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Balkan Beat Box - Klezmer Punk

Klezmer Punk

by Leila Bloch, images by JR Onyangunga / 02.02.2011

“Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe” –Lewis Carrol

Where are the Balkans exactly? My gypsy-queen hesitates in the queue. We struggle to keep our long skirts down, I whisper Lollapalooza into her now torn, gold-hooped earlobe. In the third windiest city in the world- we’re expectant in the Cape Town queue, annihilated by the wind, ready to go “dancing with the moon”. I reassure her, this is not the overly-priced Barmitzvah she would rather avoid or the worst housemix she will ever hear, but the very music will make Israel and Palestine get on.

Between the Adriatic and Black Seas the Balkans extend through South Eastern Europe uniting countries in culture not region. Is this how we celebrate Romania, Bosnia, and Serbia? Like roosters, in garish red dresses, gaudy bangles and overpriced tickets. Saxophone player Ori Kaplan , drummer Tamir Muskat are at the centre this 8 piece group that includes MC Tomer Yosef. They stem from Israel, Iran and the underground bands of NYC. Their new-age- frontier-breaking-idealism is magnetic without being tie-died.

Balkan Beat Box - Conference

For our initiation we sip Arak – an Arabic spirit so powerful you can imagine your insides fighting like bloody fists from one whiff of its sweet antiseptic smell. I link arms with my friend, soon we are “galloping manic” but the crowd looks strained and there is nowhere to sit. We dissolve into line, colour and form. “You two are real gypsies” a random warns. Vaudevillian and Fez performances aside this is starting to feel more like a painful circus act. The torrent of rock, Serbian brass and dub step jars capetonians out of the usual synthetic trance beat they are used to but the sentimental pop lyrics and dancehall rids the Kletzmer Punk of its traditional complexity. It’s interesting, for a while.

Distracted, I tune into the reggae and watch the red tent pulsate. Freshly tanned men lie draped in moon-bathed corners. The horns go wild and the band drives the crowd into a frenzy summoning the gods of pomp while continuously smoking and drinking on stage, calling up the prettiest girls of the crop.Then the party peters out and the music comes to an abrasive halt. While leaving I’m told just like Harrington street this is common in India and most of Europe at the moment. Gigs, parties now have strict curfews, the darker side of globalisation. Balkan Beat Box is progressive but short-lived.

Balkan Beat Box

Balkan Beat box - Dronk Gatte

Balkan Beat Box

Balkan Beat Box - Photog Dog

Balkan Beat Box - Dolphins

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  1. tim lester says:

    nice 🙂 its kief

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  2. Darren says:

    Doesn’t tell me anything about the actual show.

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  3. Ubuntu Bob says:

    @Darren if you want to know about the show, you’re on the wrong site. This is the site that tells you why the self-important drug-addled Mahala hipsters and hobos are better than everyone else that was there… and very little else. Personally, I loved it: Idan Raichel on crack.

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  4. Bianca says:

    I love it too

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  5. Dan says:

    hmmm… I was there. One of the better live shows from an overseas touring band I have seen in the last couple of years. While I enjoyed this review to a certain extent I think the whole show deserved more of an in depth write up… 399 words for a band that played for more than an hour and 30 min… poor….

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  6. will says:

    That show was sick… the write up did it justice. What else are you supposed to say without getting into the usual “I was so drunk I can’t remember” babble people usually complain about on this site?

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  7. Dan says:

    @ will

    I dont know dude -perhaps a little more about the actual music (this being a touring act and all) for example Tomer Yosef has to be one of the better MC’s out there are the moment… not a word on his skill in this review, and what about the dude rocking a Clarinet on stage? The energy this band bought though in their live performance does not come through in this review…. And thats putting aside the contradictory statements made;

    ” soon we are “galloping manic” but the crowd looks strained” verses ” the band drives the crowd into a frenzy”

    I can accept that for reviews of local acts one can get away with a review like this but for a touring band I expect a little more respect if I can put it that way…

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  8. mick says:

    Bjorkie’s first sip o’ Black Label! Naas!

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  9. Hunter Lite says:

    This is engaging, impressionistic writing.Those wanting details about the show should read the Cape Times or their local Tattler

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  10. damndemons says:

    i struggled to understand what band actually played

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  11. fobias tunke says:

    @Hunter Lite

    Jesus Christ, is it too much to ask for both?

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  12. Roger Young says:


    When one precludes the other, then yes….

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  13. Angry Serb says:

    HOW OLD ARE YOU – 12?

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  14. creepy steve says:

    hey that wetblack owes me money

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  15. Pieter says:

    This article sucks. I can also write fuckall about a show and take photos of my friends. Bring on the culling.

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  16. BM says:

    When the circus eventually does leave town, it will be a major advancement for Cape Town nightlife.

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  17. DR PACHANGA says:


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  18. danny says:

    What a terrible article. It says nothing about the show. Was probably written on a blackberry on a bus on the way to the airport, get work out the way.

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  19. kitcat says:

    it’s not a bad review, it’s a good extended “pic and caption”.

