Late this past Saturday night, I received a pair emails, which Gmail dutifully grouped into a conversation, notifying me that my friend Tex, with whom I’d been real-life conversing just hours earlier, had gifted me some music via iTunes. 2 albums worth, to be exact. This is a picture taken of me moments after reading those emails.
As if that wasn’t awesome enough, one of the albums he gave me came with a set of listening instructions. I love when this happens. It always makes me think about Almost Famous and the note William Miller’s big sis leaves him about lighting a candle, listening to Tommy and seeing his entire future. Maybe because my own big sis was a similarly powerful musical influence when I was William’s age. Hmmmm. Anyhoo, Tex’s instructions for listening to Balkan Beat Box’s conveniently named album Give were as follows: “Listen to it backwards and let me know what you think.”
So simple, yet so powerful. I was about 1000% more engaged as I made my way through Give from back to front, all the while listening for what might have inspired his instructional note. Maybe this heightened focus was, itself, the goal (if that’s the case, I’m going to stop calling him Tex and start calling him Mr. Miyagi), or maybe he thought the final track, “No Man’s Land,” would grab me right off the bat (it totally did, in part because it expounds on the ever-quotable “it’s God’s water” conversation from the opening scene of Super Troopers). The 11 other helpings of BBB’s characteristic Mediterranean-Balkan-Jamaican-American stew were just as rewarding, and I’d recommend the album highly, no matter where you start.
For me, Balkan Beat Box’s greatest gift — one that my friend Tex not-so-coincidentally exhibits on a daily basis — is their ability to combine joyful musical elements and political activism while exuding the utmost sincerity in both directions. It reminds me of the way the Daily Show mixes political/media commentary with humor in equal parts, managing to elevate both in the process (this concoction was crucial to my surviving the W presidency without going completely bonkers). But I’d argue these examples go beyond a simple “spoonful of sugar” attempt to make difficult topics more palatable. Music and humor can both access primitive parts of our brains that donkeys and elephants simply can’t. Finding that sweet spot and working outward makes it easier for people to bridge political differences, even if it’s just for the time it takes to laugh at a self-deprecating joke or dance to a joyous-sounding song like “Part Of The Glory.”
Balkan Beat Box — “Part Of The Glory“