Print this Page

World Music CD Reviews Electronica

Balkan Beat Box

By Mario Oña
Published September 28, 2007

Nu Med
JDub

Loaded with brassy oompah and no shortage of chutzpah, Balkan Beat Box bring back their unapologetic gypsyelectrofunkcircus on their sophomore release, Nu Med. The band pick up where it left off on their 2005 self-titled debut and continue with the same Lennon-esque audacity of imagining a world where “there’s no countries.” Except for a few different cameos and the permanence of their loud, brash, shirtless, stagediving emcee, Tomer Yosef, who was only a guest on the debut, the New York-based band, led by Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat stick to the shtick that worked the fi rst time around.

And why not? Apart from being a magnifi cent achievement in organically stitching together Arabic, Balkan, Bulgarian, European, Gypsy, Jewish, Moroccan, Syrian and Turkish sonic tapestries with American electronica, it’s clear that the world heard the fi rst album, but didn’t necessarily listen.

Nu Med is devoid of any fl agrant political lyrics like “La Bush Resistance (pronounced reh-seeztawnce),” which closed BBB’s debut disc. On that track, Yosef could be heard pleading, “Leave the guns,” and then proclaiming in rhyme: “The drums of the resis-tawnce/We’re making Bush bellydawnce…/ With Afghani-stawnce.” On Nu Med, they simply imply peace and oneness through the music.

After a minute-plus intro, BBB delves right into it with the instantly belly-danceable “Hermetico.” A funky handclap beat holds the song together through thick repetitive saxophone circus blasts and Kaplan’s gorgeous, sinuous alto sax that sounds like a Turkish zurna. Yosef, who raps in English and Hebrew, invites everyone to the party: “From the Middle East to the open nation, we come straight to the ear without complication.” They whet listeners’ auditory appetite for a buffet of languages and sounds, and let the masses know that this allyou- can-eat feast is open to all.

On “Habibi Min Zaman”—one of the album’s highlights—an irresistible darbuka (or similar goblet hand drum) and majestic horns set the stage for guest chanteuse Dunia from Damascus to abandon her traditional Egyptian style singing and rap in Arabic. Think Natacha Atlas doing her best Missy Elliott. Equally splendid collaborations come on “Pachima” and “Joro Boro,” where guest collaborators provide two distinct sounds and BBB build songs around them. On “Pachima,” musician-turned-clothing designer Gilber Gilmore delivers a Moroccan melody from his childhood, and on “Joro Boro,” Bulgarian singer Dessislava Stefanova, leader of the London Bulgarian Choir and past BBB collaborator, emails the band an a cappella duet. Apart from Stefanova, prodigal Macedonian clarinetist and fi rst chair in Juilliard’s Symphony Orchestra, Ismail Lumanovski, 22, lends his wizardry on “BBBeat,” giving the album even more Balkan authenticity.

Yosef, who is also Israeli, proclaims the group’s battle cry during the Saharan dancehall bomb, “Digital Monkey.” He sings in a pseudo-Caribbean voice: “I come from the Middle East, but don’t belong to no country.” Drummer and self-proclaimed “knob-twister” Muskat, who produced kindred spirit Gogol Bordello’s 2002 Multi Kontra Culti vs. Irony, displays his mixing and electronica prowess with bleeps, zaps and a looming bass line (reminiscent of the Knight Rider theme) on the track.

Amidst the blissful Gypsy jubilance, it’s easy to overlook BBB’s poignancy and urgency. But this party carries a subtle undertone of desperation that’s irrefutable, no doubt exacerbated by last year’s devastating confl ict between Israel and Lebanon. The message spread through the music here seems clear: If the music and culture can transcend political divides, why can’t the people? BBB accentuate the point on their website. Under a subheading “Peace in the Middle East/Paix au Méditerrannée!” (Peace in the Mediterranean), they write: “…Around our little Mediterranean pond there is more common to us than th