Balkanic eruption

Gypsy-Mideastern-Hip Hop powerhouse Balkan Beat Box plays in Tel Aviv Saturdy night... better start jumpin'.

balkan beat box 224.88 (photo credit: )
balkan beat box 224.88
(photo credit: )
New York City: If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, as Sinatra said. The boys from Balkan Beat Box have certainly taken that to heart. Although their eclectic combination of Gypsy folk music, punk, electronic beats and who-knows-what-else has propelled the Israeli-expats from a Big Apple underground phenomenon into globe trotting performers, they haven't forgotten their roots and perform several times a year in Israel, including this Saturday night in Tel Aviv. The hard to define sound of Balkan Beat Box - something only vaguely like late '70s, horn-oriented Two-Tone ska mixed with dance club rhythms and a super-robust dose of Eastern European and Mediterranean folk music - is largely the work of the three core members: drummer Tamir Muskat, winds player Ori Kaplan, and energetic vocalist/percussionist Tomer Yosef. This trio expands into a larger band for performances, which often feature special guests and appearances by local musicians. "Balkan Beat Box has been together for about three years," explains Muskat, reached by phone at their Tel Aviv studio where they are hard at work finishing up their third album. "[But] Ori and I have been living for 15 years in New York and have a history of many different projects together. I think that, in all modesty, when we started this project we thought we had a new, fresh sound. We felt like a new baby was born." "We started this concept," adds Kaplan, "and then Tomer jumped in with us. To find a new hybrid, it can take a lifetime or it can take five minutes. In our case it was easy. There are so many people coming from everywhere, immigrating to New York, so there has to be a new urban culture. We need a home and a soundtrack for our lives." Speaking of soundtracks, Muskat and Kaplan are quick to disavow the rumor that their music had somehow slipped into the hugely successful 2006 movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Muskat does reveal, however, that several of their songs have been recently licensed to appear in an upcoming movie produced by Madonna. "We have had so many good things happen last year," he says. "And we are already due to perform in Japan, Brazil, Greece and Morocco this year." Muskat explains that they hope to release their nearly completed third recording by the end of 2008, but they have a documentary and remix projects in the works that should be released sooner. "We have really worked our asses off the last few years. It takes that, plus talent and a little luck to make it as an artist. It has taken many years of work and we did a lot of things to find our voice." Tomer Yosef, the hyper-kinetic front man and percussionist, is an established solo artist (with two CDs out and another soon to come) who clearly found his voice long ago. "I see myself in this band as an entertainer really. My first instrument was pots and pans, and I started out on stage at age 16 doing stand-up comedy, so it's very natural." Yosef had a burgeoning acting career in Israel before turning to the NYC-Israeli music scene, and his theatrical background comes through in his attention grabbing stage antics. In additional to all their various side projects, the members of Balkan Beat Box have maintained a hectic touring and recording schedule that shows no sign of letting up ˆ after their Israel visit they immediately fly to Belgrade to continue working on their CD with some local Gypsy musician collaborators. "Our performances, we drive people to madness," says Kaplan impishly. "We make at least 100 performances a year, but we need to do 300, only we need time to record and for family. Here in Tel Aviv it feels good, it's a homecoming. Our parents are here and we hope they will come." For their show this Saturday night, Muskat, Kaplan and Yosef are joined by their regular ensemble of established musicians: Uri Kinrot on guitar, Ben Handler on bass and Eyal Talmudi on sax and clarinet, with multimedia video artist Billy Levy providing visuals. Also making an appearance will be Desislaya Stefanova and Diana Tsokova, two Bulgarian singers based in London. In addition, legendary rocker Barry Sakharov is scheduled to join the group on stage for a few numbers. "It's a wonderful, natural connection," says Yosef. "Barry is a great person and its fun to work with him. It's a huge honor for know, it's Barry!" Opening the show is the superb Warsaw Village Band, a young and rowdy folk music ensemble from Poland that has almost single-handedly revived an interest in traditional Polish music among the younger generation there. Mixing obscure folkloric instruments and melodies with some modern touches and production, the ensemble has long been popular across Europe for their raw, authentic and emotional sound. Saturday, Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv, doors open at 9:30. Tickets are NIS 149 and can be ordered by calling 03-524-7373 or at