OMFO: I come from Odessa –  an area that is closely linked with  Balkan culture. Odessa was a part of the Ottoman Empire, and the territory has been home to many different ethnic groups – Gypsies, Moldavians, Greeks, Armenians, Tatars – people who express the core of this Balkan ethnic diversity.  Crimean Tatars, for instance:  typical Balkan music. If you listen to music of the Crimean Tatars in a way it’s very close to Bulgarian music. 

So, I knew this music. Let’s say, I absorbed it with my mother’s milk.  And of course, the territorial proximity to Romania is important.  The radio programs that we were listening to in the Soviet Union, just to get some Western music, which was not played on air in Soviet Union, was coming from Romania or Serbia. You could catch easily those broadcasts on the short-wave radio receiver. 

So, I guess that all came out in my Trans-Balkan Express.  But at the same time, I was interested in electronic music, and this also gave me associations with Kraftwerk and some electronic music from the West that I was very much influenced by. 

Alec Kopyt: As a kid in Odessa I was growing up with  Soviet schlagers plus some bad quality recordings of Beatles, Shocking Blue, Aphrodite’s Child, you know, very motley kind of collection of things that came on reel to reel recordings from one recorder to the other.  Because reel to reel was the format I was growing up with. These days you are supposed to talk formats. Vinyl was later, the the next stage, you know. 

Nikolay Karabinovych: Odessa is a very unique city because it is a mixture of cultures.  It was founded by Catherine the Great, the Russian queen and it  was a very open city in Russia sometimes.  We have a big  Greek community here,  a Turkish community,  a lot of French. The whole architecture of Odessa is Italian and French. It was a really multicultural city. But not any more. Odessa was destroyed in Soviet times. A lot of people went back to their homeland and a lot of people died.  We had a big Jewish community once.  After the Second World War and after the immigration to America in the ‘70s there were ever less Jewish people here. It’s absolutely sad. 

Back in the day, we had a ship to Istanbul and Marseille. You could travel  wherever you wanted by boat. In the nineties a lot of people from Ukraine went by ship to Istanbul in order to do business, buying leather jackets in Istanbul and selling them in Ukraine. The ferry from Odessa to Istanbul left three times a week.  But now it doesn’t exist anymore.  Now there’s no ship to Istanbul. 

The music scene is not very interesting in Odessa. Some techno and underground things. Mostly Odessa and Ukraine are known for its electronic underground.  I have been playing Balkan music here for the past eight years.  It was a big movement here, this Balkan scene. 

Alec Kopyt: I left Ukraine (Odessa) because of anti-Semitism.  It was a very, very bitter anti-Semitism at that time. It was kind of a part of the unwritten policy of the Soviet regime. In some places it was played out much heavier than in others. In Odessa anti-Semitism was greater because there were proportionally more Jews in Odessa than in other cities.  For instance, to enroll in an educational institution which was popular, like the pedagogical institute  or university or something, for a Jew was very difficult. So you had to either have a lot of money and pay a  bribe or have connections. You couldn’t just go into university because of your achievements at school. That didn’t count. And the competition was very stiff because there were comparatively a lot of Jews in Odessa. My sister went to study at Nikoliaev, which was 120 kilometers away from Odessa. The only reason she went there to study was because the studies she wanted to do were costing less. The bribe for embarking on that course of study was much less at Nikolaiev than in Odessa. My family decided that it was going to be cheaper for her to go there and study because they had the money for the bribe. And then my father decided to emigrate to Australia.

Why not to Israel? Because Israel was one of those countries where, as part of the package, you had to serve in the army. That wasn’t my cup of tea. There is no country on this planet I would defend for two years or three years of my life.

So I went to Australia. I spent ten years in Australia. I was in Australia doing all sorts of things. Living, more or less. I studied. I became a dental technician. I did a kind of proficiency test in dental technology, so I can make a denture if necessary. Do you need a denture? I can make it for you. 

So, I did that for a couple of years, because it was the first thing that was available in the form of a course of studies at that time. I worked for a couple years as a dental technician. And then I decided that I would rather drive a cab. So I drove a cab for a couple of years.  And then I realized while driving the cab that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life being 24 hours away by plane from where it was all happening. One day I picked up and left for Amsterdam.

