Band of the Day

2012.04.06

Balkan Beat Box

Multicultural global beats with a socially conscious message
Why you want to be the dumb gold digger, and make your leader richer?
lyrics from Why

Balkan Beat Box first started around Israel-born New Yorkers Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat. The two first met as teenagers in Brooklyn, and both grew up with music. Prior to starting Balkan Beat Box, Kaplan played with Gypsy punk legends Gogol Bordello, while Muskat was a drummer for Firewater. In 2004, Kaplan and Muskat decided to create their own style of music, mixing ancient music traditions with hip hop, dancehall, and dub. Balkan Beat Box released their self-titled debut album in 2005 on Jdub Records, receiving global acclaim. The following year, lead vocalist/percussionist/programmer Tomer Yosef became a permanent member of the group. Following the success of 2010's Blue Eyed Black Boy, their third album, is 2012's Give. Released on National Geographic Records, it was recorded primarily in Tel Aviv, Israel, and features just the three core members without any guest musicians.

As exciting as it is to fly to a new place, there's the inevitable (yet necessary) annoyance of going through strict security checks—especially travelling through post-9/11 US airports. For most people, this just means having to endure longer lines at the security gate, or being asked to remove your shoes before walking through the detectors. But for Tomer Yosef, the Israel-born lead singer of Balkan Beat Box, being mistaken for a terrorist on an Alaska Airlines flight led to being detained by TSA authorities—all because of a passenger's paranoia about his physical appearance. His experience inspired the band to write the song “Enemy In Economy,” from their latest album, Give. It opens with a high-pitched gypsy-style saxophone line, before cleverly ironic samples of “Welcome to the USA, we hope you have a wonderful day” are looped. Yosef begins recalling his experience through an increasingly-passionate flow, playing both the part of the authorities (“Is there anything you're hiding there/wanna make a call?/Will you be my enemy/did you break the law?”) and himself (“It's paranoia/did I annoy ya?”). In addition to songs that highlight Yosef's personal experience, Give was inspired by political movements across the globe, including Israel's social protests (all three members are natives of Israel, though the band is based out of Brooklyn, New York), and Occupy Wall Street. The defiantly-titled “Political Fk” could very well be the latter movement's official protest song. While the rest of the band is throwing down eclectic beats and mixing samples, you can almost imagine Yosef standing on a podium, megaphone planted in front of his mouth, leading a captivated crowd in a chant of, “It's a political fk, not an attack/We're just taking it back, Jack, we're taking it back!” As important as the message of Balkan Beat Box's lyrics are, their innovative fusion of ancient music styles with modern touches of hip hop, dancehall, and electronic make music that could even bring the enemy to the dance floor.