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Bringing ‘Andes-Step’ to the USA

An Interview with Nicola Cruz

Nicola Cruz is an eclectic international producer born in France of South American descent.  He has established himself as an underground icon of South America’s electronic music movement. By bridging local soundscapes from the mountains and jungles with deep latin flavored rhythms and bass heavy beats, Nicola Cruz is bringing the Andean soundscape to dance floors worldwide.

This summer Nicola performed at several popular West Coast musical festivals, including Beloved Festival in Oregon and Symbiosis Gathering in California. We were fortunate enough to meet with Nicola before his set at Symbiosis.  We delved right into his thoughts on why the South American sound has caught our attention in the U.S. and abroad.

He thinks that the “American music scene has lots of different crowds but [he] feels the response has been nice. The American listeners always show [him] a lot of love at shows, which always feels good.” His music “lacks talking but emphasizes unique samples and rhythms from [his] South American roots,” which he believes is becoming more popular in the US.

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Nicola Cruz’s music offers a beautiful balance of sounds, drawing from a verity of sources that reflect his passion for Andean culture and the landscapes, rituals and rhythms that raised him.  His vibrant mix of organic samples and deep rhythms, topped with smooth seamless melodies creates a soundscape for listeners to simultaneously journey into and move the body through.

He feels that the sonic qualities of his music is not just deeply reflective of the world he comes from, but also a personal practice of self-expression.  Thus his music is an example of his own personality, the greater identity of Andean culture and South America at large.

Ultimately, his sound and practice “came natural for [him] while living in Quito. Living there, you are really exposed to music from the mountains (Andes), the coast and the jungle. The mix of environments in Ecuador creates an interesting contrast of sub-cultures and through their soundscapes takes listeners on a whole trip from the jungle to the coast to the mountains.”

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He explained, “I really like to take music from around the country that I find through parties I attend or on vinyl records as well as natural environments, etc. Whatever I can sample from really, At the same time however, I love to record live instruments to create more sounds that I compose organically.”

We wondered if any traditional Andean Music or indigenous instruments inspired his music, but he responded, “not really, only some percussion“. Furthermore, “for me, studying the folklore and folk music is kind of a new thing. When I say that I mean in last 5 years but still I find it to be a new addition in my production. “

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The defining theme for us at Breaking Borders during our Symbiosis coverage was whether festival culture functions as a was to ‘break down borders,’ by bringing people together as one, regardless of cultural differences.  His response was simply, “yeah, well, several years I’ve been playing festivals world-wide so that’s integration right there.”  He symbolizes a new wave of artists who are breaking borders and defying cultural boxes and is the perfect example of an artist who does not fit into a single genre and is difficult to label.

He continued, “I’m known for playing everywhere from large disco clubs to smaller spaces that are more rustic and traditional, there are no limits.” This resonated with us and validated our understanding that the music of Nicola Cruz is an essential reflection of himself and his culture. A reflection which should be heard as personal musical expression, one that blurs genre lines, and returns the focus to the celebration of diversity without judgement of difference.

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We were curious what the future holds for Nicola Cruz and if any new tours, projects or any collabs are on the horizon. He replied, “I will continue to be active internationally with shows coming up in Mexico, Brazil and then back to the U.S for New Years in Los Angeles.” Additionally, “there will also be new compositions since if I don’t have that, I don’t have anything. As for upcoming  collaborations, they are secret right now but I can tell you that I am always working with others.”

As a final question, we asked Nicola if he recommended any global festivals in South America that are similar to Symbiosis. He told us that “Nomad festival in Chile is a good one coming up next year. It contains a strong global fusion element and is always looking to collaborate with people from around the world through volunteering, performance, etc.

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Young in Bagan

The Rapidly Changing Culture of a Modern Myanmar

Bagan is home to Myanmar’s precious “Valley of a Thousand Temples”. It is a place quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen, a landscape that is both barren, and vibrant, and host to an ancient culture that is in the midst of modernization.

