Taisa by Mec Yek presents manic and maverick Roma ska-punk gypsy jazz from Belgium, without a violin in sight.
Release Date: 12th November 2021
Label: Choux de Bruxelles
Format: CD / Digital
We here at ATB are ever searching for something new and something different, scouring cross genre for anything and everything that may otherwise fall through the gaps. And this, certainly, is one you may have missed earlier, coming, as it has, a little late even to these ears. They will hopefully forgive us for that, time now for you too to catch up.
Taisa means ‘tomorrow’ in the Roma language, and this is the territory Piet Maris, frontman otherwise of Euro roots veterans, Jaune Toujours, has been investigating for around a quarter of a century, Mec Yek becoming his outlet for these explorations. Gradually absorbing more and more Gypsy influences, touring and working with Roma musicians, he was able to ally some of his existing band’s styles into their traditions. When two young Roma singers leapt on stage, to join in the melée, credibility with a younger audience, less steeped in posterity, was immediate. Mec Lek were born, and this is their 3rd full length release, following an initial EP, with an interim re-mix album, Re-Plugged, also being available for the more adventurous.
References? Well, clearly, all aspects of Gypsy jazz, although with, predominantly, accordion as the musical frontline, behind the cacaphonic chorus of vocals, along with clarinet, trumpet and occasional sax, underpinned with double bass and drums. But this is no sanitised curio brought out for chin stroking WOMAD bean munchers, this is rough, ready and raw, akin to Les Negresses Vertes at their most alarming, the vocals savage and untutored, the whole reminiscent of the streets in a mediterranean port that you probably should avoid, the smell of sweat, cheap perfume and drains that fully show just how long it has been since the Romans came. These, I should add, are all good things, with a hefty dollop of Balkan influence, some ska and anything else the cat brought in. Heady stuff!
Kicking off with the upbeat Soske Me Te Tshorel Geilom, with a near disguised bluebeat backdrop of accordion and walking bass, which has the sisters, Katia and Milka , the two stage invaders described earlier, singing the joys of the adult life, and forgoing the earlier necessity to steal(!) With glorious jazzy clarinet and trumpet interplay in the middle eight, this fairly wallops along. The song ends, cutting to some brief eavesdropping of studio banter. One of several songs here drawn from the sisters childhood, songs they wrote with their brothers, it is followed by the traditional Amari San Amari, the lyrics snarled and spat: interestingly the credits list Katia as voice and Milka as vocals, which explains all the yelps and ejaculations; “hoopa“, actually hopa, and the like, reminiscent of a drunken taverna, speeding up as it cascades to an end. The percussion is all quite nuanced, a requirement of the smaller kit used by Théophane Raballand during lockdown. Sako Ratshi then starts as a slow waltz, led by the accordion, Maris’ instrument, before a break into an almost New Orleans trad canter, were that city in southern Slovakia, the clarinet and trumpet again jousting vigorously. Mattias Laga provides the clarinet, Bart Maris the trumpet, and they each excel.
Breaking the changes, a male vocal, Maris again, now steps up for another traditional song, Lemore E Bratsha, swapping verses with the girls, who ululate between their parts. A short and, bar the accordion, otherwise unaccompanied and which, bizarrely, carries a distant hint of Dandy Livingstone’s Rudy (A Message to You) as popularised by the Specials. Unless that’s my ears….. Bare Love Pale follows, another commentary, as are many of the songs, on (the lack of) cash flow, soprano sax here, Maris, B, again, soaring between the verses. As one of the gentler songs here, Mathieu Verkaeren’s bass is a melodic delight. Another snippet of studio background noise and it is Anithsko/Andro Kartshma Me Geilom that follows, two sopaired songs, bringing Maris senior back to the mike, a manic trumpet solo having all three singers merrily yelping away, between verses that slowly seem to gather pace. The sound of distorted sirens, voiced by the reeds and brass closes this song to be happy to, or so the translated lyrics seem to tell us. (Having no knowledge of the language, and with the promo material suggesting the lyrics a mix of Roma, Russian and, on occasion, Dutch, I am reliant on the four way translations, printed on the CD insert, in Romanes, French, Dutch and English.)
Sidzjar is more overtly ska, and is the closest to anything familiar to the anglophone ear, if still heavy on the sounds of Eastern Europe, the soloing very jazz manouche, and one that could raise the deadest legs back to life. The instrumental duelling towards the close is a thing to behold, each player taking their turn ahead, the trumpet positively mariachi. Korobushka/Dolina is again two linked songs, a brief instrumental, followed by the cossack stylings of the second, with Maris seizing the starting lead vocal, in the style I have to call stentorian; think Len Liggins/the Ukrainians, before ceding to the two sisters again. A loping beat keeps this one going apace, and when Maris grasps back vocal control, he sounds exhausted. As by now is this reviewer. Thoughtfully, they provide but one final offering, again after studio dialogue. Less thoughtfully, this is another belter, with hints of 6o’s yé-yé, if through a Transylvanian filter. That’s it, five minutes short of forty, but with your legs telling you it’s been longer, much longer.
An uncompromising record, I hope this can gain some traction over here. I can see the band going down a storm at UK summer festivals, and for all my snide remarks, WOMAD, Cambridge, Shrewsbury, you could do a whole lot worse.
Here’s Korobushka & Dolina: