By Jacob Katel
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By Jose D. Duran
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In the streets of Barcelona, Spain, the word barí means "gem." Barí was the name alternative combo Ojos de Brujo (Eyes of the Wizard) gave to its second album before critics all over Europe began using the same word to describe the songs on it. Shiny and pure like a gemstone, it mined one of the latest overseas trends, combining passionate yet delicate flamenco guitars and vocal soleás and cantes over hip-hop and other funky beats.
On April 13, Barí will finally be released in the U.S. on World Village Records. During the two months from February 12 -- the date of the band's U.S. debut in Miami -- to the day the album hits stores, Ojos de Brujo will have a chance to develop the same kind of word-of-mouth strategy that proved so successful in Spain. But they are in no hurry.
"When you want to control everything, you have to be patient," says flamenco guitarist and Ojos de Brujo founding member Ramón Giménez. "Things have a different pace if you're independent," he offers, to explain their reverse move from mainstream to indie. Edel Records released the first Ojos de Brujo album, Vengue, in 2000. Two years later the band negotiated its independence and released Barí under its own label, La Fábrica de Colores. "Our artistic interests are not compatible with those of a record label; we had to split for our own good," says the guitarist.
Speaking from a rehearsal room in Barcelona, with his voice sometimes overshadowed by those of women -- presumably singer Marina and dancer Loli ordering "Concentration!" to the rest of the musicians -- Giménez weighs in on his band's upcoming adventure. "We're not a traditional flamenco band, and we won't be representing the evolution of the genre," he warns, noting that even though they always begin with flamenco, they tend to move into other genres. "I'll say we'd show you flamenco's rich influences in a whole lot of other styles. Ojos de Brujo is just part of flamenco's expansive wave."
It's no wonder that Giménez, being a Gypsy himself, ended up leading a mestizo band where the Gypsy roots in flamenco gracefully blend with funk and other African-American rhythms. "This is something natural, there's no formula," he says. "Flamenco is so rich that it can easily be mixed. Flamenco bulerías go perfect with funk, tango-flamencos are compatible with reggae, and soleá singing seems to be made for hip-hop.
"I think we've been pioneers in Spain," he adds. "I remember the first reviews and interviews. We were feeling a little insecure after reading that our music was described as a mixture of flamenco and hip-hop. I used to have goose bumps thinking about that," he laughs.
The 34-year-old Giménez came to terms with the musical direction of Ojos de Brujo after it played a couple of jam sessions with co-founder Juanlu in the early Nineties. The original lineup was rounded out with musicians from other bands, such as Macaco, Amparanoia, Los Flamencorro, Amalgama, Aguita Troupe, and Electric Funkdango. Some of these members stayed throughout the process and today complete the official lineup, which includes singer/lyricist Marina Abad, DJ/vocalist Panko, drummer Sergio Ramos, and percussionists Xavi Turull and Max Wright. On tour this core group is augmented with collaborators such as Chilean guitarist Antonio Restucci and dancer Loli.
After its U.S. trip, Ojos de Brujo plans to concentrate on recording its third studio album. It wants to incorporate more electronic sounds as well as work with other DJs and producers. Last December the group put out a remix album called Remezclas de la Casa, produced and mixed by Giménez. This year Ojos de Brujo plans to rework an Asian Dub Foundation song in exchange for a remix by the British group. Giménez describes the two bands' relationship as "love at first sight," a friendship that was sealed during a joint European tour last year.
Friendship will always be the key for Ojos de Brujo. Despite its revolving-door policy, Giménez doesn't think the group will implode and disappear as so many other collective efforts have done in the past. "Basically we're good friends," he says of the band's many members. "While we may or may not have an ending as a band in a near future, we will still be sharing a lot of things, forever."