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All over Bagan, there are thousands of temples tucked away, hidden between trees and cliffs. These temples, though ancient, are made surprisingly accessible to the public, with some allowing people to climb through their dusty passages. A recent law by the government has now restricted this, in an effort to preserve these beautiful structures.

There are many questions left to be answered regarding this modernization, especially with regards to the new youth of Myanmar, many of whom are now working in the tourism industry, a business that didn’t exist when their parents were their age. Many Burmese people, both young and old, have acknowledged that as Myanmar opens itself up to the world, it is inevitable that change will happen. However, both have expressed sentiments that aim to preserve as much of their traditional culture as they can.  As I walked around the plains of Bagan, meeting with locals and travelers alike, I asked myself, how will Myanmar look in 10 years? It was then, that I met a young Burmese girl, who introduced herself as Ma (younger sister in Burmese). She approached me, with a stack of foreign money in her hand, and asked me where I was from. I told her the United States, and she promptly spoke to me in English. Perfect English, not a word wrong, her accent was impeccable. She reminded me of a highly intelligent young girl in junior high. So what was she doing with a stack of money from all over the world?

“I can speak all of these languages” she told me.

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Ma showed me her collection of money from all over the world, which she has used as a means of educating herself about culture outside of Myanmar, and to make a living.

Every single one?” I looked at the stack, there were bills from all over the world. France, Brazil, England, Chile, China, everyone was accounted for.

I tried Spanish with her, she nailed it. French, again, perfect. Her Portuguese was good enough to get her a job in Rio. I couldn’t believe it. We walked for some time, and she told me how she learned so much.

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Ma, like many Burmese youth, is proud of her heritage, and at the same time, excited to embrace new cultures from all over the world.

“Tourists are my teachers” she said with a smile. Ma has been a tour guide for 5 years, literally starting as soon as the borders opened. In that time, she has worked all around Bagan, hiking from one temple to the next, with a bag full of postcards, and foreign currency.  From sunrise to sunset, this has been her life.  As the tourists come in larger and larger numbers, Ma has seen more and more business. So, how is this influx of global culture affecting young people like Ma?

In a recent study published by Routledge, a publishing company that specializes in providing academic books and journals regarding humanities and social sciences, researchers went to Bagan, and conducted interviews with locals, who described the three biggest changes that they had seen since the opening of the borders. People of all ages agreed on three major areas; the consumption of alcoholthe way thanaka (traditional make-up of the Burmese people) is worn and the perceived importance of marriage (Rich and Franck 334-44). Although, tourism in not alone to blame for these changes. Free access to the Internet has also helped foster a developing mindset in the minds of many young Burmese people, especially with regards to drinking alcohol, and relationships. According to the study, it is in conjunction with modern media formats that Burmese people have been exposed to and have assimilated new cultural identities.

A Burmese boy working in the tourism industry. The new generation of children are experiencing something that their elders never had, the chance to make money in a growing economy.
A Burmese boy working in the tourism industry. The new generation of children are experiencing something that their elders never had, the chance to make money in a growing economy.

There are undoubtedly benefits to tourism, and most locals do agree that those benefits are very important to providing new opportunities for the next generation. Many young men and women are now able to afford luxuries that their parents could not have thought possible at their age, and many more are able to attend schools now. Whatever future these changes hold in store for Myanmar, it is important to learn from the successes and failures of nearby destinations like Thailand and Cambodia. Will Bagan’s Valley of a Thousand Temples someday have backpacker ghettos lined up across it’s plains? Will the environment suffer the way it has in some parts of Thailand? These questions are left to the people of Myanmar to manage, and to hopefully, resolve. Either way, it is a fascinating time to be young in Bagan ;a time when the new generation is setting out to define itself, and decide what direction it wants this new Myanmar to go.

 

Source Citation:
Rich, Anna-Katharina, and Anja K. Franck. “Tourism Development in Bagan, Myanmar: Perceptions of Its Influences upon Young Peoples’ Cultural Identity.” Tourism Planning & Development 13.3 (2015): 333-50. Print.

For anyone interested in reading more about Myanmar, here are some interesting books to check out:

The River of Lost Footsteps, Thant Myint-U. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.

