Review: Taraf de Haïdouks @ Union Chapel (London, 16th February 2015)

Taraf de Haïdouks are a blaze of Balkan glory. Over the last twenty-five years this Roma band has continually updated its sound and explored new directions, as they sparklingly demonstrated on the Union Chapel stage. Simultaneously, they are exponents of one of the most traditional styles of Romanian Gypsy music in the world.

There’s only one way in which Clejani, a small Romanian town of little more than three thousand souls can conquer London, and that is through the outstanding musicianship of its inhabitants. In fact, whenever the local band of lăutari (traditional Romani musicians) comes to England it storms the capital and takes no prisoners. For the nth time in their long career Taraf de Haïdouks enthralled London with their unmistakable Gypsy sound and overwhelming energy. Back on the charming Union Chapel stage the Eastern European ensemble seemed at ease in this Islington venue and perfectly in tune with its audience. It was here that they recorded a live album seven years ago, and they always return in grand style.

This year’s gig coincided with a crucial moment for the band’s career. Their latest work, Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts, not only represents a celebratory album, but also a clear return to their past and a reclamation of their tradition.
On the Union Chapel’s stage this return was presented in full force. The nine musicians and two singers, who embody three generations of lăutari, restated the breathtaking instrumental drive that marked the first steps of the band.
Taraf put on a well-rounded and harmonious show that captivated the large and excited audience from the first violin solo to the final accordion part. The players’ virtuosity matched their vitality and enthralled fans who, even though the venue is not a dance hall, were compelled to get up and move.

Well-established decade-old tunes like ‘Pelin Bau, Pelin Maninc’ and ‘Dumbala Dumba’, enriched by the precious voices of Viorica Dumitru, alternated with more recent additions to their repertoire, such as ‘Clejani Love Song’ and‘Moldavian Shepherd’s Dance’ with their violin, accordion, cimbalon and clarinet solos.

Despite the fact that an indoor stage is not the most fitting setting for their overflowing instrumental exuberance the ensemble made the most of the venue, with their audience as an integral part of the show, indulging themselves with up-tempo tunes and big smiles fixed on their faces throughout. For almost two hours, Taraf de Haïdouks thrilled the picturesque and snug East-London church, keeping up the tempo and giving us an invaluable taste of the finest Romanian music tradition.

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