Saturday Jams: East side!

A while back, Rob was bitten; not by a radioactive spider but by an idea to post a weekly article about a few songs that he really likes. There are so many possibilities that the series could go on forever, and so Saturday Jams was born.


eastern europe 2004
eastern europe 2004 (Photo credit: colm.mcmullan)

This week I’m kicking you East of the Western world, past the Ural and the Caucasus to the lands of Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Some of the most interesting music I’ve ever found comes out of this region, and since the fall of the Iron Curtain it has shown no signs of stopping.

One thing I like most about the music out of Eastern Europe is the exotic flavor you get from their usage of what we tend to think of as “band instruments” – as in “school band”, “marching band”, or “big band”. Like many foreign countries, there’s still a lot of respect for those instruments in popular music and in Eastern Europe both the traditional and contemporary styles depend on them for their signature flavor; melodies that sound like a snake charmer’s pipe are often played on an oboe or clarinet, although as we will see, there’s other ways to do it. Other common instruments are stringed viols, accordions, all sorts of brass instruments . . . they run the gamut of traditional and non-traditional.

Another thing is that they’re just so different; once you start moving your tastes outside of your homeland, you really begin to see that out in the world there is so much going on that defies what you have always defined as propriety, and yet . . . they’re so similar at the same time. Everybody loves getting crazy, especially in a music video!

I said music video, so we might as well jump . . . right into this week’s selections!


English: Balkan Beat Box performing at the 200...
English: Balkan Beat Box performing at the 2006 Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, TN (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our first selections come from Balkan Beat Box; I said selections – plural – because I couldn’t choose between these two videos. This band’s main flavor is electronic / DJ, as you will easily hear, but with more Middle Eastern and Balkan influences, with a dash of the Gypsy thrown in. The founders were both Brooklyn kids when they met, and they forged their musical interests into this Eastern-influenced hip-hop style that defies all expectations of any label you could try to slap on it. I love the first video because it’s just fun, and there’s something about old ladies dancing in music videos that makes me smile. The second one is animated, and it’s kind of edgy and topical. I’m still trying to figure it out but it’s a good song and a good video; that’s why I couldn’t choose.


Gogol Bordello
Gogol Bordello (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This next video is from my very favorite Eastern-influenced band, Gogol Bordello. They formed in Manhattan’s Lower East Side around 2000 and have since appeared on David Letterman, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, and Jimmy Kimmel Live. What’s really amazing, though, is the range of influences brought to the band, which comprises members from Asia, South America, and Africa, as well as those from Eastern Europe, and counts a few Israeli among its former members. Unsurprisingly, they have ties to Balkan Beat Box, and have collaborated with them under the name J.U.F.

Gogol Bordello’s newest album Pura Vida Conspiracy has been released this year, and their promotional video on YouTube makes it clear enough what the conspiracy is:

“borders are scars on the face of the planet . . . but what do you do about it?”
-Eugene Hutz

The following video is my favorite song. . . ’cause I’m a wanderlust king.


Finally, my favorite Eastern music is gypsy music! Mahala Rai Banda is a magnificent band out of Bucharest in Romania, the very seat of Gypsyness. They have a great way of bridging traditional gypsy music with the contemporary gypsy dancehall style, commonly referred to as “Balkan Beats” – in fact, I discovered them on an album called Gypsy Beats and Balkan Bangers; I totally recommend that album, if you are interested in hearing more from this category of music.


As always, enjoy music, and enjoy your weekend. Thanks for visiting! 🙂


Thanks go to my blog buddy Seablackwithink for unintentionally prompting me to move this genre to the top of my Saturday Jams list.

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