Freedom from Fear, Kyi, Aung San Suu. London: Viking, 2009.

Breaking Borders With The Brooklyn Gypsies

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”

 

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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.

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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?

img_6983Sin 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.

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Photo by Carolina Iwanow

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.

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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

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Lightning in a Bottle

Intro by Rourke Healey. Photos by Nick Neumann.


Over Memorial Day Weekend the Breaking Borders team kicked off the festival season by trekking down to Bradly, CA to experience Lightning in A Bottle. Taking place on the shores of a dry lakebed half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, LIB is one of California’s premiere transformational music festivals.

This year marks Breaking Borders 4th LIB, giving us the chance to reflect on how far LIB has come and how it has kept the magic that makes it special.

For the uninitiated LIB blends the musical attractions of Coachella with the DIY spirit of Burning Man. Veteran burners with U-hauls and sprawling encampments party next weathered hippies and bros camping in their pick up trucks. Yoga enthusiasts wake up early to attend crowded classes, while house heads stumble back to camp after long nights of dancing. More than anything LIB is filled with good-looking weird people that enjoy being themselves.

At LIB there isn’t one party. For those that need to dance, the music goes all night. For the early birds that wake at sunrise for yoga, it is there. And for some, they can do it all. Yogis acknowledge their hungover participants on Saturday morning, but withhold judgment. An unconscious cloud of acceptance surrounds the entire experience.

This was LIB’s third gathering at Lake San Antonio and its largest edition since it started 16 years ago in Los Angeles. With more people came larger crowds and more traffic, but somehow the energy and feeling of a small community remained. It seems LIB has learned how to sell out without selling out.

As it grows, the spirit of LIB evolves and spreads with it. LIB effortlessly teaches newcomers how to join the vibe as it overwhelms them, consuming each with positivity, and gently forcing them to participate. The bridges were a constant chain of high fives, the campsites a breeding grounds for sharing, and the inviting nature of strangers everpresent.

The DO LaB has a knack for bringing in music you didn’t know you loved. Each stage has a distinct sound and energy – the Woogie is a house lover’s heaven; the Thunder stage is LIB’s home of bass. Watching the crowd glow to Lee Burridge’s sunset set at the Woogie on Sunday you could feel the DO LaB’s dedication to finding artists that fit each stages personality.

Highlights from the Thunder stage included the Desert Dwellers extravagant live experience, Tokimosta’s genre-less remixes and The Polish Ambassadors liquid grooves. The Lightning stage hosted many of the live ‘headliners’ this year, from Grimes to Chet Faker’s closing set. It was a hotspot for late afternoon tunes as well with Marian Hill and Lafa Taylor getting the crowd into it. And of course, the Woogie kept on doing its thing, even with a few edits to the fabled treehouse. Each day the Woogie got started early with the help of Dirtybird’s own Sascha Robotti and Justin Jay. The booty-shaking bass didn’t slow down much all weekend thanks to andhim, Four Tet and Guy Gerber’s closing late Sunday.

The LIB ethos encourages all to reflect, rejuvenate, and celebrate (and dance). By Sunday evening it seems those who got lost have been found, those experiencing LIB with love ones have grown closer and those entering alone have found a family.

Unlike other festivals you won’t find people pouring over set times or rushing to stages. Instead people wander about, popping into a particularly lively cooking lesson, pausing at the subtly profound live painting, popping into the Favela Bar for a dance party or slowing down to walk with a new friend they’ve made.

For half a century California has made itself home to conscientious hedonism. Now, in this new age of festivals, LIB sets itself apart as a worthwhile pilgrimage. Filling the golden hills with beautiful sounds and an inclusive spirit, LIB will remind you of the power of human creativity and your own self worth.

Finding Familiarity in the Land of Anarchy

A Guide to the Capital of Somaliland

By Karsten Potts


Hargeisa, Somalia

Tucked away in northern Somalia, Hargeisa is truly a hidden treasure. Whether your want to explore the vast, vibrant markets, or chill at a coffee shop this city has something for you.

