New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: Center for Traditional Music and Dance

A Rare Manhattan Show by Intense, Hotshot Bukharian Guitarist Roshel Rubinov

Roshel Rubinov is the Jimi Hendrix of Bukharian Jewish party music. He’s an edgy, spectacularly fast, often haunting player, both on guitar and the region’s tanbur lute. While he’s best known for his longtime association with legendary Bukharian crooner Ezro Malakov, he’s well known throughout the Bukharian diaspora as a solo artist and songwriter. His chromatically edgy, distinctively incisive style birngs to mind Yenemi rocker Dudu Tassa as well as high-velocity Balkan groups like the NY Gypsy All-Stars. While Rubinov maintains a busy schedule at weddings and celebrations throughout the Bukharian community in Queens, he’s also leading his band in a rare Manhattan performance on December 9 at 7 PM at Elebash Hall at CUNY, 365 5th Ave. just north of 34th St. Cover is $25.

His performance at the Center for Jewish Culture with the Ezro Malakov Makam Ensemble earlier this year was typical in that it was at a party, in this case for the release of Evan Rapport’s book Greeted with Smiles: Bukharian Jewish Music and Musicians in New York, sponsored by the Center for Traditional Music and Dance. As a singer, Malakov projects in a strong, soulful, melismatic baritone, often in Persian as is common with much of the music from his native land: the Jewish population there  has historically served as vitial a role in musical cross-pollination there as it has right here at home. That show opened with a slow, mysteriously slinky ballad, almost a dirge, infused with dark washes of accordion over a boomy tombak drumbeat, looking further to the Middle East than Central Asia for its brooding tonalities. From there the band picked up the pace with a trickily syncopated, unexpectedly funky number, seemingly a mashup of Andalucian and Russian klezmer music (being on the Silk Road, urban Bukharians got a rich exposure to sounds seldom heard beyond that region).

Rubinov’s spiky, eerily dancing tanbur lute work fueled the night’s next number, a sentimentally crescendoing ballad. The group went back in a moody direction with a starkly hypnotic, minor-key waltz that unexpectedly shifted into a lilting ballad and then back and forth between the two contrasting themes. By the time the septuagenarian Malakov finally took the stage to a roar of applause, late in the set, it was almost anticlimactic, considering how much energy Rubinov had already generated.

But all that’s Rubinov’s rustic fok side. His harder-rocking stuff is all over youtube. Check out this slinky, surfy, epic wedding video, this more folk-rock oriented number, and this one, which really captures him at the peak of his powers, in his element. There are also a few of his songs up at Bandcamp if you don’t want to have to deal with the hassle of muting the youtube ads.


From the Black Sea to Spanish Harlem in a Single Day at Lincoln Center

This year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors has been as reliably fun and eclectic as ever. And it’s more watchable than ever since many of the events are being simulcast (and promise to be archived for streaming later). As far as music from around the world is concerned, that’s been arguably better than ever. The previous weekend’s standout concert modeled itself on Globalfest, the dance-friendly annual spinoff of the January booking agents’ convention held at Webster Hall. Sunday’s show on the plaza mirrored the arguably even more deliriously fun, Middle Eastern-inspired Alwan-a-Thon conceived by the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, held over the same weekend at downtown cultural mecca Alwan for the Arts.

The concert began with self-taught Afghani rubab lute player Quraishi leading a trio with twin dhol drums. His brief set of three traditional folk numbers and a bouncy original was considerably more lighthearted than his rather somber new album Mountain Melodies. Lilting pastoral themes that brought to mind more longscale Hindustani music rose and fell with a hypnotic pulse flavored with spiky, briskly fingerpicked improvisation. The lutenist explained that while some of his music reminds of styles from further east, many Indian ragas are based on Afghani melodies, and that the rubab is the ancestor of the Indian sarod. In a droll Q&A with the audience, Quraishi revealed the secret to keeping his instrument in tune with all the strings intact, no small achievement: he uses steel for the ringing, sympathetic strings and gut for the rest, with the exception of the bass string, which he’d liberated from a tennis racket. He didn’t specify whether that one was gut or nylon, but either way it didn’t break like others had.

Next on the bill were the haunting, exhilarating Ensemble Shashmaqam. As organizer Pete Rushefsky explained, the group originally came together in 1982 in Queens to play Bukharan Jewish repertoire but since has expanded to include Muslim folk material from Uzbekhistan and Tajikistan. In an otherworldly, passionately expressive bass-baritone, their powerful lead singer “Samarkandi,” a.k.a. Rustam Kojimamedov intoned and implored over an alternately haunting and bouncy backdrop fueled by the biting lines of David Davidov’s homemade tar lute. A trio of women dressed in colorful silk costumes took turns twirling and dancing gracefully across the stage throughout the show. A couple of elegaic waltzes, an anthem punctuated by anguished crescendos from Samarkandi that drew gasps of astonishment or solidarity from the crowd, as well as a jaunty, surprisingly lighthearted Jewish wedding dance mini-suite, vocals and tar set against a rather somber wash of minor-key accordion and backing vocals, made this the day’s most impactful set.

