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Meet Barrio Manouche: A Band of Constant Change and Diversity

Imagine picking up a guitar and finding out that you would rather have your fingers bleeding than stop practicing your chords. This is the case for Javier Jiménez, a native of Madrid, Spain, and the founder of Barrio Manouche, a Gypsy flamenco band composed of artists from different parts of the world.

Barrio Manouche ended their first mini-tour earlier this year in May and released their latest album, “Despierta,” on Nov. 1. The album is very different from the band’s previous one, “Aires de Cambio,” according to Jiménez. 

“We like different things,” he said. “One day you eat lentil soup, and another day you eat a salad, and yet another day you put vinegar on your food. That’s how we are with music; we like to try something new every day.”

“Despierta” consists of eight songs, six of them being original compositions. The band released the album’s first single, “El Joven,” in early March, and it is available now on the music streaming service Spotify. 

Unlike “Aires de Cambio,” which consists mostly of rhythms and beats, every song on “Despierta” has vocals. The band also changed its process of writing songs, bandmates worked on changing the rhythm section and decided what instruments to use. 

Barrio Manouche is composed of six musicians—Alex Zelnick, guitar; Cyril Guiraud, saxophone; Caxixi Gary Johnson, upright bass; Javi Jiménez, guitar, vocals and palmas; Luis Jiménez, cajón, poetry, palmas and percussions; Magali Sanscartier, violin, vocals and Buffalo Drum—and includes dancers Fanny Ara and Emaye. 

Having a big band means that everyone brings in new ideas, and besides having different languages, each of the bandmates have different musical backgrounds. Jiménez said that the diversity of Barrio Manouche allows their audience to follow each musician to their origin. 

Barrio Manouche is in constant evolution, but the story of the band started four years ago with four musicians including Jiménez, his brother, Luis Jiménez, and guitarist Alex Zelnick, Jiménez’s former student. Zelnick was learning how to play guitar with Jiménez at the time, specifically gypsy jazz. 

Barrio Manouche performs at The New Parish in Oakland on Oct. 26, 2019. Courtesy: Frederic Aube

The four-member collaboration soon became a trio. By the summer of 2015, restaurants, music venues and bars were having a new flavor of jazz blasting over all the Bay Area.  

The origins of the band’s name came to Jiménez during a Christmas gathering back in Spain. 

“Because we come from el barrio from Spain, it represents a lot of who we are so it represents our music,” Jiménez said. “Manouche” means gypsy jazz, and it’s one of the influences of the unique sound of the band. 

Jiménez’s passion for music was born from a solitary experience with acoustic guitar. When he was 12, his uncle gave him one, and he thanks his family for being musical.

“My mother and father were a big influence on our musical culture,” he said. 

Now an eight-piece ensemble, Barrio Manouche performs regularly in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area, including a special performance at Stern Grove this past summer, Aug. 11. “We don’t necessarily choose the people we play with in the band by how they play… but their energy… we are lucky that these people are beautiful people and we connect with them in so many ways,” said Jiménez. 

Barrio Manouche’s music has no electronic elements. Playing solely acoustic instruments allows the band to connect more with artists from all over the world, which only emphasizes the importance of the collaborative experience. Jiménez said that if only one person would be creating music, it would be losing the essence of community and the social message about art. 

“I think it’s beautiful to have a community of artists and sometimes we cry, sometimes we laugh, its life and that’s life, said Jiménez.

At the Chapel, a venue located in the Mission District, the room becomes sweaty and loud. The stage is crowded with musicians, and the dancer is stomping and bending and waving her hands in the air. Not only do the musicians collaborate through the sensory experience of playing the instruments; the venue is alive and one with music. 

This is the type of energy the musicians of Barrio Manouche reverberate.

“I don’t think we are trying to create something,” said Luis Jiménez. “It’s more like we try to connect with the music itself, what we are trying to deliver a vibration or energy.” 

Barrio Manouche’s dream is to tour Latin America and to visit Jiménez’s roots in Spain. 

Barrio Manouche performs at Club Deluxe in San Francisco on Dec. 21, and The New Parish in Oakland on Jan. 23, 2020.

Story by: Vitta Oliveri

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