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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

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