AMN Reviews: Fanfara Tirana meets Transglobal Underground – Kabatronics (World Village)

Ethnic music group Transglobal Underground liv...
Ethnik music group Transglobal underground live in Athens June 2007 for the European Day of Music. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Little Albania doesn´t often have reason to rejoice these days, having been socially and economically pancaked by war, Ponzi schemes, and mass emigration. However, like the rest of the Balkans, it boasts an indefatigable musical heritage. Fanfara Tirana is its horn-wielding vanguard, blasting a motley mix of Turkish, Romani and domestic styles, wherefrom the term ”kaba”, a flamboyant clarinet and violin recitative, stems.

With Kabatronics, the band is joined by the similarly omnivorous Transglobal Underground. Since the early 1990s, core members Hamilton Lee and Tim Whelan have assembled one of the most colourful discographies in music, collaborating with a cast of thousands. After exhausting every imaginable port of call from immigrant magnet London to the rim of the Mediterranean, Transglobal Underground finally burrows its way to Albania. This fluid contingent of players, singers and dancers, whose most famous alumna would have to be Natacha Atlas, joins forces with a brass band attached to that most regimented of social branches, the military. But between drills and ceremonial duties, Fanfara Tirana spent time seeking its roots in Albanian history, all the way back to the Ottoman Empire, blending Macedonian, Greek, Azeri, Romani and Serbian moves, grooves and inflections, and gained an international reputation. Initially, TGU was brought in to do a remix, but the remix turned into the exchange and re-exchange of edits and additions and new ideas, and finally the two meshed into one. A nifty cast of guest musicians including trumpeters Frank London and Marko Markovic is headed up by an irrepressible Sikh named Johnny Kalsi on dohl and tabla. Singer Hysni “Nico” Zela is a folk legend on his own, lured by Fanfara Tirana out of retirement after a thirty-year career to join the band. And can he belt.

After clearing the ears with some Balkan bagpipes, Nico´s voice is braided into the one-man polyphony of “Cry Mary”, the farewell song of a gastarbeiter leaving for Egypt, before a procession of winds, horns and percussion falls into marchstep and gets dubbed like crazy on “Aferdita”. The culture clash of accordion, trumpet and tuba with electronics and software is no trainwreck, but rather offers a new prism through which to shine this weathered but vital music. Handkerchiefs wave in the air and raki sloshes in the glasses. Bleating horns and Jamaican dancehall is the most natural combination in the world – two-tone ska kicking out a cossack dance as master of ceremonies Tuup hopes “them rude boys don’t bring their guns to the wedding”. The furious clash of loops, brass, guitar and sitar slips easily into the soft “Flower Lament”, based on a beloved Albanian folk song, here given a Mexican-Arabic-Bacharachian flavour. This is wedding music, a wedding of musics irresistible to the feet and hips and the mind. Kabatronics comes in a fat, glossy package containing a colourful booklet, two remixes and a video.

Stephen Fruitman