Here’s the long-awaited new album by the funkiest Balkan band, the one and only Koçani Orkestar. Since the release of their previous opus Alone At My Wedding, Kocani have been championed by everyone from jazzman Paolo Fresú to Balkan Beat Box, Cibelle and indie rockers like Zach Condon/Beirut (who described them as “my favourite Balkan band… Gypsy music at its most delirious and drunken best”).
The Ravished Bride is undoubtedly their strongest album so far: the power and excitement of the band’s explosive live performances is masterfully translated, and the arrangements are more inventive than ever. Many of the tracks on The Ravished Bride are romantic or epic love songs, carried by the thrilling, undulating voice of charismatic young singer Ajnur Azizov, and exploring new directions in Balkan pop. There’s also an unexpected foray into the Latin world, with a rendition of Mexican standard ‘La Llorona’, and a nod to the band’s roots with a couple of traditional Macedonian pieces.
Some of the instrumental pieces lean towards what could be described as ’60s spy movie themes or surf music – an impression strengthened by the presence of guest guitarist Uri Kinrot (from Balkan Beat Box and Boom Pam). With further assistance from a second guest guitarist (co-producer Vincent Kenis) and a drummer (adding snare drum & hi hat to offset the traditional tapan), the album often has a definite rock undertone, which perfectly complements classic Koçani elements such as driving horn section arrangements and wailing, lyrical taksims (instrumental solos), courtesy of sax player Durak Demirov, trumpeters Turan Gaberov & Shukri Kadriev, and Djeladin Demirov on clarinet.
This is the Koçani Orkestar’s 3rd album from Crammed Discs, after Alone At My Wedding (get the conceptual continuity ?…) in 2002 and L’Orient est rouge in 1997, with which the band took the Western world by surprise. Their powerful rhythm section, their passionate soloists, and the sheer funkiness of their beats would lead any audience to break into dance… despite the fact that Koçani Orkestar use many asymetrical rhythms, those 7/8 or 9/8 time signatures sometimes called “Aksak” in traditional Turkish music (Balkan brass bands originally appeared in the 19th century, and were inspired by the military brass bands of the Turkish janissaries).
The band’s popularity rose to new heights with the release of Alone At My Wedding, for which their line-up was rejuvenated: original trumpet player Naat Veliov left, and several younger players joined the band. The repertoire transcended the strict boundaries of the brass band genre, with the exploration of “salon music” played during wedding parties in Macedonia, and the integration of more subtle instruments such as darbuka, banjo and clarinet.
This album became a favourite among young artists in the US and the UK, most notably the budding indie rock sensation Zach Condon aka Beirut, who covered several Koçani Orkestar tunes, constantly referenced them in his interviews and even performed with them at a special concert for La Blogotheque in Paris.
The band have also been championed by artists as diverse as Balkan Beat Box and Cibelle, and have had tracks remixed/reinterpreted by prominent artists in the fields of world music, electronic and rock music (from Señor Coconut, Animal Collective, Lightning Head and Susheela Raman to Mercan Dede, Smadj and Buscemi), all of which helped them gain a wider audience, as did the inclusion of one of their tracks in the soundtrack to the movie Borat.
Koçani Orkestar have performed at many major world music festivals around the world. They have collaborated with Italian singer Vinicio Capossella, with jazz trumpet player Paolo Fresú, and with Taraf de Haïdouks, who invited them to Bucharest to perform on their Band Of Gypsies live album.
Just like the previous two, this album is being coproduced by Stephane Karo (who also works with Taraf de Haïdouks and Mahala Raï Banda) and Vincent Kenis (who produced many classic Crammed Discs albums, from Taraf de Haidouks to Zap Mama to Konono N°1, Kasai Allstars and the Congotronics series).