Echoes from Iliria
(Muza, 2006)

If you have ever wondered what Albanian folk music mixed with a modern electronic beat might sound like, you need not imagine that sound any more. You can find out for real! Simaku (a one-name female artist in the vein of Madonna and Cher) combines the influence of her heritage country with contemporary Western touches on her CD Echoes from Iliria. (The recording was actually created and mixed in various parts of the U.S. -- New York, Birmingham, Alabama and Los Angeles.)

One song that I start out enjoying is "Haxhirea." The guitar melody contains the hook. The drumbeat holds the glue to keep you listening. Best of all, while I have no idea what the song is about, I can sing along as Simaku croons "oy-oy-oy" and "na-na-na-neh" off and on through the song. Where the song loses me is when some male vocals join in sort of rapping "Haxhirea ... Haxhirea...." I find it totally unnecessary and distracting from an otherwise good track.

"Jug*Veri" (or "South-North") has an almost techno backbeat with accordion and a stringed instrument in the forefront. The translation of the lyrics to English make you wonder if the song is better left in Albanian: "Change your station, make a good choice / Change your station, show me some love / Come flower come above...." To which all I can say is, "huh?" Despite not following the meaning regardless of the language, I still bounce along with the song.

The opening guitar licks on "Kur Jam Me Ty" (or "When I'm With You") make me think of the 1950s for some reason. The style is reminiscent of a cafe lounge style. The electronica is kept to a minimum compared to some of the other tracks. The lyrics also translate in a more coherent way: "When I'm with you / You make me feel alive / I need you here tonight / Only with you I shine like new."

Simaku's website (see below) is pretty minimal in the English version, but at least gives you a chance to sample the music. If you understand Albanian, that version has more information about Simaku and her CD Echoes from Iliria (or so I'm guessing since I don't read Albanian).

Besides singing, Simaku plays accordion and handles percussion on one track. The list of musicians who back her up include Robert Nolfe (acoustic and electric guitars, bass, vocals, sharki, ciftali, loder, percussion, organ, piano, keyboards, drum programming, string arrangements, accordion), Arben Simaku (vocal chants harmonies), Maks Vathi (clarinet), Binak Elezi (accordion), Matt Chait (electric and acoustic guitar, keyboards, drum programming), John Vaughn (piano), Steve Snow (bass and Rhodes piano), Ron Thaler (drums, percussion), Craig Rosevear (drums, cymbals), Herion Mustafaraj (harmonica) and Vllaznim Mamusha (clarinet).

For the most part, I enjoy the mix of what sounds ancient or old-world but with a new-sounding twist. I like Simaku's vocals. There is nothing wrong with the melodies. But the male vocalist needs to keep his mouth shut -- or get his own CD so he doesn't have to be heard here. Fortunately, he doesn't pop up enough to totally ruin the CD. Simaku won't be a favorite artist of mine, but I can appreciate what she has to offer on Echoes from Iliria.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Wil Owen

7 June 2008

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