Imagine stepping off the bitter cold, snowy streets of NYC and suddenly being transported into a magical Israeli oasis. This was my experience last night as I took a little virtual trip back to the Holy Land. Balkan Beat Box is an Israeli band originally formed in Brooklyn, who I discovered while living in Tel Aviv the last five months. Though in recent years they have gained a decent amount of exposure in America and worldwide, in my opinion they still remain too hidden of a gem, as was evident by the fact that the crowd was composed of about 90 percent Israelis.
BBB is primarily made up of Tomer Yosef as lead vocalist, Ori Kaplan on saxophone and Tamir Muskat on drums, with several other key components joining in on live performances including multiple saxophones, trumpets, trombones and guitars. Upon formation their goal was to fuse traditional Mediterranean and Balkan sounds with hip-hop and dance music, and this intention is clear in the entirely unique sound they have developed. The closest band worthy of comparison is Thievery Corporation, with its worldly influences and downtempo electronica vibe. Also like Thievery, each instrument contributes a very special and unique sound, rather than getting muddled in the overall sound produced by the group. It is definitely not the kind of show you see everyday and a very nice change of pace.
Their set varied between slow rap jams and more fast-paced electronic beats, providing for the total Balkan Beat Box experience of highly varied styles. Songs like “Part of the Glory” were high-energy and got everyone going wild, which was not surprising, given the nature of the crowd (trust me, Israelis know how to party!). The slower songs were good but did bring the energy level down a bit; though, a breather is sometimes needed during a show of this caliber. However, it never took much time for Tomer, the lead singer, to re-captivate the crowd once one of their more poppin’ songs came on. He is intense and aggressive, with facial expressions that make him appear to be fixated on solving some life-threatening dilemma. His energy is also contagious, constantly running around the stage and messing with other band members. Leading into the finale of their song “Political Fuck,” he declared loudly, “Sometimes we need to hear you. Sometimes the government needs to hear you. Do you have something to say to the government? Cause if they are fucking you up, you should go out and do something about it. Know what I mean New York? Let’s hear if for a revolution!” then proceeded to stage dive into the crowd. Of course, this political statement riled up the Israelis to the point that I suddenly wasn’t sure whether I was there or at an Avicii show, with people climbing on shoulders and raging hard till the end of the performance.
Balkan Beat Box at Webster Hall was an interesting and fun diversion from the typical shows I am used to attending, and if you have the opportunity to catch them I would highly recommend it. Israelis get rowdy and if nothing else it’s certainly an experience to be had.
Check out a video from the show, and watch Balkan Beat Box make Webster Hall go off:
(video courtesy of the ToLiLoNiS Show)