Hacking the Balkans

I know that Balkan Gypsy music works like a charm on foreigners who come to see these here parts (my mother-land, Romania). There’s a certain mystery to beautiful music made by people who have the spirit of their music carried by blood, and who play intricate melody without ever learning a note. Not all Gypsies are like that, but the ones that are good, are so good in the sense that they perform life, their life, and a minor key transgresses to a major one with no apparent reason, but with no flaw in harmony either.

I’ve heard Gypsy music reworked by other Romanian jazz and electronic musicians (and wrote about it here) but while we‘re trying to find a new spin, A Hawk and A Hacksaw look towards the past, which in their musical fingertips it rides an tuba-shaped wave of present and the future. Their third album, The Way The Wind Blows is released this October.
I should hold my horses and tell you that if you run screaming in pain when you hear Beirut, AHAAH aren’t for you. Though in my opinion they have as much to do with DeVotchKa as they do with Beirut, and almost nothing to do with either when you take in the whole album with its specifics. Although Zach Condon did contribute to the album by playing the trumpet.

photo courtesy of David Yates

The main inspiration is Romanian gypsy music (also Turkish and Jewish folk) and especially Fanfara Ciocârliei (Ciocârlia Fanfare- the gypsy brass band who recently picked up the award for ‘Best European Artist’ at the BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards, and feature on the Felix ‘Basement JaxxBuxton compiled Gypsy Beats And Balkan Bangers album). The Way The Wind Blows relies heavily on a traditional, heartfelt way of playing an instrument. The violin (Heather Trost) and the accordion (the well-travelled, one-man band Jeremy Barnes) keep touching on a scratched surface of feeling – sometimes weary sometimes joyous (Gadje Sirba). Such complexity rarely uses words as a vehicle, and if it does (in Song For Joseph) it gives the music even more depth and sincerity. There are so many influences on this one album, that I doubt most bands could pull off distilling them all into one powerful batch of other-wordly medicine for these our digital ears 😀
I’d make time to see this duo live. They’re currently touring as part of Beirut, but can also be seen as a duo supporting Calexico on their UK tour this November.

Check out more of the dates on teh myspace.
A Hawk And A Hacksaw – The Way The Wind Blows
(October 9 2006, The Leaf Label)

1. In The River (5:55)
2. The Way The Wind Blows (4:17)

3. Song For Joseph (4:18) – mp3

4. Fernando’s Giampari (5:51)
5. God Bless The Ottoman Empire (4:06)
6. Waltz for Strings and Tuba (2:06)
7. Oporto (1:23)

8.Gadje Sirba (2:27) – mp3

9. The Sparrow (3:35)

10. Salt Water (3:15) – mp3

11. There is A River In Galisteo (0:51)

courtesy of David Yates

You might also like : DeVotchKa


10 thoughts on “Hacking the Balkans

  1. Thanks for this Linda. I’d been meaning to check out the new AH&AH album (Leaf are ever reliable, and I’m always up for a bit of klezmer action). I really enjoyed the stuck groove of “Salt Water” in particular.

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