TARAF DE HAÏDOUKS | London, Union Chapel

A cacophony of sound, as highly strung strings feverishly battle out rhythm and melody. Taraf de Haïdouks songs, like a well-wound clockwork toy, erupt into a swinging, twisted fervor as if driven by some external, relentless force. Hard to fathom the energy that conjures such an effervescent sound. During the set the band members come and go, so that the whole stage seems itself to be a breathing accordion. Beyond spirited, their performance is alive. The rapid, spiraling music seems only just tamed by the musicians, slowing a little only when their bejeweled queen comes to the helm to lead them on with husky vocals.

Taraf translates as ‘village ensemble’ in Romanian, and sadly a blue-lit church in Islington felt a far cry from the band’s original environment. Just as foreign language films demand subtitles, there was the frustration in not understanding the Balkan ballads. Perhaps it doesn’t truly matter, but just as Union Chapel’s pews present a barrier to dancing, so there was a barrier between them and us as their lyrics fell on deaf ears. However, the camaraderie between the performers and the audience was evident, not least through the pleasure the players seemed to get from those dancing feverishly in the aisles.

Given their 25 year history, the band played with an ease that surely belied the intensity of the performance. There is the chiming cimbalom that feels like the pulsing heart of the group, played by rather suavely dressed Ionica Tanase, whose fingers moving with marvelous speed. Then Filip Simeonov, who at one point pulled his clarinet apart, playing through the mouthpiece alone. It was these moments, when the roaring organism was broke down to reveal a single sound, that the bones of this wonderful beast could be seen. A fast and furious delight.

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