Wednesday, July 19, 2006

My summer of Tsiganskaya musika (Gypsy Music)

The tsigani (or gypsies) used to hang out in the tunnels that ran under Marksa Street during the summer. I remember their weathered, dark skin and striking eyes. Their children would hold their hands open in eagerness for a kopeck or two to drop. These young recipients would quickly dash their new treasures into their pockets to return with immediacy for a refill. Sometimes during these underground walkthroughs, the temperature would rise to unbearable heights as my body would become covered with eight to ten sets of small tsigani hands all asking the same question: where’s the money?

It’s no wonder so many believed in the rumors of their mysticism. With bright cloth woven into their hair, mismatching patterns of foreign fabrics flowing to their heels, and shiny homemade jewelry weighing down their frail frames, it is hard for any westerner to understand the completely alien culture that was alive in this nomadic people. This mysticism might be the essence that has me so captivated at the moment in my recent splurge into gypsy music, Balkan brass, and western interpretations of the like.

After falling in love with Gulag Orkestar, as well as simultaneously basking in nostalgia as I study (review) Russian in summer school, my playlist has been overflowing with gypsy music since the beginning of the summer months. Please enjoy a few of the few pleasure I am basking in at the moment.

[mp3] BeirutBratislava
It is hard to deny the role that Zach Condon has played in my recent love affair with Balkan brass. “Bratislava” steers way from the storyboard songs of Gulag and transfers its listener into the foreign country of its inevitable conception. It is hard to imagine being surrounded by anything else than foreign tongues and gypsy head rags as “Bratislava” comes alive with its layered horns and indecipherable mumblings of Condon.

[mp3] Kocani OrkestarSiki Siki Ba Ba
My first introduction to Balkan brass came after Zach dropped this influences during his guest post on Said the Gramophone. “Siki Siki Ba Ba”, now a Beirut live staple, has a “circle dance” vibe and bounce; a communal street gathering where smiles adorn each instrument and high knees possess all the dancing legs.

[mp3] DeVotchKaSuch A Lovely Thing
The mysticism that surrounds one in trying to understand the gypsy ways is quite possibly the same thing that goes through my mind when I contemplate DeVotchKa’s slow rise to recognition. DeVotchKa have taken their eastern European influenced sound and turned it into a breeding ground for heartbreak and lovemaking. Here, Nick Urata’s caped croon haunts. Amidst a dimly, candlelit brick tunnel you can see the devil dance of a lovesick gypsy.

[mp3] Neutral Milk HotelThe Fool
Originally written for a short film, whose title it shares, “The Fool” is the long winter marching song for a hunchbacked kulak. This fool’s heartbroken march back to his homeland is a timely intermission in the seamless In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Yet “The Fool” still has the power to transport us into that foreign land where streets are actually paved with stone and baths are reserved for hot days in rivers and streams.

[mp3] Zlatne Uste Balkan Brass BandZulumcar
“Zulumcar” is the taunting belly dance of the gypsy princess. Just as “Siki Siki Ba Ba” is a communal circle dance where the whole town seems to get up and sing, “Zulumcar” is a lone gypsy woman’s song where the only circling is done by her, around you, her lone listener.

[mp3] Gogol BordelloStart Wearing Purple
All things are well that end well. Right? Such music, as that made by Gogol Bordello, captures all that is annoying about gypsy music. The polka push that is avoided by these previous bands is completely accepted by the Bordello as their drunken shouts of blasphemy and stomping dance steps remind us the reasons why this genre is sometimes so hard to digest.

Thank goodness my summer of gypsy music will be able to come to life in one form or another. With the Content’s high recommendation for shows of the mid summer (and into fall) we announce you two very special engagements at the Troubadour here in LA. Enjoy.

8/18/06 – Devotchka @ Troubadour (tix)
10/21/06 – Beirut @ Troubadour (tix)

BONUS [mp3] BeirutSiki Siki Ba Ba (Live)


Anonymous laura said...

uh... they're not working?

1:37 PM  
Blogger just a brief smile said...

great post! completely off-beat, yet relevant.

1:59 PM  
Blogger BWH999 said...

Right click the link, and click "Save Target As." They should work, but let me know if they still don't.

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your "smile," much appreciated.

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you might also want to check out STORSVEIT NIX NOLTES' debut album, if you haven't already.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will do, thanks for the recommendation.

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Jim said...

Darn.. just found this. Starting to really like the sound of this gypsy stuff myself.. but alas.. the links are dead. Any chance of a repost?

9:59 AM  

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