For fans of: Gogol Bordello, Beirut, Thievery Corporation

Black Masala is an eclectic eight-piece group of Washington, DC based musicians from a diverse variety of musical traditions and backgrounds. The band is comprised of members from Thievery Corporation, See-I, Yamamonem Jazz Band, and Yellow Dubmarine. Featuring a wide array of instruments from tuba to accordion to trombone to big vocals!, the band’s music features a colorful mix of sounds that draw inspiration from the melodies of Eastern European brass bands, New Orleans jazz, Latin grooves, Ambient/Experimental indie rock riffs, and even a hint of Appalachian twang. Expect a party!

Originally formed by Mike Ounallah and trombonist Matt Hotez, the band's focus was initially centered in the Eastern European Brass tradition. Although keeping true to its roots, the band has since expanded and diversified its sound to include influences from other musical genres after adding a number of other musicians, including several vocalists, making for a high-energy live set of original material.

On the new “Black Masala” album, pulsating Balkan rhythms blend with funky New Orleans horns, creating an original, soulful gypsy party. The vibe is infectious as the Tuba player roams the floor looking for dance partners, dancers on stage back bending to ska beats, while other bandmates are up on tables and chairs calling the crowd into the party!

The seven track album represents Black Masala's coming out party to the world! In just over a year’s time, Black Masala have been hitting the road, bringing the sweaty dance party to the East Coast. All of these great shows are the inspiration for this album, which captures the live sound and feel of the shows. Each member of the band adds their own influence to the mix, with vocal duties shared by Mike Ounallah and Kristen Long. The fiery horn section features Matt Hotez, Kirsten Warfield, and Frank Mitchell, Jr. of Thievery Corporation fame. The Tuba low end is Monty Montgomery and the rhythm section is rounded out by Duff Davis on Guitar, Yannick LePage on Accordion, and Mike Ounallah on Drums.

M.H. and his Orchestra

One could easily throw a "musical chairs" allusion into the description of this group: from a one man project to a 44 piece orchestra then finally resting as an eleven person touring band-- it's impossible to escape the notion that this has shaped what Sounds of RVA calls their "ever-shifting wall of sound". M.H. stands for Max Holiday, the 20 year old composer, lyricist & singer behind M.H. & His Orchestra- with an age-defying, sometimes untrustworthy crooner voice he leads the grand orchestrations (which he dubs "Orchestral Back-Beat") through terrain less travelled in modern indie-pop. But it's no longer a one-man-show anymore; through a bizarre train of events this young balladeer found himself in charge of an orchestra, or so it's called...

While honeyed vocals by Lucy LaCœur anchor Holiday’s romantic lyrics in the clouds, the tight, sinuous string play of Lady Viorii and Jack Tabby's led orchestrations drives the tunes like street cars on a wire. (Some in the orchestra claim Viorii’s the black sheep of some left-over Croatian blue bloods; true or not, they all hup to). LaCoeur opens up like a musical Swiss army knife, with charming turns on ukelele, clarinet, glockenspiel, and who knows what else. E. Splanky’s horns splash all over these tracks, and though LaCœur pulled him onto the Heartland Flyer from an Oklahoma dive bar, where he says he “played for prison milk”, he might as well have come from a Bulgarian circus band, for all the slavic keening. Charlie Minnegrode’s trumpets answer smartly, toddling in on brass tap shoes. And though it’s hard to know exactly what the upstate NY sound ‘zine Yunk Police meant when they said Sully Dodger “rides his trap set like the iron spider foreman in Mozart’s machine shop”, he does have a feather light touch and a bag of insistent triphammer beats that keeps the whole kit and kaboodle in high, tight gear throughout the live spectacle.

Before Holiday, the others had already made a career “playing out” on Amtrak’s few remaining rail lines: On the Ethan Allen Express, LaCœur, Viorii, and Splank met Sully (who had been doing auxiliary percussion work for the Maniyunk wind ensemble after being let go as interim director of the high school pep band--no one will say why); soon thereafter, they lucked into Minnesota-by-way-of-Iceland legend Ogmundur Helgason on the Empire Builder; Tabby rode in on the Hiawatha, coming off a dark 19th hole in Beloit, with a viola case and a highball. By the time Holiday found them all on the Silver Service, the ladies had already finessed a hundred conductors into letting the outlaw combo torch up their lounge cars. (Apparently, if they played all night, they didn’t have to buy a ticket.)

Even after Holiday, a surprising number of the orchestra rose from the sparse platforms of Amtrak: buskers would often join up without much of a fuss--a Mandolin on the Lakeshore Limited (Benzo Nutilii), a harp on the Keystone (Clara Schultz), a theremin on the Adirondack (Alexei Savrasov). Occasionally the band would have a lay-over in Carbondale or Rutland, and scope out some ne’er-do-wells on the margins of a roots music festival (witness the itinerant Woofdog, playing the melodeon party-time keys (ala the Great Daniel Johnston Machine), and brass man C. Minnegrode, both of whom used to be regulars at the Indianapolis Summer Jamz).

The numbers kept swelling, and they eventually assembled the hodge-podge of orchestral comrades in Champe Ford Studio to track the record. Their debut "The Throes" was released in July and contains nine songs that portray their powerful combo of danceable percussion, sweeping strings, blasting horns and an inviting mix of genre cross-overs with nods to old school R&B, Calypso, Latin, Čoček and century spanning Western pop music.

By turns grandiose and grand, hoky and holy, they make you nostalgic for the days to come.

$7 online / $10 at the door


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