Monday 7 November 2011


Below are two haikus I wrote in Romanes. These were written as rewards for people who helped fund my trip to Serbia. I still have one accordion-gram, 2 house concerts and 11 commissioned songs to write. As a note to self regarding my work habits, I am much better at completing tasks in a timely manner before I get paid.

Purane prne
achen te adzhukaren
jekh phabray perel

Old legs
sit and wait
one apple falls 

Tumen bashalen
putarav mure jakha
amen dzivdinas

You play
I open my eyes
we are alive 

Serbia via Queens

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting accordionist Peter Stan at his home in Queens, NY to catch up and share some of the music I had learned in Serbia this summer. Peter is a extremely accomplished musician in Serbian, Romanian and Romani styles. A series of lessons I had with him last year were formative in my understanding of the importance of ornaments and feel in this music.

Last spring, Peter introduced me to the music of the two current superstars of Serbian Romani accordion, Aca Cergar and Dejan Kostic. There are dozens of videos on youtube of these two duking it out under wedding tents, ripping unbelievable lines in rapid-fire to an exhausted bride and groom. I was fortunate to see both of these accordionists play together at a wedding in Grabovica. Unfortunately I left the wedding around 1am, long before the action really got hot, but even in the early hours of the celebration I knew I was in the presence of overlords.

Peter plays with Slavic Soul Party, Brooklyn's premier Balkan-plus brass band, as well as several other musicians in New York's Balkan and Eastern European music scene. Despite the recent frenzy for Balkan brass bands in New York and beyond, Peter described a general decline in interest in the music he plays. Where weddings and kafana sessions were once the norm, now only a few bars feature live music, and if they do it is usually comes in the electrified form of Manela or Turbo-folk.

In any case, Peter is an accordion virtuoso with a deep knowledge of several Balkan styles, and is an extremely innovative player. He knew all of the music I learned in Valjevo and for a while I felt like I had been transported back to Serbia by way of the L train.

Here Peter is showing me a Romanian tune that can be combined with another one he taught me last year. You can hear me playing a super slow version of it here.

Whatever New York's level of interest in Balkan music may be, shortly after my visit Peter's music was featured on Google's front page as the soundtrack to a giant pumpkin carving video. In an era in which one's degree of recognition is measured by view-counts, I think this puts Peter and his music pretty high up there, and for good reason.