Orkestar Bez Irme: Mahala Drive Review

80/100

Orkestar Bez Irme seems to be one of the Twin Cities’ music scene’s best kept secrets – despite sporting a roster of world class musicians who have now recorded six LP’s together, outside of the “world music” crowd they largely seem to be unknown.  And that is likely due to the fact that the band’s chosen aesthetic, traditional Balkan folk music, isn’t one that is hugely popular here.  And that is a shame because, while they take a more traditional approach than the pop-infused bands like Beirut or DeVotchKa, OBI beautifully illustrates the roots that those wildly popular groups originally grew from.

The sextet just recently finished their sixth effort, Mahala Drive, a record that dexterously maps out the band’s regions of influence, from Macedonia all the way to Moldova.   Its an Eastern European sphere, and is largely dominated by what we would consider “gypsy folk,” or the traditional folk tunes of the wandering Roma.  But within that realm the band finds interesting and even dramatic differences between each regional style.  For instance the vocals in Macedonian “More Cico rece” sound nearly Middle Eastern, even as the violin and guitar take on an almost Celtic lilt.  “Mahala” sounds a bit more like what you might traditionally expect from a Roma tune – gorgeously pulse-quickening violin strokes complemented by clarinet and an irregular beat.    And then you have Bosnian “Karanfile, Cvijece Moje,” and “Moj Dibare” which both sound as if they could be the soundtrack to one of the silent “orientalist” pictures of the early 1900’s. While in each of the albums twelve tracks generally the same instruments are used (accordion, guitar, violin, clarinet) the sound is broad enough to give each individual piece its own distinction.  Sadly there is no brass section though – so fans of groups like Fanfare Ciocarlia or Mahala Rai Banda might find the absence of horns a bit lacking for dancing purposes, but the group generally does splendidly with what they have.

And notable as the band’s musicianship is throughout Mahala Drive (instrumental piece MacAulay’s Reel embodies this best) , its most effective when it is accompanied by vocals – all of which are sung in their native tongues.   Each band member seems to take a turn at vocal duties, and in “Te Aven Baxtale,” “Opinca,” and particularly “More Cico Rece,” they sound like flawless native speakers.  “Makedonsko Devojce,” does come off as sounding a little bit too nasal, however overall there is very little to dislike.

Much like their past albums, I highly doubt that Mahala Drive will find OBI breaching a wider audience than the world music scene.  It’s likely too traditional to appeal to the pop-centric masses.  It is however, a supremely well executed example of an under-appreciated music genre that could likely resonate with anyone if they gave it a chance.   You can see for yourself at the band’s CD release party at the Celtic Junction (St. Paul) on Jan. 28th.

— Jon Behm

      1. OBI - More Cico Rece

Buy Mahala Drive here

Orkestar Bez Irme:          Site

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