Turkish singer/composer Ahmet Erdogdular and his quartet – Peter Daverington on expressive, sailing ney flute, Elylen Basaldi on similarly lithe violin and meticulously precise, soulful oudist Mavrothi Kontanis (who has an alter ego as a darkly psychedelic rock bandleader) – maintained the serious mood. Maybe to differentiate his performance from the others, Erdogdular counterintuitively chose several songs in rather obscure maqam modes, rather than relying on the edgy chromatics and eerie microtones that make Turkish music both so haunting and so instantly identifiable. Erdogdular sang in a powerful, emotive baritone while accompanying himself on frame drum, and on one number, on tambur lute, contributing a long, plaintive solo that mirrored his pensive, brooding approach to the vocals.

The NY Crimean Tatar Ensemble continued the day’s theme of how the music of Turkik peoples has made such an impact from the Balkans through central Asia. Frontman Nariman Asimov spun adrenalizing, rapidfire violin lines balanced by the careful approach of virtuoso kanun player Tamer Pinarbasi (of the NY Gypsy All-Stars) while a succession of men and women dancers, in gold-embroidered silk costumers similar to those worn by Ensemble Shashmaqam’s dancers, moved with a jaunty precision in front of the quartet. This group’s set was the most eclectic and stylistically diverse, ranging from moody klezmer-infused romps, a stately waltz or two and joyously pogoing dances, all of them lit up with searing violin and pointillistic kanun work. Pinarbasi shadowed the melody, indicating that he might not have had much if any rehearsal for the set but nonetheless managed to infuse everything with his signature dynamics and intensity.

About an hour and a half after this show had ended, bandleader Cita Rodriguez and her Orchestra took the stage in Damrosch Park just to the south, leading an ecstatic, towering tribute to her late father, the great salsa singer Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez. Her brother, Pete, who happens to be one of the most potent, pyrotechnic trumpeters in all of jazz, got to take more of a turn on vocals this time, a role he grew into while still in his teens, singing choruses with his famous dad. The concert began with a hypnotic, otherworldly booming African drum interlude, then the orchestra kicked in with a mighty swell and kept the energy at redline well after the sun had finally gone down as a parade of El Conde’s colleagues, including but not limited to Johnny Pacheco, Willie Montalvo and others, took their turns on the mic. Through catchy, endless two-chord vamps punctuated by explosive brass swells, a couple of epically symphonic anthems and a suite of 70s hits, the party was in full effect and never relented. El Conde was a musician’s musician, a craftsman who was always looking for ways to take his art to the next level, through the last weeks of his life: as a celebration of Puerto Rican pride dating from the days when there was plenty of opposition to it in this city, he would have taken a lot of satisfaction from this.

Wild Intense Obscure Bulgarian Sounds Rescued from the Archives

Bronx-born Martin Koenig went to Bulgaria in 1967 and came back with a bunch of music. OMG, did he ever. His mission began, armed with a letter of introduction from Margaret Mead, as a trip to study ethnic dancing. But he quickly realized that the folk music he heard there was far more intense than anything the immigrant bands he’d heard at home in the US were doing. Like an Alan Lomax on steroids, drawn to the wildest and most intense players he could find, he recorded as much as he could, live, in the field. In an auspicious development, Evergreene Music is reissuing many of those brilliant, obscure sides, from the Center for Traditional Music and Dance‘s archives, for the first time ever in digital format. The first release, originally a 7″ ep prosaically titled Balkan Arts 701 is just out and streaming at the label’s Bandcamp page. Even better, there are also a limited amount of the rare original singles available in a package along with all the digital stuff – tracks, liner notes and a wry 1970 radio interview with Koenig – for $12.

Be forewarmed that this is not safe American folkie club music: it’s raw, feral stuff from an era when those who played this music partied as hard as they lived. Fans of gypsy rock bands may recognize Zborinka, the first song here, particularly when the chorus kicks in. But what’s noticeably absent from this drony, haphazard dance, played on gadulka fiddle, gaida bagpipe and harmonica is the menacing chromatics that most of us associate with music from Eastern Europe. What it evokes, in just under four savage minutes,  is Scottish bagpipers taking a stab at an Indian raga.

Likewise, Ruka saws and puffs along , the instruments all trilling eerily against an unwavering central chord. It’s hard to fathom that all this racket is being created by just three musicians: Petar Ivanov Penkov on gadulka, Atanas Atanasov Ivanov on harmonica and Georgi Stoyanov Georgiev on gaida.

The two songs on the B-side were recorded by Radio Sofia and released in Bulgaria.  Chukanuto, played by five-piece band Strandjanskata Grupa (Stoyan Velichkov on kaval flute; Kostadin Varimezov on gaida; Neno Ivanov on gadulka; Yordan Tsvetkov on tambura lute; and Ognyan Vasilev on tupan drum) is part shivery dirge, part deliriously swirling reel, driven by distant drumming. Dobrolushko Horo, played by Prvomajskata Grupa, is a surrealistically swinging large-ensemble romp with big band jazz touches, mirroring what was happening in the nations to the immediate west.

Few of the musicians Koenig recorded here ever went on to any kind of fame beyond their local villlage scenes. With the passage of time and the exodus from rural areas to the cities over the past thirty years, the likelihood that they’ve faded even further into obscurity multiplies many times over. Here’s to their immortality, and to the folks at Evergreene – who will be releasing much more of this from the archives over the next year – for helping assure that. By the way, if you like this music, you will probably enjoy Evergreene’s Jeff Greene’s sly, witty, psychedelic Balkan/Asian/Middle Eastern string band Tribecastan.