Ahmed Má Hlad


his is the second album from these klezmer/punk young soul rebels from the Czech Republic. It is 48 minutes worth of awesomeness (and a lot of multimedia fun if you listen to it on the computer)…but it might mean a lot more than that.

Since you have never heard of this group, a little background first. Ahmed Má Hlad is an eight-member ensemble, with most of the heavy songlifting done by clarinet player Mikuláš Kroupa. The group has two main singers: Laura Kopecká has a high raggedly pretty voice, and Andrej Novik has one of those goofy operatic baritone weapons that should be deployed only when there is someone pretty and high to balance him out. Overall, they sound a lot like the Czech X, or maybe the Knitters from back in the day.

Except that X never decided to be a crazed Balkan group willing to sound about seven thousand different ways on the same album. “Maksym kozak” begins as a dirge, then shifts into overdrive to become a wedding-dance monster stomp with overtones of polka and reggae. But on the very next track, “Čumak,” they are doing something like Romany speedcore, with surf-guitar breaks right up alongside Daniel Hůle’s aggressive accordioning. (That doesn’t sound like a word, but let’s go with it anyway.)

The best part about this is that AMH is using traditional songs to undergird their wild vision. “Javor” is apparently some kind of folk tune that they take and tweak until is sounds epic, a drinking song gone pointillist and muscle-bound with saxes and incredibly fast breaks. Kopecká turns some old song/poem into “Ogródeczek,” a loping tumbling two-beat funk. The title track adds lyrics about visiting a far-off place in Russia by guitarist Jan Žemlička to an old tune, but spruces it up to make it sound like an insane sleigh ride, possibly with rockets.

Ahmed Má Hlad sees your “genre” and raises the stakes. They see the trap of “world music” (regression to the mean milquetoasty softish stuff that everyone else plays) and avoid it with agility and brute force. “Oj, Bože, Bože” has about six different sections packed into three minutes and eighteen seconds: classic 1980s ballad, chamber-ska, show tune, Hüsker-pop, jazz waltz, and alt.country raveup. The fact that this sounds like an actual song instead of some kind of lab experiment gone wrong is the important part.

Because this kind of music is going on all over Eastern Europe. This is especially true in the Czech Republic, with groups like Traband and –123min. (both on the same Indies label, straight outta Brno), but the more you read and hear (ahem, and download), the more you realize that a whole new Velvet Revolution is happening there. These groups just don’t give a damn about what they’re “supposed” to sound like; they toss everything into the stew, add a whole lot of paprika and sweat and lust, and go for it. It has the same feel as the rock en español movement in the 1980s, or the rise of MPB in Brazil in the 1960s—hell, it’s the same feel as African electronic music now: “We know that we’re technically not supposed to do this, but that’s exactly why we’re doing it. So excuse us while we blow the doors off the joint.”

Ahmed Má Hlad doesn’t sound like African electronica or MPB. What they sound like is freedom, and love of music, and a big middle finger to anyone who wants to label them. This is the new path they’re walking. I think we have no choice but to follow.

Reviewed by: Matt Cibula

Reviewed on: 2005-01-24

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