Job Chajes: I started to play saxophone in Amsterdam in my last band where I used to be a rapper.  I was ready to play some more melodic stuff. So I bought a saxophone when I was twenty, and a few months later my mother bought a clarinet for me at a flea-market in Amsterdam. That was the one thing. And the other thing was – I didn’t have a piano back then, but I could play a bit. I could record layers of piano sounds and I could practice my John Coltrane on it. I recorded on the cassette layers of sounds and then I would wail on top of it. I was playing saxophone for five weeks, six weeks, and I did this at the house of a father of a school buddy of mine. And after recording something there a couple of times, he said, “Shall we play something together?” And we played something together. And he invited me to come and play in a circus, because he was playing in a circus. 

It was the time of amateur circuses that were playing in small town, local festivals. And I was like, “Hell no! I want to be a jazz player, a rapper. I don’t want to go to the circus!” It was in Arnim, about an hour’s drive. But a bit later he said “They are doing rehearsals in Amsterdam. Maybe you want to check it out.” So I came, and during the juggling and the acrobatics he was playing some klezmer kinds of songs, Yiddish songs that were played instrumentally.  And there were some Fellini songs there. And it appealed to me. So I said, “Well, okay, why not? Let’s do this.” 

Alec Kopyt: I ended up in Amsterdam purely by chance, by fluke, as they say. At that time a friend of mine had a job, a rather cushy job as a chemical engineer for Shell, that offered him a very luxurious apartment in the middle of Amsterdam.  It was a three floor apartment. So he had way too much room, and he said “If you want to come and stay, you are welcome.” 

He was the only person I knew in Europe at that time, and the only place where I could land. Amsterdam was one of the places I wanted to visit, but I wasn’t really making a fixed plan to stay here. So I came to Amsterdam and like, three weeks later I met my girlfriend. One thing led to another and I stayed. That was 1988.

It was Perestroika, Glasnost times. That was the time when suddenly the interest in Russia and Russian culture was at its peak. Initially I was quite shocked by it all. But then I got used to the idea. 

So this whole Glasnost, Perestroika thing coincided with the availability of information about the Soviet Union, or former Soviet Union, let’s say.  I came to Europe and suddenly I heard about Russian bands that I hadn’t heard about for the last 14 years.  I didn’t hear anything that came from recording studios of the Soviet Union. You know, the bands or schlager singers. Nothing. I mean I was completely out of touch with whatever came from the Soviet Union.  And now suddenly I had this huge flood of information, you know, like, recordings, films, you know.

OMFO: I was sort of drifting along in a country which I knew little  about, namely the Netherlands. This was in 1989.

I started to be interested in music back in Odessa, where I was born.  But then I met a guy in Amsterdam during my first month in the city, who happened to be my compatriot. His name was Alec Kopyt.And, well, we started to meet frequently to explore the cannabis freedom in Amsterdam, and just communicate (the predictable plot). We would  smoke a joint and start to play around.  I was playing guitar at that time. He had a set of percussions in his loft.  We got together at his loft. He picked up an accordion and started playing it.  And we started to jam.

Alec Kopyt: It was purely by accident that I met German (OMFO). Because at that time I had already met Maxim Shaposhnikov, aka Goldfinger. He is a good friend of mine. And through him I met other Russians who worked creatively in some way, who one way or another left the Soviet Union. Initially I was shocked at the fact that the Russians were here.  I really did not want to see them in Europe. So it took me a while before I got used to it.  In the beginning I was hysterical. I was crying. Literally, I was really sobbing when I found out the borders went open, and now they were coming.

But first of all, let me tell you how I met German. There was a girl, a Russian girl I knew. One day she came to visit me and she said, “You know, one day I was at the market and I bumped into a Russian couple, and I struck conversation with them and one of the people was German Popov. He is from Odessa.  And he is a musician.” Got me quite interested because at that time I was taking conga lessons.  

I was completely salsa crazy. I was going through my salsa craze. You know, so I was taking percussion lessons.  I was seriously learning to play conga.  Suddenly I bumped into German Popov. And so, you know, having met him and spent a bit of time with him, suddenly he comes one day soon after, and he says, “You know, I have been approached to play Russian songs for this nursing home. There is a nursing home which is interested in some Russian songs and they are willing to pay so much and so much.” And I was kind of Wow!Because at that time I was making my living by doing all sorts of things including giving Russian language lessons. So, this so-called gig was offering about ten times as much. But that meant that I had to play something. So I dug out an accordion that I had found somewhere by chance, dusted it off and started rehearsing with German, who could play three chords on the guitar.  So we started rehearsing at his house. Initially we said yes to this gig in a nursing home.  And then he found a guitar somewhere and I got my accordion and we started rehearsing Russian folk songs and what not.  And in the end, we quickly built up a repertoire of this sort of songs and we played it to the audience of elderly Dutch people.  And they liked it.

