LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW HERE
"So excuse me forgetting, but these things I do
You see I've forgotten, if they're green or they're blue
Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean
Yours are the sweetest eyes, I've ever seen."
Elton John (1947 - ____) English "singer, songwriter"
worldbeatcanada radio: Inside the Balkan Beat Box sound is outside the box thinking, colouring outside the lines, wiping clear the lines in the sand. At the core of their East European, Middle-Eastern, dub housetronica pop compositions is one of music’s most maneuverable configurations, the trio, nimble enough to dance through the barrage of sonic flotsam and jetsam, solid enough to give it cohesion and foundation. Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat met in Brooklyn by way of Israel with MC Tomer Yosef completing the third side. For 2010, BBB debuts disc number 3, a stunning follow-up to 2007’s Nu-Med, which is sure to be prominent on many of a best of list.
BBB: Hi, this is Balkan Beat Box and we can’t wait for you to check out Blue Eyed Black Boy.
WBC: Congratulations on a stellar disc. In a world of more filler and less killer, Blue Eyed Black Boy is a refreshing, action-packed adventure through your collective imagination. Why did you choose to record in Tel Aviv and Belgrade? Were New York studios all booked up?
Ori Kaplan: Ya, well it was a nice refreshing thing to do, right? Fun, good weather throughout the winter. In Belgrade, for obvious reasons we wanted to have a taste of some amazing Roma musicians, which we love. And, we had the opportunity because a friend of our was Boban Markovic's manager. He hooked it up really nicely, sending us different options, connecting us if there was a slight language barrier, produced it in a way ... the whole event, a place to stay, the studio (which was an old television studio). So, it was an adventure. There was another friend who documented it on film. It was just an impromptu, great thing to do.
WBC: You know, on stage you guys are a frenetic circus and your music can throw the listener dozens of curves within the context of a single track but I get the feeling you guys are extremely disciplined or else it would sound like mush. All the tracks are on a 3 to 4 minute leash and the production is pristine. Any thoughts on all of that?
Tamir Muskat: Yes, I would say the beast kind of jumps out when we're on stage, you know? We've all been making albums for many years, so as far as production and the skills to make albums go, it's always a very natural thing for us. For other bands, it's sometimes a nightmare to go into the studio. They don't always get what they want. It's not the sound. It's not the right engineer. It's not the right place. It’s not the right blah, blah, blah. For us, it's always been a very natural environment to create in. So, disciplined? Yes, I would say so, but at the same time, basically what we do is go very wild and messy, and when everything is on the palette, we start organizing things. So, I think in a way we're very good at both things; the wild situation, like Belgrade was the perfect example: we worked very wild there with the musicians, like totally old school, recording a full brass band with a few mics, very ambienty, leakage, crazy mistakes and just went with the atmosphere, and then we sit with the microscope, nitpicking and working on all the details and so ...
WBC: It sounds like you're great editors! What about the title, Blue Eyed Black Boy. If it came from just anybody it could set off some alarms. How are we to interpret it?
Ori Kaplan: Well, I can tell you the story of the title. Tamir was making a beat and called it Blue Eyed Black Boy because Tomer (Yosef - MC for BBB) is black and his girlfriend, who is blue eyed had a baby and she was still in the hospital. And, Tamir said, "Hey, your baby is going to be a blue eyed black boy." But, that was just the name. Of course, when Tomer wrote the lyrics it went into a completely different context. So, I'm trying to say the whole evolution of this name is that boy, who is such a mix of colours reflects something that we feel; that we should all mix up and to hell with bigotry, racial discrimination and all kinds of apartheid.
Tamir Muskat: Also, it's that one mixed kid who is not black, he is not white, maybe not a lot of things. He's an odd person who seemingly doesn't belong anywhere. And, in a way, he is the perfect individual.
WBC: He's so representative of every human. Tamir, you had experience in Gogol Bordello. Did that peak your interest in Balkan music or is that always been a part of your repertoire?
Tamir Muskat: Both of us did! Mainly Ori. He suffered a lot and I suffered only a little.
Ori Kaplan: I was in Gogol touring for three years, but many years before then I was already into Roma gypsy music a lot, and klezmer which I was interested in when I was a kid. But, I was also into punk and free jazz. I was trying to mix that into a klezmer/Ornette Coleman/gypsy attitude. That language went into another band that Tamir and I played in called Firewater. Gogol Bordello did not exist yet. Later on, I felt like I took that vocabulary into Gogol Bordello and hopefully added something to that band's sound. But, I feel like it's an individual course of musical learning. Of course, there was a lot of great experience in Gogol Bordello, a lot of inspiration and energy, a lot of freedom, which Gogol is representing. So, it was a blast. But, when Tamir and I started Balkan Beat Box it was a new and exciting field of exploration ... something else, a different sound.
WBC: worldbeatcanada radio is on the pod with Balkan Beat Box. April 27th 2010, Nat Geo Records unveils their second release in North America, Blue Eyed Black Boy by our guests, Balkan Beat Box who are conveniently in Vancouver for the 10th Anniversary of the Chutzpah Festival. Get in their face on Facebook, through their easy to navigate home page, Balkan Beat Box dot com. A lot of us believe music is a medium that can affect positive change, especially global music, but do you get the feeling that the media tends to play up that aspect a little much? Like Spin Magazine calls you guys a “global peacekeeping mission that you can dance to.” Which is sweet, but are you willing to accept that kind of credit?
Tamir Muskat: Ahh, you know, magazines and radio call us all kinds of names. In a way, when you look at the big picture, we do what we do. People like to box things, shelve things ... it's OK. Whatever makes them happy. We're evolving, we're working very hard on our music and taking it very seriously, spending all of our time these years making it, and exploring. So, I don't really know. To be honest, I don't really care. Whatever they want to call us, I'm OK with it. We're not affected by it. We're pretty much old school wolves now and we know how to take it all in perspective.
WBC: The idea of alternating vocal and instrumental cuts on the disc the way you do, that’s almost a Celtic thing isn’t it?
Ori Kaplan: Maybe, but it's a part of many other traditions as well. Look at all folk music, from Chinese to African it's done. We're instrumentalists. A couple of instrumentalists start a band. That's what happens!
WBC: I’d like to give listeners another taste from the new album. Last week we thoroughly enjoyed the title track, Blue Eyed Black Boy. This time I would like to take Look Them Act out for a spin. Can you set this one up for us?
Tamir Muskat: Yes, that's actually my favorite track on the album. It talks politics, maybe more cultural issues ... I don't know, I just love this track. I don't have anything more to say about it.
Balkan Beat Box was interviewed by Cal Koat at The Venue in Vancouver, March 18th, 2010 for worldbeatcanada radio