What is Gypsy Music?  

and other FAQ’s



What kind of music does Fishtank Ensemble play?

Gypsy music is music of the Roma (Romani or Gypsy) people. It should be noted that the word ‘gypsy’ often has a negative connotation, and the Romani people would never use this term to refer to themselves. Therefore it is preferable to refer to them as they refer to themselves, as ‘Roma’.  (Please see this website, The Voice of Roma, for a much more thorough discussion of this topic)

The Roma are a diverse ethnic group originating from the Indian plateau and spreading throughout the Near-East, Europe and North Africa on a journey that has lasted at least 1500 years maybe much longer.  They have been known by many names in the various lands they have inhabited such as Tsigane, Zigeuner, Gitano, Bohemian, Egyptian, Gypsie, gipsy and of course, gypsy.

Along their long journey, they have come to embody a certain mystique of wandering people, adept as entertainers and tradesman, but most famously trained as musicians. Along the thousands of years they have journeyed since leaving the Indian plateau, they have learned and assimilated the musical styles of every culture they have come in contact with. Because the Romani people have lived and played in such diverse lands as India, Spain, Turkey, North Africa, the Middle East and all over Europe, it is difficult to come to a singular definition of what gypsy music is.

In many ways the Roma people have acted as repositories of endangered music, preserving art and traditions that would otherwise have been lost. Even more amazing is the fact that they have been extremely successful at preserving their own unique culture and legacy while absorbing the influences of those around them.

Each member of the Fishtank Ensemble came to love and learn the music of the Roma people in a different way. It wasn’t until we played together, each in our different traditions, that we realized that all of this music is related to each other and formed one large vocabulary. Even though we are not Romani ourselves, we feel extremely grateful and fortunate that we are able to participate in the life of this great music and people.

Here is a list of some of the most important Roma musicians and bands:

Django Reinhardt
Taraf de Haidouks
Camaron de la Isla
Paco de Lucia
Ivo Papazov
Gypsy Kings
Boban Markovic
Yuri Yunakov
The Rosenberg Trio
Jimmy Rosenberg
Birelli Lagrene
Esma Redzepova
Fanfare Ciocarlia

Here is a good article on Romani music from wikipedia.com:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romani_music

Here is a great, in depth article on Romani music from rootsworld.com:
http://www.rootsworld.com/rw/feature/gypsy1.html

What kind of music does Fishtank Ensemble play?

We’re influenced by an extremely wide variety of musical styles . . . World, Pop, Rock, Flamenco, Folk, Jazz, Gypsy, Rockabilly, Manouche, Tango, Indian, groove music and much more but one source of unending inspiration for Fishtank Ensemble is our love for the music of the Romani people, otherwise known as the ‘gypsies’. Our music is an amalgam of all these diverse influences, plus our own unique individual experiences and perspective on the music.

How did you meet and how did you get the name?

There’s a long story and there’s a short story. This will be the short story because the long one would take at least a few chapters. Ursula and Fabrice met at Carnaval in Venice, Italy and it was a love story from the start. Fabrice eventually came out to visit her in Oakland CA where she lived in a performance werehouse with other original members of Fishtank Ensemble. It was named that because the inside was painted blue and there were fishes painted on the stage . . . and there was a huge fishtank in the bathroom.

The name came about kind of accidentally.  We were playing on the streets in Santa Cruz, CA (and getting a great response from people) and someone asked what our name was.  We weren’t really a functioning band then, we were basically just jamming some songs we figured out together and ursula blurted out Fishtank.  Shortly after we added the ‘Ensemble’.  At first we weren’t thrilled with the name but eventually we’ve come to think it suits us pretty well.  If you imagine lots of different fish that normally wouldn’t be together in the wild, swimming and mixing together in the same tank, that’s kind of like what’s going on with our music.

What about your individual sounds and styles do you think creates such an exciting collective musical performance?

We each bring different but related influences to the music that just so happen to mix in an unusual and exciting way.  Fabrice is specialist in Romanian and Balkan music.  Ursula has a background in opera but can learn to play anything almost effortlessly.  Djordje, in addition to playing lots of Balkan music, has a real love of rockabilly and rock n’ roll, and ‘douje’ started with Flamenco guitar, but also studied a lot of Gypsy Jazz and has a special love for pop music actually, which he tries to incorporate into the band.  And even though much of music is rooted in folk music traditions, we have kind of a “rock n’ roll attitude” that brings an added element of excitement and maybe even danger to the music.

How do audiences react to the unique range of musical talent amongst four artists and high-energy performances on stage? What kind of experience are you trying to create for them?

We are trying to create a one of a kind experience. Ideally, we want people to be thrilled with something new at the same time that they feel that they are finding something familiar- or something they have always dreamed of in music.  Audiences of ours tend to dance and cheer and overall have a great time!

It seems impossible to place your music in one genre, can you describe Fishtank Ensemble’s style in your own words?

Yes that’s kind of a problem.  We’ve never been satisfied with the label ‘World Music’, which is probably the most logical genre to place us in.  The name is so amorphous and vague is just doesn’t describe the music enough.  Especially because we incorporate elements of Folk music, Balkan, Gypsy Jazz, Opera, Rock N’ Roll and Pop music, it seems to us that there’s a new genre being created here.  We’ve come up with a new name for the genre that we think fits really well, ‘Gypsy Americana’.  The word ‘gypsy’ is a word that comes with a lot of cultural baggage so it’s a little tricky to use that word, but what is happening here is that we, and lot’s of other great, young bands in America, are taking the incredible musical influences of the Roma (gypsy) people and incorporating into our own, new style.

Why does music affect us so much?

Music may very well be the most universally beloved of all art forms and yet most people could hardly hazard a guess as to why this is. Here’s a great article about how music positively influences the mind and body.

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