Job Chajes: I was on welfare. In the nineties in Holland it was very easy to get welfare.  So I was on the dole and practicing five, six, seven hours a day.  So I had the idea I was going to become a very good saxophone player. And I was playing on the street a lot because I had tons of time. I didn’t have a job, and I was playing on the street and having fun and making extra money. I bought my saxophone in 1993 and in 1994 I decided, we can play on the street together as well.  And we did that in the busy center of Amsterdam.  And straight away we got hired for a wedding.  He played the accordion and I played the sax. And we were hired for a wedding. One hundred and fifty guilders each. So that was the equivalent of one hundred and fifty Deutschmarks each. And we were both sparked by the idea. And from that moment on we were roaming the streets. We were playing like three or four days a week on the streets of Amsterdam.  We went to the cafes, to the bars, to the terraces. It was very nice because people were very receptive to the Eastern European sound that we were bringing, which was not known.  For certain people, it was, of course, known. But for many people it was some kind of exotic sound. And people would stop and listen to us and throw us a coin…We were both Jewish. From one gig, another gig came. So we were a duo.  And then Don, his name was – he proposed to play together with a tuba player.  So we became a trio. Then the trio was Mischpoke, because we were three Jews together. Mischpoke means “family” in Yiddish. And the music was really nice.  I was playing the clarinet much better now, because I had bought a better clarinet; I was practicing it. We also made a cassette, the three of us. But the tuba player wasn’t so versatile. While he was a very versatile player – he came from the jazz scene in Amsterdam – he was an American guy, but he was not keen on going on his bicycle with his tuba. And so, at some point the vibe wasn’t so good anymore. And I was already playing in a rap/funk band with Jasper. And Jasper is the bass player that is still in the klezmer band. What happened is that one day I was playing with Don on the streets and Jasper came by with the bass; with an acoustic bass guitar. And I said, “Hey Jasper, how are you doing? Join in.” So he comes with the bass guitar. And from then on I thought this guy has much more energy. He was 25 years younger than the tuba player, and he wants to play as much as possible. And he was also on welfare. Like me. So we teamed up together.  And then we founded The Amsterdam Klezmer Band. 

Alec Kopyt: Busking was where it all started. At that time busking was a goldmine because there was no competition in the streets. There were no Gypsies.  We were the first ones. We were giving it full blast.  And we were collecting lots of money in the street. And plus, that has attracted a lot of attention for little parties and little gigs. So in no time we picked up quite a few little gigs. Because it was spring or something, late spring, beginning of summer, and there were lots of people. And in no time we were making it. And then the next step was a theater piece that they invited us to play a few songs in by a big Dutch theater company.  So we were busy for about five months with that. And so one thing led to another.

OMFO: Instead of some cool Western music, we played songs that we used to know back  in Soviet Union; songs we grew up with; patriotic songs, all sorts of things. Of course, we would pathologically disfigure them in our own way.  We started to meet on a more regular basis.  It turned out that both of us were pretty musical. We started to split the vocal parts into polyphonic lines. Our voices synched pretty good.  And then out of nothing we got our first gig. 

It was very unexpected.  I don’t remember the source and who hired us – but it was quite, let’s say, intriguing to earn money with that. We were paid a small amount – a couple hundred guilders, or even less.

It wasn’t much, but it was an easy way to earn money.  So we decided to became more business-like and started to develop a repertoire  and print some flyers. At that time, there were very few people from Soviet Union in Amsterdam. Pretty soon we started to be engaged in different type of parties. The ball started to roll and the parties grew.  There were some regular venues. We came about with the name, a quite funny name: Children of Lieutenant Schmidt, which is basically taken from a very famous book, quite a funny book by Ilf and Petrov. 

