Why is it that everybody is always so surprised when other cultures aside from our own evolve and change to suit the times? It's like we want them to stay stuck in the past, playing their interesting "folk music" and dressing up in their "traditional" costumes for our entertainment. Unfortunately, that music and those costumes, if they ever really existed outside of some romantic vision offered up by people outside of the culture, have very little to do with the realities of life in the 21st century. There's nothing wrong with honouring the traditions of the past, but any culture that can't continue to evolve runs the risk of stagnating and losing its power to speak to its own people.
For many years the image of the Eastern European musician playing a fiddle or a balalaika and wearing colourfully embroidered clothing has lingered. Who knows where this image came from initially and whether or not it had any validity. Even if it did, to assume a people whose population is spread over thousands of square miles would play the same types of music, let alone dress the same is not just unrealistic but insulting. Cultural stereotypes are dangerous because they allow people to think of those in question as somehow less than or different from normal. It then becomes easy to discriminate against them, because they aren't like us.
So expecting a new generation of Eastern European musicians to be content with putting on cute cultural displays after what they've lived through is ridiculous. I don't know about you, but I'd expect to hear something that reflected what's going on in their lives.
Which is exactly what you get from Moldavian-based Zdob Si Zdub's new release, Basta Mafia, on the great German Asphalt Tango label as an import in North America yesterday, February 14, 2012. It's a brilliant piece of work, combining biting political commentary and messages of hope for a better world, played over a wonderful melange of styles as the band employs everything from folk to punk, and almost everything in between to get their message across. Yet for all the variety, and the lack of cohesion that it might imply, each song is connected to the rest by the elements they all have in common.