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Category: gypsy music

Acoustic Reggae and Similar Rarities by a Fixture of the NYC Parks Concert Circuit on the Upper East

Other than Bob Marley’s iconic Redemption Song – “How long must they kill our brothers while we stand aside and look?” – there’s hardly any acoustic reggae. In fourteen and a half years of concerts in what was once the live music capitol of North America, this blog and its predecessor covered exactly one acoustic reggae show, by Jamaican toaster I-Wayne. And that was a private performance for media, in the fall of 2011 in a west side studio with ganja smoke seeping out through cracks in the door.

But if you’re in Manhattan on Oct 29 and you can get to Second Avenue and 90th St. by 3 PM, you might see some acoustic reggae when ukulele player Dahlia Dumont and her group the Blue Dahlia play Ruppert Park.

Dumont has been plugged into the municipal concert circuit for the past several years, and her passion for reggae and ska matches her fondness for playing outdoors. She writes in English and her native French, in lots of other styles ranging from French varietés pop to Balkan music. Her most recent, characteristically eclectic album La Tradition Américaine got the thumbs up here in 2018.

She’s put out more material since that record, streaming at her music page. At the top, there’s Betty, a characteristically bouncy, horn-spiced quasi-ska song encouraging everybody to stop complaining about the status quo and police brutality, and go out and vote. En Dehors du Temps (Outside of Time) is a lot quieter, a wistfully waltzing familial reminiscence. Dumont recorded The Walls during the 2020 lockdown, an understatedly angst-fueled piano ballad about a relationship interrupted by fascist travel restrictions. “If we make it to the other side, will you be much changed?” she asks, speaking for as many people as Marley did with Redemption Song.

Nobody at this blog has ever caught a full set by Dumont. The closest was about the last twenty minutes of a show where she squeezed a good-sized band, including guitar, accordion and rhythm section, into an intimate Park Slope space a few months before the album came out. Dumont has also been a fixture at the annual late-November outdoor music festival that ran down Broadway from Dante Park across from Lincoln Center down to Columbus Circle. She brought a stripped-down trio to those shows, as she most likely will do at the Upper East Side park gig. She has an expressive voice, boundless energy and a sense of humor, all things we all could use right now.

Francesc Sans Takes Gorgeous, Blissfully Energetic Spanish Bagpipe Music to New Places

Spanish bagpiper Francesc Sans’s debut album as a bandleader, L’Infinit – streaming at Spotify – is wildly dynamic, often suspenseful, blissful music. As Dr. Pam Popper likes to remind us, we need to bolster our sense of joy and fun more than ever in times like these. This album is an especially exhilarating way to reconnect and recharge.

Sans plays with a breathtaking clarity, an unwavering wind-tunnel tone and a spun-silk legato. What’s just as delicious is that there are sometimes as many as three accordions at once on many of the songs here. They’re rooted in traditional styles – a lot of circle dances, a lot of waltzes – but the musicianship is way outside the box.

Sanz rises out of a murky pool of sound to a suspenseful march, then leads the group in a cheery waltz in the opening number, Tres Tocs Un Cant. After another portentous lull, they take it out triumphantly. There’s a small army of musicians on this record: Rafalito Salazar on guitar; Guillem Anguera, Josep Aparicio and Carles Belda on accordion; Pep Mateu on keys; Artemi Agràs on bass; Albert Carbonell on violin; Alexis Lanza on cello; Josep Maria Ribelles on harp; Pep Toni Rubio on flute; Iris Gayete and Pere Joan Martorell on percussion; and Ester G. Llop, Heura Gaya and Mariona Escoda on vocals,

The second track, Jnavarro is another waltz, rising to a delirious minor-key intensity. And it’s over too soon: the group could have gone on for another ten minutes and it wouldn’t be been boring. Then Sans totally flips the script with the piano ballad Les Quintes, first tenderly, then rising to symphonic proportions on the wings of the bagpipe against Mateu’s angst-fueled, neoromantic piano.

The band bring the party back with Amoretes, a rousing circle dance: Sans’ sirening glissando before the pouncing rhythm returns will give you goosebumps. After that, Tres Niuetes has rippling piano and a briskly bouncing beat that’s almost funk.

