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- Posted on Mar 10th 2010 10:15PM by Jill Jackson
Balkan Beat Box plays the 2010 SXSW Festival on Friday, March 19.
How did you come up with the name Balkan Beat Box?
The whole thing started as a studio project. Ori and I went into the studio we were discovering these amazing sounds from around the world. Although we grew up with a lot of Klezmer and Balkan music, all of a sudden there was a mania to the prospect. When it came to the name we decided that Balkan represents folklore and the old traditional world, and Beat Box is modern. So these words were going to lead us into an interesting sound.
How did you all get started in music?
Each one of us has kind of a different story. It kind of chose me--I never thought that I'd do something else. My father had a conservatory and I grew up in that environment. After school I would run to the conservatory and use every room available to play another instrument. Ori started when he was 11 in Jaffa, Israel and studied Klezmer music. He rejected the whole thing by going all the way to Avant garde jazz and that's how we met, actually. I ended up touring with him with a band called Firewater. Tomer had a completely different story. He was an actor, a comedian for many years. He always made music but it never was his main thing. He knocked on my door, in New York and told me, "I want to be a musician." I told him, "whatever, we'll meet in two years we'll see what we can do." At the moment BBB took off the first person I thought of to join us was Tomer and that's where we are now.
How many are in your band lineup?
We're usually six as a touring band and then we have amazing musicians around us and they change as well. When we tour the US, we use our New York-based friends. When we're playing Europe, we use our Israeli friends. We work with a lot of guests as well, on our albums. There's no one BBB album that doesn't have at least two or three guests from somewhere in the world--from Moroccan to Bulgarian singers, to whoever we meet and find interesting to collaborate with.
What are your musical influences?
We listen to so much music and keep feeding each other with new things so it has become this big mash up. We're listening to a lot of hip-hop, but I wouldn't say typical American hip-hop but M.I.A to Missy Elliot to Mos Def and all kinds of heavy reggaeton and Brazilian hard core ghetto music. At the same time we're listening to a lot of Mediterranean and Arabic music, from authentic to completely modern. And on the way we'll go through a lot of mariachi. We've always been big fans of mariachi. We're just constantly getting turned on by things. The other day we discovered this amazing South African band called Die Antwoord. Whatever comes to our library can influence us.
What can SXSW audiences expect at your show?
It gets pretty crazy in our shows, most of the time, I don't want to promise anything but most of the time it gets to be a pretty wild rave, just because of the happiness of the melodies and the beats. I think it's not the typical band that gets to SXSW. It's amazing because our experience in the US has been more than surprising. We never expected an American audience to connect in such a quick and direct manner to this music. I expect SXSW to be crazy, like our New York and San Francisco shows.
Do you have any favorite songs?
That changes a lot because, as you can imagine, with the amount of shows we do every year things are very dynamic. But "My Baby" and "Blue Eyed Black Boy" are two songs that I like playing very much, lately. "Hermetico" is always a big favorite, always fun playing it. I love playing "Balcumbia" from the new album. We just got it into the set lately and it's really an amazing track. These are my top favorites, these days but I might give you a different answer next week.
What do you like about festivals?
The fact that people are not necessarily coming for us--there's this challenge about it. We were playing a festival and we had the Beastie Boys playing at the exact same time, which is a disaster because, of course, everyone would go and see them. We had fifteen minutes, before the Beastie Boys started, to keep the audience with us. Nobody left for our whole set. For me that's an interesting moment. Then there's the special vibe and seeing amazing other artists. You have a chance to meet them and play before them. So many amazing artists that we met and had a chance to talk to and suddenly you know that they're your fans as well.
Do you tour the Middle East?
I wish. Some of us hold Israeli passports so it's not so easy. Jordan is one of the few places we can go. It's our dream to play in Gaza. We actually tried to pull it off a few times by trying to do some sort of collaboration or a peace show that will actually let us go in and play. We did places that we can get to, but the hard core Middle East: Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iran, I'm praying for the day that we can go and play there.
Jill Jackson is a contributor from Seed.com. Learn how you can contribute here.