PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Les Yeux Noirs: Balamouk

Gypsy Flores

Les Yeux Noirs

Balamouk

Label: World Village Music
US Release Date: 2002-06-11
Amazon
iTunes

I recently saw Les Yeux Noirs playing to a sold-out enthusiastic crowd at Henflings, a little biker bar in the Santa Cruz Mountains. My first thought at the concert was that having to sit down during a Les Yeux Noirs performance was pure torture. At home, as soon as I pop their most current CD Balamouk into the CD player, the infectious rhythms have me up cocek-ing and waltzing around the living room. The title Balamouk translates as "house of the insane" in Romanian; but, really, the only insane part of the CD is the manic pace the group sometimes keeps. Many of the tunes begin slowly, but build up to a wild pace before they end. Others stay slow and a little bit nostalgic and tender, typical of many Yiddish songs.

Balamouk opens with the driving beat of the drum on the instrumental title track signaling the invitation to the dance. Then the dueling violins come in. Those violins are played by brothers, Erik and Olivier Slabiak. The Slabiaks are two young classically trained virtuosos who started playing music when they were about five years old. Later, they studied at the Conservatoire in Brussels. During the concert, I had this vision of them as children driving their parents crazy with friendly sibling competition and inventiveness. "Look at me mommy! Listen to what I can do!" "No, no, mommy, look at me . . .", etc. They share not only a musical heritage, but also a dynamic stage presence that is carried over into the recording studio.

The brothers began to play their particular brand of gypsy/klezmer music as teenagers, finding in this music the same energy and freshness that most young people find in rock 'n' roll. The name Les Yeux Noirs, which translates as "the dark eyes", is actually taken from a tune by the great French gypsy guitarist, Django Reinhart.

Not only do they play violin very well, they are both good vocalists, singing in Rom, Yiddish, Romanian, and French with equal ease. (They learned many of their Yiddish songs as children from their Polish grandparents and Yiddish was the language they spoke at home). Actually all the members of the band are virtuoso musicians and all join in on the singing. Of particular note is Pascal Rondeau, the acoustic and electric guitarist in the band, who takes the singing lead occasionally and does an excellent job.

In performances, they invite the audience to share in the singing too, teaching the chorus to some of the songs. They obviously have fun on stage and in return, the audience has a great time too. Their all out energy doesn't come across nearly as well on their CD, but nonetheless, the recording is a good example of their repertoire from that opening cocek to a campy version of "Yiddishe Mame" and on to a Romanian/gypsy dance medley "Joc De Loop".

When I listen to them, I hear the influence of Klezmer, Roma, Macedonia, and Romania in their music -- from Esma Redzepova and Kálmán Balogh to Gheorghe Zamfir -- and a bit of Goran Bregovic thrown in for good measure. They mix it all up and add a dash of their own panache making it all sound fresh and highly original. Besides the songs their grandparents taught them, they learn tunes directly from gypsy musicians and their large collection of vinyl recordings.

Although in the past most of the band's material has been traditional, the group is more and more composing music based on the traditional sounds and rhythms that they love. The Slabiak brothers do not feel the need to play this music as it was played a hundred years ago; instead, they want to reinvent and reinterpret the tradition in a modern and youthful way. This is true not only in the choice of arrangements of the music but also in the use of the modern elements of trap drums, electric guitar, and electric bass combined with cello, cimbalom, accordion, and of course those two violins.

Balamouk is the group's fourth CD. Their next release is to be a "live" one, which will hopefully capture all the spirit and joy of their concerts. I, for one, am looking forward to that.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.