by Triana Klostman
Orkestar Kriminal is best known for their diverse ability to cover a multitude of styles. They have absorbed the Rebetika Mortika hash den anthems of the 1930s Greek underground. The “Ganovim-loshn” (“thieves’ language”) the Yiddish sung in the inter-war underworld of Warsaw, Odessa and Istanbul. These are no ordinary folk songs. There is violence, and lament. The extremes of the jewish wise-guy. Along with their Yiddish gangster repertoire, Orkestar Kriminal can also be found performing in Khmer, Spanish, Danish, Romani, Ladino, Russian, Vietnamese, Hebrew or whatever other tongue might attract the multilingual stylings of front-woman Giselle Claudia Webber. “So long as the tune is catchy and a little shady, they’ll give it their best shot,” says Webber. The band members are: Giselle Claudia Webber: vocals; Christos Smirnios: drums; Julie Richard: sousaphone; Etienne Barry: accordion; Anna Frances Meyer: back-vocals, flute, piccolo; Julian Selody: saxophone, clarinet; Lisa Gamble: musical saw, baglama, percussion; Eli Richards: trombone, trumpet; Brigitte “Briga” Dajczer: fiddle and Sam Minevich: guitar, bouzouki. Their latest album Ryobra is an intoxicating listen.
The album begins with the exotic “Moyshele Stolyer,” laced with byzantine sonics and a Balcania flavoring the songs vamps with a rock style beat and an electric guitar solo that thrills with edge and bite. Webber is inspired, her voice darts and punctuates the lyric as whirling dervish strings colorize with supportive accompaniment. “Dou Dou,” offers a lighter festive mood. While “El Corrido de Juan Menses,” serves up a Tejano y Conjunto rhythm. “Eylu Voeylu Tsoyakim Bokh,” has a distinctly Russian sound and rhythm and adds to the intrigue of the album.
A hybrid of regions, Ryobra is an amalgamation of Yiddish, Greek, Pashto, Russian and Spanish languages all set to intriguing and expertly performed arrangements by Orkestar Kriminal. The group has a seamless chemistry that takes the listener on an exciting journey of styles and sounds. I found myself captivated from beginning to end on all ten selections. At times, I may not have been able to pinpoint the region or origin of a song, but what really mattered was the transported feeling I felt after each song. Music is a universal language and Orkestar Kriminal is putting focus on intriguing music that engages you from stem to stern. Highly recommended!