Rough Guide to the Music of Balkan Gypsies (World Music Network RGNET 1159 CD, 2005)
I love albums that get right to the heart of it and don’t let up. This is one such disc, beginning with the instantly grabbing rave-up of “Mahalageasca” by Romania’s Mahala Rai Banda before dancing through another hour of choice material by Rom (Gypsy) artists from across the Balkan nations of Eastern Europe.
That Gypsies have been unfairly stereotyped, persecuted and discriminated against in the centuries since they began to migrate from Rajasthan is undeniable (sadly, such treatment of many a scapegoated ethnic group has long been a part of Balkan history).
Equally obvious is how well their music reflects the resilient vitality of their culture, always deftly mixing and matching their own traditions with those of the areas they settled in. So on this collection we hear music with an unmistakable Rom flair but also infused with strains of Ottoman brass, Greek and Albanian folkloric sounds, Arabic percussion, emergent jazz and techno and beyond.
Similarly tart though more focused than 2003’s The Rough Guide to the Music of the Balkans (some of the same artists are featured), the lineup here includes lively pieces by bands likeTaraf de Haidouks, Mostar Sevdah Reunion and Fanfare Ciocarlia who’ve achieved near-legendary status in the realm of Gypsy music.
Lesser-known but clearly dynamic singers such as Nikolae Simion, Eleni Vitali and Vera Petrovic are also featured, showing a wide range of vocal as well as instrumental mastery among the Gypsy inhabitants of the musically vital Balkans. Top notch.