Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra: Nomadic cumbia

Interview by Michel Rondeau

Five years after Revuelta Danza Party, the Montreal collective that blends cumbia and Balkan music with dance, circus and street arts in an exuberant fairground atmosphere returns with a new album, VelkomBak, the soundtrack to a theatrical show that promises to be full of colour. On the eve of its release, PAN M 360 spoke with GKO director Carmen Ruiz and artistic director Juan Sebastian Mejia.

Genres and styles : Balkan music / Cumbia

Additional Information

Upcoming events

  • Fri 15 May 2020 • 08:00 pm Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra: “VelkomBak” album launch Zoom party -

Photo credit: Nathaniel Huard

PAN M 360: This new project is quite ambitious. How did the creation and composition process go?

Carmen Ruiz: We took the time to think about it, to go deeper into what we wanted to communicate. It took a lot of patience, love and resilience… 

Juan Sebastian Mejia: It’s a beautiful puzzle. If it holds together, it’s thanks to our artistic vision and the values we share, but above all thanks to the great creative freedom of each of our members. And all this creativity is then put into the big, collective pot. 

CR: Our greatest challenge, and at the same time our greatest success – and we’re proud of it – is to be able to present this great diversity while maintaining artistic coherence. 

PAN M 360: Are there any new influences that have been added to your palette since Revuelta Danza Party?

CR: We’re more and more rooted in our cumbiero groove, but our range of influences is even greater, more global. Our cumbia is very nomadic. 

Photo credit: Nathaniel Huard

PAN M 360: This time, you decided to entrust the production to someone outside the orchestra, why?

CR: We are a fairly large collective and our vocation is above all artistic. To help us do our creative work well, we increasingly seek – it’s in our nature – to surround ourselves with collaborators.

So we were looking for someone with an outside point of view, but who can also teach us new things, allow us to meet new artists… and even manage time in the studio.

JSM: And then Christian [Castango] taught us that what we needed to do was to go even further and deeper in our approach. He believes very much in us and in his work, and he has been a great listener. He’s also a recording artist and he loved working at BreakGlass Studio with James Benjamin, the sound engineer. We’re very happy with the studio and producer choices we made.

We also invited two other outside collaborators to take care of the staging of the album, the directors Ricard Soler Mallol and Patrick Léonard from Les 7 Doigts de la Main.

CR: We must not forget either that all this was made possible thanks to the support of the various Canada Council for the Arts, of course, but also of FACTOR and all those who participated in ULULE’s socio-financing campaign, for which we are very grateful.

PAN M 360: And how did the recording sessions go?

JSM: It was memorable. The people at BreakGlass Studios were very welcoming, there was a real family spirit, a spirit of sharing. Everybody was happy to do something beautiful and real together. 

As for Christian, he gave his 110 percent during the 10 days of recording sessions. He knew how to navigate the waters of GKO, and how to steer the boat well throughout the crossing. 

Photo credit: Nathaniel Huard

PAN M 360: You also had a guest, can you tell us about him?

CR: Zilien [Biret] is a guest, but at the same time he’s part of the family. He left the ship a few months before the recording of the album. He decided to follow his creative instincts and his desire to work as a herbalist and move to the country. “Takamaka”, which he plays on the Colombian gaïta hembra [a flute made from a hollowed-out cactus stem], is a bit of a farewell gift to the GKO. 

PAN M 360: Given that the new album is the music for a show with narrative and choreography, do you plan to preview it via Internet streaming, or will you wait until you can present it in front of an audience?

JSM: We will wait. In the meantime, we continue to explore stage possibilities. 

PAN M 360: How do you use this period of confinement to recharge your batteries?

CR: Right now, we’re breathing, we’re trying to accompany each other as best we can, and as a group, we’re trying to listen to each other and respect each other’s way of living this very special moment.  

PAN M 360: What music do you listen to?

JSM: The playlists we created on Spotify and YouTube. We invite you to listen to them too. You can discover some of our references and inspirations for the album.

CR: We hope that in these difficult times, for all of you, VelkomBak can be a breath of strength, hope and desire to continue to imagine the world and dance together.

Come and celebrate the launch of the new album with us in a Zoom event starting at 8 pm.

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