Electric Gypsyland 2
f you’d asked me four months ago what genre of music I would listen to the most before the end of 2006, Balkan wedding music wouldn’t have even registered as an option. Then again, if you’d have told me that the largest-grossing film of the year was going to feature a Kazakh news reporter… Well, you get the idea.
Luckily, the second edition of Crammed’s Electric Gypsyland compilation was released early in November—just in time for my nascent curiosity to become full-fledged obsession. The series, which asks (mostly) Western producers to remix/remake/remodel some of Balkan music’s finest working bands, is a perfect introduction to the genre.
The second disc in the set features bands from which the remixers took their source material. I found Kocani Orkestar and Taraf de Haïdouks to be my favorites among the four presented. The two are probably the best-known Balkan bands and it’s easy to see why—they’re incredibly quick and lyrical groups. Taraf’s “Terno Chelipe,” for example, sets off at a galloping pace and doesn’t let up until each player gets a solo where they ratchet the tempo up a notch, until they collapse in a heap a mere three minutes later. Kocani’s “Siki, Siki Baba,” on the other hand, is probably the most stirring song I’ve heard all year. Featuring a wired brass section all too happy to provide a trill of a fanfare and accompaniment to Aljur Azizov’s expressive vocal, the musicians furiously provide a rhythm that teeters on the edge of collapse throughout its four-minute length.
Despite the tempo shifts and showy solos, each of these tracks is anchored solidly by a rhythm section. As such, it’s easy to see why Balkan music has become popular in the dance music world. Aside from the oft-cited experiments of Villalobos, Basement Jaxx recently put out the excellent Gypsy Beats and Balkan Bangers compilation on their own label and Germany’s DJ Shantel (who appears here, remixing Taraf) has held a Bucovina Club night in Frankfurt for the past few years.
Crammed don’t merely gather up dance music suspects, however. Nouvelle Vague and Cibelle, among others provide decidedly non-dancefloor ready takes. Tunng is probably the best, grafting their electronic folk onto Taraf easily. It is the dancefloor that the comp is aiming for, however, and highlights include Balkan Beat Box having no trouble cutting up Mahala Raï Banda into a kitschy skank, and Shantel seamlessly transforming Taraf into a club-ready stomp.
Animal Collective also appear—and are surprisingly disappointing. They craft an awkward mix out of a few loops, add some of their own vocals, and call it a day. Luckily, it’s more than made up for by tracks such as Oi Va Voi’s take on Taraf’s “A Rom and a Home,” which tears apart the constituent parts of the track and carefully puts them back together—putting space, something not often considered here by Balkan bands raised on virtuosity, to work.
For Balkan beginners, Electric Gypsyland 2 is a great place to start. The second disc features some of the best tracks that I’ve heard in my very short time as a gypsy music obsessive, while the first offers up a healthy overview of some of the directions that the genre’s sounds are being pulled. Looking for more of the first disc’s flavor? Try Gypsy Beats and Balkan Bangers. Those wanting the “real thing” will be best further served by The Rough Guide to the Music of Balkan Gypsies.