Various Artists

Fiesta Balkanica

Network 495128


Full Price (65 mins)

Originally published in Songlines.

World music compilations tend to fall into two categories: a selection put together with deep knowledge of a particular region or style – or a cheap way for a label to exploit their back catalogue. On first glance, despite the excellent pedigree of German label Network, this feels like the latter: with the exception of French troubadours Bratsch and Roma legend Esma Redžepova, the guest list looks distinctly B-list. Two traditional songs by the Sandy Lopicic Orkestar, an Austrian group of musicians from former Yugoslavia who make up much of Shantel’s backing band these days, are just a warm-up to Esma’s grand entrance, but what an entrance it is. ‘Tu, Me, Duj Dzene’ is a stunning reminder of the power of the one of the greatest voices in music today. Her band sizzle on snaking clarinet, funky hand percussion, accordion, bass and guitar, and Esma struts atop the whole glorious mixture like a Macedonian Aretha Franklin. ‘Elden Ele’ by Turkish masters Istanbul Oriental Ensemble is a swinging, cinematic sweep of percussion and strings with another star turn by a mesmerising clarinet soloist, Savas Zurnaci. ‘Romano Chocheko’, a rare instrumental outing by Esma’s backing band, Ensemble Teodosievski, is every bit the wedding keyboard, accordion and trumpet dance anthem: in the wrong hands it could be a disaster but with players this good, all dodgy synths are forgiven. And from here in the goods keep coming: one of the best Balkan compilations out there from a label with a catalogue of serious riches.

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