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The Mid-Week Beat: Klezmer Punk and Balkan Brass!

Music >

A few years back, with the help of bands like Gogol Bordello, Balkan Beat Box, Devotchka and Beirut, traditional Eastern European music got a, much-deserved, shot in the arm. These bands, and others, took the infectious melodies of traditional Eastern European Roma (or “gypsy”) music, klezmer and Balkan brass and infused it with modern musical influences: punk and indie rock, electronic beats and hip hop, to create a worldwide musical movement that captured the attention of the mainstream music press and took the world by storm, turning a whole new generation of music fans onto this exciting musical culture. Clubs across Europe and America boasted regular Balkan club nights and accordions, cimbaloms and tubas became common sights on rock club and festival stages.

The hype around “gypsy punk” and “Balkan beats” has calmed down in recent years but this incredible music still attracts music fans smitten with the music’s infectious, minor-key melodies and driving beats. While it seemed to be a passing phase, the movement created a viable living for traditional musicians who otherwise may not have been able to travel outside of Eastern Europe or the Balkans. Most cities in the United States now boast their own Balkan brass bands and rock clubs now feature Eastern European-influenced bands on a regular basis. You may not be reading about it in Pitchfork any more, but thanks to the massive exposure of the so-called “gypsy punk” movement, this incredible music can still pack a house full of sweaty, enthusiastic dancers regardless of their cultural heritage.

This week on the Mid-Week Beat, we feature a klezmer musician that infuses his music with a punk rock sensibility, an upcoming Balkan Night in Seattle and a legendary Macedonian brass band that is touring the U.S. in May.

Daniel Kahn & the Painted Bird

Daniel Kahn & the Painted Bird were founded by a singer and actor from Detroit, Daniel Kahn. Daniel spent many years travelling around the United States recording music, acting and directing plays, receiving many awards for his work. In the summer of 2005, Daniel moved to Berlin becoming an integral part of the town’s Yiddish and klezmer musical scenes, eventually forming The Painted Bird, named after Jerzy Kosinski’s grotesque novel. The band combines klezmer, radical Yiddish song, political cabaret and punk folk and this exciting mixture is all kept together by Kahn’s amazing abilities as a songwriter and storyteller. The band has been called “The Yiddish Pogues,” and Kahn was once described as “someone between Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits – but yiddish.”

They are currently on tour for their fourth release on the Berlin-based, world music record label Oriente Musik, “Bad Old Songs,” a dark and intimate follow-up to their award-winning “Lost Causes.” The album features reinventions of Yiddish folk songs and classics from Leonard Cohen and Franz Josef Degenhardt.

They’ll be playing two shows next week in California and we are proud to providing ticketing for both shows. You can catch them on Thursday, March 14 at the East Bay Jewish Community Center Theater in Berkeley (tickets here) and on Sunday, March 17 at the Fiesta Hall in West Hollywood (tickets here).

Balkan Night Northwest 2013

Next Friday, March 15 and Saturday, March 16, Balkan Night Northwest 2013 returns to the Russian Community Center on Capitol Hill. This year features two stages showcasing over 30 bands from around the Pacific Northwest and is certain to be another unforgettable celebration of the music of the Balkans!

This year, the festival is proud to feature the world famous singer and voice of Albania, Merita Halili, performing with the Raif Hyseni Orchestra Saturday night. Merita Halili is one of Albania’s top performers. Born in the capital city of Tiranë, Merita grew up singing the lyric songs of her native region of Central Albania. Her nationwide debut came in 1983, at the age of 17, when she sang at the National Folk Festival in the town of Gjirokastër. Soon afterwards she began to perform on Albanian Radio and Television and as a soloist with the State Ensemble for Folk Songs and Dances, subsequently becoming one of the most popular singers in the country. The repertoire for which Merita is best known is that of the towns of Central Albania (Shqipëria e Mesme), particularly Tiranë, Elbasan, Kavajë and Durrës.

Other bands scheduled to perform at Balkan Night Northwest 2013 include: Alchymeia (Ukrainian folk & Scottish fiddling fusion), Alexander Eppler (Bulgarian village music), Balkanarama (caffeinated Balkan music), The Bucharest Drinking Team (Balkan brass and mayhem), Dragi Spasovski (Macedonian village dance music), Dromeno (Greek dance music), Druzhba (Bulgarian village gajda and drum dance music), Dunava (a capella choral music from the Balkans and beyond), Grupa Dunbarov (Bulgarian and Macedonian dance music), Kaba Seattle (Rhodope bagpipe band), Kafana Klub (Balkan dance music), Kafana Republik (dance music from the Balkans), The Lonely Coast (duets, lullabies, and folk music), The Makedonians (music from the Balkans and beyond), Musiki Parea (Greek, Asia Minor, Turkish music), More of Anything (rock, funk, soul, hip-hop folk fusion), Nu Klezmer Army (klezmer with an attitude), Onefourfive (Republic of Georgia a cappella folk music), Orkestar RTW (dance music from the Balkans), Orkestar Zirkonium (Balkan inspired brass and drums), Rumelia (exotic sounds of the Balkans), Sazerac Orchestra (Balkan, eastern European folk music), Sinovi (authentic Croatian tamburitza) and Zakuska (choral from Bulgaria, Turkey, Macedonia, Albania).

This always sells out and is a guaranteed amazing night of music, food and culture for the whole family! You can pick up tickets for both nights right over here!

Kočani Orkestar

Finally, we feature bonafide legends for any fan of Balkan brass bands, the great Kočani Orkestar. Hailing from Kočani, Macedonia, the band has been led by Naat Veliov since 2000. Kočani Orkestar are among the funkiest exponents of the Balkan brass band style which is found across ex-Yugoslavia and is a direct descendent of the music once played by Turkish army bands. Their music is based on Gypsy tunes from various parts of the Balkans and on Turkish rhythms, with a sprinkle of Latin flavour. The band features a powerful rhythm section (drummer + four tubas) which rocks like a mutant Balkan funk band. Wailing, passionate soloists (sax, trumpet, clarinet, accordion) go to soaring heights, creating their trademark style and making them one of the best-loved Gypsy bands in Europe and the US.

Along with Fanfare Ciocărlia and Taraf De Haidouks, Kočani Orkestar were one of the artists associated with the increased interest in Balkan music by Western audiences. They’ve toured successfully all around the world and artists such as Cibelle, Beirut and Balkan Beat Box are amongst their fans, sometimes even covering their songs. They have also had tracks remixed by Senor Coconut, Lightning Head, Gaetano Fabri & Mercan Dede, Animal Collective, Cibelle, Susheela Raman & Buscemi. Go to any Balkan club night around the world and you’re bound to hear many of their songs mixed with electronic beats and effects.

So, given their legendary status, it’s obviously a treat when they come to your town. Seattle is very lucky to be chosen for such an honor and the band will be appearing at Town Hall on Thursday, May 2 presented by the good folks at Earshot Jazz. This is not to be missed and a rare opportunity to catch living legends of Balkan brass in action. Get your tickets NOW before they’re all gone!