Balkan Playboys,
Balkaninis
(Felmay, 2003)

The Baltic States, Russia, Czechloslovakia, Ukraine and all the other parts that make up the sum of the former Eastern Bloc have a rich tradition of music and performance that is an untapped secret -- not only of the region from which these performers come, but also as part of the ethnic scene today. As a quasi-native of Pittsburgh, Pa., I have fond memories of some righteous times at dances and weddings where the beer flowed as wildly as the River Volga in springtime and the music forced you to dance, if only to sober you up until the next toast to the even drunker bridal couple. With its rich ethnic heritage of any number of countries and traditions, Pittsburgh is home to some excellent performers and artists like Joe Negri, the late Fred Rogers, the even later Andy Warhol (ne Warhola) and George Benson. Mary Cassatt can also claim roots in Pittsburgh, as can any number of robber barons, like Carnegie, Mellon and Frick. What's all this got to do with the Balkan Playboys? Think Tamburitzans, Duquesne University, think Iron City and Rolling Rock beer.

The festivities begin with "Dobrudzanatz," a traditional piece arranged by Nikola Parov. Parov plays a number of instruments that are unfamiliar to me, but are surely as challenging and difficult to play as some of the more obscure instruments in other ethnic traditions, such as the sitar or the squeezebox played in zydeco music, to name only a few. Some of the instruments have names like the gadulka, kaval, klarinet (which sounds a bit like the klezmer, or clarinet, albeit with a higher tone) and the bazuki, from traditional Greek music. The group plays a number of primarily Balkan songs, with the exception of a song titled "Little Dance at Little Street." All the songs on this CD were arranged by Parov, who one assumes is the group's muse and master. It is unclear as to who each member of the group is even though each performer has listed next to his name his particular instrumental expertise and passion. There are no liner notes, nor autobiographical precis and that is a shame. I think that the marketing of the CD would benefit from a bit of background into the group, as well as information about the music thereon.

The United States is a place where one can follow his or her passion, at least in theory. The funny thing is that our lack of roots in this country has led to a certain unknowing aspect as to who we are and what our ethnicity is. The fact is, there is no ethnicity, per se, and this lack encourages a growth of the individual, and his or her character. Maybe this individuality is what allows us to keep one foot placed quite firmly on the soil of the motherland, while the other shoe patiently taps its foot to the tunes played by the music within our souls. Whatever, this group is fun, interesting and well worth listening to. With the obvious love of their music, their expertise and knowledge of the permutations of the music, some footnotes for the listener would not be untoward. I would like to know more about this group and its roots, and listen again so that I can continue to enjoy my fond memories of some very good times every time I listen to the Balkan Playboys.

- Rambles
written by Ann Flynt
published 21 February 2004