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Earth Wheel Sky Band
Rroma Art
Fono Records, Hungary (

cd cover Earth Wheel Sky Band's Rroma Art would be the perfect soundtrack for a trip I took from Budapest to Belgrade several years ago. Alexander, the young Serb at the wheel of the Yugo told me stories about smuggling gasoline for his family, and how the US sanctions had had one good effect: the Danube was clean enough to swim in again; all this as we drove through the Vojvodina, the farm belt of the area, and miles and miles of cabbages, onions and potatoes sped by our windows.

As Bojan Djordjevic points out in his commentary for the CD, the best known form of Gypsy music in Serbia is the brass band. You won't find that music in this recording (although bandleader and trumpeter Boban Markovic does contribute a guest appearance). Rather you will find a true reflection of the cultures that surround the Rom community of the Vojvodina; the Hungarians to the north, and Macedonia to the South, Romania to the East and the plethora of music that is both Rom and non-Rom, that the musicians are constantly ingesting and re-interpreting. All influences are fair game, and if the melody on "Calo Trajo" sounds a bit like the Gipsy Kings, and some of the rhythms have an underpinning reminiscent of rumba as well as the more indigenous chochec, it's no coincidence.

What is noteworthy about the Earth Wheel Sky Band is the cohesiveness of the music. Despite all these different ingredients, the music hangs together and has its own quirky identity. Arrangements are tight and go through intriguing transitions and modulations. It's no wonder they have been the backup band of violinist Lajko Felix, the current darling of Europe. Indeed, both "Baro Drumo" and "Funk" seem to be arrangements in search of a song, or perhaps a soloist.

Bandleader and Roma activist Olah Vince (the band members invert their names, Magyar-style) has a voice with a vibrato wide enough to drive a truck through, but one becomes accustomed to and indeed, reliant on the sound. The presence of Kurina Michael on cimbalom lends an Hungarian/Romanian sound to the repertoire, and Ambros Robert on percussion and Kurina Ferenc on bass make a formidable rhythm section. Karlo Varga on violin displays an easy virtuosity; and is adept at the weepy Hungarian restaurant style but is also content to use his instrument to contribute texturally to the highly orchestral arrangements of the band. No one in this band plays to be flashy; it's all about making music and sounding right. Most have a driving, bouncy groove, hence my recommendation is to plan a road trip, turn the volume up and go. - Michal Shapiro

Available at cdRoots

Audio ©2001 Fono Records, Hungary, used by permission

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