Balkan Beat Box
Food and music travel without boundaries.
story by Carrah Bechtel
In 2003, Israeli expats Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat formed Balkan Beat Box on the fertile shores of Brooklyn. Harboring an appreciation for the “old world” Romanian and pan-Mediterranean style of music from their family backgrounds, they grew up loving hip-hop and dance as well. Joined by lead singer Tomer Yosef, BBB was created to merge these divergent styles of music while dissolving generational, geographical and political boundaries. Taking music from groups that don’t necessarily get along, they display how political division ends at the foot of the dance floor. As the gateway sound for those who wish to explore what the wider world has to offer, their new album Give drops March 6.
Chicago Innerview: How does politics affect your music or touring?
Ori Kaplan: Politics affects it because of where we come from, Israel. Plus living in NYC, which is such a melting pot, has really shaped our worldview. Sometimes it’s the same story everywhere. It could be Columbia and anywhere in the world — you can’t avoid [politics], it is planted into [our music] by default. You see injustice, you see different strains of society and we are not politicians, the music comes first, but we always say what is on our mind. Mixing up cultures has its own dialogue, what is supposedly controversial mixing like Roma, Israeli, Palestinian, African, European subconsciously got in there, so it is all things everywhere. Touring opens us up even more. It makes the whole micro outlook more macro, more global.
Chicago Innerview: Do Palestinians come to your shows?
Ori Kaplan: Well they wouldn’t be allowed to cross over into Israel, so our exposure to Palestinians comes from places all over the world. We meet lots of Palestinians in places like Paris. They have never heard of people like us and we are able to make connections on such a charged issue. The people are always different from what the media says. When people come to see us, it’s an opportunity for dialog and that is food for thought. We can all experience music together.
CI: Do you feel there is a responsibility in world music that there isn’t in other forms of music?
OK: I don’t know. [World music] is a classification that came from the outside. For us, there are so many influences that aren’t ‘world music’. To call it ‘world punk’, ‘electronica’ — to pigeonhole yourself, it’s funny. I would call it ‘alternative culture’, not so influenced by the industry and not only influenced by the Western vision. We try to reach the people who don’t understand world music. We don’t wait for the music industry to define it. It’s amazing how music can cross borders — the Balkans, gypsy-hating places — when they want to celebrate, they bust out the gypsy music. Food and music travel without boundaries.
CI: Is music a release for you from the stress and frustration of growing up in war?
OK: Yes, it could be. In a song like ‘War Again’, the saddest things in life can be transformed to a happy sound. Look at New Orleans funeral music — happiness is always a part of our music. We feel like it makes people listen in a whole new way. If you listen with your feet, it is subconscious and you’re not judgmental or biased. It opens your mind and gets you thinking about things. If you sing a song like a ballad about war and suffering, about how it sucks and how war will come again, it’s too obvious.
Balkan Beat Box :: Metro :: March 10.