Before I listened to Orkideur Hawai I wondered if I would have to spend this review snickering at the idea of an Icelandic group playing Bulgarian music (I mean, why? It’s not as if there’s a shortage of Bulgarians), yet it turns out that Storsveit Nix Noltes are the greatest non-Bulgarian Bulgarian band around. I can’t think of any more eloquent way to put this, but they rock. They really do.
It’s clear from the start that they appreciate the baggy, rambunctious qualities of the music—the big trumpet jags, the frenetic dances, and, in “Kreptatka”, the potential for jazzy solo interludes that drive you straight back into the action. This, the opening song, just barely touches the four-minute mark, but by the end you know that if you had heard it at one of their live shows you’d be sweating already. You would have been bouncing around the room and you’d be ready for more. When they slow down, as they do at the start of “Laz”, it’s only so that they can marshal themselves and surge forward again with fresh energy. The slowness in “Laz” is not a peaceful sound. It’s a tensely determined crawl toward a quicker future, and it’s there to get you wound up.
They play this slow-fast trick a number of times. By the time we reach “Blagoeugrad Region Oro”, which is the second-last track on the album, we’ve been taught to expect bursts of noise after periods of quiet and then they tease us by turning the whole tune into one long slow burn with no payoff. The slow burn ends and there’s silence. The silence continues. You’re horribly afraid that the album has ended and left you hanging in space forever, still waiting for action. When “Odessa Bulgarish” finally kicks in with a threshing-machine beat from drums and trumpets, it’s as if fresh air has been let into the room.
This is not only a clever technique, it’s also part of the musical tradition they’re working with—listen to Fanfare Ciocarlia’s “Doina Si Balaseanca” or Besh O droM on “Engem Anyám Megátkozott” for examples of two Eastern European bands doing the same thing.
Storsveit Nix Noltes met at a Bulgarian folk music class in Reykjavík and they evolved into a musical collective with a core of dedicated members rather than a formal band. The number of musicians hovers between nine and 12. This is a large group of people to have performing together on a stage, and occasionally the instruments drag or someone makes a mistake (there’s a moment in “Gankini Hore” when it sounds as if one trumpet has tried to come in at the wrong time), but in the end it doesn’t matter. The volume of humanity comes across as simply that: a live presence banging and hooting and cello-ing away, shaggily, madly. It’s difficult to imagine Orkideur Hawai being put together, as some albums are, piece by piece, with the trumpet player recorded here and the drums recorded there, and all of the bits being carefully polished and assembled on a computer. This album has a living presence.
The band uses folk music to make people dance, and these dancing people are not villagers in faraway countries or folkies or the crowds at WOMAD, they’re the same ones you’d see pogoing at your local rock festival. They’ve given the music a vulgar energy that anyone can hook into but they’ve kept its rhythms intact. They’re appealing because they’ve forgotten to be trendy. There’s no cool world fusion here, no dhol drums or Celtic fiddles for novelty, no dance remixes, no quotations from pop songs, just sweat and speed. It’s enough. My God, it is! And to everyone who saw them in Texas at SXSW: You’re lucky people. I hope you liked it.