Barnaby Bruce

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Apr 7

percussionist, producer and DJ, Barnaby Bruce is a true musician. All these pursuits have manifested themselves in Hong Kong by way of of two bands, his Palms & Charms record label, and a consistently hectic DJ schedule (usually with vinyl in tow).

Growing up, it was rare groove that first attracted Bruce’s ear. This interest soon led to discovering much more – Bruce explains that he ‘started playing percussion in the early 90s, accompanying house music DJs at parties and events around London, and also started DJing around the same time – mostly funk, soul & jazz’.  His subsequent studies in percussion, particularly the Latin variety, soon ‘took [him] from London to New York, and eventually to Cuba itself, where [he] stayed and studied for about 6 months’.

Armed with a world of knowledge and experience, regular visits to Hong Kong to visit his equally musical brother (who is now based in Tokyo) soon led Bruce to make the move, lured in part by ‘the laid-back charm of Lamma Island’. Initially waylaid by a shoulder injury, he turned to the keyboard and production to express his musicality. ‘The need to have different musical outlets – DJing and producing, Palms & Charms and Banda Orbita – are all sides of that, but the lines between them are not fixed.”

The word ‘Balearic’ – a soulful style of house music that began in Ibiza during the 1980s, noted for its slower tempo and emphasis on acoustic instrumentation – often pops up in promotion for Bruce’s gigs and work. “My productions are quite diverse and I don’t have a particular sound I’m aiming for when I start a track, when we select material for the label or [usually] when I’m DJing,” he says of his style. “The influences could be anything from funk to Latin and from house to folk, so I guess Balearic works!”

However, pinning Bruce even to one expansive style is hardly a fair assessment. He has founded two Hong Kong-based bands (with Floro Sernande Jr.) in the past few years – an Afro-Cuban jazz band, Banda Orbita, and Salvaje, focused on samba and other Brazilian carnival rhythms. Each is dedicated to promoting and performing an underappreciated style of percussive music.

Obviously Bruce is adaptable, noting that he handles timbales, bata ‘and any other percussion I need to’ in Orbita, and caixa (a kind of Brazilian snare drum) in Salvaje. Though he makes sure to credit Banda Orbita bandmate David Chala – who he describes as ‘definitely the most knowledgeable musician in the region with regard to Afro-Cuban music’ – along with Sernande Jr., for teaching him about authentic contemporary Cuban music. It’s not just music for music’s sake, though. “It’s important to have groups like ours in Hong Kong to increase the cultural palette of the city, and provide music that is not driven so much by commercial concerns,” says Bruce. 

So what of Palms & Charms? “The name is a combination of the mystical and tropical. My brother Samuel Bruce (AKA Mallorquin) and I started it to release music we like on vinyl, as well as our own productions.” The family affair extends to the third Bruce brother, Max Essa, who recently released a 12-inch on the label. This spring, Hong Kong's Bruce drops his third release on the label, On The Continent EP.

Whether spinning his own label’s tunes or not, as a DJ Bruce enjoys ‘playing at places with an open-minded crowd who are there for the music and just to dance.’ With a weekly Sunday brunch slot at MyHouse as well as other regular gigs for the more discerning Hong Kong crowd, he’s even ‘had to undertake an exercise programme to get in shape for moving the requisite [vinyl] boxes around the city’.

Barnaby Bruce Apr 7 and 22, Mitte, Sheung Wan. Free.


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