Interview: Chavo (October 2015)

Playing their very own brand of Gypsy, Balkan Funk, Chavo, are back with a bang and a brand new record. Don’t Wake The Dead is out now on Batov Records and we caught up with the band at their recent album launch at Passing Clouds to talk about where they’ve come from, their style and their influences and what the future holds.

“We started out around ten years ago with a shared love of Balkan music, doing a lot of the Balkan circuit and festivals and weddings”, says Jim O’Brien, the group’s frontman on vocals and mandolin. “Then, about five years ago, we just felt that we were getting a bit sick of it all, playing the same old songs. There was an issue of authenticity. We’re not from The Balkans, we’re not all gypsies. We’re just copying them. It was like being in a covers band”. Audiences often seemed disappointed when they learned that the band weren’t authentic Balkanites, so Chavo decided to be truly original and true to themselves. “You don’t want to hear a piece of 1970s Nigerian disco done by a guy in a studio in East London in 2015. You want to hear the real thing”, says string player and singer, John Greswell.

Such was the pull to play their own brand of music, they abandoned the Romany text to start singing in English. As Jim points out, “It’s very hard to write in Romany when it’s not your mother tongue”.

“We wanted to do our own thing”, says Ido Basso, their aptly named bass player. “That’s our voice”.

The evolution of Chavo was further explained by John, who mentioned that their interest in the Balkan region wasn’t all they’ve got. “We also have an interest in western music, in funk, so it was a case of taking all of that and combining it with the Balkan thing, so that there was a progression of the band”. Something that didn’t change was the band’s name. ‘Chavo’ means lad or boy in Romany, as it does in Spanish. Indeed, the connotations of ‘Chavo’ seemed to suggest something Hispanic, like they should be playing cumbia or rhumba rhythms. It is a catchy name and it has stuck. Other names were suggested along the way, but they always seemed to be too jokey. In any event, they see no sense in changing it now.

In discussing their style, it becomes apparent that there are no limitations. Chavo’s sound is one that has a strong celebratory feel to it, as a wedding band would and it’s a sound that conjures up images of festival gigs in fields. On their very funky 2015 EP Greek Disco, various remixes open the door to clubland and a whole new audience. As Ido says, “All those guys (the remixers) have their own following. Only good stuff can come from that”. Chavo are clearly open to musical exploration and are also about to embark on some remix work of their own for their record label, Batov. As for exposure and how they are received by the public, having a new release is an important part of getting back on to the festival circuit. “It’s important to have a cd and a record label to get in to festivals, otherwise you’re just in the wash of average bands”, says John. However, doing so isn’t necessarily the goal. Common amongst each band member is their motivation. Music, not money. “If the album sells a million copies, great. If the album sells a hundred copies, that’s great too. It doesn’t really matter”, adds John.

Starting out purely as an acoustic outfit, recording their first album, Boundary Lane, with just one microphone in the middle of the room, their progression to now is testament to their honesty as musicians. Everything seems to be embraced along the way. No one particular style, but rather whatever best suits them at the time. On the latest album, one can still identify with an Eastern thread, but they feel that they have made a clean slate. The style doesn’t matter-as long as there is continuity to their music. The four bonus tracks at the end of Don’t Wake The Dead are very much an indicator of this continuity and this is elucidated quite succinctly by Ido. “They were almost the evolution. They were like the missing link between where we got to and where we started”.

Ultimately, Chavo love making music together. They are excited by what lies ahead and work has already begun on their next record. Expect songs to be more arranged, longer and for them to have even more depth. “It’s quite pure for us”, says Ido. “We play what we like and once in a while, we do a nice gig and that’s how we love it”.

Having met at university, Jim and John found themselves at a wedding several years later, sitting around a camp fire. “We were playing music”, says Jim. “Just jamming. We just thought… this might work”.

It does.

We look forward to the continuing evolution of Chavo.

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