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  20. tigerlily says:

    Oh, god. This is a new low. This site is now a social document for Mahala writers to:

    a) publicise what a good time they had with their friends in pictorial format – so essentially, it’s Facebook.

    b) write ridiculously overblown, overreaching impressionistic phrases, secretly quoting Joanna Newsom (“galloping manic”), and ending up with a product that sounds like it was written by an autistic English major who read Burroughs and Nabokov in quick succession, while listening to hipster music, and was then given a keyboard to bash at.

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  21. fobias tunke says:


    “When one precludes the other, then yes….”

    Well, that’s a get-out-of-jail free card, if I’ve ever heard one.

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  22. Roger Young says:

    We at Mahala have a way of doing things. We’ve been doing it from the beginning and it’s not going to change. I’m tired of explaining that to you.

    PS: The photo’s were not taken by the writer. They never are. So Tigerlilly, You are a dining room table.

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  23. fobias tunke says:


    How coldly dogmatic of you. You’re doing something that has for the most part accomplished one thing: engendering a nameless phalanx of vitriolic, hyperopinionated, loathers on your comment-threads. About 5% of your articles generate constructive debate. Do you ever bother to sit down and think that maybe it’s in part WHAT you’re doing and the WAY you’re doing these things that make your site so problematic for so many people?

    Your gig journalism for example is singular in its ability to be nothing other than self-obsessed creative writing, for the most part written by poor writers. This is something that needs to be hit home. Your writers treat the concept of ‘journalism’ as nothing other than a badge of officialdom to be slapped onto a parade of personal blog pieces. So often there’s little engagement (Pikoli admitting outright on the Guten Tag review that he didn’t know anything about art), so often there’s no attempt at a proper reportage, few interviews.

    In other words, your formula is imperfect, so don’t get arrogant. “Look deep inside yourself,” as Zizek comically says sometimes.

    Also, if you switch out ‘writers’ for ‘journalists’ on the tigerlily post, it’s devastatingly accurate for this piece.

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  24. Roger Young says:


    “Do you ever bother to sit down and think that maybe it’s in part WHAT you’re doing and the WAY you’re doing these things that make your site so problematic for so many people?”

    Yes. Of course we do. We thought about it when we conceived the idea for this site. Here’s the deal. We’re well read. We are crossing into our third year. Our readership is growing. We’re debated all over the place and not just on the comment boards. People keep coming back. And in all of this new bands, new movies, new art and social politics are being discussed. And new writers are trying to find their voices. It’s all actually happening.

    Yes, some gig reviews can be oddly personal, that’s fine, some gig experiences are oddly personal.

    It’s not War and Peace, it’s not Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. It’s daily life as it passes by, some of it unfathomable, some of it poignant, some of it inaccessible and some of it will cut to someone’s quick. But it can’t be like that for everything all the time. Our formula may be imperfect but what isn’t?

    In our experience the people who like a story will take the time to tell the writer on FB or personally and the people who have an agenda will come on the comment boards and bitch about it. I spend far too much time explaining to the bitches. Like the man once said “Fighting on the internet is like fighting with a car guard”

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  25. fobias tunke says:


    Alright, I’ll give you that. Good luck. I mean that sincerely.

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  26. Andy says:

    Guys, Leila is a new writer. She’s talented. Read Mr August’s Garden. She had a stab at some expressionist, this is how it made me feel writing here. Yes it could have offered more on the band and the actual gig. But it’s not bad writing. Thankfully our audience holds us to a higher standard, (while perniciously dissing us at the same time). But that’s generally a good thing. Phumlani and Leila are young writers who display a certain amount of talent, but they need to learn what’s expected directly from the audience.

    Our primary function as a magazine is to deal with the culture – albeit from an innovative and personal perspective. So, ja, no arguments there.

    Just go easy on the young talent. Let your criticism be constructive and not destructive or smarmy. She’ll have another crack at impressing the tigerlillies and fobias next week.

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  27. Leila says:

    This captured a whimsical and enjoyable night, reviewing the party as a whole and looking into Balkanology events in general.
    Literary journalism or prose at the most but by never did it claim to be a typical gig review or music journo. Granted, the review could have benefited more from a literal account of the gig with an interview to back it up – this was not the task intended. I reviewed the experience not just the show. The considered criticism has been duly noted for next time. For the sake of broader accessibility and enjoyment a band focused, performance orientated standard will be added.

    @ Tigerlily The Newsom and Carrol quotes were noted in the piece. Perhaps shamelessly Pomo they were influences I felt were appropriate nonetheless, in light of the fragmented nature of Balkan events.
    Nabakov’s style may or may not have something to do with this.
    Be careful with the diagnosis- not everything subjective or odd and introspective is autistic.

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  28. Leila says:


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  29. David says:

    I’ve read better on the back of a cereal box. Your futile attempt to defend your pathetic drivel makes you look even more ridiculous. Save yourself the already amplified embarrassment by keeping quiet. God, I’m condescending just by commenting on it.

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  30. Hunter Lite says:

    @David—your comments are destuctive and not based on any condidered discourse>I’ve read better responses on the backs of toilet doors

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  31. The Anonymous says:

    I’ve read great one-liners on the backs of public toilet doors. I recently served 12 months of community service at a government hospital. One of my favourite means of passing time was to duck into the cubicles, spark a reefer and giggle at the random lines people scratched on those doors.

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