The rooster crows to kick off the song, immediately followed by a woman who commands, “Dance.” Then there’s what seems to be beatboxing, setting the rhythm, carried by a drummer and a group of chanting women. A rocking off-kilter melody and bassline seems to come from cut up samples of a Roma horn band. A man demands, “Your complete attention!” and he has it. It has a great beat and you can dance to it — you must dance to it — as the sampled woman tells us again. Dance.
That song, “Cha Cha,” by Balkan Beat Box was my introduction to the band, when the late great Charlie Gillett played them on his influential BBC London world music radio show. It then showed up on an album of BBC Radio 3 World Music award winners for 2007, alongside tracks by Gogol Bordello, Cheb I Sabbath and Camille. On a trip to Amoeba Records, I ended up bought the double-disc CD, then later, a full album by BBB (as they’re known) where “Cha Cha” slides non-stop into “Bulgarian Chicks,” a track that seems to draw on the feel of the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir (aka Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares) mashed with the Romani Balkan brass band Fanfare Ciocârlia, all with that never-ending beat. I couldn’t imagine how they play this sample-based music live, which they will do Friday night, returning to the Arcata Theatre Lounge.
BBB started with Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat, two Israelis who immigrated, landing in Brooklyn when they were teenagers. Ori was a klezmer clarinetist infected by hip-hop; Tamir was a punk rock drummer and record producer. They both gravitated to the circle of NYC gypsy/punks Gogol Bordello.
Their recording project has come a long way since then. That eponymous debut album (first released in 2004) featured a half-dozen lead vocalists, including another Israeli ex-pat New Yorker, Tomer Yosef. He ended up becoming the third BBBer, adding a voice (and more samples).
After touring worldwide, playing big festivals like Bonnaroo, they’ve assembled a killer live band with guitars, bass and horns. They’re currently on tour in front of a new album, Shout It Out, set to drop in November. (Expect some new tunes and merch.) Anyone who saw them at ATL will be back, new recruits will be added to the ranks. Everyone will follow that command: “Dance!”