Besh o Drom – Can’t Make Me! (Asphalt Tango Records CD-ATR 0203, 2003)
Jony Iliev and Band – Ma Maren Ma (Asphalt Tango Records CD-ATR 0102, 2003)
As Rom (Gypsy) music gets bigger and bigger globally, the parameters that define it have begun to blur. These two very fine recordings are satisfyingly well within the realm of what one would expect Gypsy music to sound like, but both succeed on their own terms.
Besh o Drom (their name means “go your own way”) include source material from all over the Balkans and Eastern Europe in their music, and they toss off a couple of traditional-sounding pieces before bringing in rock, jazz, cabaret, hip-hop and electronica accents to jack up the fun meter a few notches.
“Cigansko Oro” bops as hard as any Gypsy brass music and bounces around a few well-placed turntable scratches before dropping into an almost mambo feel with some oddly processed vocals. That’s followed by the rich, rhythmically sensual “Afgan,” and such is the eclectic nature of Besh o Drom. They’re obviously skilled musicians who take chances and liberties and make them pay off, moving from the familiar to the unexpected fluidly and expertly. Compare, for example, the entirely nutty “Pergeto (scat song)” with the salty strut of “Kanna Solo” (which includes some of the most killer udu drumming you’ll ever hear) and you realize how many and varied are the strengths of this album and this band.
The approach taken by Jony Iliev and Band is more straightforward, but their sound, honed in the Gypsy quarter of Sofia, Bulgaria is very rich nonetheless. Iliev’s vocal style is confident and brimming with emotion despite its unpolished gruffness, perfect for the range of melancholy to celebratory heard in the songs. Some Middle Eastern and flamenco strains are evident in the Balkan grooves laid down by the band (aptly described as “diabolically swinging” on the back cover), who stretch out on a few instrumentals that provide cool contrast to Iliev’s vocal workouts.
Ma Maren Ma is a deep, subtly effective album of modern Gypsy music, highly recommended for fans of the genre and the curious.
Buy the albums:
Besh o Drom – Can’t Make Me!
Jony Iliev and Band – Ma Maren Ma