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.