That was the beginning. It came to the point where we could have like two gigs a day in different parts of Holland.  And then we went to a festival in Switzerland and Italy. We bought a car.  And for a couple of years this started developing into something rather big. Why it went this way is hard to say. Whether it was just luck and we were just one of these few fortunate Russians who were making it I can’t say. I mean, we were all Russians, even though we could also identify ourselves with some other minorities.  

At any rate we were considered Russians playing Russian music.  We even played lots of Gypsy songs from Odessa, some criminal songs.  And then we started getting interested in more Oriental songs, like Greek songs, because Odessa was basically affiliated with the Greek community as well.  So we started to expand into rebetiko, and to translate these songs in our language.  We picked up other musicians – a clarinet player, a tuba player, and of course started to get into  more klezmer oriented stuff.  That’s how I started. 

But I have to say that I got pretty tired of the klezmer genre.  I wanted to expand. I was always interested in  more, shall we say, refined music.  And the atmosphere of these parties where we were performing, where people would drink and throw money at us in some kind of stereotypical routine, addressing us in this stereotype way – it was very, in a way, upsetting. For me personally. As for my companion, I think he was pretty satisfied with the way things  went, and now he is a quite prominent member of the Amsterdam Klezmer Band.

Alec Kopyt: I didn’t meet Amsterdam Klezmer Band as such. One day I was in town and the founder of the klezmer band, Job, was busking at the time, playing his saxophone. And I started a conversation with him because he was playing something that reminded me of what I heard from my childhood, at weddings and what not.  You know, so I started talking to him, and one thing led to another, and I offered him to come and copy some recordings from me, because I have lots of recordings of old klezmer. And he wasn’t as informed at that time as I was, or as he is now, for instance, too.  But the bottom line is that’s how I met him, yeah.  And then he – because I had a kind of band of my own – but he always wanted to have a band, a klezmer band.  And so he formed a klezmer band, and I ended up being one of the people who joined – well, I was the last one who joined the band.  I joined the band in the year 2000.  And it was only because I made a deal with Job. I secured a place in the band by offering a very cushy tour of Switzerland and Italy.  But my condition was that I had to be included in the band. And that’s how it all started. 

Job Chajes: Alec Kopyt had very good contacts, well, everywhere. Because he was the guy that introduced us to Knitting Factory Records and Michael Dorf. He was the founder of the Knitting Factory Records.  So Alec was known to him.  And our third album, which was called, Limonchiki was released by Knitting Factory, and it went all around the world.  And people were playing our music all over the places, like on the beach in Brazil or at a party in Australia.

Alec Kopyt: At that time I was not playing accordion. I was playing percussions because there was already an accordionist in the klezmer band.  So I didn’t need to play accordion.  Fortunately. I can play the accordion, but I don’t really enjoy it.  It’s convenience rather – yeah.

Job Chajes: Before Alec joined the band, there were three of us in the Amsterdam Klezmer Band initially. Jasper and me were really fanaticizing, what would be a good name. First was Meschugge. And maybe we came up with Mazel Tov, I don’t know.  Funny names.  And then we said, “Why don’t we just call ourselves The Amsterdam Klezmer Band ? Because there wasn’t another Amsterdam Klezmer band. There was Kelzmokum, the Klezmatics, there’s this and that band. But there is no Amsterdam Klezmer Band. So we took it.  And I think it was the right choice. Apart from the fact that in the end, we played just a little percent of klezmer music. Because we play much more of a mix of klezmer with  tons of Balkan sounds and jazz influences and hip-hop influences and reggae and ska and whatever. 

Alec Kopyt: Well, my songs with Amsterdam Klezmer Band, traditionally they belong to Greece, I think, more than anywhere else.  Because they are within a musical style called Epirotiko the way I sing these sings. Khasaposerviko is the dance of the Serbian butchers. Because I come from a dynasty of butchers. Coincidentally I was from my childhood amongst my father and my father’s friends, who were also butchers, but if they were making a wedding for their children, for instance, because it was the tradition that the parents organize the wedding for their children – so if they organized a wedding they brought musicians.  And I was one of the children of the friends invited. And that’s how I got to know all of this music.  From the weddings and parties, you know?

