Review: She’koyokh Meets Los Desterrados @ Rich Mix (London, 27th November 2014)

These two bands literally filled the stage to the brim, not just in numbers but also with energy. Los Desterrados were the first to invade the scene – six effervescent musicians in few square metres is a time bomb waiting to explode… and off it went! It took just a few notes to set the musician’s vitality free to rain down on their fans. Their distinctive sound recalling the centuries old Ladino tradition and the uniqueness of the arrangements engaged the audience from the outset.

The first tunes, with their reference to old-time harmonies, enchanted the spectators, lulled by the mellifluous tones of Arian Todes’ violin and Daniel Jonas’ oud. But the quiet introduction was illusory. As the performance accelerated Los Desterrados relentlessly added pace to their tempo invoking gypsy scents, Balkan fragrances and Mediterranean traces, sounding more and more up-tempo and alluring as they went on. It was at that point that Hayley Blitz’s vibrant voice and Drew Salida’s expressive guitar gained momentum, giving a dynamic drive to the show. After their forty-minute set the band ended by playing a wild mix of flamenco rhythms, Ladino lyrics and ska beats to galvanise the audience for the next act.

A few minutes later the other side of the Jewish music moon showed its face on the Rich Mix stage. She’Koyokh, (meaning ‘nice-one!’) coloured the night with klezmer hues. The octet brought its exhilarating sounds on stage which, as well as the traditional Eastern European style embraced a multitude of musical influences. Their songs drew on Turkish and Kurdish repertoires, transformed as they came into contact with Greek and Balkan influences and finally took on a more Central European and Baltic air. All this She’Koyokh did without stepping off the accelerator for one second. Their principle was ‘let the people dance!’, and it worked superbly. As they intoned the first song the dance floor was already a glorious excitement of enthusiastic dance moves.

The London based group showed exquisite cohesiveness, despite the large number of elements playing together. This cohesiveness goes some way to explaining why they are considered amongst the ‘finest klezmer ensembles on the planet’. The band’s trademarks are many; the unique voice of the Turkish/Kurdish singer Çiğdem Aslan, the mood-enchanting clarinet of Susi Evans, the poetic accordion playing of Zivorad Nikolic as well as Serbian stories, to name but a few. At the end of the day perhaps the best way to reflect on She’Koyokh’s gig is by highlighting a cherished, old-fashioned aesthetic. Vintage and full-bodied as an old wine, their sound has the effect of bringing back the centuries old klezmer tradition – just as Los Desterrados had done for the Sephardic one just minutes before.

Despite the two bands playing different styles there are many common threads. As well as a strong friendship that unites the members the approach and respectful adherence to tradition unifies the two ensembles. Perhaps that’s why She’Koyokh ended the show with a bang by inviting Los Desterrados on stage for the last four songs. The crowning glory of the event easily illustrated their inspirations, but it also demonstrated the shared origins of the stories they sung about. While listening to the bands playing together one couldn’t help but notice that their ancestral roots seemed to have been separated at birth, centuries and centuries ago. It was easy then to understand that Los Desterrados and She’Koyokh’s melodies went, and still go beyond borders, cultural differences, spaces and times, and that despite variations in tempo and the meaning of the lyrics the emotions transmitted are still the same: feelings of pure unadulterated joy.

Los Desterrados


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