Sans stays with that number’s allusive chromatics on the airy introduction to Lo Meu Sud before the group launch into a Gipsy Kings-style romp. A La Nit De Nadal has a resonant bagpipe melody that’s just a wary hair off from a big Scottish air…plus somber Renaissance vocal harmonies.

L’Horizon begins as a cheerfully ambling theme, then shifts to a bracingly chromatic Andalucian trajectory before a wildly careening outro. Sans’ piercing clarity is stunning in A Les Fosques Pel Call, an irresistibly edgy acoustic cumbia tune.

Dolors Gegants is aptly titled, Lanza’s cello starkly aloft over Mateu’s spare, glittering piano, but then the group return to a boisterous circle dance: there’s no stopping this crew. They close the album with L’Aloseta. a rapturously unsettled cumbia lowlit with Gaya’s expressive, poignantly bittersweet vocals. What a disarmingly beautiful record for a time when we really need music like this.

Becca Stevens and the Secret Trio Team Up For Balkan and Middle Eastern-Tinged Magic

Since the zeros, songwriter Becca Stevens has built a distinctive and often brilliant body of work, playing shapeshifting art-rock and chamber pop with a rotating cast who typically draw on a jazz background. She’s also an aptly quirky and brilliant reinterpreter of Bjork.

The Secret Trio are one of the world’s foremost Near Eastern ensembles. Stevens’ decision to collaborate with them has paid off with the best album she has ever made, streaming at Spotify. It’s unlike anything else that’s ever been recorded.

The album opens with Flow in My Tears, a catchy, loopily rhythmic, vaguely Indian-tinged tone poem of sorts. Ismail Lumanovski’s clarinet looms broodingly within the lattice of Ara Dinkjian’s oud and Tamer Pınarbaşı’s kanun. Is the line “flow in my tears,” or “flow in my beer?” Both? Either one works.

Pınarbaşı’s elegant ripples prove to make a perfect background, Dinkjian adding magical textures in Bring It Back, a simple, lilting trip-hop tune. The tantalizingly brief, achingly melismatic clarinet solo toward the end is the icing on the cake.

Stevens builds enigmagic, misty multitracks over more Indian-flavored trip-hop in We Were Wrong. Sometimes Dinkjian plays a simple bassline, sometimes breaking the surface, Lumanovski adding mysterious accents. Stevens’ guitar mingles with the ripples from the kanun from the oud in California, an uneasy, enigmatic nocturne with what seem to be references to the refugee crisis.

Lumanovski’s otherworldly dipping, floating lines introduce Stevens’ mighty, wordless one-woman choir in Eleven Roses, a gorgeously Armenian-flavored tableau. Her ripe, moody vocals echo Jenifer Jackson in Lucian, a trickily rhythmic, equally gorgeous tune, Dinkjian anchoring the soaring, flurrying lines of the clarinet and kanun: Pınarbaşı’s solo will give you goosebumps.

Stevens contemplates a refuge “away from the noisy crowd, where I can see the pale stars rising” in Pathways, a magical blend of the Balkans and catchy American janglerock. Lush layers of vocals float over spare, loopy phrases throughout the next track, Maria

Lullaby For the Sun is a cheerfully lilting pre-dusk theme that gives way to a brief, poignant oud solo before Stevens picks up the pace again. The group imaginatively recast a very Beatlesque riff as incisive Balkan music in The Eye, a metaphorically loaded view of individual powers of perception. The four musicians close this magically cross-pollinated collaboration with a swaying, optimistic, soaring anthem, For You the Night Is Still.

This is a lock for one of the best albums of 2021.

Haunting Acoustic Guitar Instrumentals Inspired by an Istanbul Gone Forever

Guitarists Erkin Cavus and Reentko Dirks’ new duo album Istanbul 1900 – streaming at Bandcamp – draws on the work of photographer Ara Güler, whose mid-20th century portraits capture the end of an era. More profoundly, the two musicians dedicate their magically ghostly, reflective record to the 150,000 traditional merchants, artists and workers there whose livelihoods were stolen from them during the global totalitarian takeover of 2020.

