Hungary hearts

International exchange: Locals Sirius.B (pictured) and Budapest-based Szkojáni Charlatans share a love of Gypsy-Roma-klezmer music and a band member — percussionist Mattick Frick. Photo by Xavier Ferdón

In 2013, for the seventh straight year, Mountain Xpress readers voted Sirius.B one of the best bands in town. The spirited, imaginative, genre-transcending troupe placed No. 1 in categories ranging from folk to rock, world music and even (in 2012) “Best Local Gypsy Absurdist Punk Rock Band.”

The acclaimed group may as well occupy a category all its own. The eight-person band’s diverse array of players includes Asheville Symphony Orchestra members and people with graduate degrees in various areas of musical study. There’s a clarinet teacher, several klezmer and world music aficionados, and a Mardi Gras Indian. And if that’s not enough stylistic variation, when they descend upon The Grey Eagle Saturday, Feb. 22, for their first headlining show in that venue, they’ll be joined by rock-blues singer Leigh Glass and Hungarian Gypsy-punk band Szkojáni Charlatans.

Szkojáni (pronounced sko-YAN-nee) Charlatans are a much smaller outfit: the Gypsy-tinged group’s three members include Sirius.B percussionist Mattick Frick. A multi-instrumentalist, Frick has played in a number of bands over the years, including klezmer outfit the Vulgar Bulgars and Balkan band Bloodroot Orkaestarr. He’s spent part of the past year touring Europe with the Budapest-based Szkojáni Charlatans and will be rejoining them for a U.S. tour after the Grey Eagle date. The other two-thirds of that band’s personnel are Szickán Olsson (accordion, vocals and percussion) and Kjartan Code (violin, brács, vocals and dance).

“It’s a similar band to Sirius.B,” says Frick, though the local outfit is “a bunch of folks who are not from those places but are really drawn to Gypsy-Roma-klezmer music. It’s a lot of traditional world music that we don’t necessarily have roots in, but we fell in love with it and can’t help but play it.”

Hungarian Gypsy-punk band Szkojáni Charlatans. Photo by Danelle C. Lucas

Sirius.B frontman Pancho Romero Bond sees a clearer distinction. “We have this ridiculously long description: absurdist Gypsy folk funk punk. We came up with that because we didn’t think there was any genre in which we could be placed. For us, the Gypsy part of things is more of a flavor within our mix, rather than something that actually describes what we do.” Though the band plays very few Roma- or Gypsy-type songs, it does perform some numbers with a similar feel, such as an Italian resistance piece and a couple of songs in Hebrew.

“Our originals will sometimes have [a Gypsy flavor] but oftentimes not. We’ll have people come to the shows sometimes, and they’ll walk away talking about how much they like Gypsy music,” says Bond. He and his bandmates share a knowing laugh about this. Bond continues, “There’s something about the energy and the way we go about our songs. Whereas the Charlatans are going to be playing Hungarian traditional [music].”

However you do or don’t categorize Sirius.B’s music, the band does it well. But over the past year or so, the group has been playing out a little less, for a number of reasons. The musicians have been writing songs and exploring new avenues with percussion. Several members, including Frick, have been traveling. But one big reason is that all three founding members — Bond, Xavier Ferdón and drummer Imhotep — became fathers within a month of one another. This fact also meant that their last album, The Triumphant Return of Black-Eyed Norman, didn’t get the usual promotional treatment. “I meant to send it out for a bunch of reviews and never got around to it,” Ferdón admits.

No doubt the new offspring distracted them for a moment. But the presence of progeny also inspired the band to add a midday performance at The Grey Eagle — without opening acts — so families with young children don’t have to miss out on all the fun.

“I have an older son who is almost 2 1/2,” says Bond, “and that was the reasoning behind this daytime show. He’s at an age now where we can’t keep him out until 2 in the morning. I have a lot of friends who have kids who aren’t ready to hang up their ‘fun coats,’ but they have to stay in and take care of their children.” Problem solved. Saturday promises something for everyone, with the family-friendly concert at noon and what Bond calls a typical drinking-and-dancing extravaganza at night.

“We’re good for all ages,” Ferdón adds with a sardonic grin. “Except for maybe two ages: 44 and 18. It’s true. I don’t know what’s so funny about that.”

WHO: Sirius.B with Szkojáni Charlatans and Leigh Glass
WHERE: The Grey Eagle,
WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 22, at noon ($6 adults/$4 children) and at 9 p.m. ($10 advance/$12 at the door)


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About Kim Ruehl
Kim Ruehl's work has appeared in Billboard, NPR Music, The Bluegrass Situation, Yes magazine, and elsewhere. She's formerly the editor-in-chief of No Depression, and her book, 'A Singing Army: Zilphia Horton and the Highlander Folk School,' is forthcoming from University of Texas Press. Follow me @kimruehl

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