Taken from The Jewish Chronicle (May 11, 2018)
Balkan Beatbox SoundSystem: Music of the mash-up melting pot
They call themselves ‘ambassadors of groove’ and they’re bringing their music to London. Claire Cantor reports
by Claire Cantor
BBB in action
Do you think you know Israeli music? Get ready to shake up your ideas with the Balkan Beat Box Soundsystem.
On May 24, the dynamic trio will be playing at the Platinum: Celebrating Israel at 70 concert at the Royal Albert Hall, the event put on by the Jewish Leadership Council and the UJIA to mark the Jewish state’s birthday.
Balkan Beat Box Soundsystem (BBB as they are fondly known) include saxophone player Ori Kaplan, drummer/ programmer/ producer Tamir Muskat and charismatic vocalist/ MC Tomer Yosef. At the concert they will be joined by special guest singers Ethiopian Israeli Gili Yalo, Shai Tsabari and Yemenite all-star female group A-WA.
Fit and trim, with the look of eternal youth, despite being in their late 40s, the group of talented, self-proclaimed “musical explorers” are delighted to be returning to the UK for this special occasion. According to Tel Aviv-based Kaplan, BBB prefer not to be defined as a Jewish or Israeli band, but simply “a band”, made up of Israelis. They already have a keen fan base in the UK from previous world tours that brought them to London and Brighton. He describes the fans as a mixed bag of “cool music lovers, an international crowd, some Israelis and a largely young audience.”
Kaplan lived in New York for 16 years, where he met Muscat, and BBB was conceived. Their music has been described as “gypsy rock”, Kaplan likes “ambassadors of groove’” The eclectic musical melange takes you travelling — one moment your feet are in the sand dancing on the beach in Jamaica, then you are touching palms with your neighbour, circling to a traditional Greek Zorba on a sun-kissed Mediterranean island, followed by time travel to the shtetl and the familiar plaintive keys of klezmer.
“We grew up in Israel with punk, reggae, Turkish, Greek, Flamenco, hip hop and rock influences,” says Kaplan. “I come from an Eastern European background and Tamir is Romanian, but we were hearing all the mix of musical sounds — from Africa, Eastern Europe, Morocco. We played with Yemenite and Ethiopian musicians. All this is going on in the background in Israel, and it’s what makes the music special.”
Seventy years after Israel’s conception, this is a far cry from the traditional melodies of the Zionist pioneers, or tear-jerking tunes that dream of Jerusalem the Golden.
BBB gives us the sound of trendy Tel Aviv, the hum of the bars and cafés of Neve Tzedek. The “new Israel,” as Kaplan describes it: “A deft and exuberant cross pollination of sounds and cultures with a smouldering lyrical flow.”
It’s not all party, however, as the politically charged tracks Ramallah-Tel-Aviv and War Again prove. “We are abut communicating the cultural connections that exist here,” explains Kaplan.
“As Israeli musicians, we have the ability to express all those influences. Yet, once living in NY we had to find our own identity, and we discovered a melting pot of people looking theirs. We were urban, immigrant, club, mash-up.
“As we travelled for gigs, we found a similar phenomenon in other cities — Paris, Washington, Berlin. There is a new immigrant energy that’s the urban scene in so many cities right now, and Israel is the microcosmic melting pot of the cultures that you find on a wider scale in New York.
“We are really proud to be presenting our cultural mix in the UK. If you want to hear the new groove that has evolved in Israel, then you are ready for our seductress music.”
Now that’s tempting.