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coverpic flag Czech Republic - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 11 - 09/16/97

Vera Bila & Kale
ROM-POP
BMG Ariola

It wouldn't be surprising for a casual listener to confuse this recording with 'The Best of Gal Costa. Only after examining the album cover he would then realize instead of the willowy Brazilian star, he's really listening to a 5 feet tall, 350 pound (150 cm, 150 kg) Gypsy from Southern Moravia!

While Ms. Bila may sound like a Brazilian pop singer, her band Kale ('Black' in Romany language) sounds remarkably like Gipsy Kings. And no wonder; this Romany band (as Gypsies prefer to be called) also uses acoustic guitars and layered male vocals, although the sound is often augmented by additional instruments.

After the deceptively simple opening cut, Vera Bila (with Dezider Lucka) unleashes the hip-swaying Me la na kamav (I Don't Want Her).

She went out with me only because I am a Romany,
But now I have a 'black' girl. She's one of us. 

(In their booklet, all the Romany lyrics are reprinted in Czech)
Following the folksy Ara, more (Go Away) and the Brazilian sounding Miro rom hin ternoro (My Husband Is Too Young) comes the first slow tune, Ma dara (Don't Be Afraid). It features the subdued singing by its author Jan Duzda and the 12 string guitar of Desiderius Duzda. Unfortunately the flat ensemble singing spoils the mood.

The same is also true for the next two cuts, until Mulas mange miri daj (My Mother Passed Away). Here, the ensemble is more in tune in supporting Desiderius Duzda's pensive singing. Vera Bila's Ma rus, bo phares hin (Don't Be Upset, It's Hard)

If you only were patient for two years
Now you wouldn't be locked up for five,

leads into Mamo, merav... (I'm Dying, Mom...) Amazingly, Dezider Lucka's soaring tenor sounds very much like Maria Bethania. The next few numbers cover the jazz spectrum from the Django Reinhardt influenced Dzal pani (Running Water) to Imar vera ilom (I Pledged Already), where Emil Pupa Miko's singing could be confused for Djavan.

This album simply blew me away. It's deceptively simple and sophisticated at the same time, very much like a Henri Russeau painting. It's exotic yet homey, Central European yet Latin American. Partially due to the deplorable attitude of many Czechs towards Romanies, it's only ironic Vera Bila & Kale are better known in France than in their own country. Yes, there are many intonation problems in their ensemble singing. But there is also raw energy and emotion here. They deserve a better exposure.

Copyright © 1997 Ivan Sever e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Vera Bila & Kale article/review: Kale Kaloré.

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