Sounds x Interview: Simba Baumgarter // Les Yeux Noirs

It’s not every day that you get an email letting you know that Django Reinhardt’s great-grandson is about to release a new record. It’s even less likely that you get a chance to sit down and chat with said great-grandson about life as a gypsy and playing for the Monacan royal family.

But hey, all in a day’s work at Left Bank, right?

Read on for our exclusive interview with Simba Baumgarter (and if you’re not sure who Django Reinhardt is, we recommend having a listen).

Let’s start with the obvious: you’re Django Reinhardt’s great-grandson. How has his music and influence inspired you as an musician? On the other hand, how has it driven you to discover your own sound, style, and inspirations? 

I grew up in a family where, of course, my great grandfather’s music was of paramount importance. Django is a hero in the Gypsy culture, a strong positive force. I therefore always looked up to him. I also learned a lot from my grandfather, Lousson, who was Django’s firstborn son, and a very fine guitarist in the style of his father.

At age ten, I played my first concert in Monaco for the royal family, at the Bal de la Rose, along with another legendary figure of the style, Bireli Lagrene. Although I am carrying the tradition, the main characteristic of my style is to keep joy and lightness present, taking risks and making it exciting, but still playful.

How has your lifestyle as a Gypsy in France influenced your compositions? Do you feel any sort of rebellion for living such a traditional lifestyle, or is it a peaceful feeling to you, since you’re doing what’s authentic to you? 

The Gypsy life has always been my way of life. On one hand, it’s difficult; on the other hand, it brings an incredible amount of freedom. My family is based in Samois-sur-Seine, Django’s hometown. We live a peaceful life on a piece of land lent to us by a friend. It is important for us to stay close to our ancestors, to Django and Lousson.

Do you find more inspiration internally, or externally, in the world around you? 

Both! My musical discourse is often influenced by the musicians that I listen to, or that I play with, but is mainly comprised of inner feelings and sensations that I try to transmit as accurately and deeply as possible to the audience.

What is your creative process like? How do you create the melodies and structures? Do you write primarily alone, or with other musicians? 

I often create alone. I do not read music, so I cannot read chord progressions or tell you which chords I’m playing. I feel them and know musically what they are, I just cannot name them. So this process of creation is very linked to images.

My melodies are built upon harmonic structure, the beauty of the tone, and a general instinct for the melody to develop in the right direction.

Can you tell us about the writing and recording process of Les Yeux Noirs? What was the most difficult moment for you?

This is my first album and the first time I have been in the studio with Stephane Wrembel’s band. Playing on stage and recording are two different approaches. Recording is permanent,  so there is a bit more apprehension. The hardest part was really waiting for the album to be completed, to have a physical and concrete encounter with it. It was a great emotional moment for my family and friends.

You’re able to convey emotion and stories through an instrument, which is not an easy task. Why do you think listeners connect with you so much? 

Whenever I play I get a feeling of joy, of fulfillment, which is translated strongly in the melodies I play.

Any words of advice for your younger self? 

It is a hard question because I’m only 22, and I still feel very young. I will, therefore, advise myself to keep enjoying this music as a symbol of my culture, and not only as a virtuoso performance.

What’s next for you? 

I’m looking forward to presenting my work to the American public, at The Town Hall on April 27. I will be sharing the stage with an incredible lineup of masters, who are also great friends! I am also working on the French release of the album at the Django Reinhardt Festival in Samois-sur-Seine.

Stream Les Yeux Noires here: 

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