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Awards for World Music 2008
Aida Nadeem
Nu Med
Balkan Beat Box album cover
Odd as it may sound but Balkan Beat Box’s Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat are Israeli citizens who met when playing in Brooklyn punk bands. Their only Balkan connection is that of appreciating that region’s music but, hey, in the 1960s the UK produced many a decent suburban white blues musician. Both musicians grew up appreciating an eclectic blend of music – Kaplan learnt classical and klezmer clarinet while Muskat drummed in punk bands – and shifted to the US as their musical ambitions lay beyond Israel’s provincial pop-trance-rap scene.

Finding they shared a desire to create music based on remixing samples with live musicians, the duo began to experiment. Forming Balkan Beat Box, Ori and Tamir compare their musical aesthetic to assembling a gigantic jigsaw puzzle: when a sound they desired could not be found they created their own.

Their self-titled 2005 debut album blends recordings of Balkan brass bands with studio wizardry. The resulting mix of exotic chill-out and dance tracks proved popular with one track, Bulgarian Chicks, becoming a club favourite. Their 2007 follow-up album Nu-Med has found them broadening their sound to include more Arabic and Spanish flavours.

"I describe it as 'Mediterranean dancehall,'" Kaplan suggested of Nu-Med to a US interviewer. "Some people describe it as Balkan-inspired electronic urban folk, with hip-hop beats. It really took the sum of who we are, and our experiences. It can take a month to grow, or just one day."

Not that they are ignoring the now increasingly popular Balkan sound: Nu-Med tracks such as Gypsy Queens and $20 For Boban celebrate the region’s Romany music – the latter being a homage to Serbia’s trumpet legend Boban Markovic. In concert the duo are joined by several musicians while inviting local rappers, musicians and dancers to join them on stage.

"If we discover a special local artist,” says Kaplan of this practise, “sure. In Sweden, we had an Iranian rapper. In France, we had a Moroccan Gnawa musician.” Such an eclectic approach to music making helps push the BBB philosophy of a planet without borders where all share.

Garth Cartwright

Read other people's comments then Tell us what you think:

Nina, NYC, Macedonia
i saw these guys in New York last December. Their show was one of the most explosive things i have ever seen. the crowd was dancing madly. i got to talk to them and i actually think 3 of the band members are americans and the other 2 have been forever in New York. This music is so New York and the new Immigrant filled America. I myself am an immigrant from the Balkans. Maybe they should have been under the Americas category?

Lord Bottletop, Carrboro, NC USA
BBB was one of the delights of the WOMEX 2007 showcases. Their performance, on the heels of Fanfara Tirana's, was the font of slivovitzian delight, with inventive overtones and flavors of brass, klezmer, electronica, guided by the spirit of Frank Zappa as channeled by Ori Kaplan & Tamir Muskat, and Tomer Yosef may be the new Iggy Pop.

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