[13 September 2007]
Hailing from musical melting pot, Barcelona, Spain’s Ojos de Brujo have been taking traditional flamenco music and kicking it up several notches since 1999. Fusing the traditional style with hip-hop, jazz, bhangra, and even reggae, the eight-piece outfit could easily share a tour bill alongside the United States’ Ozomatli, another multi-cultural band with hybrid influences and strongly political-based lyrics.
Unlike Ozomatli, however, Ojos de Brujo (translated to mean “eyes of the wizard”, referencing the alchemy of sounds concocted by the band) find their roots more in traditional flamenco than hip-hop. Still boasting a strong hip-hop fusion element, Ojos de Brujo is, without a doubt, very European in their approach, heavily leaning towards Spanish and Gypsy music with a modern twist.
As a companion to their latest full-length studio album, the octet released Techarí Remixes, a digital-only release, available in download format as a supplement to the more traditionally wide-released disc, Techarí. Featuring nine tracks, some of which are two different reinterpretations of the same song by different mix masters, Techarí Remixes is a study in contrast. Not only comparing the remixes and their strikingly different interpretations from the originals on the full length Techarí album, but as to how different, good and bad, the same track can be when worked over by two different artists.
The disc opens up with a mellow, piano version of “Corre Lola Corre,” with Tori Amos-like tinkling serving as a beautiful, emotive backdrop to lead singer Marina “la Canillas” Abad’s chanting and enchanting vocals. With Abad vocals droning slightly, the piano is a wonderful addition, driving the song forward with more of a fragile, crystaline edge, as opposed to the original version’s more Caribbean/calypso roots.
Another single track without a second remixed counterpart on the disc, Britain’s South Indian fusion guru Nitin Sawhney’s redux of “Feedback” altars the tempo of the original and has faint stirrings of traditional Indian music. Vocally, it’s a fun play on the song’s title, with phrasing done in such a way that it cleverly clicks along with the rapid-fire hand clapping beats punctuating the track, echoing one another in true feedback format. Slow jazz piano tinkles along its bridges before strings pipe in to up the ante, adding a dance vibe to the otherwise strictly atmospheric piece, if only for the final 30 seconds or so of the track.
From some of the stand-alone tracks, the original Ojos de Brujo compositions find themselves pairing off before going their separate ways and hooking up with remix artists. As much as the group’s sound plays off of contrasting styles woven together to form a rich, multi-cultural and musical tapestry, the contrasting of reinterpretations underscore even further the elements of the band’s sound that can be picked apart or what stands out for one as opposed to another. Even the same tracks can be remixed in totally different ways, some with astonishing results and others that render the song better left alone in their original incarnation.
London Elektricity Club’s mix of “Silencio” is sonically reminiscent of a mixer on high speed at a carnival, going faster and faster and blurring with each overly-frenetic bar of music with methed-out beats speeding past. And much like an amusement park ride gone awry, it can become a little too much, sending the listener screaming for the nearest funnel cake stand. On the other hand, Max fx’s version of “Silencio” is much more complex and multi-layered. Ojos’ Xavi Turull’s tablas grind out a subtle yet fast beat in the background as the vocal tracks are spiced up by peppery, jazzy horns and deep bass grooves. The remix winds to a close with a sax solo reminiscent of “Flight of the Bumblebee” against Marina’s ethereal vocals, making for a solid and satisfactory remix.
Jim Janik’s reworking of “Sultanas De Merkaíllo” is flavored with surf guitar rumblings that swell amidst the Middle Eastern and American hip-hop beats. This unexpected touch adds an entirely new dimension to the track and conjures images of both brilliant, sun-drenched desert sands, and the ocean rolling onto the sand of a beach.
Novalima’s version of the same song all but negates the track’s Middle Eastern influences, replacing them with more African-styled drum beats blended in with the flamenco sound of Ojos de Brujo’s original. Only the vocal styles and phrasings leave any evidence of the song’s Arabic roots and connotations instead of being enhanced by the track’s background music. While still a good remix, it doesn’t really work, continuity wise, as well as Jim Janik’s version.
The Nasha Experience remix of “Todo Tiende” stretches on for nearly six minutes and robs the song of a lot of the fun of the original, particularly its strong, hip-hop flavouring by nixing Max Wright’s solo spot rap. Instead, the Nasha Experience remix speeds up the frequency of beats, minimizing the vocals so they almost fade into the background, and drags the song out in spite of adding a serious dose of Ritalin to the song’s pace.
On the flipside, Ojos de Brujo’s very own DJ, Panko’s remix of the same track revives “Todo Tiende” by re-inserting and reasserting the rump-shaking hip-hop factor of the piece. Completely infectious and head-bobbing, Panko turns this one into the standout track on Techarí Remixes. The buzzing, low end of the guitar weaves a gypsy thread through the track. Considering Panko’s re-envisioning his own group’s work, it’s obvious how much he understands what facets of a song are necessary to creating a signature sound.
As with any album of remixes, there’s a certain novelty to hearing how songs can be re-imagined by any number of production artists, attempting to improve upon the original. Nevertheless, the trend of remixing songs yields mixed results. Techarí Remixes offers some true gems, building on top of some already strong, original material. Ultimately, remixes are best left up to interpretation by the individual as a matter of taste. What may appeal to one fan may hold no weight with another. However, there’s something to be said for praising some remix artists above others for their ability to create logical extensions of finished pieces of recorded material, adding their own touch, while still maintaining the integrity and ethos of a track.