Balkan Beat Box takes to the stage in Jerusalem as the Israeli summer heats up, with Mediterranean surf rock trio Boom Pam in support, making this gig one of the best open-air lineups of the month.
Balkan Beat Box has spent the best part of the last eight years forging a strong musical identity that in a globalized world has managed to stand out among the chorus as a solo voice with something to say. The group has had great success in the festival and dance hall circuits in the US, Europe, the UK and Israel.
The band stormed London at the O2 Academy and literally brought the crowd to a frenzy over a two-hour set. In an interview with Billboard, jazz saxophonist and BBB co-founder Ori Kaplan provides some insights into the band’s latest musical moments and talks about the band’s hybrid take on music and how it reflects the group’s world view.
Asked if BBB was surfing the wave of globalization, Kaplan replies, “Sure, I think that the barriers have broken down internationally, culturally, musically, and there is a paradigm shift, and we have always embraced that. I wouldn’t say that we have surfed the wave, but we have definitely found our place.”
Their first eponymously titled album burst onto the scene with its mix of crowing roosters, rootsy klezmatik flourishes and funky hip-hop stepping, all laterally sliced with a hefty serving of Eastern European rock and roll.
Nu-Med followed that, with its stated overtones of a new musical fusion of the Mediterranean.
Following that was the album Blue Eyed Black Boy. Each album overtly states the band’s perspective as belonging to a world of fusions.
Now that their new album Give is on release, has anything changed? “The previous albums were more utopian. We were younger and more idealistic,” says Kaplan.
“Now, of course, we’re older and more aspirational. Comparing the tracks between our last album Blue Eyed Black Boy and our new album Give, you can see this. ‘War Again’ echoes our frustrations of the prospect of conflict and is ultimately part of a utopian ideal for a peaceful free world. Now, with tracks like “Political ****,” we are more aspirational; we want to be part of that change to a better world. It’s more realized and less idealistic, hence the album title, Give.”
With each album, there has always been a strong visual identity alongside the musical one. Like the music, the visual impact of Give certainly makes a statement. It also signals a change in direction from previous work.
“The designs the artist came up with of a semi-automatic megaphone and the 9mm microphone are good reflections of how we feel that music is our way of expression,” says Kaplan.
“Musically, there are more electronic elements in this album, and it’s made more for the sound system. The BBB brass is still in there as always, but it’s a more bassy vibe, more dance hall, more urban bass culture, all good.”
The strong megaphone statement is both visual and audible, as the new album mixes their conscious effortless cosmopolitan lyrical content with their trademark mix of Balkan brass, hip hop beats and dance hall style. This has had critics place them somewhere between M.I.A., Goran Bregovic, Gogol Bordello, Asian Dub Foundation, Bob Marley and even the great Curtis Mayfield. But as I always say, when a band starts being compared to a long list of artists, it’s quite obvious that it actually has its own sound.
“In previous albums, we were looking for lots of different guests and artists to work with, but in this album it was just the three of us,” says Kaplan. “So rather than roaming around pulling in guests, we had a lot of accumulated input. So it was us making music in one room together – analogue synths, instruments and us.”
The end result is as strong and as vibrant as every release the band has had to date. They remain kings of their art but one of the people. And if you are one of the people who want to witness the party and the pageant that are Balkan Beat Box’s live show, then you should probably make it a priority to get a ticket while you can.
Balkan Beat Box performs in Independence Park in Jerusalem on July 5 with Boom Pam in support.
Tickets NIS 60 – NIS 115, www.tickets.bimot.co.il.