6 October, Spiegeltent
Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival 2017
You can’t dance while wedged in a seat; it’s about as frustrating as committing fleeting impressions to paper in total darkness with any expectation of later deciphering them.
Sydney gypsy-fusion band Lolo Lavina (“Red Beer”), fronted by Aussie-born Hungarian Romani-Gypsy singer Sarah Bedak, kept a packed Spiegeltent crowd confined to toe-tapping with its mix of traditional and contemporary gypsy-inspired music. The band, in its tenth year, has sold-out houses at the Sydney Opera House, Brisbane Festival’s Spiegeltent, VIVID Sydney, Guca Festival Serbia, in New Caledonia, Macau, and across Eastern and Western Europe.
As if to underline the forlorn 1400-year history of persecution and hardship of the Roma diaspora that has had such an irrepressible ability for spontaneous music making, the evening’s fare started with ‘Jelem Jelem’, the post-Holocaust Romani anthem . . . “I once had a great family, the Black Legion murdered them”. Similarly sombre was ‘Shoon Tu More’, a Czech Roma song about a girl who defies a would-be rapist.
But then the band cranked it up. Bedak’s husband, Serb-German-Australian Roma Nenad Radic, swapped rhythm guitar for drums. Double bassist Nathan Gatt held the ground while guitarist David Carr and trumpet player Stefan Nocevski played some tight and fast harmonies in traditional Roma songs and Balkanised standards as such, ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps’. Bedak’s an engaging and exotic figure. She can be breathy and childlike, as in ‘Rollercoaster’, as well as dreamily seductive. Her be-ringed hands are, mesmerizingly, never still.
There was pretty much something for everyone, from the swing of jazz manouche to some complex dance 5/4 rhythms and bravura Phrygian licks by Carr and Nocevski. Much of it was at a cracking pace, as well as amusingly intertwined with motifs from a variety of musical sources, including 60s pop and heavy metal (the final number had touches of ‘Wipeout’ and ‘Thunderstruck’).
It’s the kind of high-energy music that gladdens the heart and banishes all cares, even if any kicking up of one’s heels has to be internalised.