Balkan Beat Box
Balkan Beat Box returned in 2010 with Blue Eyed Black Boy, their explosive release on Nat Geo Music and Crammed Discs. Recorded in Belgrade and Tel Aviv, Blue Eyed Black Boy takes BBB to their roots, scouring the Balkans and beyond for unique collaborations and new inspirations for their globalized urban mashups. Featuring the singles “War Again” and “Move It,” Blue Eyed Black Boy marks the return of Ori Kaplan, Tamir Muskat and Tomer Yosef – a.k.a. Balkan Beat Box – with their first album of all new material since 2007, and the group’s debut for the Nat Geo Music label. Blue Eyed Black Boy is due out on April 27th. For the uninitiated, Balkan Beat Box first burst out of New York City’s underground music scene in 2005, with their self-titled debut that introduced the world to their multikulti musical mashup. Founded by Israeli-born ex-pats Ori Kaplan (ex-Gogol Bordello), Tamir Muskat (ex-Firewater), the band built their reputation on explosive live shows, becoming an audience favorite and a critic’s darling. BBB soon added frequent collaborator Tomer Yosef as frontman –his wild onstage energy galvanizing live audiences ever since. The three emerged as a cohesive songwriting trio on 2007’s Nu Med, and found that each had strengths that complimented the others. “It’s always amazing when the three of us get together in the studio,” says Kaplan. “It’s a great dynamic that none of us ever had before in a band, a true collaboration. Each of us has his specialty, Tamir brings the beats and production, Tomer is the lyricist, and I do the melodies and the horns. We trigger off each other.” “We have a natural dynamic in creating music,” Tomer agrees, “everyone is well aware of what each of us does best, so we never really officially divided the responsibility…we always make decisions together about everything.” Together the three created an entirely new sound – equal parts Balkan-Mediterranean tradition, punk intensity, electronic cool, jazz discipline and hip-hop swagger – and now they take it to the next level on Blue Eyed Black Boy. “With every record we always want to surprise people and be ahead of the curve,” says Ori. “The Balkan Beat Box sound is totally our own. There’s not even a name for it yet. We want to go way past trends and always go deeper and wider.” But even though BBB have been traveling the world these past few years, they still retain a very New York attitude: “We can create the BBB sound anywhere – it can be in outer space – as long as the three of us are together in a room,” says Ori. “But we’re definitely still a New York band, it’s where we first got together, where we had our education, our success, everything that defines us. The monster was unleashed in New York, and now it can go wherever it wants, but it needs to return home every few months, to pee on a few walls and mark its territory. “ “I wouldn’t call us just a NY band,” adds Tomer. “In my opinion Blue Eyed Black Boy is the most international project there is, it contains so many elements of cultures and colors that makes it a kind of a happy homeless project.” “I would say we are a very international band.” Tamir concurs. “But BBB is NY born & raised. It all starts there with a bunch of immigrants bringing their music to a city that can take it all. What makes our sound different is that New York is very demanding on artists, we learned how to deliver our ideas very fast & focused. Now we’re taking that sound and confidence and unleashing it on the world.” Blue Eyed Black Boy reflects BBB’s recent travels by taking the group’s very new world sound back to its old world roots. “We wanted to work in a different environment, refresh ourselves a little bit,” says Ori. “We also wanted to collaborate with authentic Roma, gypsy musicians. Gypsy music and Balkan music have a very wild sound, and we’re punks at heart, so naturally we look for that.” Belgrade made a big impression on BBB, where riots in the streets contrasted with the creative calm of the recording studio. “While we were in Belgrade there were anti-Kosovo demonstrations and riots, and mobs tried to burn down the American embassy,” Ori explains. “It was a very tense atmosphere, but we were in our studio, away from all that, translating that intense energy into something positive and good.” “Belgrade was an amazing experience,” adds Tamir. These sessions will stay with me. We landed on the biggest day of riots in the city, millions in the streets, political revolution; the spirit was intense, but during the day we were deep in the woods, in a recording studio from the 1950s – one that was used to make film music. We were meeting all these amazing gypsy musicians & managing to have a great musical dialog with them.” Working with local artists like the Orkestar Jovice Ajdarevica brass band, Serbian singer Svetlana Spajic and members of gypsy band Kal, BBB mined the region for the raw, uncut Balkan soul. “We recorded the brass band in a very wild manner,” says Tomer. “Like it was done 50 years ago. I knew its going to be chaotic but we went with it, and in the end it brought so much magic to the album.” “But we didn’t just want to make a Balkan brass extravaganza and take the hit songs of the Balkans and flatten them out for Western ears,” adds Ori. “Whenever we work with other artists, we try to get them to do something they’ve never done before; to get them to come out of their comfort zones. The idea is to take the essence of what they do, and distill it to the hardcore, and work with that. So we were composing for these artists; they learned our music but played it their way, so in the end you didn’t know where it came from. It was something totally new; and it was a real collaboration.” The band also created a complete library of original beats for Blue Eyed Black Boy. Tamir explains: “I like to impose creative limitations before we start working on an album, to make us focus. So on Blue Eyed Black Boy we recorded a full library of beats and drum sounds that we played by hand, and only used these – no pre-made samples or loops, it gives the album a very organic sound.” This organic approach holds the album together under the weight of so many different styles – not just Balkan sounds, but electronica, cumbia and even a little Afrobeat get the BBB mashup on Blue Eyed Black Boy. The album’s title track comes not only from BBB’s constant assault on cultural boundaries, but also from some personal inspiration. “Tamir recorded a beat for the album,” explains Tomer, “at the time my wife gave birth to our first child, and since I’m a dark skinned person and my wife has blue eyes, Tamir thought about us and named the beat ‘Blue Eyed Black Boy’. This was such a strong image, that I immediately started writing lyrics about racism and outcasts.” Tamir adds: “For me it symbolizes the absurdity of how, after thousands of years of clashes between people of different color – all colors, everywhere – we now find ourselves in a generation that’s the ultimate mix of people, the way nature maybe wanted it to be.” On “War Again,” BBB comes out swinging on this balls-out, horns blaring, sirens wailing, bass-thumping anti-war polemic. Maybe the most danceable protest song ever recorded, “War Again” rages against the constant state of war that BBB finds their homeland of Israel embroiled in again and again. “We want people to understand that we are part of a loop of war and violence that is happening forever, and that it’s up to us to get out of it.” Explains Tomer.