Print this Page

World Music Features

Les Yeux Noirs

By Derek Beres
Published March 13, 2006

Taking their name from an old Russian gypsy tune, Les Yeux Noirs  are finally finding global audiences, touring. An exquisitely textured, richly modern offering, this may not be their parents’ music, but it is certainly a step forward.

The common image of the gypsy, in western thought, is exotic, mysterious, often sexually promiscuous. So it follows that their music would be similar, an abstract fusion of esoteric ritual and campfire anthems reserved for lonely wayfarers. Given the gypsy heritage of travel this may, on the surface, appear feasible. Of course, we are well aware of modern romanticism–Hollywood movies and Republican government only two examples–but gypsy music is much more realistic, and accessible, than one may imagine.

          Originating in North Central India circa 300 BC, the gypsies found their way through Persia, settling in scattered residencies en route to Eastern Europe. Making their living in trade and, as often noted, divination, they were viewed as unclean, unchaste bands content living outside the restrictions of established communities. Their music paralleled this lifestyle, often focused on love, cooking food and the weariness of travel.

          Such an existence today seems impossible, but even with constant advances in technology the root remains: Be it on horseback or coach seat, by foot or air, wanderers still traverse the earth on an auditory ambassadorship. Bringing the sounds of traditional gypsy and klezmer tradition to a global audience, France’s Les Yeux Noirs is among the best.

          Taking their name from an old Russian gypsy tune made popular by Django Reinhardt, Les Yeux Noirs (“The Black Eyes”) are finally finding global audiences, touring in support of their fourth album, Balamouk (World Village). An exquisitely textured, richly modern offering of chaotic violins, cellos, accordions and driving drums and bass rhythms, this may not be their parents’ music, but it is certainly a step forward.

          “I don’t think we have music in our blood,” says Oliver Slabiak, violinist and vocalist. “But our parents need us to play music. It was their dreams, so we began playing classical music for 15 years. Now it would be impossible for us to play classical music because we don’t have the concentration to do that. It’s a very hard life. It’s very intellectual, but we love the violin and the music and the possibility of playing music. One day we discovered this gypsy music with our uncle and we remember our grandmother singing Yiddish lullabies. It’s a mix of remembering, of dream, and of fantasy, of playing traditional music with pop culture, because it’s our culture.”

          Dubbed “The boy band of a lost era” by the Bangkok Post, Les Yeux Noirs would have no problem thrashing and demolishing the pop mentality of western radio. Thei