Peak: Did not chart
The “world music” story of the decade was the revival of traditional Gypsy music in the Balkans, which thrummed with the vibrancy only a fucked-over borderless people can generate. (See also: The ferocious “desert blues” trance-chants of various Saharan nomads, less amenable to this sort of single-track excerption, but well-represented in the album section.) Much of that music hadn’t previously carried out west not for lack of demand, but for lack of supply–repression and genocide have a way of undermining a recording industry. Still, the timing of this Gypsy resurgence also made perfect political sense, as the cross-border pollination at the root of Gypsy music is art’s best argument against those calls for ethnic and ideological purity underpinning widespread anti-immigrant hysteria.
To form Mahala Rai Banda, violinist Aurel Ionitsa recruited musicians from two villages: his native Clejani, home of the older and rootsier Taraf de Haidouks, and Zece Prajini, birthplace of the even brassier Fanfare Ciocarlia. I’ve dug full-lengths by both, but neither outfit has produced as durable a track as “Mahalageasca.” The polyphonic horn curlicue that begins the song is as dynamite a hook as I heard all decade–and then, after three times through, the fuckers don’t play it again for another three minutes. Instead, the meat of the song contains a full brass sub-theme, a section of fiddle and cymbalon interplay, and a horn-and-percussion breakdown–each bit generating its own excitement.
Younger than most of their fellow revivalists, Mahala adapted more easily to the “Balkan Beat” movement spurred by German-born gypsy DJ Shantel, who smuggled “Mahalageasca” into clubs via his “Bucovina Dub” version. That mix plays up the ska one-two a bit insistently for my tastes, and flattens the polyrhythms underneath, though it isolates the solo instruments nicely. Similarly, the “Felix B Jazzhouse Dub,” courtesy of a single Basement Jack, substitutes its own pulse for Mahala’s choppy bottom. I’d dance to either, sure. But the original, delaying gratification with its tricky multi-partite structure, remains the most rewarding version.