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“Ushti, ushti, baba,
O davulja maren …”
“Wake up, wake up, Father!
The drum is beating…”
(–“Ushti, Ushti, Baba”; Serbian Gypsy song from “On the World Beat”)
Evanston’s own world music band Jutta and the Hi-Dukes’ newly released CD, “On the World Beat,” is an exciting and varied collection, spiced with a Balkan flavor. The CD, from the Earwig Music label, contains 12 songs that represent the repertoires of the five bands of which Jutta Distler, Terran Doehrer and their daughter Zoï form the kernel.
It is impossible to talk about the music without talking about the family. Jutta and the Hi-Dukes play Balkan music from Eastern Europe (“Hi-dukes” is a riff on the Balkan word, haiduq, for “brigands” or “highwaymen”); Scandinavian music from Jutta’s part of the world; klezmer, which they sing in Ladino, Hebrew and Yiddish; and from the U.S., swing, blues, bluegrass, and more, albeit with the slightly Bulgarian sound that Mr. Doehrer’s kaval, or Bulgarian flute, lends it. They also play more than a little Romani, or Gypsy, music.
The new CD is the result of years of musical life. Ms. Distler, who has lived in the U.S. for two decades, is from Aarhus, Denmark, that country’s “second city.” Growing up, she attended Waldorf School, in which the nurture of creativity, especially music, plays a major role in the curriculum. After a pastoral post-high-school year working on a farm in southern France (“I went on a one-way ticket,” she says), she went to Switzerland to study Waldorf pedagogy at the Zurich Goetheanum.
Mr. Doehrer grew up in Hyde Park, one of the few who took music at Kenwood High the year Willie Pickens taught there. In fact, Mr. Pickens gave Terran his oboe, and, though flute was the instrument that really grabbed him, the interaction is something Mr. Doehrer has not forgotten.
After time away from music spent studying filmmaking at the University of Illinois, Mr. Doehrer became interested in dance and again took up the flute to organize a band for his dance troupe. This band became the Balkan Rhythm Band, whose one album, “The Jazziest Balkan Dance Band Around,” (1983) on the Flying Fish label, won an award for best ethnic release of the year.
Mr. Doehrer had already become familiar with the kaval when the Balkan Rhythm Band opened for Alexander Eppler at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Mr. Eppler, who studied music in Bulgaria at the prestigious Bulgarian State Conservatory, is a master in the making of both Boehm transverse flutes and the end-blown kaval. He offered Mr. Doehrer the opportunity to have one of his highly sought-after instruments, and Mr. Doehrer says that, from that moment, “it was bye-bye, Boehm, hello, kaval!” The transverse flute was out the door.
Mr. Doehrer’s interest in Romani music was already developed when he met Esma Redzepova for the first time in 1981, on her first visit to the U.S. Ms. Redzepova, sometimes called “the Queen of the Gypsies,” is one of the world’s most famous Roma singers, both for her music and for her humanitarian endeavors. Mr. Doehrer calls her “his fairy godmother,” because “her role in my life has been magical.”
The meeting came about thus: Balkan Rhythm Band had just played at Holstein’s on North Lincoln Avenue. They decided to go get some cevapcici (grilled lamb sausages) at the Stari Beograd. When they got there, Mr. Doehrer says, “the room was dark” and quiet, and they were not even sure it was open. They went in he says and, “I couldn’t believe it. Esma and her band were sitting in a totally empty room. How could it be totally empty? There was this amazing musician ready to play and no one was there.”
“We got our instruments out,” Mr. Doehrer says, “and played their music back to them. It was a real surprise for Esma. We communicated via bad German.” Mr. Doehrer says he “went and told everybody to come see this great artist. By their last show [about a month later], there was standing room only. She invited us to come up and play with them. It was a life-changing event for me. To find someone you admire so much was incredible. I was completely blown away.”
In 1984 the band fragmented, Mr. Doehrer says, and he “took a leave of absence and went to Paris,” thinking maybe he would live there. Instead he returned to the United States and started the Ensemble M’chaiya (“A Life-Giving Pleasure”) klezmer band. Of his move to Evanston he says, “We could have moved anywhere – San Diego, Milwaukee. We came here because Evanston’s got a lot going for it. It’s a great town.”
In 1988-89 Mr. Doehrer visited Switzerland. It was here he met Ms. Distler, at a New Year’s Eve party just a few months after her graduation from the Goetheanum. When he returned to the U.S., so did she.
