Shukar

Bear Tamers Music

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Traditionally, Romanian bear tamers performed accompanied by dancing bears -- usually a group of men singing and playing hand drums and spoons while a bear "danced" in a circle around them. The taming part included severe animal cruelty, and so the members of this particular trio abandoned the "bear" component of their performances many years ago. Now focusing solely on the repertoire, they deliver here a strong, crude, vital set of unadulterated (but highly personalized) folk songs. Where artists like the group Urs Karpatz and Taraf de Haïdouks crossed the Ursarii ("bear tamer") tradition with other European trends (from chanson to pop and electronica), here Shukar -- who have been heard in wider "world fusion" contexts, including with Taraf de Haïdouks -- stick to their roots. This studio session was recorded in one night, without any studio trickery except for some reverb in the voice. The music is almost minimalist in nature: three male voices with inflections ranging from Eastern Europe to North Africa (some tunes almost have a rai flavor to them, at least in Napoleon's singing), spoons, a drum, a few other hand-held percussion instruments, finger snaps, even some body slapping. With these crude elements, the trio conjures up exotic worlds and atavistic stories. The music is festive in that dramatic way inherent to Eastern European cultures. One hears the experience of the street player, the sorrow of troubled nations, but also the sheer joy of invention in Napoleon, Tamango, and Clasic's playful group singing. Some songs, like "De Zlátari" and "Jazz," go as far as acknowledging modern music styles, and could almost have you believe that an idiom like jazz grew out of Ursarii music. The editing is a bit crude, but the sound quality is very good and the performance inspired.

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