Two of the major Gypsy groups join forces to create a big band!
Taraf de Haïdouks and Kocani Orkestarare undoubtedly two of the most famous and emblematic Balkan Gypsy bands. Started in 1991 in the small Romanian village of Clejani, the “band of honourable brigands” (that’s the literal translation of “Taraf de Haïdouks”) is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year by launching an ambitious project: a kind of Balkan big band, in which the 13 Taraf musicians and singers are joined by the 13 members of Macedonia’s Koçani Orkestar, one of the top brass bands around. The big band has recorded a new album, and will be touring from the spring 2011 on.
The name of this collaborative ensemble, Band Of Gypsies, is (among others) a reference to Taraf de Haïdouks milestone 2001 album, which included three tracks in collaboration with Koçani Orkestar. This time the plan is more ambitious: all the pieces of this entirely new repertoire are written, arranged and performed by an impressive, 26-piece orchestra, which explores all the contrasts between the two bands’ rich, respective textures. The swirling and fiery violins, cimbalums and accordions of Taraf de Haïdouks are engaging in exciting combinations and interplay with the mighty, funky brass and percussion of Koçani Orkestar.
The compositions dig deep into the various sources which have been inspiring the two bands for years: traditional music from the Romanian countryside, urban Balkan pop, medieval ballads, so-called oriental brass band music, Turkish, Jewish, Greek and even Indian influences… It’s therefore an album which gathers elements from all over the Balkans, from Romania, Macedonia and Serbia to Bulgaria, Turkey and beyond, all weaved into powerful and sophisticated arrangements.
Band of Gypsies (the band and the new album) is a project based on encounters and exchanges, in more than one way. In twenty years of existence, Taraf de Haïdouks has seen a generational change. Three of the oldest members have passed away, the former “young guard” has reached middle age… but the group now includes no less than four young musicians, sons of four of the band members. Koçani Orkestar has also rejuvenated itself in a spectacular way during the past two years, with the arrival of several brilliant musicians who are in their twenties.
Yes… encounters between styles and generations, but also between musicians of different origins and cultures: let’s remember that, while both bands consist of Rom musicians, the members of Taraf de Haïdouks speak Romanian (a Romance language) and are Christians, whereas the members of Koçani Orkestar speak Macedonian (a Slavic language) and an ancient Turkish dialect, and are Muslims (they’re linked to Sufi local brotherhoods, a heritage of the Ottoman empire’s lasting influence on that region of the Balkans). They communicate with each other via various Rom dialects, different but mutually-understandable… and, of course, mostly through the universal language of music.
As was the case for all 5 previous Taraf de Haïdouks albums and all 4 Koçani Orkestar albums, the musical direction and the arrangements were entrusted to the able hands of Stéphane Karo (who has been working with the two bands since their early days, both as their artistic director and as the coordinator of their live shows, with his agency Divano Production). The album was mixed by top-notch Belgian engineer/producer Christine Verschorren, who has worked with a variety of bands, from the cream of the local rock scene (Ghinzu, Absynthe Minded, Zita Swoon) to Lonely Drifter Karen to jazz and world music artists including Habib Koité and many more.
Album out in April on Crammed Discs