Tireless culture-clashers Balkan Beat Box can shout “dance, motherfucker, dance” in 20 different languages. Their third album, Blue Eyed Black Boy (Nat Geo/Crammed Discs), is a sweat-soaked all-night smash-up of dancehall rhythms, sputtering electro textures and hip-hop swagger, all imbued with the snaky melodic lines of klezmer, Balkan brass, Greek guitars and whatever else shuffles into their iPods. Don’t get this confused with flightly, downtempo “global groove,” since BBB’s head-knocking rhythms speak in all-caps. The band recorded the riotously swinging “Look Them Act” in Belgrade, and you can hear the violent collision of American funk-rock and Eastern gypsy brass at the 30-second mark, when the Jovica Ajdarevic Orkestar crashes the party with an ebullient melody line.
What is “Look Them Act” about?
Tomer Yosef: It’s mainly about our world that is going down the hill, socially and politically, and about the leaders that are like the “drivers” that are taking all of us passengers down hill with them.
How did you make the melody line at 0:30?
Ori Kaplan: The line is a mix between some of the trumpet melodies we recorded in Belgrade with the Roma Orkestar of Aijdarovic. The first part is a sort of cut-and-paste experiment that we liked and the second part is a written response to it by us. It’s a good example of how we can work sometimes in a very crooked way to create something which sounds, to us, organic.
What are the hardest things about recording in Belgrade? The most rewarding?
Kaplan: Obstacles are great to have sometimes, as they yield interesting results. We worked hard on teaching the Roma Serbian band our songs. Which is to say… we came with compositions which we wrote, rather then come to these great musicians and record their music. That way has been done before by others and feels like “musical colonialism.” So, it was challenging to teach our music–plus the language barriers. We communicated through music, and when they finally got all our compositions they immediately gave it their own fresh interpretation. It felt like a complete exchange.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in New York?
Kaplan: Interestingly, and not typically for us, we liked both the outdoor shows we did–the Lincoln Center Damrosch Park show last year and the Summerstage Central Park show a few years back. Festive, all colors of NYC, big mix… Just our kind of show.
What’s your favorite place to eat in New York?
Balkan Beat Box play tonight at Webster Hall with Uproot Andy and Joro Boro
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 28, 2011