Tag Archives: Balkan music

Artist Profiles: Ori Kaplan

Ori Kaplan (center) with Balkan Beat Box

Ori Kaplan studied Klezmer clarinet in Jaffa at age 11, yet was exposed to the Arabic culture around him. Each week he would sneak into an Arabic/Turkish nightclub next door to the punk rock club where he played with his band DXM. Ori says, “?The energy at the Turkish club was unabashed, on fire. The punk rock club was more self-conscious: youth trying to define itself, emulate the West.”

Ori emigrated to the USA, earning a BFA at Mannes College. In New York City, Ori recorded albums for various music labels and bands. Ori received the Jerome Foundation Award for Young Jazz Composers 2001.

He joined the acclaimed band Gogol Bordello (Gypsy Punk cabaret) that spearheaded the Eastern European cultural revolution that took place in New York City. He played with Firewater since 1998, and has collaborated and recorded with Susie Ibarra, Speedball Baby, Big Lazy, J.U.F., Victoria Hanna, John Zorn, Vision Orchestra, and William Parker.

He is one of the founders of Balkan Beat Box.

Discography:

Gongol (2001)
Delirium
Goldshmidt (Third Ear Records)
Cries of Disillusion
Realms
Le Magus (Knitting Factory, 2002)
Multi Kontra Culti, with Gogol Bordello (Rubric Records)
Man on the Burning Tightrope, with Firewater (Jetset Records)
JUF (Stinky Records)
Beat Box (Essay Recordings)
Nu Med (Jdub Records)
Blue Eyed Black Boy (Crammed Discs, 2010)
Give (Crammed Discs, 2012)

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Artist Profiles: Slonovski Bal

Slonovski Bal

Slonovski Bal plays the sounds of the central European Balkans, blending the music of the Gypsies with a unique mix of European, Slavic, Turkish and Mediterranean cultures, representing the fine tradition of the oriental brass band music. Slonovski bal means “the Elephant’s Ball” in Serbian.

Grooving with the roaring sounds of tubas, the water-flow of the accordion, the tender whisper of the clarinet or the blasting clamor of the trumpet, Slonovski Bal blasted onto the music scene.

Finding room for composition and improvisation Slonovski Bal have toured Europe with the energy of such dances as the Coceks, the Sa-Sa and the devilish Kolos played at the speed of light and thunder.

Discography:

Local Stereo (Bal Bazar Production, 1998)
Balkanska Rumba (Label Al Sur, 2001)
Balkan Merak (Bal Bazar Production, 2003)
Dzumbus (Bal Bazar Production, 2007)
Electric Combo (Bal Bazar Production, 2010)

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Artist Profiles: Les Yeux Noirs

Les Yeux Noirs

The Les Yeux Noirs is a multicultural band based in Paris led by the Belgian Slabiak brothers. With the help of other musicians from Belgium, Romania and other places, they play lively modern cross cultural music that includes Gypsy, Balkan and Klezmer elements. The vocals are in Russian, Yiddish and Roma (the main Gypsy language in central and eastern Europe).

The music is led by the fiery fiddle work of the Slabiak brothers, outstanding accordion work by Ionica Minune and powerful rhythm section that includes a drum set.

Discography:

A band of Gypsies (Buda, 1992)
Suites (Buda, 1994)
Izvoara (EMI, 1997)
Balamouk (EMI, 2000)
Live (EMI, 2002)
tChorba (Les Yeux Noirs, 2004)
Tiganeasca (Zig Zag, 2010)

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Artist Profiles: L’Attirail

L’Attirail

L’Attirail was born from a road encounter in February of 1994. Xavier Demerliac (guitar & brass) and Jean Stephane Brosse (piano & accordion), met while traveling. They decided to create an acoustic band combining the energy of rock with the influences of folk music from Eastern European countries.

At first, L’Attirail was a Balkan-Parisian trio playing their repertoire for two years in Parisian bars & cafes, before changing for a quintet formation. On their first album Musiques des Prefectures Autonomes (Les Chantiers Sonores, 1996), L’Attirail band developed Trans-European music.

