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Written in fRoots issue 269, 2005

My Village, Lost Somewhere Between Belgrade and Baghdad

Éléf/Warner Jazz 5046728752 (2005)

In the 1970s Tony Hanna was a Lebanese pop-star, noted for his curling moustache and blingish ways with money. Having lived in the London and Detroit for five and twenty years respectively, and stopped performing, towards the end of the 90s he moved back to his home village. Today he’s what might be described as ‘an eccentric character’ bearing some passing resemblance, in stance and sartorial sense, to something between Salvador Dali and the late Vivian Stanshall, though not vocally.
      For this project he has been put together with a Serbian Roma brass band. Despite the lavish many-paged CD packaging, some of it paying fulsome look-good lip-service to Roma peoples but largely concerned with visual style and the mythologising of Hanna, there seems to be no space left to do the musicians the basic tribute of actually mentioning their names except, in small print, that of the band-leader Demiran Čerimović from Vranje (mis-spelt as “Vranjie”). So the 10-person line-up discernible in the much-Photoshopped photos is possibly similar to the band led by trumpeter Čerimović that came third in the 2005 competition at Guča, and probably includes musicians who have been playing concerts with Hanna this year: Rama Demirović, Sebastijan Mislić (trumpets), Danijel Demirović, Nenad Bećirović (tenor tubas), and Čerim Bećirović (bass tuba), plus a clarinet player and tapan-centred percussion.
      The notes are deficient in other basic details, too, such as real composer credits, track timings, recording dates and location. Some of it seems to have been recorded live, in front of a Serbian-speaking audience, early in the millennium; this is a new release for Warner Jazz but the original copyright date on the recording is 2002. The project was put together, and all songs (including the inevitable Djelem Djelem) allegedly “arranged and recomposed” by a producer, “the mind behind the most successful musical experiments in the Arab world”, who gets more than enough puffing in the booklet (which he designed and wrote) so I won’t bother naming him here.
      Enough indignation; on with the music. It’s not a long hop from the Eastern, Turkish-influenced end of the Roma musics of Serbia and other Balkan regions to that of the Middle East, so the idea should work, But, even ignoring the reggae-Rastafari-invoking morass the second track descends into, it’s a big, rousing, messy train-wreck. Crowd-pleasing untogether spiritedness outweighs accuracy in much of the singing, from Hanna and unidentified band members, and though he concentrates more and it nearly comes together in the later tracks that sound like they were studio-recorded, and there are some decent brass moments when the band hits home-territory material, it’s perhaps something that should be tried another time, with a younger and more acute singer, and a producer with greater discrimination, humility, and respect for the people who make the music.
      It’s a pity that a major label chose to go with this, rather than putting their resources behind one of many far superior projects from similar regions. Convinced, perhaps, by words and reputations rather than the way the music sounds.

© 2005 Andrew Cronshaw

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