Mahala Rai Banda, Lyric Hammersmith, London<br/>Tom Ze, Barbican, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The 11-piece Romanian outfit Mahala Rai Banda, whose name means "noble band of the ghetto", played for the first time in the UK to a highly appreciative audience. The quality of the musicianship and the sense of joy and fun the band communicated was undeniable, but there are some genres of world music where a little goes a long way, and Balkan brass bands are a case in point. It's the unrelenting intensity of the form - the speed and density of musical activity - which tends to produce a "wow!" to begin with, but an "enough!" 20 minutes later. It is a line-up where the brass section, violin, and accordion, are all competing for the same sonic middle-ground and, unfortunately, the haunting sound of the cymbalum was absent.

In the traditional manner of much Balkan dance music (including Johnny Depp's favourites, Taraf De Haidouks) songs often started at a fair old pace and then went up a gear or six, so you almost expected the swarm and bustle of notes to blur into a single blast of white noise. To pin down the band's influences isn't easy. The tuba sometimes honked out a kind of high-speed ska beat, while the drummer busied himself somewhere between military tattoo and free jazz. The brass section conjured thoughts of Glenn Miller, New Orleans funeral bands, and 1970s funk. And then a trumpet or violin carried some oriental melody.

At the Barbican we had been led to believe we were going to get a full performance of Tom Ze's new operetta Estudando O Pagode, his attempt to channel his dadaist energies into the issue of women's inequality and sexual oppression.

In an orange safety helmet and tramp's raincoat Tom tore away at a newspaper with his teeth. A couple of songs later several audience members were literally roped into the performance. But then, five or six songs in, the 70-year-old iconoclast seemed to decide his heart wasn't in it, and directed the band to play a more crowd-pleasing bunch of old favourites including the psycho-samba of "O Pib Da Pib" and the relentless cyclical whirlwind of "Xiquexique", which the crowd of Brits and Brazilians had clearly been waiting for. A sing-along-phonetically encore of "Jimi Renda-Se" rounded things off nicely.