Job Chajes: The Balkan wave started much later in Holland, with us. Because when we would play, people would say to us, “Hey, it sounds like the music of Underground. You are playing that music.” Yes, we were playing klezmer, but we were mixing it up with Gypsy music.  Because by then it was more crude material that we were playing. It was actually when Theo joined us in 2001 then much more Balkan sounds came into the band. Before that it was klezmer with some kind of Gypsy influences, some Balkan music and the songs of Alec, which is a certain Russian-Jewish style of songs.  And the idea that there was a Balkan Beat hype, it was not before 2004, 2005, when we got to know Shantel. We knew that there was this album called Balkan Beats. I think that was Robert. Then it was the Balkan Beats hype. And people were saying, “Oh, you are enjoying the Balkan Beats hype.” Well, we were already touring in clubs.  

Some of the band members were looking up to Fanfare Ciocărlia and Taraf de Haïdouks. They were inspirational for us. The other Macedonian group: Kočani.  I was totally in love with Kočani and Taraf de Haïdouks. It was very inspirational to hear them play. And it’s funny because Taraf de Haïdouks, it was my parents who saw them before I did. They saw them in 1993 or 1994. They were already touring and had come to Amsterdam. They were such a great Gypsy band. I saw them live for the first time in 1996. 

Robert Soko: Amsterdam Klezmer Band were true pioneers in what would later become the Balkan Beats wave.  We are talking about the mid nineties when Amsterdam Klezmer Band started to be active. In the Balkans there was this huge war. Balkan music was not really established in the West. It was rather a microcosmos for the Gastarbeiter, right? And Amsterdam Klezmer Band were already playing this. And I have to say one thing, back in time, when I started shaping my DJ career, at the end of the nineties, I was playing their without even knowing it, and without really understanding that I was playing klezmer music.  Through Dunkelbunt some of the tracks would land in my DJ repertoire, well produced, and I would play them and people would go crazy. And I was, like, “Look at this. This is true Balkan music.” Without really understanding who is who in this game now. You know what I mean? Only later would I understand, okay, this belongs to the klezmer category, this is this, this is that. So, Amsterdam Klezmer Band were true pioneers, maybe not so commercial at that time, like Bregović was eventually or Kusturica because of the movies and stuff. But AKB was already sparking the impulse for something that would eventually grow into a whole trend.  

OMFO: At the same time I started to be interested in the music of remote parts of the Soviet Union, like Siberia, Central Asia. And this is what started to touch me deeply. 

But first came the Balkans, to be honest, though I  never 100 percent identified with Balkan music. At the time many people who we had to do with in Holland professionally were interested in the Balkan music. In fact this term “Balkan” didn’t even occur at that time.  As everything in the world of pop-culture, it came out of nowhere, and suddenly became a term, a label, a slogan, like rock & roll. Someone threw it at the crowd and it became like a slogan of humanity suddenly. 

My interests transcended Balkan music. I was quite interested in the music of southern Siberia, Tuvan throat singing, which was quite often mocked by my friends.  They said, “Oh, this is, like, some kind of mumbo-jumbo”. Because I became interested in the modal structure of music. Perhaps it is the result of some kind of deep genetic inclinations. 

The word Balkan came about only much later when I became associated with this German record label, Essay Recordings.  They were pioneering this already quite misused term of Balkan music, or Balkan Beats. I tried to avoid these terms.  But I have to mention it now for the purpose of clarity.

So the Balkans came about later, and I dealt with it in my first album. I was interested in the music of the Carpathian Mountains, and, yes, you could perhaps identify it as part of a Balkan tradition. In general, I like music from the Balkan peninsula. Perhaps it’s my age. I would eventually distance myself from this Balkan world, the notion of Balkan Beats, Balkan this, Balkan that. Yes, I called my first album Trans-Balkan Express – but at the time this term Balkan was not that  used and abused.  I feel I have to excuse myself for it. If I could turn the time back, I would call it something else. 

I didn’t make any trips to the Balkans. The Balkan  label itself I was introduced to through a friend of mine, my other compatriot, who lived in Israel at that time, who I think would chose to remain anonymous. Let’s call him Vova for clarity. Just Vova. Vova. I think Vova supported the Essay label financially.  He was involved and we were friends. We were interested in abstract electronic music, which we jumped on, because after this whole story with ethnic music, I really opened up and started to develop. 

At the same time I was involved in all this abstract electronic music in the context of club culture: Trip-hop and experimenting with studio work just by myself. I was most interested in studio work, because I was alone with myself; I didn’t have to make any compromises. As soon as I collaborate with someone there is always something that irritates me.  So, the guy that I mentioned just now, the guy who introduced me to Essay Recordings, he somehow prompted various activities that he also supported financially. I was involved in the project as one of the first artists to work for Essay. 

