Antwerp Gipsy Ska Orkestra
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Antwerp Gipsy Ska Orkestra

Antwerpen, Flanders, Belgium | INDIE

Antwerpen, Flanders, Belgium | INDIE
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- Tuttilegal (2007)
- I Lumia Mo Kher (2011)



How is it that the Antwerp Gipsy-Ska Orkestra has left a trail of scorched stages, dumbfounded purists and crowds which have been whipped into a frenzy across Europe, from the south to the Balkans? Possibly because these formerly illegal globetrotters pimp their clash of sizzling hot gipsy and fast ska with trashy horns and fat beats? Their second album I Lumia Mo Kher - Serbian Romani for: The World Is My House – is teeming with energy, ambition and an appetite for life. Gipsy-ska never sounded this original and dazzling before!

“Antwerp gipsies in the house, so watcha watcha watcha want
Antwerp gipsies in the house, we play for you
Hear the gipsies, hear the boys, hear the rhythms speak
The floor will burn, so get up and dance if you don’t want to get burned”

Bašalaja (freely translated from Romani)

I Lumia Mo Kher marks the new course that the Antwerp Gipsy-Ska Orkestra has charted for itself. Guitar player Mukti Gabriels explains: “After a few years of testing the waters and experimenting we have now found our sound”. “Our debut, Tuttilegal (2007) sounded rather acoustic and introverted. DJs really couldn’t do much with it at the time. The new album is more dynamic and the Balkan beats, loops and samples are more apparent.”

But Tuttilegal (2007) did not exactly go unnoticed. The album entered the German Radio College charts on 2 – between Oasis and Metallica! – with rave reviews for the group and performances throughout Europe. The Antwerp Gipsy-Ska Orkestra became a favourite festival act in no time at all.

The genesis of this collective explains the unusual crossover of styles. Originally the Antwerp Gipsy-Ska Orkestra was an intercontinental family, with roots in Belgium, Serbia, Chile and Argentina. Its members were or are active in numerous other configurations, including Ambrassband, Donkey Diesel, Murga Armada, Gregor Terror & The Calypso Gigolos, Nathan Daems Quintet, Laïs, Belgian Asociality and Think Of One.

“Before this Mukti and I played in a ska-punk band”, says singer Gregor Engelen. “After that fell apart I discovered gipsy music through Emir Kusturica’s films. So I decided to start experimenting with the combination of gipsy and ska and this sound, which is continuously evolving, was the outcome. Although we do call ourselves the Antwerp Gipsy-Ska Orkestra our music also draws on drum ‘n bass, samba and dubstep. You need to constantly think of new angles to be original in the Balkan beats world.”

But the Antwerp Gipsy-Ska Orkestra prides itself on being a real live group. “Even if you take away all the electronics the sound is still there. And anyway, not all our songs sound electronic”, Mukti hastens to add. He is proud that I Lumia Mo Kher includes some contributions by a number of renowned gipsy musicians. No artificial collaborations, but the inevitable consequences of warm backstage friendships.

“We know these musicians personally”, Gregor emphasizes. “Kocani Orkestar from Macedonia joined us on Roma Project. Marko Markovic, the son of Serbian trumpet player, Boban Markovic played on Bašalaja. The technique of these guys is unbelievable. Miles Davis once said about Markovic: ‘I didn’t know you could play the trumpet like this’. The day after his gig in Antwerp Marko Markovic joined us in the studio. He is one of those young guys who digs what we are doing with gipsy music. Instead of their traditional music they also want to play innovative stuff like we do. Gipsy music is dance music.”

“You don’t like gipsy-reggae?
I will shed no tears
Go listen to Britney Spears”

No Disco Boy

The Antwerp Gipsy-Ska Orkestra’s approach is adventurous, unique and groundbreaking. “I don’t think we need to be too modest about it”, says Mukti. “Everyone thinks that every possible cross-pollination has already been tried and tested but we think that we are really pioneers in this genre, who are doing something different and new with this style.”

Gregor likes to illustrate his point with Roma Project. “This is Romany gipsy-hiphop inspired by, the group which represented the Czech Republic at the Eurovision Song Contest. So we started thinking about making a gipsy song with a hiphop beat. The Kocani Orkestar’s musicians played the rhythms with their baritone tubas. Real crossover, in other words. The audience goes crazy every time we play it live.”

Is the Antwerp Gipsy-Ska Orkestra venturing on thin ice with this crossover? So what? The future belongs to the brave. The group has even ventured into the lion’s den thanks to its solid live reputation. In last few years the Antwerp Gipsy-Ska Orkestra was even invited to the International Romani Art Festival in Romania. At the prestigious Sziget Festival in Budapest the group whipped the Roma tent into a frenzy as the only non-Eastern European act among renowned traditional gipsy orchestras.

“At Sziget we were approached by the director of an old Bulgarian gipsy orchestra who told us that we are doing som