Friday, September 11, 2009
September 14, 2001:
What do you say about music or art at these times? Strangely, just a few weeks ago, this recording came in and sat on my desk, awaiting my response. Last week I found myself listening to the mournful, almost plodding opening track, a sound both tearful and weirdly hopeful. These eight minutes of dark despair suddenly burst like a bubble, followed by a frenzied, thirty seconds of dancing, and then with a "Hey!" it's done. The Last Balkan Tango is a soundtrack for the decadence of one world cast against the furor of another; life vs. reality.
Yugoslavian minstrels Boris Kovac and The LaDaABa Orchest, residents of Novi Sad, celebrate life in the ruins, both concrete and psychic. For twelve more searing, lovely, bitter and explosive instrumental tracks, Kovac and company explore the folk roots of tragedy and the complex, modern composition of excess. They ask a simple, fathomless question: "Just imagine there is only one starry night left 'til the end of this world... what would we do?" and then proceed to answer it with the confusion that is this new century. God? Decadence? Hope? Despair? Wait for the random moment to choose for you? Be with those you love or just do a tango with whoever passes by? "Let god come with you, if he's up to it?" These songs pose the questions, ignore the obvious answers, and cut like a knife through the rubble of rhetoric without muttering the words.
That saxophonist Kovac and his orchestra of accordion, bass, percussion, reeds and guitar have spoken to their own situation is a marvel. That it translates so well and so unexpectedly to our own is scary and yet ultimately promising. They drag their exhausted partner across the marble floor. They kick up the dust in an unpaved street. They revel with the revelers at a wedding and mourn the interment of morning. In the final movement of The Last Balkan Tango, they board "The Orient Express" for a tour of the past and the future; a ride through the defiant dances of the Balkans, a tango in the midst of the fall of the old Europe, on a journey to "a better world," possibly this one, probably not. Kovac proves that we humans, in all of our utter oblivion, still manage to move the cosmos with our music, still find hope in our inner spirits, and seek a way out of the morass that might allow everyone else to come with us. He welcomes us into the new millennium, a time that might require us to be fatalistic, but might not have to be fatal. - Cliff Furnald