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Boris Kovac & the Ladaaba Orchest

The Last Balkan Tango: An Apocalyptic Dance Party

(Piranha; US: 11 Sep 2001)

Release date of September 11, 2001. The inside photograph shows what might be a small impromptu shrine—a white kitchen candle with a burned wick but no flame, a heart cut from white cardboard with a message written in red, and near these are placed small handpicked bouquets of white daisies with dim yellow centers. The ground supporting the shrine has been run over, compacted, and scraped flat by a large machine. In the background are the huge metal treads of some large earthmoving machine, probably a bulldozer big as a tank. Remind you of anything? The ashes might always outweigh the garlands and wreaths. This is the usual beginning of another chilly, gray day in Yugoslavia, but this translates beautifully.


There are the first sounds—the deep gong is struck twice and resonates into a prolonged echo, then violins, saxophones, clarinets, balalaikas, accordians, drums, sudden surprising lines of poetry explode, art made as a response to the direst of circumstances, all combining into something beautiful and nearly wild. This is clamorous, keening music that makes an apocalyptic tango with a stranger pulled from a doorway seem like the best and most natural thing to do.


Not somber music for a gloomy day, but music composed and played when the world’s thrown out of kilter, shifted suddenly from its axis, and most suffer from loss of equilibium. The next dawn might be streaked with the beginning of the apocalypse. Who in deepest heart and thought wouldn’t want to imagine being one of the ones dancing “The Last Waltz in Budapest”?


This is La Danza Apocalypsa Balcanica inviting you to spin as you dance on the extreme edge of an abyss, to stay calm and take your beloved with you. Mostly the atmosphere is woven instrumentally which makes the rare words even more significant, English dramatically spoken with a natural Slavic accent: “Forget about the despair / Take your riches with you just in case / Let God come with you, if he feels up to it / Bachanalia implied / Take your nearest and dearest with you / Let’s DANCE in hope, faith, pleasure, love . . . / Let us be HAPPY at least one (more) time in life. . . .”


The missiles may have stopped raining down, but may be coming back soon. If this music is a saloon, the bartender has gone temporarily mad and has been handing out free drinks to customers all day. The band is wearing white tuxedos and mismatched ties, but they play as if they were reminded of the band on the sinking Titanic playing as others wait for space in the lifeboats.


But this band won’t play as if pretending nothing is wrong or that things aren’t dangerous. This band has thrown away their charts and just cut loose and they play brilliantly, a jazzy Eastern European rumba, just like “Rumbatto”. The chink of chains and the clinking of glasses with a toast, an accordian and balalaika begin the romantic “Slow for Julia” (you may blink back tears if you dance) while the remainder of the song is carried by saxophone. The band remembers a livelier dance tune and follows with “Begin for Julia”.


For the “Ending”, maybe the last song on that stage and so the band performs a memorable whirling dance song so the audience will always remember them, the bandmaster finally takes the microphone and introduces the musicians by name and instrument. “Farewell and goodbye. See you in a better world. La Danza . . . Apocalypsa . . . Balcanica!”


This is so cool—nobody in America has come up with anything like this yet. Although not similar in music style, I found myself reminded of Czechoslovakia’s own Plastic People of the Universe. Time to take a trip to where the edge-livers dwell. To be asked to consider what our answers might be when asked nearly unfathomable questions: “Just imagine there is only one starry night left till the end of the world / What would we do?” This record may not be for everyone, but it most likely is. Afterall, if this might be the beginning of the end, what would you do?

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