Eastern European and Balkan music might first call to mind these:
But that wouldn’t be the Balkan Gypsy Party.
Starting in 2010, DJ Touski started the Balkan Gypsy Party. It quickly became a popular mainstay on the Montreal scene, with over 10 events per year in Montreal and still others held in different cities around Quebec. The “parties” include a live band and several DJs who specialize in music from the Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Russia, and other places in the Balkans and Eastern Europe .
“They’re not shows,” specifies Touski. “It’s a party.” After a few sets by a band, a DJ spins until the party gets kicked out into the street at closing time. This time around, Touski has called in DJ Fredi Stambul who hails from Lebanon, but has spent the last years in Istanbul. Perhaps this is the point — one doesn’t need to be from the Balkans to love the wild, folk-dance songs that come from the region.
“It’s a good mix of people. And not only locals. More and more, people come from the Balkans,” Touski explains. He says the demographic is 40% Quebecois, 30% Anglo, and 30% Balkan. “Most of the time it sells out,” he says. “It’s not always same people. Some bands are associated with certain scenes. When Kaba Horo plays, Bulgarians come because Bulgarians follow the band.”
He makes it clear, though, that after the band plays, the DJs play music from different countries. “If you are Romanian and expect Romanian songs, only a few will be Romanian and you’ll be disappointed. Some will be Serbian, Croatian, Bulgarian, Russian. It’s a real multicultural thing.”
Even Touski can’t claim Balkan roots. “I had an interest [in the music] for many years, but I’m Quebecois. Pure laine. Around 10 years ago, I thought I’d be a DJ, but I wasn’t into world music or Balkan music then. Four years ago, I began to specialize in Balkan Gypsy music.”
He found himself drawn to the Balkan sound. “Well, the fact is that this music is the ultimate party music,” he says. “There’s no other kind of music that makes people so happy to dance and go crazy. I didn’t find any other music in the world that drives me like that.”
Although there has been a growing international interest in electronic Balkan Gypsy music, Touski prefers standards reinterpreted by different artists in different places “I’m into traditional and pop music from the Balkans,” he says, “This music is like jazz. There are standards and everyone knows the songs. They’re played by all musicians, but each has his own way of doing it. The same song can be played in Croatia, Serbia, Romania, but with different lyrics.”
Getting his hands on this kind of music isn’t as simple as popping down to a record store. “The music is not available on vinyl. I don’t play the electronic DJ scene stuff at all, what people call the Balkan beat sound.” Instead, he turns to internet sites from Slavic countries that he plays using software that treats mp3s like vinyl. “I follow a lot of artists and am always seeking new sounds,” he says. And fortunately, people send him things as well “Everyone knows there’s Touski in Montreal doing this. Some people from Europe and the Balkans, when they want to get their tracks known, the know I’m the guy and send me stuff. I found a lot of acts that way.”
The Balkan Gypsy Party has a different character each time the event takes place. Sometimes the shows are more punk such as when Roma Carnivale plays, other times they’re more traditional. Gitans de Sarajevo, performing on Dec. 7th is more traditional. “They’re one of the oldest bands in Montreal doing this music,” says Touski. “Boris, the leader, is from ex-Yugoslavia. It’s the real thing. It’s authentic.”
Looking down the road, the Balkan Gypsy Party will carry on and continue to grow. A show on January 31 celebrates the Balkan New Year with food and music. Touski anticipates some summer festivals around the province as well.
“I’m very lucky to have this formula,” Touski says. “It was an instant success and never failed somehow. Enough people in Montreal want this kind of party.”