Musical melting pot

josh.snyder

A melding of musical genres is by no means an original idea. With everything from country-rap to opera-metal, musicians are pushing the envelope in different ways. But it’s not every day that you get to experience a French, Gypsy and Yiddish band rolled into one. But NMU students will get that chance with Les Yeux Noirs.

Formed in 1992, Les Yeux Noirs is a 7-piece band fronted by brothers Eric and Olivier Slabaik, both of whom play violin. According to Olivier Slabaik, the love to play music comes naturally.

“We began to play this music because we had an uncle who played Gypsy music,” Slabaik said.

The band began more traditionally, learning to play classical music and singing in Yiddish. But as time went on, Slabaik had a desire to branch out and try new things, while still incorporating his Gypsy and Yiddish roots.

“We feel more free with this music,” he said. “We can make our own compositions and play traditional music in the way we want.”

According to Slabaik, the band plays a mixture of the traditional Eastern European music, which uses acoustic instruments and is played at a faster tempo. Incorporated into this are some rock ‘n’ roll elements, which puts a heavy emphasis on electric guitars.

For Dan Truckey, director of the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center, it was this varied style that attracted him to the band.

“They have a sound that, although it has traditional elements, will appeal to students,” Truckey said. “They definitely have elements of traditional Gypsy and Klezmer music, but they’re also contemporary.” Klezmer is a traditional Jewish style, and is where Yiddish originated from.

In fact, it’s no surprise that Les Yeux Noirs has such an eclectic sound. Since their inception, the band has played on nearly every continent. And according to Slabaik, this allows the band to experience many different styles that they can blend into their sound.

“We play in a lot of different countries,” he said. “The music is our passport.”

This multi-cultural style comes through strongly on tracks such as “Désirs Dérisoires,” which begins with an Eastern European guitar and then suddenly shifts into a Reggae beat. Although the two styles may seem drastically different, Truckey said Les Yeux Noirs knows how to make it work.

“It’s very rhythmic, very dance oriented,” Truckey said.

Along with their performance, the band will be hosting a free workshop. According to Slabaik, the goal of these workshops is not only to teach others the various styles they play, but to help others understand their culture.

“(Our goal is) to have open a window by the way of the music, to (help others) learn more about Gypsy and Yiddish culture.”

Les Yeux Noirs will be play in the Great Lakes Rooms on Tuesday, Jan. 20 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $6 for students, $15 for faculty and staff and $20 for the general public. Tickets are available at all EZ Ticket locations and online at www.nmu.edu/tickets.