Global Beat Fusion: Tomorrow's Balkans

Shantel's lightheartedness is an integral component of his music. The man has near-singlehandedly championed Balkan music for well over a decade, ever since dropping a few folk tunes into a dance set in Brooklyn and watching the crowd catch fire. He returned to his laboratory in Frankfurt, Germany, to become the planet's leading proponent of electronic-fueled brass music. He hand selected tasteful cuts for his first Bucovina Club collection; by edition two, the bass and kick were adrenalized, with Shantel remixing the most renowned brass bands in the world. Then came his playful, progressive Disko Partizani, and the man has not looked back once: the predominantly acoustic folk music had met its electronic future.

Planet Paprika (Essay/Crammed), Shantel's latest, features similar integral components of his previous work: handclaps, call-and-response chants, blaring tuba lines tweaked to hip-hop bass frequencies (and plenty of bass guitar to fill in holes), and the key feature of Balkan music: horns. Tons of horns. Horns that reminds you this is not subtle music, nor can you ignore it. Eastern Europe has musically evolved quite a bit since Béla Bartók, and his studies in village music have helped make Stefan Hantel today's primary sonic ethnographer. Planet Paprika, tongue-in-cheek as the title admits, is a swing record for the world to be hinged upon.

While DJing in Toronto a few months ago, my friend and colleague Richard "medicineman" Martin, who hosts "No Man's Land" on CIUT, dropped this massive half-step reggae bomb filled with the most intense clarinet solo I had ever heard on the dance floor. He smiled with my question. He had previously warned me about [dunkelbunt] before, a Vienna-based producer whose bags of tricks extends into innumerable genres: the Balkans, of course, though dub, jazz, hip-hop, drum 'n bass, and anything Mediterranean might make its way into the mix at any time. And whatever style he's twiddling with, you can be sure it's going to catch your ear.

While "Smile on Your Face," the aforementioned banger, is not on his latest, Raindrops and Elephants (Piranha), there is plenty to keep you occupied (though I do suggest seeking out that track on iTunes). This collection is more an introduction of sorts to the public, a collection of remixes and edits of previously available songs to a global audience. His bouncing take on Watcha Clan's "Balkan Qoulou" made his bass-heavy take one of Diaspora Remixed's finest cuts. (To close the record, he distills their "Ch'ilet la Yani" into a downtempo gem.) Like Shantel, [dunkelbunt] is a lighthearted producer, borrowing old school swing on his "Cinnamon Girl," while he shows off his classical piano chops on another aptly titled track, "Tales of the Chocolate Butterfly."

While it may not appear that we've been talking seriously, given the playful nature of these artists, there exists the focused, disciplined manner of the true artist in each of them. This holds for the great Serbian trumpeter Boban Marković. I remember sitting in the basement of Joe's Pub with Marković and crew back in 2004 and, nice as they all were, I knew that if I made the wrong move I probably would not have made it out of their alive. Their mafia demeanor carries over onto stage, where they've won roughly ever award ever invented for brass orchestras, plus a few waiting to be invented. That such a seemingly limited collection of brass instruments and one drum could be so diverse blows the mind, as does the playing on their latest, Devla: Blown Away to Dancefloor Heaven (Piranha).

Joined again by his twenty-one-year-old son, Marko (who started playing with the band at fourteen), Boban has secured his offspring's position in the Serbian trumpet hierarchy. When I saw him play (age sixteen), the accolades to him were well deserved -- the boy can blow. The Marković dynasty sounds like a close link to the Turkish and Indian military marching tradition, with its demanding melodies and hard-edged rhythms, although the trumpeter told me in 2004, "In Serbia it's not always the marching band of military music. As far as I know old people played it differently. Gypsies were obliged to play one march in the old festivals, but gypsies never liked the military." They may not be going out to war, but the battle they wage on stage and record will surely move you from the inside out.

Like Shantel, Bosnian DJ Robert Soko has led the charge in presenting Balkan music to the world through his BalkanBeats parties, which launched in Berlin in the mid-'90s. On his BalkanBeats (Piranha) compilation, he pays tribute to those aforementioned--Shantel and [dunkelbunt] both appear, as well as other prime names in the region: Kal, Amsterdam Klezmer Band, Magnifico, a trancy-as-hell track by Vrelo, and a dance floor thumper, "March of the Sultans, by Merdan Taplak. This is a great accompaniment to the heat that circulates around Soko's parties, with some unexpected tracks from the nether regions of Eastern European sound.