In Amsterdam at that time – we are already talking five or six years later – there was rather a vibrant Russian scene. And most of the people were artistically involved, writing music, doing art. So I started to do some tracks for this label which is called Kidnap. It still exists. And of course, the same thing happened, as with everything in my life, I was kind of passionately involved, and then it became too loungy – I mean, I wouldn’t call it mainstream, but among the underground scene it’s all mainstream.  And it irritated me as well.

The first two releases of this label were CDs and vinyls as well. You know, I composed quite a few tracks.  I was also at that time continuing in my interest in Siberian music.  I was involved in playing with a Tuvan diva, a famous singer who was living in Austria at that time.  She engaged me in playing in her group.  So I was travelling quite a lot, mainly in Italy.  But basically all around the world she was quite famous.  My first trip to America, to Latin America, to Asia, to Taiwan I did as a member of her band.  Her name is Sainkho.

So I started to associate also in Italy with people who were releasing records, like Schema Records…all these big labels in the mid-nineties that were putting out this exotic, loungy easy-listening stuff.  And they became interested in some of my tracks because they were quite melodic. So there were licenses – so I got some engagement with these labels, and I did some tracks. So I started to be active as a producer. And at the time I came in contact with Essay Recordings.  I was already more or less established as a producer. I had already my name, OMFO. I was releasing music under this name. 

And then again Vova came about, came around. And then this progress became stagnated within this underground mainstream. Then he proposed to set a label of absolutely cult quality, releasing rare electronic music from Soviet Union and working with at that time some of the most avant-garde electronic magicians, and I became one of the leading board members of this project.  And that was called Solaris Records. Again it was based in Amsterdam. We released three editions of, I would say, very beautiful vinyl. It was only vinyl. But unfortunately it was bad luck, because at that time it was early 2000 when the vinyl industry crashed. So the distribution company that we were working with, after engaging with us declared bankruptcy.  So after the third release, there were no financial means to continue. 

And then there was some kind of vacuum, you know – oblivion – for me. And then again this angel, Vladimir – Vova – came about. And he said, look, I am doing this and that with Essay recordings…with Shantel…I met him in Israel, Shantel for the first time when he was Dj-ing. There was no Balkan music at the time. He was just playing drum and bass. 

It started like they asked me to do some remix on his song.  And I did. And it seemed they liked it, and they published this on vinyl. And yeah, it was just the beginning, I think it was 2002 or 2003. And then they said, “Why don’t you produce like ten tracks? And we’ll see what to do with that.” And this is how Trans-Balkan Express came about. It was just done in one month.  Look, I’ve been interested in Eastern – like, Balkan music in itself – what is Balkan music? What is the definition? Is it music that comes from the Balkan peninsula? I regard, in general – like, turning away from the Balkan Beats scene – it is Oriental music that is based on the system of makams.  What is called in Arabic, makam. Modal types of intervals that are used in a different – like Indian ragga, you know.  The same approach, you know.  So this Balkan music is usually influenced by the Ottoman culture, like the culture of the Ottoman Empire. Because most of the Balkan countries were colonies or subjects of the Ottoman Empire. But they had also its own qualities, you know.  Basically Balkan music – that what is called now – and that is what pisses me off – is the Gypsy music, you know.  And basically, Gypsies, what they do is they play in their own way.  They interpret the songs, you know.  Wherever they come from, it turns into Gypsy music.  But there is the authentic Balkan music that very few people know about.  And this is the music that I’m interested in.

Alec Kopyt: Balkans is a trend. And like all trends, it comes and goes. But fortunately there is eternal beauty. If you want to call it gold, or whatever. There is eternal beauty and the ultimate taste, which hopefully is there. But whatever is done in good taste I always welcome, no matter whatever genre of music, whatever style, whatever origins.  But that’s very personal, too.  I can name names of course. I’ve met lots of great musicians. And the list would be too long, and I would risk meeting someone because of forgetting, and then later feeling guilty. But fortunately there are still great musicians around and I am very privileged that in those thirty years that I’ve been around, that I’ve been playing music around Europe, that I’ve met so many fantastic musicians.