Ms. Distler joined the Balkan Rhythm Band. Being the only woman, she says, could have been unpleasant. “But with [BRB] it reined in some of the worst ego behaviors of the guys” and “brought out the best” in her, she says.
In about 1995 the couple moved to Denmark, though they kept a post office box here. They played some gigs there, but it was hard going. “One of the things that turned me off,” says Mr. Doehrer, “was that all music is state-supported. We went to this ‘culture house’ and they listened to our CD and said, ‘No, we already have a band like that.’ There is a music scene there; we played in Copenhagen. … but even bars get state support to bring in music.”
Ms. Distler adds, “We felt very wanted here [in the U.S], and we hadn’t broken into anything there. There’s a little more room to come up with your own concepts over here. Hopefully, with this record we’ll be able to take another step forward.” Mr. Doehrer adds, “We’re less niche now because world music is so big.”
Zoï (whose name means “life” in Greek) was born in Denmark; her 15 years have literally been spent in the company of music. Tutors, online classes and programs with other homeschooled kids allow her to be a full member of her family’s bands, which she says she likes very much. She is very poised when playing the drums, singing and dancing in front of people.
She plays full drum kit and tupan – the double-handed Bulgarian drum. Zoï says the drum kit (which she practices up to three hours a day) is self-taught; the tupan “I learned from watching and what Dad’s taught me.” She played cornet when she was younger, but, like her dad, her passion lay with a different instrument.
Between them, the family has more than 60 years of music experience, and on their CD it shows. The music is exciting, and listeners will find it hard to keep from leaping up to dance.
On New Years Eve, from 9 p.m. – 1 a.m., Jutta and the Hi-Dukes will be playing at the Firehouse Grill, 750 Chicago Ave.
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“On the World Beat” begins with “Ushti, Ushti, Baba,” a folk song that enacts the moment in a wedding when a young woman’s dowry is brought out and she will be soon leaving her home. Addictively energetic, it is a lilting Balkan Rom tune that demands to be danced to. The kaval is prominent, as are the horn (Peter Bartels) and tuba (Steven Hart).
“Sala, Sala” – is next, a busy, chromatically built Greek folk tune. The tune climbs up and descends around its center in half steps; without the resolution of the kind Western ears are used to, its forward motion is nonetheless compelling.
The most moving song is “Djelem, Djelem,” adopted as the “International Anthem of the Romani People”at the First World Romani Congress in London in 1971. The tune is based on that of a traditional Serbian Romani love song. The lyrics by Zarko Ivanovich begin, “I have travelled long roads” and express grief for the many killed by the Nazis and urge the Roma people to “stand up” and succeed. The chorus, a double repetition of “Ay Romale, Ay Chavale,” is a call to their people: “Oh, Roma/ Oh, brothers!” Words and melody both are haunting and memorable.
The Distler-Doehrer family plays an astonishing number of instruments; Jutta sings and plays mandolin, guitar and fiddle; Terran plays kaval, guitar, percussion, and sings; daughter Zoï plays percussion and also sings.
The kaval is a wind instrument, an end-blown flute played in the Balkans, Turkey, Hungary and northern Greece. Mr. Doehrer says his is styled after the Bulgarian instrument, though it is tuned to concert C rather than the more common D. His instrument has adaptations such as an offset final hole for ease in playing. “Elision is much easier with the fingers flat on,” says Mr. Doehrer. The concert C tuning, which lengthens the instrument, gives it a “deeper, richer tone … darker and warmer.”
Other tunes on the CD are the klezmer song, “Der Rebbe ist Gegangen”; “Ven Ermoza,” a Sephardic song; Din Al Fatar, a Bulgarian/Rumanian tune in 7/8 time and “Twelfth Street Rag,” an American Dixieland tune by Euday Bowman, which sounds just a little different, but no less entertaining, when played with a kaval. The bleak intoning at the beginning of “Valravnen,” a Danish medieval tryllevise, or “magic ballad,” lightens, becoming danceable.
“On the World Beat” is an exceptionally interesting and enjoyable CD. For all the different origins of its songs, one attribute stands out: All of them insist that their listeners start toe-tapping, hand-clapping or finger-snapping, and finally, that they get up and dance.
“On the World Beat” by Jutta and the Hi-Dukes can be purchased through www.earwigmusic.com, and through the band at modalmusic.com and other sources online.