The two set the stage with Galata Liman, a spare, wistful but steady minor-key number with hints of flamenco along with an iconic Erik Satie piece. Ara, the second track, is a vivid grey-sky waltz, sparse leads over a brooding, gently strummed descending theme.

Sokak Arasi is more upbeat, a brisk, sparkling, circling, strolling number. Spare twin leads and delicate harmonies echo through Kadikoey Liman, which the two players pick up subtly at the end. They begin Moda as a swinging, catchy, Romany-flavored folk tune and after a fleeting lull really rock it out.

Maksim has a slow, almost imperceptible sway, rising out of a mutedly mournful, lingering, Satie-esqaue intensity and then back: with its sepulchral echo effects, it’s the album’s most desolately gorgeous track.

Awash in keening harmonics, Vefa is the starkest and arguably most plaintive number here. The two guitarists shift between a mutedly haunting Middle Eastern-tinged theme and a pouncing intensity in the next number, Pera.

They close the album with Mertan, a moody cosmopolitan ballad. This elegaic masterpiece is one of the half-dozen best albums released this year.

Sarah Aroeste Brings a Vanished Balkan Hub of Sephardic Culture Back to Life

Ladino singer Sarah Aroeste‘s cousin Rachel Nahmias survived the Holocaust, smuggled across the border from Macedonia to Albania in the trunk of a car. A Muslim family there hid her from the Nazis for the duration of the war. At 103, she’s still with us.

Her family wasn’t so lucky. After the Nazis took them off to Treblinka, a neighbor pulled the mezuzah (a religious home-sweet-home totem) off the door of their home, planning on giving it back to them when they were liberated. Along with more than seven thousand, mostly Sephardic Macedonian Jews, they never made it back. At times like this we need to remember the Holocaust. Evil was in full bloom then, and it’s in full bloom now: ask an Israeli or an Australian.

Aroeste’s latest album Monastir -streaming at Bandcamp – celebrates the rich history of the Macedonian city now known as Bitola, where her ancestors had roots before leaving for the US in 1913. There’s a small army of Israeli and Macedonian musicians on this, playing a mix of Sephardic and Macedonian folk songs and originals.

Aroeste sings the opening track, a hypnotic, mantra-like anthem celebrating a newborn’s arrival, with a restrained joy, Yonnie Dror getting his shofar to channel dusky digeridoo lows. Vevki Amedov’s magically microtonal Balkan clarinet joins with an animated choir in the irrepressibly jaunty Od Bitola Pojdov (Bitola Girls). Crooner Yehoram Gaon sings an elegantly bolero-flavored take of the Ladino lost-love ballad Jo La Keria over producer Shai Bachar’s elegant piano and Dan Ben Lior’s acoustic guitar.

Odelia Dahan Kehila and Gilan Shahaf join voices on a gorgeous, bittersweetly undulating new Hebrew take of the popular Balkan folk song Jovanke, Jovanke, reinvented as a glittering piano-based ballad. Sefedin Bajramov takes over the mic on Edno Vreme Si Bev Ergen, a lilting, carefree Macedonian folk tune about a guy on the prowl who meets a cute Jewish girl – and wants to be Fyedka to her Chava.

A Bitola children’s choir sing Estreja Mara, a popular post-WWII tribute to a freedom fighter killed by the Nazis at 21. Macedonian opera star Helena Susha sings En Frente de Mi Te Tengo, a brass-fueled ranchera-style ballad.

One of the album’s most dramatic, flamenco-tinged numbers is Aroeste’s original version of Espinelo, a medieval tale of an infant thrown into the ocean as a newborn since he was one of a pair of twins, considered at the time to be bad luck. He survives and goes on to Balkan fame. Baglama player Shay Hamani and kanun player Yael Lavie enhance the brooding Middle Eastern ambience.

The album’s final two tracks pay homage to Aroeste’s ancestral city. She leads a rousing, plaintive choir over an intricate web of acoustic guitars in an original, Mi Monastir, then soars over a bouncy backdrop in Bitola, Moj Roden Kraj, an early 50s hit for Macedonian folk-pop singer Ajri Demirovski. This an all-too-rare work of musicological sleuthing that’s just as fun to listen to as it is politically important.

