Until just a few years ago, an aficionado of authentic Gypsy music had to rely on more or less underground sources to get the good stuff--contraband cassette tapes smuggled out of places like Moldava and Slovakia, odd shortwave broadcasts out of the Balkans, bootlegs of the Gypsy Kings in their pre-prefab days, before their manager had the bright idea that they'd sell a lot more records by covering Paul Anka and Domenico Modugno.
With the rusting away of the Iron Curtain and the growing interest in world roots music generally, it's a lot easier to lay your hands on good, unsweetened Gypsy music of the kind that figures in the ear-opening films of Emir Kusturica (Time of the Gypsies, Black Cat, White Cat) and Tony Gatlif (Gadjo Dilo, Latcho Drom). That last film, which did much to introduce world audiences to Gypsy music, gave prominent play to the Romanian ensemble Taraf de Haïdouks ("Band of Brigands"), which now tours Europe frequently but makes only occasional appearances farther from home.
The 12-man group, which hails from a village near Bucharest, spins up a whirlwind of spirited dance music, marked by explosive polyrhythmic drumming, scratchy fiddling and soulful singing over a backdrop of accordions and dulcimers, all of it sounding something like a cross of bluegrass and klezmer music. With a repertoire that ranges from ballads--some of them, as with their "Balada Conducatorolui" ("Ballad of the Dictator"), explicitly political--to breathtaking workouts like "Hora ca la ursari" ("The Bear-Leader's Circle Dance"), the ensemble has become a staple of world-music radio, and their 1999 U.S. debut disc, Taraf de Haïdouks, continues to enjoy strong sales.
It doesn't get any more authentic, and Tucson audiences will have the rare privilege of seeing these Gypsy masters in action thanks to local promoter Don Gest, who has been responsible for bringing so many first-rate international acts out our way.
Taraf de Haïdouks will appear on Wednesday, February 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Tucson Community Center Leo Rich Theater, 260 S. Church Ave. Tickets for reserved seats, at $20 ($18 for seniors and In Concert! members), are available at Hear's Music (2508 N. Campbell Ave.), Antigone Books (411 N. Fourth Ave.) and The Folk Shop (2525 N. Campbell Ave.), or by phone through In Concert! at 327-4809.