(photo credit: Courtesy)
Although they spend a lot of their time in foreign countries, Tamir Muskat and Ori Kaplan, founders of Balkan Beat Box, are Israelis. "There is no escaping it," Muskat says. "Although I would rather define myself as citizen of the world, when I perform abroad I'm an Israeli. With all that this implies."
Despite Muskat's hesitations, BBB are the best example of what Israel strives to be, a collection of people from all over the world - a Kibbutz Galuyot. They mash up balkan music and klezmer instruments with Jamaican dub, rock, funk and more then just a twist of oriental sound. Collaborating with musicians from all over the globe - including Morocco, Spain, Bulgaria and Palestinian - the group sings in English, Hebrew, Arabic and whatever else, to bring a message that there are no colors and nationalities in music.
It might sound naive, but Muskat stands behind it.
"We know how sensitive the situation is," he says, "We just had a great show in Turkey, where many Israeli delegations were just kicked out. Once you perform, and talk to people, you have to wonder, are we really giving dialogue a chance?" Muskat asks.
"As artists our power is in the art," he asserts. "After one of our shows in southern France, a 16-year-old Palestinian living there, a kid that hates Israel even more because of the guilt of living so far from his Palestinian brethren, told us, 'I never thought Israelis could be so cool and deliver such a message.' Those little moments, and there are tons of them, are what help soothe my burning desire to help achieve peace."
Muskat and Kaplan are the core of BBB. They met in Brooklyn when both were separately involved in various underground bands such as Big Lazy, Firewater and Shot'nez.
Genre is a troublesome word when it comes to BBB. "Reporters always try to pigeon hole us. But we just let the music that's inside us come out. We want to tell musicians that they shouldn't feel any shame in their roots, in their influences," Muskat says. "Both me and Kaplan come from families deeply rooted in Balkan. But we also listened to Madonna and Michael Jackson as kids. And we heard klezmer music at our grandparents. Our music is what comes out from that mix."
As such, Muskat and Kaplan searched in New York for people to help create their first solo album, the self-titled Balkan Beat Box. "The buzz following that album was amazing. In two months we were on the road with a band," he says.
When they were back in Israel, they searched locally for people to work with, as well. Muskat knew Tomer Yosef who worked with him to produce the album. Yosef quickly became the third regular member of the band, adding his unique dub sound, much more apparent in their second internationally critically acclaimed album Nu-Med.
"That album came after we had a band and had toured, after we had more direction. The great reviews it got gave us another kick. Since Ori and I had been around for a while, we never developed an ego. An ego usually leads to repeating yourself and creating lousy music. We are open to everything, remain true to ourselves and to what moves us. Consequently, we always sound like Balkan Beat Box."
Besides Yosef, BBB has seven or eight regular musicians - more or less. Muskat explains, "We have band members that perform with us around Europe and members that perform in the US. We move around a lot, so it's helpful to have two crews."
When in Israel they are Muskat on drums, Kaplan on saxophone, Yosef is the percussionist and MCs, Eyal Talmudi on sax and horns, Ben Handler on bass and Uri Kinrot on guitars.
This weekend BBB give their mind boggling, ecstatic show in Israel after a year's hiatus on the local scene. "It's always exciting to perform in our homeland. The Israeli audience is among the best in the world - open and fun."
BBB takes the stage on February 5, 6 and 7 at 10 p.m. at Tel Aviv's Barby (52 Kibbutz Galuyot St., (03) 518-8123) and again on February 13 at Kibbutz Be'eri at 10:30 p.m., (054) 791-8685. Tickets cost NIS 129.