Exotic textures and captivating rhythms

Another post-COVID weekend in Phnom Penh, another new band.  The six piece Maki Orkestr will be “kindling the fire of the Gypsy spirit,” playing music of the Balkans, Russia, Romania and Serbia.  Band leader Aymen Ghali was good enough to tell Leng Pleng all about it.

What inspired the Maki Orkestr?

Obviously the pandemic brought live music to a halt worldwide – my  last performance was way back in March!  As music events slowly started to happen again around the city, I was very eager to participate again; it was time for a new music project for Phnom Penh with its wonderful and supportive community of live music lovers.  I wanted to create something special and unique to contribute to the music scene, though I wasn’t exactly sure what.  I started joining the jam sessions, to get the blood flowing again.

There are familiar faces here, but what can you tell us about the new ones?

I very often play an old Russian Gypsy tune named Dve Gitary (Two Guitars), a beautiful song and easy for others to play along with as an instrumental.  One night at a jam as usual I started it up, and the band joined, and out of the audience came a young lady who took the microphone and started singing the lyrics, really  beautifully.  It was Daria Morozova, from Tatarstan in the Russian Federation, though at the time I didn’t know her.  On a hunch, I started getting the band together even before I had the opportunity to ask her if she was interested.  Luckily, when the opportunity came to ask her she agreed, and I proudly present her as the vocalist of Maki Orkestr.   Those who will hear her voice on Saturday are in for a real treat.

Daria Morozova (Photo: supplied), Aymen on guitar

First, I went to Damani to play bass, a very close friend of mine who I’ve had the pleasure to play with over the years, in the earlier days of Hypnotic Fist Technique, my previous project Havana Kings, and countless jam sessions.  He has a wide musical palette and we share many common interests in genres, and we had already tossed the idea around of doing some kind of Balkan project.   He is a huge part of the music scene, creative, multi-talented, and never afraid to experiment and take risks.  Never a dull moment playing music with Damani, though his approach could be considered unorthodox; for example, sometimes during band rehearsal he likes to lie flat on his back with his eyes closed while playing.  No one plays it like Damani, but we’ll keep him on his feet this Saturday.

It was natural to then include Jesse Ricketson (The Goldilocks Zone, Pocket Change) on drums and Arone Silverman (South East Asia Soul Revue, Pocket Change) on guitar and trumpet.  They have been playing with Damani in many projects and situations, so there is great synergy.  I am very excited to finally collaborate more formally than just doing jam sessions with them.  Jesse is very creative behind the drums, assertive in his delivery, the driving force of the groove.  Arone is a very tasteful and versatile multi-instrumentalist, and he is able to fill many roles, contributing a lot to the sound of Maki Orkestr.

Damani, Jesse and Arone  (Photos: Steve Porte)

Then on accordion is Elena Stenkina, from Moscow, who has performed extensively internationally, who is very expressive in her playing and adds a great texture to the band.  She is a new friend and I am very happy to collaborate with her.

Photo: supplied.   Elena Stenkina

What makes Maki Orkestr different from what you’ve done before?  

Most of the songs are from the Roma people, commonly referred to as Gypsy, and more focused on the music of the Roma people settled in Eastern Europe.  I’ve spent a lot of time learning and playing Jazz Manouche, a genre from Roma people in western Europe, and although there is a connection this music is very different, and a good challenge for all of us, mixing our influences and creating something new.

What is the idea behind the name?

“Maki”, in various Slavic languages, refers to the poppy flower, and the name is particularly inspired by one of the songs we play called
Maki Maki
recorded by Goran Bregovic.

What should we expect from a Maki Orkestr show?

Expect high energy, seductive melodies, exotic textures and captivating rhythms.

You can catch Maki Orkestr playing their debut at Alchemy this Saturday 3rd October.

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