Job Chajes: Making Katakofti  wasn’t the first time we played with Gypsies, but it was the first time we did a real collaboration. Well, like I said, the moment that other people started joining the group – we have a very special combination of people.  Everyone is putting in a very great deal of energy, and people have their own networks and some people have big ideas. Usually a band is formed around one band leader, and Amsterdam Klezmer Band has seven – well, not seven band leaders, but has seven equal personalities; we are a collective. The Turkish adventure was because the mother of our trumpet player, she had an organization in Amsterdam that was bringing Turkish people, Turkish musicians and singers to the theaters in Holland.  And she is also a translator for books.  She also translated Orhan Pamuk in Dutch. And because of her network she could bring the Amsterdam Klezmer Band to Turkey. She was in contact with the World Music scene in Turkey.  So we did some tours in Turkey in 1999, the first time, and in 2001. And then we sat down with Hasan Saltık from Kalan Records – I think he has passed away in the time being – and so we sat down with him in 2002, and he said our music was played in Turkey, because people really loved our music, and maybe we could break open the market even more with a collaboration.  So then we came across the Galata Gypsy Band from Edirne. There were some beautiful musicians that were also very inspiring. I will never forget that we came in Istanbul to rehearse with them and also record. And we entered the hotel, and they were playing songs of ours. It was so great to hear our music played in a very traditional Turkish Gypsy way.  It was mind-blowing.  Like, wow!  And it was also proof that the music that we were playing was in a certain way timeless and without borders. The way they were doing it, they were doing it totally in their own style, but the music was standing straight and very firm the way they were playing it. 

Alec Kopyt: I played with Gypsies for many years. Because Chaldoupis brothers, they are Gypsies themselves. But because of them I have collaborated with many other Gypsy bands. And I have met lots of Gypsy musicians as well.  Klezmer Band was always positioning themselves in that region.  Between Jewish and Gypsies, Balkan. All these words were juggled around to present what the band was actually busy with.

I still maintain Katakofti is one of my favorite CDs of Klezmer Band, but of course it’s not Klezmer Band alone.  It’s also Galata Gypsy Band…Well, I’ve worked with many other Gypsies. But that’s a long story. And that was a privilege.  A privilege  musically – it was very revealing how they can treat their music. In the best case how much love and respect they have for their music. They can have. But not always.  Sometimes when they are busking at the supermarkets they don’t quite reach that level of exultation. 

Job Chajes: We have played incredible parties on Sziget festival. I remember certain gigs in Vienna at Ost Klub, where we played once or twice. Or Germany. We played the Lido several times. That was amazing, with 600 people going crazy. So, I cannot say there is one place. But what I do like the most is playing for an enthusiastic dancing audience. And for that Paradiso, in Amsterdam can’t be beat. We have played Paradiso at least ten times, and every time it’s different. There’s a different audience. You know, we have been in existence for 26 years. The first time in Paradiso was in 2000. And we played there less than one month ago. And the show that we did one month ago was one of the best that we have done ever. And the crowd was one of the best crowds ever in Paradiso.

Paradiso is a church, actually. But it’s not a church like you would imagine a church to look like.  It’s a big hall and a bit rounded in the back with columns with some steps up, and two balconies all around. So when there are a lot of people, there is a very good atmosphere.  There is a lot of focus on the stage.  The sound is usually terrible.  When I was a teenager I used to go see rappers there, and later funk bands. I used to like that kind of music, still do. Usually the sound is not so good.  For us we have to work really hard to get a good balance. But the atmosphere is great.

Robert Soko: With the corona outbreak I thought that this whole East European, klezmer, Gypsy, you name it wave or trend was over. And then I went to Paradiso in Amsterdam on the 15th of September 2022, to see Amsterdam Klezmer Band playing in front of 1,200 people – packed – and the mesmerizing atmosphere in there, like you could almost grab it. I didn’t know that it was a church, though I should have drawn the conclusion. And I was, like, “Wow, we are not dead.” And somehow Amsterdam Klezmer Band encouraged me to still somehow believe in this.  

Alec Kopyt: Do you have to be Jewish to play klezmer music? No. This is nonsense. Klezmer music, whatever is called klezmer music – you don’t have to be Jewish to play this music because this music on its own doesn’t exist in its pure form. It’s a mixture of so many other things. So how can you talk about purity about something that is not pure in its essence.  So, no, you don’t need to be Jewish – but it helps.