And if so, in what way?
The sense of community and brotherhood we’ve experienced at various festivals is amazing, from the organizers and fellow artist to the festival goers. We’ve lost cell phones and wallets and gotten them all back in the course of a festival, which gave me a glimpse of how a multicultural mash up of strangers can live and party in harmony. Everyone is there for that ultimate frequency that dissolves societies boundaries and awakens the power of a sense of unity.
Symbiosis is a unique global gathering, what makes it special to you and how does it stand out among other similar events?
Symbiosis was Brooklyn Gypsies first festival debut on the west coast where we were blessed to be included amongst the premier projects of global fusion and world music. The response was overwhelmingly positive during and after our set. We have toured more outside the states then within so performing at Symbiosis opened up a whole new market we are looking forward to tapping into.
Any new projects or tours to look forward to?
This year on our tour we visited the homeland of each of the members which included Spain, Hungary & Italy. Next year we are looking to return to Europe as well as our gypsy brother Takuya’s hometown in Japan! Southeast Asia and India has been calling our attention as well with the likes of Bali and Goa. As far as new music, we have a upcoming EP to be released early next year 2017. All tour dates and release info will be posted on our website: brooklyngypsies.com