Sparely Powerful, Lyrical Catalan Songcraft From Singer Lia Sampai

One of the most stunningly direct, potently lyrical albums of the year is Lia Sampai’s latest release Amagatalls de Llum (rough unpoetic translation from Catalan: Hidden in Plain Sight), streaming at youtube. Sampai sings with a disarmingly intimate, nuanced delivery and writes striking, imagistic lyrics, with a fearless political sensibility. Her images can be charming and quirky one second and venomous the next. While there’s a definite flamenco influence in her music, there are also elements of Portuguese fado, pan-Mediterranean balladry, art-rock and tinges of jazz, nimbly negotiated by acoustic guitarist Adrià Pagès. Some of the songs are simply guitar and vocals, others feature terse strings in places.

She opens with La Caixeta (The Box), a stately, romantic waltz that’s part fado, part flamenco and part vintage Parisian chanson. The doll imagery in the sparse, angst-fueled second track, La Nina comes across as more of a reflection on reconnecting with an inner conscience than with an inner child, Lia Manchón’s violin and Ester Trilla’s cello adding pensive ambience.

La Nit del Foc (Night of Fire) is a coy mashup of a dramatic Spanish waltz and a Dylanesque talking blues. Sampai follows a suspenseful trail of eerie, allusive images, up to a duende-fueled peak in Pinyols de Gel (Hailstorm), Pagès’ attack growing more unhinged along with her.

The shapeshifting political broadside Una Llum (A Light) is a real stunner, a slap upside the head of a petty tyrant whose insatiable desire for control backfires and ignites a revolution. Sampai wrote this in 2019, but it has infinite more resonance in the year where the World Economic Forum terrorists are throwing everything they have at us to try to keep their global takeover attempt from going off the rails.

Iris is a delicately waltzing, enigmatic, metaphorically loaded narrative about a dancer (or maybe a stripper). Weeping willow metaphors take centerstage in the stark, grim Salze Vell:

Que dins de tant de vent lo plor és silenci,
Com una paraula que interdiu algú.
I les fulles se revolten encriptades
D’una música que sols entenem junts
Plorem per amunt!
Plorem per amunt!
Alcem un crit de pena i llibertat

[rough translation]

A scream drowned by the wind
Like a forbidden word
And the leaves spin, encrypted
With a music that only we understand
Let’s scream it!
Let’s scream it!
Scream from sadness, for freedom

The catchy, lilting Joc de Miralls (Game of Mirrors) seems to an examination of how recognizing your shadow in someone else can be liberating, if a little scary.

Pagès’ starry electric guitar rings out over Emili Bosch’s synth in Astronautes, a playful outer-space love song. Sampai winds up the album with the understatedly haunting L’Endemà (The Day After), the strings lush and moody as Gerard Morató’s piano mingles with Lluís Pérez-Villegas’ glockenspiel. Sampai’s Christmas party narrative is joyous and not a little defiant, but there’s a sinister undercurrent. What a perfect song for a year when dictators are trying to tell us how many people we can invite to our private holiday celebrations.

Magical Middle Eastern Dichotomies on Opium Moon’s Lavish New Double Album

Opium Moon picked a good bandname. They play rapturous, often haunting original Middle Eastern themes with influences that span from Egypt, to Iran, Israel, Turkey and sometimes India. Their music is psychedelic, otherworldly and infused with the occasional dubwise touch. Their new double album, Night and Day, is streaming at Bandcamp. They love long songs: pretty much everything here isn’t finished until after the seven-minute mark. The first disc is nocturnes, the second a party record which in many ways is a reverse image of the first.

They open the record with the title track, a spare, slinky nocturne which rises almost imperceptibly out of a one-chord jam, Lili Haydn’s violin soaring over a backdrop of MB Gordy’s boomy dumbek, Hamid Saeidi’s spaciously rippling santoor and Itai Disraeli’s warpy, hypnotic fretless bassline.

Wisdom is slower and even more mysterious, Haydn’s gentle, graceful chromatics wafting overhead, throughout more than eleven minutes of austerely enveloping rapture. They pick up the pace with Dhikr (Night), violin and santoor elegantly exchanging phrases over a suspenseful flamenco-tinged drumbeat.

