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World Music CD Reviews Europe

MAHALA RAI BANDA

By Derek Beres
Published June 27, 2006

Mahala Rai Banda
Crammed Craw

2003’s incredible Electric Gypsyland compilation featured remixes of two East European musical mammoths: Taraf de Haïdouks and Kocani Orkestar. One track, “Iest Sexy,” belonged to a project started by two Taraf members, Aurel Ionita and Stéphane Karo. Nearly three years later that band, Mahala Raï Banda,­ launches into the animated stratosphere of gypsy brass. Based in Bucharest, Romania, this collaboration between seasoned army veterans blowing traditional folk and 20-something upstarts interested in popularizing this highly danceable ceremonial music is astounding. Drawing from centuries of Balkan wandering, the clarinets, trumpets, tubas and accordions are grounded in ambitious textures of reggae and club production. The 12-piece Gypsy orchestra (its name translates to “noble band from the ghetto”) creates accessible entry points for non-initiates to gather and listen: the dubby “Red Bula” and “Iest Sexy,” here in less thumping, more percussive-driven format. Both versions were produced by Shantel, the DJ mastermind behind the Bucharest uprising of Balkan Brass, now popping up all over America. The predecessors have opened a portal that Mahala Raï Banda, proven by the strength of this debut, is ready to enter.