Balkan Beat Box Rocks With Multicultural Music

Susan Aksu

The message of peace was being spread at the El Rey in West Los Angeles on Sept. 9, by the musical group Balkan Beat Box (BBB), with an opening set by up-and-coming band DeLeon.

BBB is a musical fusion group with songs in English, Hebrew, Arabic and Bulgarian, covering different styles of folk music from the Balkan regions while incorporating urban beats from the States.

BBB consists of 10 members: Tomer Yosef, vocals and percussion; Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat, percussion; Ben Handler and Itamar Ziegler, bass guitar; Eyal Talmudi, Peter Hess and Uri Kinrot, saxophone; Jeremiah Lockwood, guitar; and Dana Leong, trombone.
The opening song for BBB was “Move It,” followed by “BBbeat,” which began with funky urban beats, and transitioned to a saxophone solo – playing a very Middle Eastern sounding tune, keeping the beats continuously playing in the background.

They were able to keep old folk styles “from back in the old country” contemporary by experimenting with different instruments and beats, creating a unique trend of music.
Yosef kept the crowd pleased by involving them in the performance, as well as captivating them with his provocative dance moves.

Covered in sweat and shirtless, wearing super low rise jeans, Yosef, with his rebellious looking Mohawk, sang “Bush belly dancing with the resistance,” referring to President Bush in “La Bush Resistance,” moving in a rhythmic and racy fashion, as if he were a belly dancer.

For the duration of their performance, they made several political remarks about the current state of government and Washington, urging the people to “make the right choice in November” while holding up the peace sign, while the audience mirrored the gesture. The band reiterated that war is not the answer to solving the world’s problems in a few otherr songs that were politically focused, such as “Hermetico” and “Digital Monkey.”

All the members of the band exerted their need to stand out. The saxophonists and trombonist had several choreographed moments where they would take center stage, play their solo pieces, while dancing moves they seemed to have worked out together.
DeLeon opened with “L’ner Vlivsamim,” a gloomy yet romantic piece that had the audience up on their feet. DeLeon’s unique style and expression was truly like no other especially a little-known band.
The band consists of drummer Justin Riddle, vocalist/guitarist/banjoist Dan Saks, bassist and vocalist Kevin Snider, keyboarder Amy Crawford and trumpeter Andrew Oom.

When they began to play “L’ner Vlivasmim,” it was not clear at first which language was being sung until recognizable words in Spanish were heard. The illusion created was that they were singing in Hebrew with the common “kheh” sound made by certain words and the entrancing melody, but in actuality they were singing in Ladino, a Judeo-Spanish language which is near extinction, spoken by Sephardic Jews.

Regardless of the language barrier, the energy from the two bands was reflected by the reactions of the diverse audience members, who were dancing, singing or just grooving along with the music.

The volume of the loud speakers was not as loud as most bands tend to have them during shows for either band. During Deleon’s set, some audience members – who were clearly there just to see BBB, could be heard making side conversations, loudly and distinctly enough to cause a distraction to those watching and enjoying the performance. During BBB’s set, audience members singing along would, at times, almost drain out the performer’s voice.

The venue’s interior is plastered with red velvet walls and lavish chandeliers overhead, providing for a dim and intimate setting for the performers. The lighting for both bands was simple, as far as special effects go, and kept to a violet and blue color scheme.

Backdrops for both bands were also non-existent, but the number of band members on stage at a time made it unnecessary for props or extra stage décor that would cause the set to look crowded.

Both BBB and DeLeon performed well, bringing the audience a night of passionate music and unique and styles.

Other bands coming to the El Rey are Juno Reactor, Sept. 25, and MSTRKRFT, Sept. 28.

Rating for the concert.
four out of five stars.