Balkan Beat Box: A Fusion Of Cultures The band describes its music as "globalized urban mash-ups," with brass bands, wedding organs and a rooster's crow all finding a place in its recordings. Percussionist Tamir Muskat traces Balkan Beat Box's inspiration to a childhood that amounted to musical potpourri.

Balkan Beat Box: A Fusion Of Cultures

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Brassy bands, wedding organs and a rooster's crow: Those are among the sounds woven together into the music of the group Balkan Beat Box. The band calls its songs globalized urban mash-ups.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: The three members of Balkan Beat Box were raised far from the Balkans, but percussionist Tamir Muskat traces the band's inspiration to a childhood that amounted to a musical potpourri.

Mr. TAMIR MUSKAT (Percussionist, Balkan Beat Box Band): Me and all my friends, I would say 90 percent of us are first-generation in Israel, which means my best friends' parents were from Iraq, Egypt, Poland, Romania. And I would go to, one day to my friend's house when his mom playing Iraqian music, and the next day to a Russian place, when his parents played Russian music - and so, kind of confusing, but kind of beautiful, as well.

Unidentified Man: Two, three, four...

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: The band came together when Tamir Muskat met fellow Israeli, saxophonist Ori Kaplan, across the world in New York.

Mr. ORI KAPLAN (Saxophonist, Balkan Beat Box Band): The thing about New York -and we've both lived there more than a decade and a half - eventually, you want to find what makes it special in New York, 'cause there's so many really talented people. Eventually, I think for both of us, what made us stick out is our heritage.

Mr. MUSKAT: Exactly. I mean, we always say this band wouldn't happen without New York City. Think about it politically, as well: In Israel, unfortunately, you can only get Middle Eastern music that is Jewish-oriented. If you want to get to the Muslim part of things, it's just, you know, there's no way. To really meet the people, that actually happened in New York.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Well, for Balkan Beat Box's latest album, called "Blue Eyed Black Boy," the band took the music to its namesake: the Balkans. The idea was to get the ethnic musicians who'd inspired them to record the music that Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat had composed.

This involved flying to Serbia and meeting up with an orchestra of Roma musicians - Roma being the people long referred to as gypsies - and getting those Roma musicians to the recording studio in Belgrade meant a long journey from a little village.

Mr. KAPLAN: They went into their, you know, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" van and with their instruments without cases, and came out all of them, and we greeted them.

Mr. MUSKAT: And it was really interesting, the whole work. First of all, we didn't speak the same language. I mean, we just kind of, a lot of hand signs, and we had a translator, but when you make music, you know, you don't really stop to translate anything. So you just started making up your own language, and it worked really nice.

It was actually amazing, 'cause we would play them one melody, and they'll play it, you know, their style and argue that this is the right way to do it. And it all happened with much fun. Yeah? But studio champions like us took all these files back to our room and then screwed around with it, upside-down, and made, you know, our own tricks with it.

MONTAGNE: You know, there's one tune that came out of this that I'd like to play now. It's called "My Baby."

(Soundbite of song, "My Baby")

MONTAGNE: I'm wondering when we just had this conversation about how these musicians came back to you with their versions of things, is there anything in this piece that would illustrate that?

Mr. MUSKAT: That actually is the perfect piece for this story, because we had a melody that was very similar, but not the one you're hearing. They decided that a few tones should be different. It just reminded them of something else, and they started arguing with Ori that it's not the way he wrote it. It should be different.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Like, it just wasn't supposed to be that way.

Mr. MUSKAT: No. Ori's wrong, basically.

(Soundbite of song, "My Baby")

MONTAGNE: You also worked with a singer, who performs the type of singing that I gather is popular in Eastern Europe: Svetlana Spajic. Tell us about that song.

Mr. KAPLAN: "Lijepa Mare."

Mr. MUSKAT: It's called "Lijepa Mare," and it means "Beautiful Maria." And it's a traditional kind of love song from the Serbian minority that lives on the mountains in Croatia. Of course, we completely brought it into our own aesthetic, so it sounds very different the way we did it.

(Soundbite of song, "Lijepa Mare")

Ms. SVETLANA SPAJIC (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

MONTAGNE: We're talking to Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat of Balkan Beat Box.

The last song on this new CD is called "War Again." Is it, in fact, about the state of affairs in the place that you grew up in, Israel?

Mr. MUSKAT: "War Again," I would say, is a song that speaks yes to your question about where - how we grew up. We grew up in constant wars. I mean, it's kind of crazy. If you even leave the reasons aside, just the fact that you grew up in this kind of thing. And when we have a platform like Balkan Beat Box, which is a reflection of our lives, then politics gets in. There's just no way around it.

(Soundbite of song, "War Again")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) On again, none of this war again. Hooligan, in the town rule again. Soon again, you see it all begin again. Sink again, and that'll make you think again.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Gonna get war again. Gonna, gonna get war. Gonna, gonna get war again. Gonna, gonna get war. Gonna, gonna get war again. Gonna, gonna get war. Gonna, gonna get war again. Gonna, gonna get war.

Unidentified Man: Gonna, yeah.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Gonna get war again. Gonna, gonna get war.

MONTAGNE: The beat there is a - I hate to say it like this, but it's a danceable song.

Mr. MUSKAT: The problem sometimes with hitting such an issue - like politics, definitely one would talk about wars and stuff like this - is that it usually comes out kind of aggressive, and it really turns people away from listening, I think. And in a way, for us, talking about such a subject with maybe a twang of brightness, if you would say, is this is Balkan Beat Box, you know. This is us as people.

Mr. KAPLAN: You know, we have, like, a live show. We have 10,000 people clapping their hands singing: Gonna get war again, gonna get war. And the idea is everybody knows this is the reality. What we can do now is get together here and, you know, clap our hands and dance together.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat of Balkan Beat Box. Their latest album is called "Blue Eyed Black Boy," and their U.S. tour kicks off this week.

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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