“Marry me, and I will make your heart glad … and I will take care of your old mother.”
According to local musician David Golber, the only thing that most Americans know about Balkan music is the “brass band stuff, Goran Bregovic, and so on.” And “maybe some of the Roma stuff.” But while Golber says “everything gets world-music blended nowadays, so you hear everyone playing all sorts of mixes of styles,” he’s still moved to specifically spread love through the traditional sounds he dedicates most of his travel and time to. For his massive party at the Armory this year, he hopes to lure more people from beyond just the core ethnic communities that will inevitably flock there, and so we asked Golber for a primer.
Any commonly held misconceptions about Balkan culture in general that you would like to air out right here and now?
Culture? Politics? History? Look, I’ve been involved in this stuff for a long time. I travel a lot in Macedonia, and speak fairly good Macedonian. I read a lot. I can tell you a lot. Bosnia is a depressing basket case. Serbians think they are the suffering saviors of the universe. Macedonians feel they’re a small country being pushed around by the great (and not-so-great) powers.
Well, mother is so important in traditional songs. My band Gogofski do one very well-known Serbian song [in which] the young woman says to her guy, “It’s time to marry me, not just hang out at the bar with your pals. Marry me, and I will make your heart glad … and I will take care of your old mother.” Not a thing you would say in an American song. We played this song at the Serbian festival a couple of years ago, and every woman in the place was singing along.
Are we talking traditional Balkan music? A mix of traditional and contemporary?
We’ve got two bands playing at the Armory: Tano Brock’s Sarma (means “stuffed cabbage”), and my band Gogofski (made up out of the initials of some of us). Sarma is a brass band; the usual instruments are trumpets, alto sax, baritone horns, and so on, and got a trombone player … a little less usual. My band is accordion, clarinet, drum, singer. Another very usual ensemble. These are both bands that are very widely used over there right now, maybe in somewhat different situations—the brass band more likely for tents, outdoors. The accordion-clarinet orchestra indoors. Also there are some ethnic associations: A Roma wedding would more likely have a brass band.
In a way, I say both our bands are both traditional and contemporary. We’re playing music in traditional styles that continues to be widely played and danced to today.
What are the staples of a Balkan beat party? Alcohol? Dress?
People can wear whatever they want. In Balkan circles—the Serbian church, the Bosnian festival—I think people dress nicer. At our party at the Armory, I expect people will wear whatever they want. After all, are there any places these days that have a dress code?
Alcohol … well, so many of American folk dance events are in church or school halls, where alcohol is forbidden. Ugh. So that’s why I put this party in the Armory, which serves beer and wine (and light food too). Like a normal party. There’s a lot of alcohol in the Balkans.
Talking about instruments, there is an enormous variety of music there. Just in Macedonia, where I hang out, there is brass band, accordion-clarinet orchestra, chalgiya (old-style Turkish influence), village orchestra (bagpipe, wooden flutes, etc.), zurlas (loud double reeds). Each a different sound. And there is a big Albanian minority with its own music—really different clarinet style, men’s singing. At our Armory party, you’ll hear just two of these styles.
You say it’s great dance music, but that people don’t always dance to it. So are you looking outside of the usual suspects for this party?
Sarma plays often at the Lily Pad in Inman Square in Cambridge, about two blocks from where I live. They get a good crowd, but the audience just stands there. A couple of times, I’ve seen Tano try to show people steps. But he’s playing sax simultaneously. So I want to get that crowd to our Armory event. I want to get them to add the enjoyment of dancing to their enjoyment of the music.
Any final words of advice for those considering coming out to the party?
You can just sit and listen, or stand and listen. You can bop around on the floor any way you want, just don’t bump into the furniture. Whatever feels good to you. Give the dancing a try. Get up. Relax. Stand up tall, feel the universe flow through your body. Bend your knees a little, have your weight forward on your toes—this is hidden inside your shoes. So you can float like a butterfly. Listen to the music. Let it tell you what to do.
SARMA + GOGOFSKI. SOMERVILLE ARMORY, 191 HIGHLAND AVE., SOMERVILLE. 7PM/$20. BALKANBEATPARTY.COM