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Hargeisa is the capital of a breakaway region called Somaliland, which is located in Northern Somalia.  When Somalia collapsed in 1990, Somaliland declared independence from the rest of the country and formed its own government.  Although Southern Somalia is still ravaged by war, here in the north, the war ended 20 years ago.  Although the government of Somaliland is not internationally recognized, it has managed to keep the peace, provide public services and hold elections which were widely considered free and fair.

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The city of Hargeisa offers much of what one would expect when traveling in the Horn of Africa. If you feel like exploring the classic aspects of Hargeisa, there are markets, local restaurants and a livestock bazaar. In the central market travelers can find anything from exotic desert goods such as frankincense, myrrh and handcrafted items to everyday clothing, furniture and modern products like cell phones and TVs. It’s a good place to practice your bartering skills.

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If you are feeling more adventurous, you can venture out to Saylada where livestock is traded. There are hundreds of animals, mostly camels and goats, and dozens of traders bartering as the animals mill about. Closer to the city there are many small restaurants and tea stands, where you can sit for hours talking to locals and relaxing in the warm desert air. The tea they serve here tastes like the chai lattes sold at Starbucks, but one cup costs only $0.25. Some of the more familiar dishes are chicken or goat served with rice or pasta, and some of the bolder options include camel liver, and cow stomach. Keep in mind, while some venues do have silverware, it is much more common to eat with your hand–so why not give it a try!

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The Unexpected

The most shocking thing about Hargeisa, however, is not the exotic allure of the unknown, but the surprising familiarity of some of the features of the city. The first and most important is the peace. Technically, Hargeisa is located in Northern Somalia, which has been a name synonymous with war and anarchy. You will find neither in Hargeisa. The war here ended 20 years ago. I felt safe walking around the city until around at least 11:00 pm in downtown,  It is so safe that money changers leave piles of cash at their stands when they go to pray at the Mosque. As long as you practice basic common sense, you will be safe. One time, when I was walking down the street a man asking for money became very persistent and grabbed my arm. Immediately, five other people around me started shouting at him and came over, not leaving my side until he left and they were sure I would be safe.

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This leads to the next treasure of the city, the people living there. The people in Hargeisa are incredibly friendly. Don’t be surprised if people call out to you while you are walking down the street. Ninety nine percent of the time, they just want to talk, practice their English, and want to know what you think about the city. If you need directions, people are more than willing to give them. If they do not speak enough English to help you out, they will find somebody who does. The next surprise is the relative prosperity and obvious economic potential. The growth here is staggering. You will see modern office buildings and hotels under construction, the first shopping malls are beginning to open in the city (not anywhere near the scale of the Mall of America, but shopping malls nonetheless). They even sell frappachinos and paninis at some of the new coffee shops.

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This growth is all the more impressive considering it all happened mostly the last decade. Toward the beginning of the war Siad Barre flattened the city in a series of bombing raids. Instead of sinking into despair, the people of Somaliland built a new city from the ruins and Hargeisa is now one of the safest places in East Africa. Beyond the physical signs of prosperity, the telecommunications infrastructure is on par with the United States.

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There is amazing cell phone coverage that is affordable. You can buy a SIM card as soon as you get off the plane, and as a result of the competition between coverage providers in the country, minutes are very cheap. I spent around $5 the entire trip for local and international calling and texting. You can buy a phone or bring your own unlocked one, insert your SIM card and be on your way.  As far as internet, you can choose from 3G or internet cafes, and almost every hotel has free wifi. If you are wondering what currency to use, don’t worry, almost everyone accepts dollars. Even if they don’t, there are dozens of money exchange booths in the city center.  There is even an electronic payment system that you can access through the cell network. Shoppers can buy things at most stores without even using cash.  If you prefer to use Somaliland Shillings, however, just keep in mind that you might need to bring a backpack, a day at the market may require a few bricks of currency.

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 Notes:

• It is nearly impossible to transfer money directly from the United States to Somaliland. You must bring all the cash you need (bring small, new bills)

• Dress modestly. This means no tank tops for guys (even if you see locals doing it) and longer garments for women.

• Sometimes it is necessary to barter at smaller vendors