Brave New World Music

Music

By Boris Fishman

Published July 08, 2005, issue of July 08, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Israeli musicians Tamir Muskat and Ori Kaplan want you to get up, walk over to your CD rack, pull out the world-music samplers — yes, that “Putumayo Presents: Music From the Chocolate Lands” — and pitch them into the trash. Don’t sit just yet. They have a replacement suggestion: Balkan Beat Box, their New York-based brass-band/hip-hop/electronica-fusion ensemble, whose self-titled debut album will be released by JDub Records in September.

World music began to coalesce into a genre, centered primarily on Third World artists, after a group of British music executives and aficionados contrived the term during a meeting in 1987. In succeeding years, however, overly polished Western-style production blunted the distinctiveness of some performers, which provoked its own roots-reviving backlash. Balkan Beat Box’s album, which the band will preview at Joe’s Pub in New York on July 13, blends music from Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Spain and Morocco less as a seamless blend than as a head-banging, sweaty brawl — to kinetic effect.

“People are tired of the bland chill-out beat with an Arabic singer in the background,” said 33-year-old Muskat, who programs BBB’s tracks.

“That music didn’t emanate a real need to come together as a community and rejoice,” added Kaplan, 35, who plays saxophone. “There’s always this self-consciousness to club music. So there’s a general movement to touch some humanity, a livelier spirit.”

“In Israel, if you did anything other than Hebrew, you were trimming your crowds,” Muskat said. “If someone there was in their 20s or 30s, there was a 90% chance their people came from somewhere in Europe, and dressed funny, and spoke funny. So the kids were trying hard to be Israelis.” That meant music in Hebrew or derivative Western-style pop rock. Kaplan, who grew up on an “all-Bulgarian” street in Jaffa, played avant-garde jazz; Muskat, whose family came from Romania, preferred “klezmer gone wrong on punk rock.” Neither style was exceedingly welcome.

“I came to New York mainly to get out of Israel,” said Muskat, who left in 1995. “The political situation really affected the music. When people are busy not getting blown up every morning, they don’t really have time.”

America had its own hang-ups. “America has a geographic problem — a closed-minded approach to things,” he continued. “Most Americans don’t leave the States, so how can they accept Moroccan music? Israel is amazing — it’s so close to everything. But you can’t go anywhere! It’s depressing for artists.”

Muskat had to leave Israel to make quintessentially Israeli — that is, ethnically eclectic — music.

“We got so much better in New York — it really opened our minds,” he said.

The BBB album features finesse without a touch of self-consciousness: The instruments include laptops as well as kitchen utensils; ancient Saharan dialects share the stage with neologisms. “Yaman,” for instance, is a hard-driving spat between French heavy-metal samples; a Yemenite sentir (acoustic bass); “tin metal scraps, pots and pans”; Kaplan’s horns, and sinewy, supplicating vocals in Arabic. In “Bulgarian Chicks,” the eponymous guest duo emotes in Bulgarian to a brass-band arrangement. “Adir Adirim,” a remix of a prayer for Shavuot, and “Meboli,” which coins a new language entirely, feature equally venturesome instrumental melees. The album contains no English lyrics, except for some possibly lewd references to “Bush belly-dancing with Afghanistan” in “La Bush Resistance.” (The world-music community is, to put it modestly, liberal; BBB shows frequently feature Palestinian musicians.)

Living up to their sound’s global pretensions, Muskat and Kaplan harvest their tour bands — which swell to as many as 15 performers — from local musicians scattered strategically around the world. As the band gains renown, especially in Europe, the performers are abroad more and more often. Ironically, Israel, where nationalist identity politics is giving way to a renewed interest in ethnic heritage and non-Western culture, is a frequent destination. Even though Muskat says he isn’t ready to return — “These days, we travel like Gypsies” — the duo hardly minds looking in on home.

“Our heart is in the Middle East,” Kaplan said.

Boris Fishman is a writer in New York City.






Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.