Well, it’s not often that a night with so many elements that would normally turn Incendiary’s blood cold with fear and rage would turn out to be so enjoyable. But this was one of those rare gigs when a lot of imponderables were tossed into the mix and created a pretty special evening all round. I should point out that we’ve always really loved Gypsy music, but we are well aware that this genre has (quite rightly in our view) gained considerable popularity over the last ten years or so, especially with a stratum of society that would never normally go to a gig. Simply put we were a bit nervous that we’d get a form of Gypsy-lite pedalled to the well-heeled burghers of Den Haag.
In the end none of this mattered, because the performances were so bloody good, and the entertainment was of such a high and happy level that our hang ups melted away. Plus when things did get a bit sickly, there was always the chance to indulge in the vicarious pleasure of being able to snigger at the stiffest audience we’ve ever seen wantonly letting their hair down, like a load of Born Agains who have had one too many ciders at a Christian Union meeting.
To set the scene: The Gypsy Queens & Kings 2010/2011 tour (previously with the brilliant Fanfare Ciocarlia) is on the road with a new brass “backing band” from Romania, Mahala Rai Banda. Mahala Rai Banda kicked matters off with a quick intro set led by the engaging and ever so slightly sinister violinist: (snooker fans may shudder when I say that he looked like a bald Ray Rearden)... There were the usual play ups to get the crowd clapping along, (which the predominantly Dutch audience, by now safely programmed into “enjoy, & enjoy this in a Gypsy manner please, mode”) lapped up; but as with all gypsy bands, the element is firmly on having a good time. No harm done. The set was pretty much what you’d expect; brilliantly executed, staccato infusions of brass stabs and punctuations, and driven by a thumping rhythm.
First up on the cabaret carousel was Florentina Sandu, an engaging young singer with a ridiculously sweet voice who played the chanteuse role to perfection for a couple of brief numbers. Then as if to balance out matters we got Bulgaria’s Mahala rocker Jony Iliev who had done something to his knee and walked with a stick. His set was an engaging mix of party music and laments, with Mr Iliev playing up to a wanton, bad boy, jack about town image. All good clean fun. The band then ran through a couple of tracks for a quick reprise, this time led by the stately looking tuba player, who surprised us by indulging in a mix of unbelievably good run-throughs and a set of playful antics including a quick rendition of Blue Moon and a silly dance with a couple of his mates. Again, tremendous Bacchanalian fun. What followed next, though, lifted the evening to another level entirely.
French rumba Gitano group Kaloomé (two lads on guitar and a sultry looking singer) were next up, for what looked to be the comedown part of the gig. At first the audience were polite and distracted, chatting amongst themselves, but then, incrementally fell under the spell of the girl singer’s ridiculously powerful vocal performance, a heart-tearing lament that literally stopped the house in its tracks. As if this wasn’t enough, the singer then turned her hand to a series of increasingly steamy and powerful flamenco dances, driven on by a dry, shuffling, pulsating guitar rhythm. You could have heard a pin drop, and I think at a gig in Holland I’ve only experienced such attentive quiet one time before. A truly brilliant moment.
Back came the lads in the band, this time looking to build on the intensity created by Kaloomé and on came a stately lady replete with black head cover. This was Macedonian Gypsy Queen Esma Redzepova, a true star and someone intent on running the show from hereon in. The first track was a viscerally powerful lament; with Redzepova’s voice crushing all opposition with its depth of feeling and presence. Following that we had an upbeat number that would have become high class cabaret if Esma hadn’t held control by belting out a bitter, heartfelt lament at appropriate moments. Now and again Esma chucked a dancing girl under the chin (yes there were two dancing girls who made appearances intermittently) and rolled her eyes at some of the more feisty members in the band. Brilliant.
The headiness was made replete with a big final tune, and, in true showbiz style, a communal ending with everyone taking a bow. Up went the lights and out filed the contingents, back to their well-appointed homes. Top evening, quality entertainment.
Pics: Mariska Van Den Hoven