Juana Ghani – Budmo! (gypsy/ folk)

self released, 2011, DD album, 30m 27s




Juana Ghani play central European gypsy music (as far as I can tell, I’m no expert). They are a large band, incorporating a variety of instruments, some plucked, some struck, some blown and some squeezed. The songs collected here are driven along by a tightly and propulsively played brass bass (although on their website only a double bass player is credited), and are virtually exploding with irrepressible, celebratory energy.

The band rolls a long with a bright, off-beat groove, although they are more than capable of lyrical atmospherics at slower tempos, while vocal phrases bounce between single voices and close harmonies, signalling a communality  to the music making, and by extension the audience. The arrangements are well organised around solid central structures, but there is always that sense of wildness on the fringe, like the collective blowing of early jazz.

I don’t know a great deal about the traditional life of Europe’s Gypsy and Roma communities, or the role that music of this sort might have played within it. I would guess, that as marginalised and economically deprived groups, they may well have kept to a traditional way of life for longer than the settled peoples among whom they live. It certainly seems that their music is disproportionately represented in the ‘folk’ and ‘world music’ scenes of the affluent West, although this may be because their music is better (or conforms more closely to established tastes and cultural expectations). Juana Ghani’s groove will certainly feel familiar to anyone familiar with polka (or ska).

This is clearly not music that adheres slavishly to tradition, in any case. I can’t speak directly to the stylistic authenticity of the instrumental arrangements, but most of the lyrics are original compositions (those in English, that is: those that aren’t are a mystery to me). And these lyrics are plainly not peripheral to the creative intentions of the band, or they wouldn’t be so carefully crafted and beautifully composed.

These songs make no attempt to conceal their lyrical artifice: they are the work of educated, literate minds, not the coinage of a community, and they make no bones about it. Lines such as ‘Like the Woolf before her/ she loaded her pockets with stones’ both signal and describe the alienation of the subject, rather than the confirmation of the extended family one might expect from a traditional music. It’s not all intellectual cleverness however: there’s a deep, heartfelt poetry to this writing, whether it is lamenting a suicide, as in ‘The Incredible Sadness Of Sonia’, above, or issuing a stirring call to arms in ‘Watch It All Burn’.

I’m not a fan of looking for songs’ meanings in the words, as though that were something entirely separate from the rest of the music, and my understanding of this music straddles the contradictions and accords I find within it. There is something of a contradiction between the artful poetry of the lyrics and the communal unity of the sound, but it is a contradiction that speaks a positive message to the listener. We modern, separated individuals, it says to us, can find that longed for sensation of belonging in the community of this music itself. At the same time there is a fundamental set of creative agreements that unify the verbal and aural significations of Budmo!: a sense of the wholeness of life that mourns and grieves in the same breath with which it draws the energy to dance. This is soulful, open, inviting, generous music, both spiritual and sensual, full of love, death, sex, grief, passion and vodka. Juana Ghani offer a glimpse of the community we could inhabit; and for a brief interval, they bring the opportunity to visit.

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