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Shukar - Bear Tamers Music

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Artist: Shukar

Album: Bear Tamers Music

Label: Sub Rosa

Review date: Sep. 7, 2005

Dating back hundreds of years, Ursari music was a simple folk music meant to be played as accompaniment to the performance of a bear, de-clawed and de-toothed, prancing about on its hind legs. Shukar, modern purveyors of this craft – the bear tamers’ music – do so without the bear (a Romanian law forbids it), but with the same energy and vigor as their gypsy ancestors. The trio (Napoleon, 38, Tamango, 62, and Clasic, 24) utilize only their voices and primitive percussion (barrels, spoons, etc.) to make their music, which has a vitality that belies its rather simple, unadorned approach.

It’s impossible to judge just how aligned with traditional Usari Shukar’s music truly is, but it’s not hard to imagine their rollicking revelry stretching back centuries. The music is driven by the rhythms of spoons, drums and implements, which are often simple support for the melodic vocals but at times tap into more middle-eastern influences. This influence is likely a result of the waves of immigration into Dracia (now Romania) at the time of Ursari’s genesis.

No matter how invigorating, though, the drums nearly always take a backseat to Shukar’s vocals, at times religious ecstasy, at others drunken revelry. The performances and the recording aren’t perfect, but there’s a closeness and conformability in the singing that’s never lacking. All three seem legitimately delighted by what they do, whether they’re singing the more melodic lead parts of a song, or simply background grunts and yelps, and this imbues Shukar’s music with a joyful, infectious vivacity.

As the years pass, it seems increasingly typical for older art forms to be inadvertently forgotten or purposefully disregarded by younger generations, especially those of the more obscure folk arts. Bulgarian villages may not be lacking young musicians eager to follow in their parents’ footsteps, but – especially in more developed and cosmopolitan regions – the youth seem continually drawn to the hip and new. It’s a generational shift that’s always existed, so when a music as obscure as Ursari can survive the centuries, and remain more than artifact, it’s hard not to be in awe of it. Clasic, the youngest member of Shukar, is only 24. One can only hope that decades from now he’ll be leading his own Ursari troupe, and that the bear tamers’ music will live on.

By Adam Strohm

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