(Asphalt Tango, 2003)
This album could be summed up in a few short words -- it's a fiery, potent blast of Gypsy Roma passion -- and delivered with such urgency and fire that it's not always an easy listen! It's the creation of Olah Vince, a prominent musical figure from the ethnically diverse Serbian region of Vojvodina; he and his band literally urge you to "Listen to this music! Dance, shout -- try Gypsy!" It's an area of Serbia where, according to the album sleeve notes, "roots and influences are so mixed, and they, the Gypsies, can create something out of everything."
Vince has long been a passionate campaigner for cultural and political emancipation for his people, the Roma, in the province of Vojvodina. He's campaigned in recent years to establish a Gypsy radio station in Novi Sad -- he wants his people's culture to be celebrated, loud and clear -- and full credit to him for that.
The acoustic instrumentation is more often than not full on, fiery and delivered at a lightning-quick pace. There's some excellent musicianship here, though I have to repeat that the result isn't easy on the ears; the same goes for Vince's voice -- it's all raw and full of urgency.
I'm particularly impressed by the dexterity of the cimbalom player Kurina Michael -- each song offers him an opportunity to display his virtuosity. The cimbalom is a hammered dulcimer (related to the qanun), comprising 125 steel strings with a range of four octaves. It's the national instrument of Hungary and very popular amongst the Roma of Serbia, and the player strikes the strings with a pair of mallets. A pedal mechanism is used for damping the strings. This family of instruments invariably sounds sensational, and on this recording, it is used to emulate the distinctive sound of the banjo besides creating its more "orthodox" sound.
Percussion is by Toplica Ramiz, Varga Karlo plays violin, Kurina Ferenc is bassist and Olah Vince plays guitar and violin besides providing vocals. My favourite track on the album is "Music Rroman"; it's full of ambience, quickens in pace and I love listening to the cimbalom throughout. Another excellent track is "India Rroma," which has a great improvisational feel at the start, building crescendo-like to a breathless finale. On "Me Sem Rrom," the cimbalom creates a banjo effect, and there's great violin playing here, as there is throughout the album. Also of note is the excellent percussion, which gives great vibe to the music, particularly on songs like "Choro Rrom." Things calm down on "Rroma Adagio Sempre," where the violin playing is very expressive. Other songs are a little more jarring on the ears, though delivered with dexterity and passion.
This music cannot remotely be compared to the Spanish group Gypsy Kings -- this is far less accessible, far more urgent music -- but if Olah Vince keeps up this rattling pace, his voice cannot fail to be heard by the wider world!