Electric Gypsyland 2
Given the success of the unique first volume of Gypsytronica, Crammed Discs (6D in the States) initiated a second reworking of Balkan bands with club beats. This is no easy task. Anyway familiar with Eastern European jazz knows the chaotic rhythms induced by a blend of violins, accordions and tubas backed by various strains of Middle Eastern percussion. Some claim the Hungarian language, Magyar, to have been invented by aliens, considering it uses none of the regional roots as a foundation. Much the same can be said of the folk music.
The brilliance of Electric Gypsyland was in the importation of warm bass lines and strong kick drums to styles more dependent upon strings and horns. Live this music is incredibly danceable, but previous recordings never captured the luster. Thanks to a DJ/producer named Shantel that all changed. He launched his now legendary Bucovina Club party in Frankfurt after randomly dropping a Fanfare Ciorcarlia track in Brooklyn many moons ago, realizing there was a crowd ready for the Balkans. Polyrhythms no longer plagued the West.
With his help a host of producers applied their grooves to the songs of Romanian supergroup Taraf de Haidouks, an equally ambitious and dexterous Kocani Orkestar and a multi-generational collection dubbed Mahala Rai Banda. The first edition featured an incredible roster of remixers, including Mercan Dede, DJ Dolores, Senor Coconut and, obviously, a few by Shantel. His reworking of "Carolina" became a global club anthem, as well as "Iest Sexy," Mahala's recording debut. Gaetano Fabri's percussion-heavy texturing of "Siki Siki Baba" proved to be a third crowd favorite, while in between more abstract cuts (what else would we expect of Arto Lindsday?) played the perimeter.
We cannot call this second volume a sophomore slump as a few exceptional tracks arise. What does not exist, however, are anthems. No track has that lasting quality of the first; remixers hang toward the conceptual edge. New York-based Balkan Beat Box provide the most club-ready cut, not surprising considering their ability to heat a dance floor. Their tempering of Mahala's tuba-led "Red Bula" weaves just enough quirkiness into tight beats to leave an impression. DJ Click also does a good job at heading off "Romano Dance" with an excellent darbuka-laden base. And we would expect nothing less of Shantel than brilliance. His upbeat take on Taraf's "Duba Duba Si Hora" certainly has its merits.
There is no requirement for a remix record to be mandatory on the dance floor, and the criticism does not lie there. Within the context of the original Taraf, Kocani and Mahala material (as well as a tech-heavy take on French lyricist Zelwer) this volume just does not offer the originality of the first. Individual tracks range from mediocre to great, though many lean toward the first end of that scale. The selected remixers are interesting, ranging from the aforementioned to Brazilian chanteuse Cibelle, electro-Klezmerites Oi Va Voi and French interpreters Nouvelle Vague (who come through with a beautiful bossa take of Mahala's "Morceau D'Amour"). Gypsyland 2 has a cut-and-paste feel, and so becomes one of the many reasons iTunes exists. No harm exists in purchasing the entire album and creating your own Balkan voyage. The additional second disc of original source material makes it more than worthwhile. And there is no doubt little in this world is presenting that undefined land between East and West, the very meeting ground where South Asia tinged with Persia and Spain clashed with northern Europe, with such a cutting edge. We know well the political turmoil that region has been in for centuries due to multifarious citizenry (check out Budapest's current rebellion, for one). We should expect no different from the music, as it is the voice of the people. While confusion reigns supreme, they certainly know how to dance.