Likewise, the group make a dusky flamenco-tinged theme out of an ancient Jewish prayer in Ahava Ve Shalom, a tantalizingly brief santoor solo at the center. They slowly coalesce out of an Indian-flavored theme in When Their Wings, swooping bass contrasting with the violin’s terse resonance. With Messengers, the group take a stab at making Indian carnatic music out of a famous British folk theme and follow with I’ll Wait For You, a quasi trip-hop number and the album’s most hypnotic interlude.

The second record begins with a lively clip-clop depiction of birds in flight: “They’re smoking the opium of pure freedom,” Disraeli asserts. Dkihr (Day) is a brisk, psychedelic Balkan dancefloor variation on its parallel theme from the first disc, with some wryly amusing flourishes from the bass.

Likewise, they take the first album’s carnatic melody and make Feast of Sevens out of it. With its blend of Indian and classical influences, Dream is much the same. La La Lai, a pulsingly joyous chromatic romp, features Turkish-Kurdish ensemble MiRaz as well as two of the album’s most adrenalizing santoor solos. The final cut is 100 Ways to Kiss the Ground, which seems to be more about kissing the sky. Despite global conditions that have made it almost impossible, so many groups have put out transcendent albums this year, and this is one of the best of them all.

A Surreal French Moment From When Romany Punk Still Ruled the World

American bands are notorious for cultural appropriation, but it works both ways. So often, when acts outside the US emulate American styles, the result can be surreal to the extreme. French band Push Up’s sardonic, minor-key Balkan and Romany-influenced blend of punk rock and hip-hop wasn’t particularly extreme, but it was definitely surreal. You could call them Gogol Bordello lite. Their album The Day After came out in 2015 and is still streaming at Spotify.

It opens with Turn It Off, which is basically a one-chord jam about mass media brainwashing – prophetic,huh? The group bring in some brooding changes in Kiss From the Devil, a not-so-subtly metaphorical look at the perils of selling out.

They work a growly mashup of hard funk, lush 70s soul and hip-hop in I Try and follow with the moodily reggae-tinged Talking to You. Check Your Back is much the same, but with snakecharmer flute and more of a hip-hop edge. The Same – as in “I prefer not to be the same” – has soul organ, while You Never Got a Smile is a starrily organic, Eastern European attempt at American corporate urban pop.

Will You Make It has a psychedelic blend of keys, flute and acoustic guitar. The oldschool soul jam Quincy’s Interlude introduces the album’s lithely funky title track. The album’s most epic number, Pushaz is one of its strangest but also catchiest: imagine Gogol Bordello, Queen and Serge Gainsbourg all together in the studio, taking a stab at 70s soul music.

The rest of the songs on the album are pretty dubby: the Steel Pulse-tinged reggae tune A Dreamer, and a couple of versions of earlier tracks, the first of which is unlistenable at high volume because of the whistling. A snapshot of a world where Romany punk still ruled pretty much wherever there was a party..

Haunting Klezmer Sounds and Protest Songs Outdoors in Park Slope This Week

One of the most powerful protest songs that’s been resurrected in recent years is Mir Veln Zey Iberlebn (We Will Outlive Them).

This old Jewish melody, reinvented by Brooklyn klezmer band Tsibele, is as indomitable an anthem as any freedom fighter could want. In this seven-minute live clip, the group lead a singalong in the deliciously Middle Eastern-flavored freygische mode. Midway through, they provide the grim backstory.

When the Nazis marched into Lublin, Poland in 1941 and rounded up the Jews there, they were as sadistic as usual. Driving the population out into the fields, they commanded the captives to dance. The response was this song. As we all know, those Jews did not outlive their tormentors, but they raised the bar for defiance in the face of evil about as high as it can go.

As sadistic as the lockdowner regime has been, there’s special resonance in that song for us. Inevitability theories of history are full of holes, there’s no doubt that if the world is going to survive, we will outlive them. You can buy an embroidered patch for your coat which says exactly that, in Yiddish and English, from the band.

