Balkan Beat Box: “It’s a big salad of music.” Interview by Bob Baker Fish


Balkan Beat Box are an explosion of energy, melding frenetic Balkan horns, with big beat electronics, a kind of plugged in gypsy music, that also incorporates all manner of disparate genres liberally pilfered from across the world. It’s music that shouldn’t work on paper but somehow manages to become a whole new genre in itself, a kind electro magpie funk. Having released five albums thus far, with members spread between Israel and New York, they’re making their first visit to Australia performing at Womadelaide. Cyclic Defrost caught up with vocalist Tomer Yosef while he was travelling through downtown Tel Aviv, on the way to his studio.

Bob Baker Fish: So are you working on an album at the moment?

Tomer Yosef: Actually I’m working on a few projects. I’ve got my own stuff that I’m working on. Other than Balkan Beat Box I have my solo career, and I’m also producing another band and that’s what I’m doing now.

Bob Baker Fish: So what’s this band like that you’re producing?

Tomer Yosef: they’re three sisters from Israel, but they sing in Yemenite, which is kind’ve Arabic. I’m actually producing their album and I’m also managing them, they’re called Aiwa.

Bob Baker Fish: That sounds really interesting. I’m keen to hear the results. Have you done much production work in the past?

Tomer Yosef: Actually not a lot. I mostly write songs. But in the last two years I began doing music productions and I like it a lot.

Bob Baker Fish: I understand the music scene is pretty vibrant in Tel Aviv. Is that your experience.

Tomer Yosef: Yeah there’s a lot of musical talent in Israel. The scene, well you know it’s a really really small country especially if you compare it to Australia. It’s really small but there’s a lot of talent. It’s pretty big scene though compared to the size of the country. Especially in Tel Aviv, there are a lot of clubs and places to perform, you can always find good stuff.

Bob Baker Fish: There’s a big electronic music scene there?

Tomer Yosef: Of course.

Bob Baker Fish: Can I ask how you got caught up in Balkan Beat Box to begin with?

Tomer Yosef: Well Balkan Beat Box began as a studio project of my two partners Tamir Muskat and Ori Kaplan. It started in New York, both Tamir and Ori spent ten or fifteen years in New York. I was there for three years and I actually met Tamir in New York, we both came from Israel and we met in New York and Tamir introduced me to Ori. So one day when they came to visit in Israel they said ‘listen we worked on this project and now we want to take it on stage, how about jumping in with us?’ And I said ‘wow, cool sounds great, just tell me when.’

Bob Baker Fish: So when you listened to the material they had made was it a bit of a surprise to you?

Tomer Yosef: Actually it was a surprise to me, because knowing Tamir he always used to do a lot of…I mean everything he did always had this twist. Something was twisted always. But with the new music he made me listen to it was totally fresh. It was influenced by Balkan music, which I didn’t really know before, and it was very electronic. This mash up between the electronic and the Balkan horns was a surprise for me. But it was so amazing, I just fell in love with it the first time I heard it. But it was a surprise because Tamir was coming from a different background of punk rock and stuff like that. And I’m also coming from a different background of funk and black music. But it turned out that we had a great combination.

Bob Baker Fish: The way you guys go about making music is it very different now? Are you all in the same room together?

Tomer Yosef: Are you talking about the writing process?

Bob Baker Fish: Writing and Recording.

Tomer Yosef: Well now we’re working on our fifth album and the dynamics between us has always been very very smooth, because each one of us has his own forte, something he is the best in. Tamir is usually starting, working on a beat, and then I would sit down and write the lyrics and Henri will sit down and start writing the melodies. And then usually by the end of the day we will have a song. It’s usually like that. We have a very good chemistry.

Bob Baker Fish: Do you talk much? Your music is such a crazy blend of styles, approaches and genres it seems impossible to put it all together. Is communication important?

Tomer Yosef: No I think it’s rooted in us. Because we all came from different backgrounds and we love all kinds of music. There is not one kind of music that we like. In every genre you can find the good stuff and the bad stuff. So I would say for us we like all good stuff from every genre. So we’re very open minded and very eclectic and mash up stuff and that’s kind of like the essence of the band, just mashing up stuff and mixing. It’s a big salad of music.

Bob Baker Fish: And seeing what works alongside each other.

Tomer Yosef: And the evolution of the band over the years, it started electronic, a mix of electronic and traditional music from all over the world and now we’ve become more of a band. We’ve got our own sound I think. We came to the point where if you take the three of us, Ori with the horns, Tamir with the drums and me with the microphone that’s the essence of the band. So that’s a very happy thing, having our own sound.

Bob Baker Fish: So how do you feel about taking elements from different countries and different genres. People can get annoyed by that and view it as cultural appropriation, as stealing from different cultures or different peoples music. Has that ever been a concern for you?

Tomer Yosef: I think this is what art is about. Because there’s not much to invent nowadays. The only thing you can do if you want to stay fresh and bring something new is to take stuff that already exists and reinvent it, kind’ve. Every artist is taking their influence and making something new with it. Sometimes its actually taking and sampling and sometimes its taking a guitar riff and playing a bit differently. So its actually taking something that already exists and taking it to a new level, to the here and now, and making something new from it. That’s the approach I think we don’t mind it. In fact we like it.

Bob Baker Fish: And how do you feel if people take your sounds and sample them?

Tomer Yosef: Oh people are doing it all the time. Sometimes its good, sometimes its not, but we don’t mind that. That’s the way it should be. Nowadays where music is all over the place no one almost owns everything, it’s all out there for everyone to listen to and use. We don’t mind it and as I said before I think it’s the meaning of art.

Bob Baker Fish: Listening to your music there are elements of chaos and energy, I’m wondering about your live show.

Tomer Yosef: We are a six piece band and Tamir’s playing drums and computer then we have bass, guitar, two horns, one is Kaplan and I’m doing percussion, a little bit of electronics and vocals.

Bob Baker Fish: So obviously live performance is very important for the band. Has this changed the way you have recorded or thought about music?

Tomer Yosef: Definitely because I think we’re more a live band than record, though we love the process of recording and being together and creating, but when you see us live there’s no doubt. We’re very good musicians if I may say so, at least I can say that about my friends, and we love to play together, everyone is a performer and love being on stage.

Balkan Beat Box Australia tour March 2015

FRI 6 – The Hi-Fi [ BRISBANE ]
SAT 7-MON 9 – WOMADelaide [ ADELAIDE ]
WED 11 – Oxford Art Factory [ SYDNEY ]
THU 12 – Prince Bandroom [ MELBOURNE ]


About Author

Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.