Lucid Culture


Black Sea Hotel at Pete’s Candy Store, Brooklyn NY 5/12/08

“Who are you going to see tonight?” asked the cynical voice at the other end of the line.


Black Sea Hotel. It’s this a-capella quartet singing Balkan music.”


“Oh, like the Bulgarian Voices. Ee-ya ramalama obama, HEY!”


Anyone who was in college during the early 90s knows the Bulgarian Voices, as they were commonly known (the official name of the band is Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares). They had the second big “world music” album (after The Irresponsible Beat of Soweto or whatever that debacle was called), just as the term, meaning “anything indigenous and not American,” was entering the lexicon. Originally conceived as a propaganda vehicle for a repressive Bulgarian regime, the all-female choir’s great achievement was bringing their eerie, ethereal, sometimes jarring (and, admittedly, easily parodied) arrangements of rural songs from their native land to an international audience. In an interesting coincidence, Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares are playing Symphony Space this month (May 30 at 8, tix $35). Tonight, playing to a packed house in the little back room at Pete’s Candy Store, the New York group Black Sea Hotel delivered a haunting, rousing show, an astonishingly captivating introduction to native Bulgarian vocal music for anyone who might have missed the popular Grammy winners the first time around.


As one of the women in the quartet explained to the audience, pretty much everything they sang tonight was an original arrangement (some of their repertoire is typically sung by larger choirs, or with a band), sometimes interpolating sections they’d worked out themselves within a song’s traditional framework. Even more impressively, the group sings phonetically: their rustically accessorized black outfits may look Balkan, but the group members are all American. Harmonically, this stuff is difficult to sing, especially for ears raised on the major and minor scales of Western music, but Black Sea Hotel pulled it off magnificently. When the music at the front bar wasn’t clashing with the sound from the stage, as it did early on, you could have heard a pin drop. The best two songs of the night were a gently troubled nocturne in 6/8 time, and the last song of the set, a showcase for leaping pyrotechnics and strange guttural trills that stopped something short of being a yodel. The overall effect was as intense as it was hypnotic, despite the ease of the performance and the singers’ casually amusing interplay with the audience.


Black Sea Hotel have an extraordinarily high ceiling: they could undoubtedly sustain themselves touring, playing colleges, “cultural centers” and yuppie folk clubs for $40 a ticket if they wanted to (and also Pete’s Candy Store, one hopes). Perhaps the most telling endorsement of all is that their next gig is at the Bulgarian Consulate (121 East 62nd Street on May 23 at 6:30 PM): since it’s on the band’s myspace, it seems safe to assume that the event is open to the public. 

May 12, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews

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