Half of the group – violinist Zoe Aqua and accordionist Ira Temple – are teaming up for an outdoor show with trumpeter Dan Blacksberg on July 29 at 4:30 PM at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, 58 7th Ave at Lincoln Pl in Park Slope. It’s about equidistant from the Grand Army Plaza and 7th Ave. B/Q stations.

Starting in the mid-teens, Tsibele became a fixture across several scenes here, and made some waves with their album It’s Dark Outside – Indroysn iz Finster, streaming at Bandcamp. Bassist Zoë Guigueno, flutist Eléonore Weill and trumpeter Eva Boodman focus intensely on Aqua’s dark arrangements of some well-known, politically resonant old songs.

Aqua’s slashing, low-register lines pierce the brooding ambience underneath in the first tune, Dem Nayntn Yanuar/Ninth of January, a dirge commemorating the 1905 massacre of freedom fighters in St. Petersburg, The band maintain a somber atmosphere in the blue-collar lament Di Svet Shop, based on a poem by Morris Rosenfeld.

They pick up the pace with a dead-serious take of Nifty’s Eigene, violin and trumpet taking turns with the original lead written by legendary klezmer clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. The album’s big, ominously atmospheric epic is a murder ballad, Tsvelef A Zeyger/Twelve O’clock, with a looming trumpet solo at the center.

Likewise, Boodman’s moody, soulful lines intertwine with the trills of the flute in the slow, darkly methodical Rosemont Terkisher. They close the record with the lilting, wistful title track, a love song.

Fun fact: tsibele is Yiddish for “onion.” Lots of layers to peel back here.

A Welcome, Outdoor Return Gig by a Familiar, Edgy New York Klezmer Powerhouse

Isle of Klezbos and Metropolitan Klezmer are the Parliament/Funkadelic of erudite Jewish party music. No, they don’t play funk – although they’re very danceable. And Isle of Klezbos are back in action, with a gig this July 22 at noon at St. Marks Park at Second Ave. and 10th St.

If not funkiness, what do the two klezmer bands have in common with P-Funk? Like George Clinton’s crew, they’re basically the same band. It didn’t start out that way. Clinton’s genius was in double-dipping a record label (albeit for double the studio work, so it was actually a fairer deal all around). Isle of Klezbos began as the all-female offshoot of the well-loved, theatrical, latin-tinged Metropolitan Klezmer, bolstered by a couple of ringers. They eventually became so popular and so good that at one point it looked like they’d eclipsed the original project. Then the Klezbos (would it be ridiculous to use Klezbo in the singular?) took a backseat to Met Klez again. Either way, both bands can absolutely sizzle onstage, and they were playing lots of outdoor shows years before the lockdown

Over the past decade or close to it, Met Klez earned plenty of coverage here, The last time anyone from this blog was in the house at one of their gigs, it was for a careening and tantalizingly abbreviated late-night set at Drom in January of 2020. Isle of Klezbos are also hardly strangers to the front page here. Their Live in Brooklyn album got the thumbs up in 2014, as did a subsequent Bryant Park gig. The show a little later that year at their frequent summertime haunt, the community garden on 12th Street in the East Village, was even more fun.

That one involved beer. Their gig in the garden the following year, over the Labor Day Weekend, did not, but it was just as entertaining, maybe because moving toward the front of the space to watch the band instead of hanging in back with the brew crew meant trading up to a more sophisticated kind of entertainment.

Was this the year the PA blew out and the band had to play all-acoustic? See a band enough times and everything starts to conflate unless you write it all down…or make a field recording.

Some highlights that still resonate after all these years: sax player Deborah Kreisberg’s plaintive solo during one of her originals, a quasi-cumbia; an epic take of drummer and bandleader Eve Sicular’s towering triptych, East Hapsburg Waltz; and accordionist Shoko Nagai’s quiet, moody rivers of minor chords. Trumpeter Pam Fleming led the group through an undulating reggae tune (she used to play with Burning Spear) and later, if memory serves right, her chromatically edgy, Middle Eastern-flavored Revery in Hijaz. Other players have filtered in and out of the band before and since: it will be fun to see who’s been engaged for the Second Avenue park show.