The Balkan beat goes on … and on, and on

Shantel and Bucovina Club Orkestar ***** (5 stars out of 6); December 13 at Lille Vega

Shantel and the magnificent Bucovina Club Orkestar gave a sumptuous dosage of Balkan frenzy, which ignited Lille Vega to tropical temperatures. These were two hours of sheer unadulterated fun where everyone joined in, even the balcony audience.

Rather than defining his own music as Balkan, Shantel (aka Stefan Hantel) prefers to describe his music as Diaspora Balkan. Born in Frankfurt with roots from the historic Bucovina region in the Balkans, Shantel is one of many contemporary artists who strive to bring the sound of their respective cultures to western audiences. Shantel initially started as a DJ who successfully blended modern club music with the dramatic and chaotic traditional sounds from the Balkan Peninsula. He now performs with a full backing band, and Lille Vega had the honour of experiencing the magic. As a quickly emerging Danish tradition, Balkan concerts require an audience that’s well liquored up, and never have I witnessed a more drunk and happy crowd. They were ready to dance the alcohol away.

At exactly 9PM, the lights were turned off, and the inebriated crowd went ballistic. Out of the darkness emerged the party brigade, carrying only flashlights and spotting the crowd. They led their concert in with 'Mahalageasca', an instantly recognizable number seeing as it was immortalized in the film Borat. Followed by their iconic intro, a selection of full-throttle numbers got the auditorium heated up, and the beautiful female vocalist sang Serbian that lead your heart to straight to Belgrade. Shantel himself wore a thick leather jacket and a fashionable beret, and his signature Rickenbacker guitar was well-played.

Only four numbers into the show, Shantel dropped his best hand in the form of the single ‘Disko Partizani’. Shantel chose to tease the crowd by restarting the first verse several times before allowing the chorus to culminate in a jumping frenzy that reached even the balcony audience. The energy did not cease, as the following number ‘Disko Boy’ continued the ecstasy. After a couple of numbers proving the virtuoso skill of every member of the band, Shantel decided to bring the party into the centre of the auditorium. Here, like a storyteller, he hypnotised all audience members to sit down and marvel at the charismatic frontman performing songs in English, Greek and Serbian.

As he returned to the stage, the sweaty crowd witnessed another pristine performance by the band, highlighted by a clever mash-up of two popular and highly danceable singles ‘Citizen of Planet Paprika’ and ‘Bucovina Original’. The anticipation was high for the first encore, and Shantel and his merry companions did not disappoint – they returned in full force and played an almost 45-minute encore set, which included champagne showers and an ocean of crowd surfers. Everything seemed perfect, apart from Shantel’s tendency to replay songs in the encore for a tediously long time. Nonetheless, Shantel is a foolproof choice for one hell of a party, and his band will mesmerize you.

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