Antwerp Gipsy-Ska Orkestra
Interview with Mukti Gabriels

Your new album „I Lumia Mo Kher“ is full of energy. It sounds as if it captures a band performing live. What do you prefer more: playing live in front of audiences or recording in a studio?

We’re a live band, there can be no doubt about that. We love the interaction you get during a live show. We bring loads of energy to the stage, the crowd picks up on that and feeds us back more energy. On a great show this just keeps building up to a climax. Sounds a lot like sex now that I think about it… Of course we like making albums as well, and both our CD ’s are efforts to capture the live energy of the band. The first time we didn’t really succeed, but the new album is really the bomb! It all depends on working with the right people. This album was produced by Michael Zimmerling, a German who worked out of Japan and London. He was the sound engineer for bands like Depeche Mode, Madness, Grace Jones, Nina Hagen, and many others.

You have been around since 2004. I guess you have probably played in places all over Europe. Is there any special concert or location/crowd that still sticks out among all others? If yes, why!?

We’ve played a concert in Siberia this summer, near the border with Mongolia. We were received almost as if we were the Beatles in their young days; loads of photographers at the airport, dinner with the Minister of Culture, ... The most awesome about the entire experience was how hungry the people were for our music. In Europe we are so spoiled with all kinds of media that many of us are somewhat desensitized; been there, done that… you know? In Siberia the people were just openly ecstatic to hear something completely new. That was really inspiring to us.

Over the past two decades or so it has become more and more popular to include musical spices from the Balkan. I am thinking of bands/artists like Balkan Beat Box, Bucovina Club Orkestar, Miss Platnum or you as examples. What is the reason for that from your point of view?

Most music that we know from pop to jazz to classical uses the same building blocks, 12 notes to be precise. Balkan, Indian and Arab music uses different notes and that’s what makes it so special. This spice is an acquired taste, people gradually get used to it. There was a time not long ago when very few people from the West could appreciate these other sounds, but people are always looking for something new so it was only logical that a bridge was made. Through the use of small samples in the beginning, this music infiltrated our radio stations and more and more of us learned to appreciate it. It’s really great that we have enriched our culture in this way.

From your point of view and especially for your music, would you say that crossover-style has an inherent limit, a borderline which should not be crossed?

I don’t think so, no. It is important to have a sound that is recognizable, so in that way we are bound I guess. But our 2 albums are a pretty good example of how different you can approach a concept like gipsy-ska. There is no limit to the imagination and we incorporate any other style or rhythm that we want. We try out lots of stuff, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

The Antwerp Gipsy-Ska Orkestra is a pretty huge band. Do you all compose? Or are there a few main composers or leaders who define where the band goes?

Most of us compose but none of us come to the rehearsal with complete songs. To make this work we have learned to bring ideas to the rehearsal and work on them together as a band. Some songs are changed a thousand times before we’re finally happy with them.

The artwork of your new album is awesome – a mixture of vintage and modern styles! Who did it and what did you as a band want to express with it?

Both our albums are designed by Gerard Leysen from Afreux. He is a great artist so we don’t interfere much with the creative process. We just ask him to work around the title, in this case ‘The world is our house’. What I like most about it is that he brings yet another dimension to the title. For us it stands for the way of life of the travelling gipsies and how that relates to us as a band wanting to tour the entire world. In his work I see the message that all people are part of the earth and that it is our house in that way as well. But since it’s art anyone can interpret it in their own way.

What projects have you got in the pipeline?

We’re working on new songs, some of which we’re already playing live. And we’re thinking about collaborations with artists we really like but… that remains a secret until it’s really happening.

Interview: Karsten Frehe (9/2011)