March 9, 2007

Ojos de Brujo: Conjuring the Spirit of the Gypsies with “Techarí”

By James Klein

Breathtakingly innovative and yet faithful to their most ancient roots, Ojos de Brujo stands out as one of the truly original groups of the new millenium. They hail from the thriving sonic melting pot of Barcelona, and yet exist in a class of their own; between their vibrant, bewitching musicality, radical, contemporary edge.

Their third, long-awaited album, Techarí, was released in the US on February 20th.. It is an ambitious, self-produced journey, recorded both abroad in Cuba and New York as well as in a studio at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains, close to the birthplace of Salvador Dalí.

Ojos de Brujo kicks off their 2007 North American tour on June 20 to July 1 in select cities including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Toronto, and Montreal.

From the Musical Underground of Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona has been a natural center of musical exploration since the explosion of rumba Catalana in the late 1950’s, when Andalucian immigrants started to incorporate Cuban rhythms from the golden age of big orchestras. It’s therefore fitting that Ojos de Brujo’s roots lie in one of Europe’s most culturally diverse and exciting Mediterranean cities, but that they tend to receive the most ecstatic reception in the south, where flamenco was born.

The band started as a series of regular jam sessions for some of the city’s more open-minded young musicians. When percussionist Xavi Turull first came across the other band members, they were still a loose anarchist musical collective. The elder statesman of ODB, Turull had been in the seminal flamenco fusion band Amalgama, but after the band split he moved back to Barcelona. His arrival didn’t go unnoticed, and he was soon asked to join the jam sessions and help get the band moving.

The pivotal figure of the group was, and always has been, flamenco guitarist Ramón Giménez. A gypsy by birth, he had flirted with several bands and genres —including hip hop and heavy metal— before joining forces with Xavi, striking singer Marina ‘la Canillas’ Abad, mischievous keyboardist and scratch alchemist DJ Panko, drummer Sergio Ramos, percussionist/vocal magician Maxwell Wright, Malagueño flamenco guitarist Paco Lomeña, and bassist Javi Martin.

Conjuring the Spirit of the Gypsies

The name Ojos de Brujo translates as “Eyes of the Wizard.” “We chose this because we think of wizards, witches, and sorcerers as the people who have more vision than the rest of the population. They are more aware of what is going on in this screwed-up world. And we think that music – and every other art form –should be trying to help make the world become more conscious and aware. Also, ‘brujo’ is a word strongly connected to flamenco. Gypsies have always had their witches and wizards protecting them.”

The gypsy spirit runs though the core of the band, and guitarist Ramon is the spiritual guru in that department. “We don’t like globalization because it’s trying to destroy minority cultures,” says Xavi. “We think every minority culture has something special to offer, and we shouldn’t lose all this wisdom from all these ancient cultures all around the world.”

In 2005, the band gave a new name to their Spanish record label, Diquela, a gypsy word which means: ‘look!’ or ‘check it out.’ “It’s a new period,” says Xavi. “One of the pressures of success is to look for ways to stay true. And we are really trying to find a way to be free. That’s why the new album’s called Techarí, because it means ‘free’ in the gypsy language.”

New Forms of Musical Expression

Ojos de Brujo were creating a new style of music, and people reacted to it. They would work with DJ’s scratching in flamenco rhythms, and on the flip side take flamenco into an urban arena. During their concerts they’d go from hip hop to jazz, to rock, ragga, funk, and all kinds of Latin, East Asian, and Hindi directions. “The parameters were so wide, and I think that was what made people really crazy about what we did,” says Xavi.

Work on Techarí started at the end of March 2005 and was completed at the end of October. In between the band did two international tours, which stop-started the recording process. “Recording and touring at the same time was a little crazy, but the result is amazing,” says Xavi. “We are finally at a point where the sound is exactly the way we want.”

Keeping the creative process free remains the heart and soul of the collective. “We don’t ever really know what we’re going to do,” Xavi laughs. “We all come with fresh ideas, and it’s down to all of us if we decide to use them or not. It makes the process really slow and complicated, but the end result is so rich. It’s the result of eight people putting all their feelings, knowledge, and wisdom together.”

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