My Mother Said
Distributed through Larrikin Entertainment
Reviewed by Ian Jamieson
The release of their second CD marks Xenos as a formidable band in traditional folk circles. Xenos — the name is a Greek word meaning "foreign guest" — have created exciting interpretations of Balkan and Turkish rhythms. They have proven their ability to fuse traditional styles with an exhilarating range of modern and folk instruments.
Based in Switzerland for most of the year, the band is cosmopolitan. Anne Hildyard and Rob Bester are from Tasmania, Christian Fotsch from Switzerland, and two Turkish Macedonians, Marem Aliev and Tahir Arsimov, complete the core. On My Mother Said they are joined by well-known Australian percussionist Blair Greenberg.
The tight combination of Hildyard's voice, with its traditional Balkan inflections, and the instruments of the band produce the stunning arrangements. These include the haunting track "Sao Roma", a Kosovan gipsy song, mesmerising wedding dances and zurla melodies from Greece, Greek Macedonia, Macedonia and Turkey.
Relying on reed instruments for strength, Xenos aren't afraid to explore beyond traditional parameters to create an innovative style. The didgeridoo, the African drum (dgembe), clarinets and saxophones combine well with Balkan shawms (zurnas), bagpipes (gaidas) and a Turkish droneless double chanter bagpipe (tulum). The traditional hand drum of the region, the darabukka, provides strong pulses. Traditional string backing includes the Greek lute-like lauto and bouzouki and the Turkish metal banjo, the cumbus.
The fusion of the modern reeds with the traditional is inspired. The saxophones and clarinets strive to imitate the gracings of the pipes, producing sounds that markedly differ from the usual Western arrangements. The solos on these instruments are dazzling.
Part of the beauty of Balkan, Turkish and east European folk music is the complex rhythms employed. Xenos' innovative use of melodies, weaving around the additive rhythms, can hold the listener spellbound.
Xenos' first CD, released in 1991, has the same style that has pushed the band to international acclaim. Called Let the Swine Loose (a Swiss term for raging), this CD is also available, as are cassettes, from Rob and Anne, c/- 98 Elizabeth St, Hobart.
One of the greatest pleasures of folk music is its increasing diversity. Xenos certainly add a polished contribution, a traditional style that can be wild and infectious.