Music

Rumen and Angel Shopov: Soul of the Mahala

Soul of the Mahala sits between the conservatory and the ghetto. It's music from the wrong side of the tracks played with technical proficiency and respect.


Rumen and Angel Shopov

Soul of the Mahala

Label: Voice Of Roma
US Release Date: 2006-04-15
UK Release Date: Unavailable
Amazon
iTunes

Soul of the Mahala is an album of Romani music rendered so accurately and cleanly that it's like a textbook illustration showing young musicians where notes should be placed. The album opens with a clarinet that seems to crook its index finger at you and wink -- Come in! -- and as this clarinet wriggles and quickens and leads you into the main body of the song you can hear each separate note putting its foot down with absolute firmness and style. Other instruments join in. The clarinet flies on top of the mix, a drum sits at the bottom, and the rest slide through the middle. Then the clarinet falls away and the drum takes the floor with a smart twitch of the hips. Each tat of its rat-tat-tat could have been chipped from the flanks of granite mountains. The whole piece is beautifully shaped.

Rumen Shopov is the star of the show. His son Angel is easier to spot because he performs extended violin solos, but the notes make it clear that Rumen brought everybody together and did most of the arranging. He's involved with the Voice of Roma, a North American organisation that "educates the public about the music, culture, and current plight of the Roma, and provides increased … opportunities for Roma … in Europe". Voice Of Roma produced this album, and they should be selling it on their website once the Shop page gets rid of its "Under Construction" label.

The notes take care to point out that Roma are not the thievish creatures of legend but human beings like everyone else, and this atmosphere of respectability extends to the music as well. That is the album's weakness. Clean-cut square-jawed Soul Of The Mahala has set itself up against albums from other musicians who'll use any trick in the book to get your attention -- and they're not respectable and tidy, they're sharp and smart and gleeful. When the Serbian Roma band Kal throws a wah-wah guitar and a fiddle under a growling singer, their unorthodox inventiveness seems to grin at you from the speakers. The way Taraf de Haïdouks slur their bows and shriek is not elegant, but it's better than elegant; it's invigorating, and once you've heard it you don't want to do without it. Over westwards in Spain, the gitano flamenco singers are yelling like devils and sluicing out the gutters in their brains. Those gutters are on fire, and you'd better watch out.

Soul of the Mahala eschews all of this in favour of instrumental precision. The Shopovs' mahala is the most well-behaved and law-abiding mahala imaginable. In this neighbourhood, people look both ways before they cross the street and no one leaves dishes piled in the sink without feeling a nagging urge to wash them. Bulgarian folk music (the Shopovs come from southern Bulgaria) was put into the care of state ensembles during the Communist era and I think that what we're hearing is a holdover from those days of Soviet-approved orchestration. Hey, don't knock it. You liked Voix de Bulgare, didn't you?

It was some time before I could appreciate the album on its own terms, but once I'd hooked into the clarity of its groove then I started to like it. The violin fantasias from Angel are a mistake -- they sound glossy and dated -- but he makes up for it with some snappy tambura numbers. He comes up trumps in "Gurmensko Horo", a super-fast dance in which the accuracy of the musicians pays off. Doumbeks and tamburas ricochet back and forth at such competitive speeds that you keep expecting one of the musicians to throw his instrument down, shouting, "All right, I give up: you win!" and hand over ten bucks. The tambura is one of the world's many variations on the lute, and listening to "Gurmensko Horo" is like watching a group of men play musical chicken at a Renfair.

There are other pleasures in here as well -- the call-and-response of the instruments during "Melody For Folk Orchestra", the jittering lament in "Astardja Man Mo Srtse", and the nice, nutty quality of Slavei Madjirov's clarinet. Soul of the Mahala sits between the conservatory and the ghetto. It's music from the wrong side of the tracks played with technical proficiency and respect. The result is edifying without being electrifying. It's not likely to get a newcomer racing off to the shop to find more Romani music in the way that other, less dutiful recordings might, but there's a vein of plainer enjoyment here for anyone willing to do a bit of mining.

6

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image