Every album is conceived as a musical road-movie between Paris, Moscow and Istanbul. L’Attirail’s music throws a bridge between two opposite worlds: country life and big cities, fast and slow progress, the Eastern and Western European countries, tradition and modernity, reality and dream…

L’Attirail are also involved in other artistic creations such as original soundtracks for film and TV, including Peau Neuve by Emilie Deleuze (1999) and Charmants Voisins by Claudio Tonetti (2000).

The group’s fifth album La bonne aventure incorporated songs performed by Florence Caillon.

Discography:

Musiques des préfectures autonomes (Les Chantiers Sonores, 1996)
Dancings des bouts du monde (Les Chantiers Sonores, 1997)
Peau neuve, bande originale (Haut et Court, 1999)
Cinéma ambulant (Naïve, 1999)
La Bolchevita (Naïve, 2002)
La Bonne Aventure (Naïve, 2004)
Mon meilleur ami, bande originale (Fidélité, 2006)
Kara Deniz (L’Autre Distribution, 2007)
Wilderness (Les Chantiers Sonores, 2009)
Wanted Men (Les Chantiers Sonores, 2011)
Wire Wheels (Les Chantiers Sonores, 2013)
La route intérieure (Les Chantiers Sonores, 2015)
La part du hasard (CSB – L’Autre Distribution, 2017)

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West Philly Orchestra’s Balkan Party

West Philly Orchestra (WPO) – Tour De Filli

West Philly Orchestra (WPO) – Tour De Filli (Fly Bottle Records, 2016)

On Tour De Filli, the West Philly Orchestra Album plays fun, infectious Balkan dance music. The ensemble’s foundation is Eastern European brass band music, Gypsy melodies, American jazz improvisation and vocals by Bulgarian artist Petia Zamfirova who sings in English, Romani and Bulgarian.

 

 

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The Unpredictable Balkan Jazz of Boris Kovač

Boris Kovač & La Campanella – Eastern Moon Rising

Boris Kovač & La Campanella – Eastern Moon Rising (Riverboat TUG1076, 2014)

Eastern Moon Rising showcases the multi-faceted music side of saxophonist and composer Boris Kovač and his band La Campanella.

On Eastern Moon Rising you’ll hear fascinating musical pieces where Serbian traditional music easily morphs into smoky lounge jazz, tango, blues, Romanian doina, avant-garde rock, French waltz, and unexpected twists and turns.

Yhr aslbum lineup includes Boris Kovač Boki on soprano and alto saxophones and vocals; Vukašin Mišković Vuki on acoustic and electric guitars; Goran Penić Gogi on accordion; Miloš Matić Miki on double bass; and Lav Kovač Laki on drums.

Buy Eastern Moon Rising

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Artist profiles: Hazmat Modine

Hazmat Modine

Hazmat Modine is a band of unconventional musical instruments and cultural combinations that reflect the origins of the American musical soul. Their debut CD was Bahamut (Barbes Records 2006).

The band is led by two harmonica-players rounded out with tuba drums guitars and trumpet and recruits guests appearing on lesser-known instruments such as the claviola (an unusual free-reed instrument), cimbalom (a large hammered dulcimer of Eastern European origin), the contra-bass, saxophone and the sheng (Chinese mouth organ).

The band plays an unexpected mix that may include Blues, Rocksteady or Gypsy music. “If you want to be faithful to the music forms that made American music great,” says Hazmat leader Wade Schuman. “You have to be faithful to what made it great not to the music forms themselves. American music is by its essence music that comes out of the so-called melting pot of different cultures banging up against each other. And that was the creative aspect.”

