It's no surprise that there are hundreds of talented bands of all different calibers in NYC. I have seen more bands than I can count, but I have to say no band has struck a chord in me quite like the Brooklyn Gypsies. Comprised of a line-up of incredible professional musicians including executive chief Troy Mobiuscollective, Moreno Visini (The Spy from Cairo), Brandon Lewis (B-Riddimz), Takuya Nakamura, and a handful of rotating musicians including, but not limited to, Ilker çıracı and Fatima Gozlan, the Brooklyn Gypsies are truly an incredible group of talent with unmatchable composition. The supergroup combines an array of elements, including world music, flamenco, Arabic style, reggae, and electronics, creating a global fusion that takes their audience to a new land. We sat down with lead vocalist and percussionist Carmen Estevez Calero (CaneliBeat) to talk about what it is like to be an immigrant musician in the era of Trump.
So you are an amazingly talented musician who clearly pulls a lot of influence from flamenco. Tell me a bit about your background in music.
I've listened to and played all types of music since I was a little kid. I love music that moves me and makes me fly somewhere. Of course, I love flamenco music—it's in my blood, and I can't deny that whatever I'm singing or playing, I have that flamenco touch that comes just naturally. But I also love "World"-type of music, Arabic music like Gnawa, Afrobeat, dub, hip-hop, electronic, jazz, funk…we have so many names today to catalog music that I really get too lazy to name them all, LOL.
How has growing up in Spain affected your view on the music you create?
It's really interesting to me that before I came to NYC back in 2008, I didn't play much flamenco. You know when someone says, "You don't miss your land until you are outside of it?" I think that because I was in Spain, I was more into exploring other types of music that I guess felt more exotic for me, like Afro-Cuban, funk, jazz… Then I came to NYC, and after less than a year, I started having strong and deep feelings about my cultural heritage, to the point that I started my own flamenco/jazz trio called Flamenkina, where I could be free to release my nostalgia. Then, this fusion style became my signature as an artist here in NYC, and I also learned how to mix and develop this style within any type of music I've performed during the years. So by the time I became part of the Brooklyn Gypsies, I already had a very clear concept of myself as an artist, and it was just the perfect piece for this multicultural puzzle where U.S.A, Spain, Japan, Italy, Hungary, and Turkey unite.
Our last album, Sin Fronteras (Without Borders), is a message that we strongly believe, especially considering the current times we are living in. The recent 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. The message of our new EP—Desobeciencia (Disobey)—is actually the result of all these years carrying the message for a world with no borders, but in a more angry dimension. I was feeling like after all this time, nothing had really changed, and it's gotten terribly worse in the last five years. Now, we have even more walls than before, which makes me want to open my mouth wider. All around the world, a neo-fascist wave is taking over the population, and people are more lost than ever. This is a mess, and in my heart, the only thing I strongly believe today is to disobey the system. As Gandhi would say, "If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so." I strongly believe that today is time to start making riskier decisions for a bigger, global, and common purpose, beyond our own personal and individual comfort—like many other times in history. This is one of them, it's not even new. And it all will depend on how we can change our individual perspective about what it means to have a "better world."
What kind of advice do you have for your artists from around the world who are trying to make their way in a country that often rejects them?
Some artists I know have asked me, "Well, why you are still coming to the USA if you are totally against this system?" It's not the first time I've heard that. I don't like any country's current system. For me, it doesn't matter where my physical body is when I create music, perform, or spread a message. I personally took the risk of going back to Spain three years ago, after seven years in NYC, where I had my life all settled with regular gigs and my professional music life was just flowing fine. But I missed my family, the way we live in my country, the way we feed any kind of relationship, my roots… Every time I come to the USA after that, I get more and more hard times/vibes at immigration… Always asking you so many questions about what the hell are you coming to do in this country. Yeah, it's rough. But I don't care, I'm still gonna try to go wherever I want until they don't let me in anymore, if that ever happens. There are a few types of visa you can try to get so they let you be more free. It's a pain to get it, but it's very possible, you just have to do your homework for a few months till you get it, and then that's it. We all did it. At least you can always decide if you want to stay or not. Every artist who wants to come to the USA to taste the flavor of it should try to get a visa at some point. It's all about how much you want to work on it.
Take a listen to the Brooklyn Gypsies' new album Desobedienca here and catch them this Sunday, November 25 at DROM NYC for their EP release party.
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Janeth Ann Gonda is currently the events and promotions manager at BUST Magazine, a singer, dancer, writer, and event planner living in Brooklyn, NY. She is currently the lead singer in the Gypsy Witch Rock Band Espejismo. After working in the Brooklyn music industry for several years she created her own event space Barranquilla Studios. Janeth has hosted hundreds of bands and fans alike and is an active member in the NYC music community.