05 June 2011

More Sephardic-Turkish-Indie Rock: DeLeon's Casata

In 2008, DeLeon emerged with a stunning debut album blending indie rock and traditional Sephardic Jewish music with surprising appeal. Now the band has set a mid-June release date for its sophomore effort, called Casata, which may be my favorite not-quite-world-music album of the year.

Like the self-titled first album, Casata does include lots of global influences, though they're often masked by the indie-rock sensibility Daniel Saks brings to the arrangements and his singing. Along with bandmates Kevin Snider, Justin Riddle, Amy Crawford, and Andrew Oom, Saks has crafted catchy songs that only get more fascinating when you read his notes and lyrics. The opening track "High Is the Moon," for example, is an adaptation of a Greek Sephardic folk song given new life as a pop song with a slightly off-kilter rhythm. Saks explains that it was inspired by his Youtube viewings of an Ethiopian dance called eskista.

Other songs have similar odd tales to tell. "Chichi Bunichi" is a hard-rocking tune based on an old finger-counting game from Sarajevo."Think 'This Little Piggy Went to Market,' Saks says. "I wanted to keep this one pretty folksy but build it up so it could stand on its own as a grown-up song as well. As far as I know, the phrase chichi bunichi has no translation, it's just a fun phrase to say and even more fun to sing especially with pretty harmonies surrounding it."

Saks has a tremendous ability to absorb and integrate diverse musical influences, using them to create his own unique, compelling sound. No, more than a sound: his own unique world view. It's a world of ethnic threads reaching deep into the past, but woven together into a hip garment that wouldn't look out of place in even the hippest club. And it's great fun to listen to.

Check out the video for "More Than Wine," based on an old Judeo-Turkish proverb, and sung in English and Ladino:

More DeLeon:
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