Schuman explains that the first real Blues hit ‘St. Louis Blues’ by W.C. Handy included a minor-key tango section. “That is one of the things that makes the song what it is,” says Schuman. He points to the significant influence of Latin and Caribbean music in the 1930s and the huge influx of immigrants into New York City. “There were few studios in Trinidad ‘ explains the harmonica-player vocalist and guitarist. ‘Most Calypso musicians were recording in New York so many of the early Calypso recordings were related in some way to America. The point is that we live in a nostalgic commodified world where we believe that Rock and Roll or Bluegrass or Dixieland are rigid music forms not influenced by outside factors. But that is not the history of how American music happened. It’s really quite dynamic and based on a phenomenal cultural shift in the early part of the 20th century.”

At the same time Schuman recognizes that regions of the United States each had their own local flavor. “Without television and with limited national radio things didn’t homogenize as fast,” said Schuman. “Things would gestate in a lot of creative ways in different locations. Here in New York there are these individual music scenes full of incredible musicians. And I do try to tap into all these different spheres.”

Hazmat’s band members come out of many backgrounds. Guitarist Pete Smith will often give a song a Cuban or Brazilian spin. Veteran tuba player Joseph Daley not only brings a wealth of knowledge from his work as an improvising artist but is also respected as one of the United States’most creative ‘lower brass specialists.’ Drummer Richard Huntley hops from Latin and Jazz to Klezmer while Pamela Fleming uses her vibrant trumpet to bridge everything from the Swing era to soulful Reggae. Guitarist Michael Gomez who plays every style from finger-picking to Swing-Jazz to Rock and Roll also plays the Banjitar and the lap steel guitar. While Schuman’s harmonica repertoire evolved out of Pre-War Blues and roots Randy Weinstein draws on Chicago Blues Jazz and World Music.

The small diatonic harmonica was popularized in Germany as a folk instrument, almost a toy. It was sold in massive quantities and was affordable to American Southerners, both African-American and European-American. “They pulled from it things it was never meant to do,” explains Schuman. “Bending a note is an accident of physics creating that glissando blue note. An instrument designed for one thing is used in a different way and a new music form is invented for it.” The harmonica pictured on the cover of the debut CD Bahamut is a real instrument from Schuman’s collection and offers a visual metaphor for the band.

Discography

Bahamut (Barbès Records/JARO, 2006)
Cicada (Barbès Records/JARO, 2011)
Hazmat Modine Live (JARO, 2014)
Extra-Deluxe-Supreme (JARO, 2015)

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Artist Profiles: Gogol Bordello

Gogol Bordello

Singer-songwriter Eugene Hutz arrived to the US from Ukraine after an epic seven-year trek through Eastern Europe refugee camps to escape the Chernobyl meltdown.

In 1996 Hutz landed in New York City and met the musicians who became Gogol Bordello. The band’s international underground reputation grew quickly due to their innovative blend of Eastern European Gypsy and Western culture and a stage show that resembles a three-ring circus of surreal stimuli.

Eugene Hutz – vocals, acoustic guitar

Sergey Rjabtzev – violin, vocals

Oren Kaplan – guitar, vocals

Eliot Ferguson – drums

Yuri Lemeshev – accordion

Rea Mochiach – bass

Discography

Voi-La Intruder (Rubric Records, 1999)
Multi Kontra Culti vs. Irony (Rubric Records, 2002)
Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike (SideOneDummy Records, 2005)
Super Taranta! (SideOneDummy Records, 2007)
Live from Axis Mundi (SideOneDummy Records, 2009),
Trans-Continental Hustle (American Recordings, 2010)
Pura Vida Conspiracy (2013)

www.gogolbordello.com

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Artist Profiles: Yuri Yunakov

Yuri Yunakov

Saxophonist Yuri Yunakov was born in Haskovo, southeastern Bulgaria, of Turkish Romani (Gypsy) ancestry and currently lives in the New York City area. He comes from a long line of musicians in his extended family, including his father and grandfather and his uncles and brother. Yuri’s career began with the band Mladost and he later started a 10-year collaboration with Ivo Papazov and Trakija.

Yuri is Bulgaria’s most famous saxophonist. Together with the Trakija orchestra Yunakov played at hundreds of weddings in his native Bulgaria, and toured extensively in Europe and North America.

