Balkan Beat Box describes its sound as "globalized urban mash-ups," with brass bands, wedding organs and a rooster's crow all finding a place in their recordings. Although the three band members were raised far from the Balkans, percussionist Tamir Muskat traces the band's inspiration to a childhood that amounted to musical potpourri.
"Me and all my friends, I'd say 90 percent of us are first-generation in Israel," Muskat tells Morning Edition host Renee Montagne. "My best friends' parents were from Iraq, Egypt, Poland, Romania. You name it, I mean everywhere."
As a young child, Muskat says he heard the music of these places at friends' houses — one day Iraqi music and the next day Russian songs.
"[It was] kind of confusing, but kind of beautiful, as well," he says.
Balkan Beat Box came together many years later on the other side of the world, when Muskat met saxophonist and fellow Israeli Ori Kaplan in New York. The two musicians credit the city for bringing them together in music united by their shared heritage.
"We always say this band wouldn't happen without New York City," Muskat says. "Think about it politically, as well: In Israel, unfortunately, you can only get Middle Eastern music that is Jewish-oriented. To get to the Muslim part of things, there's no way."
To The Balkans
For its latest album, titled Blue Eyed Black Boy, the band traveled to the source of the music, the Balkans, where it gathered with ethnic musicians to record the music that Kaplan and Muskat had composed.
The group flew to Serbia and met up with an orchestra of Roma musicians in a small village. Next, they made the long journey to Belgrade to start recording. The band didn't speak the same language as the orchestra members, but Muskat says the experience was amazing.
"We would play them one melody, and they'll play it in their style and argue, 'This is the right way to do it.' It all happened with much fun," Muskat says.
The band tackles the issue of war in the album's closing track, "War Again," but Muskat says Balkan Beat Box tries to balance the heavy subject with a lighthearted sound.
"The problem sometimes with hitting such an issue like politics," he says, "is that it usually comes out kind of aggressive and really turns people away from listening. In a way, talking about such a subject with maybe a twang of brightness, this is Balkan Beat Box. This is us as people. ... Everybody knows [war] is the reality. What we can do now is get together here and clap our hands and dance together."