various artists,
The Rough Guide to the
Music of Eastern Europe

(World Music Network, 1998)

The World Music Network continues its tradition of high-quality Rough Guide compilations with its Eastern European collection. Tackling a geographic area that is both rich and diverse, this 73-minute CD manages to showcase a wide cultural diversity, from Romany Gypsy dance music to traditional memorial ballads. Taking this CD out for a spin will give the listener a wonderful whirlwind tour of Eastern Europe in a time when we should all have elevated interest in the region.

The well-chosen tracks represent the wide variety of culture and sound available in Eastern Europe. Take for example, The Trio Bulgarka. They present a cappella singing of a traditional folk song from Thrace, interwoven with the haunting sounds of an Eastern flute. The blend of their harmony is exquisite, and the sound is very evocative of eastern chants. Contrast this to Kalman Balogh and the Gipsy Cimbalom Band, a delightful instrumental ensemble, that could almost be called the eastern equivalent of the American Old-Timey String Band. (A cimbalom is an instrument much like a hammered dulcimer, using hammers on strings to make a percussive sound.) Featuring double bass, violin and guitar, this fast-paced Romanian dance tune, "Calusul," has just the right amount of Eastern percussion and traditional shouts to make you feel you are really out in a Romanian street festival.

Ever heard of Machorka Tabakistan? Located halfway between Russia and Alaska, it has drawn on a rich variety of musical traditions to create a loud, boisterous tradition of its own. Apparatschik displays this with furor and passion with their driving and fiery accordion, balalaika, vocals and percussion. Their track, "Kurbis," takes traditional lyrics and puts a fascinating, pulsing melody behind it. The result is a bit Slavic, a bit Gypsy and a bit contemporary.

Discover the roots of Hungarian music, represented by the traditional/contemporary mix of the group Vizonto. Their offering, "Ezustmuzika," shows off their talent of combining traditional tunes with original music, fusing the traditional and the modern. The jazz influence on their music gives it a special twist. Continue with Hungarian tradition by listening to The Trebunia Family Band of Poland jam live. They have an organ-grinder type sound together with fiddle, shouts, occasional percussion, and vocals. The result is a carnival-like atmosphere, with an eastern edge. Fascinating! Their music reflects Slavic influences from Hungary and Slovakia.

Further your tour with a taste of Bulgaria: non-Western rhythms bring excitement to the a cappella renderings of The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices Choir. Another Bulgarian traditional treasure trove can be found in the offering of the "Horo" Orchestra, which combines traditional folk instruments with more modern instruments, but strictly adheres to the mode, meter, and rhythm of the Bulgarian music they present. Ivo Papasov and His Bulgarian Wedding Band bring yet another glimpse into Bulgarian culture.

Ever been to a parade, and listened to the hip-hopping marching bands as they strut down the street? Marching band meets China in the exciting "L'Orient Est Rouge (The Orient is Red)." This tune, played by the Eastern brass band, Kocani Orkestar, has a sound that will simultaneously bring parades and oriental tradition to mind. Featuring outstanding trumpeter Naat Veliov, the skill and flexibility of the entire group will amaze the listener.

Listen to traditional Slavic instruments, including the kaval of Romania and the dovynitza of Serbia, on the traditional tune offered by the band Zsaratnok. Listening to the soaring flute-like melodies over the vibrating string accompaniment should bring glimpses of the peoples of the Balkans. Soft yet stirring, energetic yet haunting, this captures the essence of the contrast and conflict that tells the tale of these troubled people.

This dynamic collection is an ideal purchase for someone interested in keeping in touch with the pulse of the peoples that are fighting in the Balkans right now. The cultural diversity represented here clearly delineates the differences these people may find with one another, while also representing the similarities they have to each other, and to their Western comrades in arms. Purchase this CD to enjoy the roots of Eastern European music as a whole, to get a glimpse of the people behind today's current events, and to find the common ground we all have in our interest in music, rhythm, and tradition. Listen closely, and then pray for peace.

[ by Jo Morrison ]

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