Balkan Blues is a dip into the incredibly rich music of the Balkans. Appreciating this diversity of musical sounds is easy. Figuring out where they came from is more difficult. At one time, the entire area was part of the Ottoman Empire. That's what accounts for certain performance styles found across this region. There's wedding music performed by Ferus Mustafov and Milan Safkov of Macadonia (unfortunately no examples of Bulgarian wedding music is included). There are epic tales of local heroes who rose up against the Turks like the song performed by Toni Iordache of Romania. (The album wisely leaves out Serbian examples of this style of ballad). And there are plenty of love songs. Many of the songs from the Balkans seem to follow the "love and loss" motif that's familiar to American blues songs. The Greek tracks on this anthology by performers such as Niki Tramba and Loudovikos are particularly heavy with nostalgia and regret.
Likewise, there are musical styles found across wide areas of the Balkans. One example is the drone or meterless music. The Romanian doinas, the floating polyphonic vocal performance of the Albanian Ensemble Tirana and the bagpipe track by the Bulgarian Mladen Kojnarov are examples of this style. The use of microtones is another style that has its basis in Turkish and Arabic music. The tracks featuring Romanian Luca Novac and Psarantonis from Crete are examples of this technique. There are three tracks of Rom (Gypsy) brass bands from Serbia and Macedonia. This style can be directly traced back to the Turkish musical influences of the Janissary corps. It's quite a jolt to hear brass bands, which we usually associate with classical music or jazz, playing music that is normally heard at weddings and parties.
Listening to the two CDs on this anthology, one is struck by the overwhelming predominance of a folk-based popular music (as opposed to a more Westernized commercial style). The anthology has plenty of variety. The music grabs you, wrestles you to the ground and pins you track after track.
With the economies of countries like Romania, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Albania in total shambles, it's difficult to predict what future, if any, there will be for this music. Even if politicians insist on ethnically pure little states, the porous Balkan musical borders heard on this anthology is an obvious rebuke of their folly. - Aaron Howard
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