Toronto Ashkenaz Festival: Why We Love Balkan Beat Box

Published: August 19th 2010
in Culture » Music

Balkan Beat Box

Attempting to define Balkan Beat Box’s sound may very well be a lost cause.


The same goes for trying to compare them to other bands because, as the band members themselves will tell you, their music is specifically about taking different bits and pieces from various genres to form the sonic pastiche that is Balkan Beat Box.


“I don’t really like to define our sound,” co-band leader Tamir Muskat tells Shalom Life. “We are, in a way, all about not trying to fit what we do onto a certain shelf in the record store. This was kind of the idea to begin with, to mash up ideas from all over, and not limit ourselves by genres of music - and by that, try to develop a new sound. So we have no problem using a hip hop beat with delta blues guitar and Mediterranean vocals.”


Not surprisingly, the band has an eclectic host of musical influences. “From [American jazz musician] Charles Mingus, to M.I.A., the Beastie Boys and Missy Elliot, to bands from Serbia, brass bands from small villages,” he says, Muskat's list goes on. “It’s crazy what we listen to. Our whole idea of influence is never to fall into a specific genre for a song; our songs take little bits and pieces from things that remind you of something else, but there’s always got to be something that breaks it from leaning all the way to a certain genre.”


The heads of the band, Muskat, Tomer Yosef and Ori Kaplan, grew up in Israel before moving to New York City, where they spent close to 15 years. “We spend less time in New York [than Israel] but some of our musicians do bass there, and we’re constantly moving, so the whole idea of home has kind of changed. We’re based basically between New York, Tel Aviv and Europe,” Muskat explains.


“Israel definitely influenced and shaped who we are,” he continues. “We grew up here, our families are here, and this is our original home, so it’s definitely shaped our sound. I don’t think this band could do what we do without growing up in a place like this, a huge melting pot of cultures and foods and people and colours, and I think that’s why maybe we found New York as a home as well. You don’t really ask people where their accent’s from any more after you live in New York for a year. Everybody has some kind of accent from somewhere and that’s it, and I really like that.”


If you’ve done your research, or are a music nerd, you have heard of a band called Gogol Bordello. They have an infectious gypsy punk sound, layered with different styles and instruments, and Muskat was affiliated with them when the two bands (Gogol and Balkan Beat Box) were first starting out. Because of this connection, lots of people tend to draw comparisons.


“We made an album with Gogol Bordello before this band,” Muskat explains. “I was producing the band [Gogol] and in the beginning, when people didn’t know both bands, they used to compare us because we came from the same kind of scene: New York City at a time when immigrant music took over the city.”


“We were basically dealing with the same musical ingredients,” he continues, “but the moment these two bands had their own lives, anybody who knows us can tell that although there are similarities, we’re totally different bands with different aesthetics. And as we grow and Gogol grows, our sound grows more apart. We’re not gypsy punks [as Gogol Bordello are referred to].”


Related articles: (Balkan Beat Box, Gogol Bordello, Ashkenaz Festival, Sirius stage, Harbourfront, tamir muskat)

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