Bosnian Goran Bregovic has done much to spread the gospel of Balkan music across the world. He’s best known for his vibrant life affirming scores to the films of Emir Kusturica, though he has been touring and releasing albums for over a decade. Whilst the music he champions is enjoying greater popularity than ever, thanks to his tireless energy and that of the likes of Fanfare Ciocarlia, Taraf De Haidouks and Boban Markovic, life for the Roma (gypsies) across Europe has deteriorated considerably in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, being expelled from France and Italy, and experiencing violence in Serbia and Hungary.
In the liner notes Bregovic reminds us that gypsies “are not the problem of this world, they have always been one of the talents of this world.” So he’s roped some of them in to participate on this album, folks like France’s Gypsy Kings, Eugene Hutz from Gogol Bordello, Romanian Florian Salam, and Ireland’s Selina O’Leary, upon whom he’s unleashed his 19 piece Wedding and Funeral Band.
It’s an album that doesn’t necessarily have that hard Balkan brass punch of some of his compatriots, yet it does possess the breakneck energy, crippling sorrow, as well as a rare stylistic diversity. The participants really do put their stamps on the songs, like the opener Presidente with the immediately recognisable acoustic guitar and handclaps of the Gypsy Kings merged with the brass of the Wedding and Funeral Band. It’s a real meshing of sound. The ubiquitous Hopa Cupa is unleashed by Florian Salam and the band, whilst the distinctive vocals of Irish Selina O’Leary provide a real point of difference gracing both On A Leash and the title track.
Speaking of Champagne for Gypsies, Bregovic is all over the booklet, posing, firstly with a couple of empty glasses half passed out in rapture on the cover, mugging with a bottle on the back cover and pouring two bottles over his head inside above the quote “If You don’t Go Crazy You’re Not Normal.”
Initially you’d think positioning himself as the debonair fun loving party guy would be at odds with his mission for improving the lot of the Roma, yet Bregovic’s vision is all inclusive, he wants to spread the party and good times. It’s the old adage free your ass and the mind will follow. That’s why his music doesn’t have the harder gravity defying edge of say Fanfare Ciocarlia. It’s the closest you can get to Balkan pop music, reaching out to as many people as possible and hopefully the message will stick.
Bob Baker Fish