Jony Iliev Band,
Ma Maren Ma
(Asphalt Tango, 2003)

This compilation of songs and tunes by the Jony Iliev Band is indeed, as some of the background information has it, a "frantic ride" through the gypsy music tradition of Bulgaria. Jony Iliev and his companions originate from the country's largest gypsy community on the outskirts of the town of Kjustendil, with which they maintain a love/hate relationship -- because it is in the urban environment of the country's capital Sofia that these young men can really live out their dreams as musicians.

There is definitely a Gypsy Kings ring to this album, but the lyrics sung in the gypsies'native tongue, Romanes, give Jony Iliev a distinctive sound. Jony's vocal qualities are well suited for laments like "Ma Devla" and "Ma Maren Ma." This last composition is also rendered in an instrumental version at the album's close. It is an intensely sad song dealing with the marginalization of this ethnic group throughout the centuries.

But Iliev has also ventured into more cosmopolitan territory. Numbers like "Arizona" and "Godzila" are like mirages of the American dream, while some of the more pumped-up dance numbers transport the audience to Sofia's nightclub scene -- stumping ground for bands like Iliev's.

Together with his accompanying troupe of musicians, this gypsy bard gives the listener a glimpse of an ancient tradition that seems strangely in tune with our times. Maybe it is the very lack of concern for time and the innate restlessness of this roaming people that is somehow intuitively appreciated by our present generation of cyber nomads, also refusing to be tied to a place and wanting to experience everything in "real time."

- Rambles
written by Carool Kersten
published 27 November 2004

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