In 1989 he was featured on NBC TV with saxophonist David Sanborn. Yuri appears on the recording “Gypsy Fire”, a CD of Turkish music on Traditional Crossroads.

In 1994, Yunakov moved to the United States. He is the director of the Yuri Yunakov Ensemble, and is in great demand among the Bulgarian, Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, Armenian and Romani communities in the New York City area.

In 2011, Yunakov received a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship.

Discography:

New Colors in Bulgarian Wedding Music (Traditional Crossroads, 1997)
Balada (Traditional Crossroads, 1999)
Roma Variations (Traditional Crossroads, 2001)
Together Again (Traditional Crossroads, 2003)

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Eastern European Ecstasies

A term like “Eastern European music” gets bandied about by many, including me. It’s one of those convenient generalizations used to cover a category that’s more than a category. From folkloric traditions and age-old ballads to mighty brass bands and fusions that were free to happen in post-communist societies, there’s a lot to take in.

 

Bilja Krstic and the Bistrik Orchestra – Svod: Traditional Songs from Serbia and The Balkans

 

Bilja Krstic and the Bistrik Orchestra offer up Svod: Traditional Songs from Serbia and The Balkans (ARC Music, 2016). I remain unclear as to how many pieces constitutes an orchestra, but this outfit’s 9-strong lineup (plus guest players) proceeds with delightful zest through a set of mainly traditional tunes that retain the heartfelt sevdah (Balkan blues) intent and add enough rhythmic swing to lift the spirits and stir the hips.

Krstic’s soaring (but never overbearing) vocals are a marvel in settings of both sparse accompaniment that lets the emotional content sink in and full band buildups often jazz-like in the way they flow. At times sporting a serenity that seems to stop all else before breaking into a dance-inducing left turn, this highly satisfying collection succeeds on those levels and more, including one spine-tingling a capella track.

 

Franolic, Jovanovic and Culap – Put

 

In rather stark contrast stands Put (Geenger Records, 2016) by the Zagreb-based trio of Franolic, Jovanovic and Culap. The three play oud (Arabic lute), harmonica and percussion respectively, and while there’s a Balkan sensibility running through their rhythms and melodies, influences from Turkey, India and anywhere blues and jazz have permeated are evident as well.

The oud and harmonica shadow each other with a symbiosis that lets them both take turns slinking or springing forward to take the lead as the percussion (primarily frame drum and ceramic udu) marks changes in time and mood and does some leading of its own. Put has got atmosphere to spare, but there’s a core to this music that’s covertly fierce and passionate. Consider it essential listening.

 

The Klezmatics – Apikorsim/Heretics

 

Of course, klezmer -that celebratory brand of Jewish music rooted in the 19th century and well able to get the heart pounding here in the 21st- is one sort of Eastern European music that’s immediately identified with the region and the people who created it. The Klezmatics have been foremost in keeping the sound alive for 30 years and they’re unlikely to stop anytime soon, which is good news for all of us. On Apikorsim/Heretics (World Village, 2016) the band is as crazy cool and ingeniously mad as ever, harnessing their arsenal of brass, reeds, violin, viola, accordion, guitar, bass, piano, organ, harmonium, kaval, tsimbl, drums, percussion and vocals (dang, that’s a lot of instruments when you consider there’s only 6 people in the band) to create Yiddish songs that are lively and infectious almost beyond belief.

Just as important, they see to it that klezmer’s roots as music of an enduring, vibrant culture are not overlooked in serious or humorous terms. So while songs like “May Redemption Come” and “Who Guides the Ships?” are sincere in their spiritual perspective and “My Mother’s Mirror” pulls no punches on the reality of aging, there’s room for a gastronomically indulgent “Party in Odessa” and a close examination on the title track of exactly what makes happy heretics happy. The Klezmatics are in prime form, playing music they’ve not only mastered but obviously continue to love very deeply.

headline photo: Bilja Krstic and the Bistrik Orchestra

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