ROMANIA: Mahala Rai Banda - Mahala Rai Banda
Global rhythms embedded seamlessly into this high-energy piece of musical mastery
Truba, also known as Balkan Brass, is a genre that I have always loved whenever I have been given an album to listen to. Whilst one would have to have a heart of stone not to enjoy it, it is fair to say that separating the wheat from the chaff amongst the many artists performing in that style is somewhat difficult due to the fact that they all rely on the same tropes. The enjoyable combination of fast flugelhorns and thunderous trumpets are assumed to be part of any Balkan Brass band’s set. There are some artists such as the Serbian Boban Marković Orkestar who have created a legendary status for themselves that one might argue Mahala Rai Banda haven’t quite been able to do to the same extent. That said, I would argue, however, that despite not perhaps being regarded at quite the same level as some of the other greats, Mahala Rai Banda’s self-titled album really sets them apart from the rest.
“...the reason why their music connects with me and still stands out is because they weave together other styles with a real sense of authenticity.”
My perspective on this is quite simple, alongside having the incredible talent and energy to perform truba music for a band in this style to really be considered as gifted their music must have a USP. There seem to be two major schools of thoughts on how to do this. The first technique adopted by two Romanian legends of the game is to reinterpret already loved compositions into this style. For example, Taraf de Haïdouks gained great critical acclaim for their reworkings of classical music pieces on the album Maskarada, whilst Fanfare Ciocărlia made a name for themselves reinterpreting other classics from a range of genres such as Hugo Blanco's Moliendo Café, I Put a Spell on You made famous by Nina Simone and Steppenwolf's Born to Be Wild. Though these two bands bare a great influence over Mahala Rai Banda, as their members hail from both Clejani and Zece Prajini, the respective homes of Taraf de Haïdouks and Fanfare Ciocărlia famed for their disparate musical styles, they on the surface seem to follow another route followed by artists such as Israelis Balkan Beat Box who these days fuse the core sound of the truba music with music styles native to Jamaica such as reggae and dub, however, in the past focused on fusing the music of the Mediterranean and North Africa, such as flamenco and rai music on their album Nu Med. This style that blended together such rhythms and classic Balkan brass was showcased and made famous by French outfit Watcha Clan in 2008 on Diaspora Hi-Fi A Mediterranean Caravan.
Though listening to Mahala Rai Banda might make one think that they are intentionally blending together specifically Middle Eastern and North African music, unlike the aforementioned artists they do not seem to be doing it to flex their musical muscles, nor to make some wider point about how the whole world is connected. Instead, the style with which they play feels unforced and as such, I would argue flows better than any other album I have heard that attempts to do this. I have spent the last few weeks listening to a preposterous amount of truba albums from across the world, in search for the key to Mahala Rai Banda’s success and I feel quite honestly that the reason why their music connects with me and still stands out is because they weave together other styles with a real sense of authenticity. Songs that really have a strong Arabic musical influence such as Morceau D’amour and Iest Sexy fit seamlessly into the rest of album despite being geographically disparate. The musicianship is really superb on every song some of my favourites include Red Bula, Spoitoresa and Kibori. However, the pièce de resistance on the album is of course the opener Mahalageasca, made famous by its inclusion in Borat as well as its remix by German DJ Shantel. The fact that their music stands up in its traditional form as well as a more modern interpretation is testament to the band’s capabilities. Overall, this album is as close to perfect as can be and though they might lack the status of certain artists the record serves as proof that it shouldn’t.