Les Yeux Noirs
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Les Yeux Noirs

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Mar
26
Les Yeux Noirs @ Fairbanks Concert Association

Fairbanks, Alaska, USA

Fairbanks, Alaska, USA

Mar
25
Les Yeux Noirs @ Fairbanks Concert Association

Fairbanks, Alaska, USA

Fairbanks, Alaska, USA

Mar
19
Les Yeux Noirs @ Music Center

Los Angeles, California, USA

Los Angeles, California, USA

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Music

Press


Published: Tuesday, April 19, 2005
FEATURES - LIFE 04D
By Curtis Schieber
FOR THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
The first sound from the stage Sunday night at the Les Yeux Noirs concert in the Fawcett Center was an electrified drum rumble. This from a group that explores the aged traditions of Gypsy and klezmer music.
The point, of course, was that the band, led by two Jewish French brothers, is all about bursting boundaries while exploring musical heritages common to diverse cultures.
Eric and Olivier Slabiak blurred the lines between Gypsy and klezmer during much of the first set. The music purveyed by eastern Europe's nomadic Roma people meshed happily with Yiddish celebration music. An otherwise-Gypsy tune was graced by a melancholy, klezmer-style melody, the result of one performer's flighty acoustic fiddling and the doleful electric treatments applied to his brother's violin. The next tune, more klezmer by design, featured a fine contribution by Marian Miu on cimbalom, a hammered dulcimer common in Gypsy music.
An up-tempo, klezmer-based selection went further by adding a jazz-inspired guitar part to its James Bond-filmlike theme. The band's upcoming album provided some of the evening's material. Made entirely of original compositions, the collection puts the sound further in flux.
In the second set, a tune based on Baudelaire's poem Le Voyage balanced the French text with a Gypsy feel, and Miu offered a virtuosic display on cimbalom for a selection that bore an uncanny resemblance to the bluegrass barnburner Orange Blossom Special .
Still, the second half sorted the two root styles somewhat. The totally Gypsy scorcher Sanie Cu Zurgale offset a simple Yiddish ballad, for example.
The group's commitment to all of the music was evident, as was the technical ability of its members. The classically trained fiddlers were dazzling; Miu was educational about his instrument's potential; and Francois Perchat added a rich cello tone when he could break through.
For the brothers, though, the group is plainly a tool to find a cultural consensus in Europe's often-turbulent history.
- The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio Online Newspaper 2005


Here's my rave: "Les Yeux Noirs," a Paris-based world music band who have a new recording, "Tchorba" on the World Village label and who performed last Thursday night at UCLA's Royce Hall as part of UCLA LIVE.
"Les Yeux Noir" are a six person band led by brothers Olivier and Eric Slabiak, violinists and vocalists who combine klezmer and gypsy music in unique combinations and sing songs in French, Russian, Rumanian and Yiddish.
The band's name which means "the black eyes" in French, comes from the famous Russian song Ochi Chorna (which also means black eyes) performed by Django Reinhardt. The reference is to gypsies - but in French, the language that gave us nuance, one can also detect an allusion to "les pied noirs" (the black feet), which is how the French referred to the North African immigrants of the 1960s.
Olivier Slabiak told me that he and his brother formed the band about twelve years ago. At the time, young French musicians were discovering hip-hop and making it their own, exploring their own musical roots and creating new music forms.
Oliver and Eric Slabiak are second generation Parisians. Their grandparents were born in Poland and spoke a private language with them and their parents that, as a young child, Eric imagined was theirs alone. Years later he learned that language had a name: Yiddish.
Although Eric and Olivier were classically trained violinsts who won prizes at the Brussels Royal conservatory, they quit their studies to form their band. Thursday night they played songs fast and slow, joyous an elegiac, Yiddish lullabies and wild musical jams, and even a song that puts lyrics to Baudelaire's poem, "Le Voyage" which Eric Slabiak introduced saying: "Enjoy your trip."
When listening to Eric and Olivier Slabiak the word that comes to mind is "virtuoso." The two play in a way that provokes awe - The Charlie Daniels band would be impressed -- I have no doubt they could take on the Devil. They can play faster than fast yet have the facility to be wildly playful or deeply serious .They are the Hendrix of the violin - they don't take themselves too seriously but manage to infuse each song with emotion. It is hard to sit still when listening to the infectious beats they create.
At the UCLA Live event, "Les Yeux Noirs" opened for Chava Alberstein who is often described as "the Joan Baez of Israel" -meaning that she is a singer-songwriter who writes intimate love songs, as well as being a social activist who writes songs of protest and peace. But over the last decade Alberstein has been on something of a voyage herself. Albertstein immigrated with her Yiddish speaking parents to Israel from Poland when she was 6. In 1998 She released an album of Yiddish songs called "The Well," several of which she performed.
As I sat in the audience at Royce Hall, it seemed amazing that these two artists, one led by brothers raised as the grandchildren of immigrants in France, a country known for its cultural pride; the other, herself an immigrant to Israel - home of Modern Hebrew; would both be composing new music for Yiddish song and performing those songs in Los Angeles. It reminds me of advice someone once gave me: if you want to learn a language that's spoken anywhere in the world - don't learn French or Spanish - learn Yiddish.
Tom Teicholz - The Huffinton Post 2006


By DON HECKMAN, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Chava Alberstein is often called "the voice of Israel." And the sobriquet seemed particularly appropriate during her concert Thursday at UCLA's Royce Hall. Singing virtually her entire set in Hebrew and Yiddish, she ranged across the spectrum of Jewish song, from singalong traditional numbers to her own appealing originals.

Les Yeux Noirs, led by violin-playing brothers Eric and Olivier Slabiak, opened with a characteristically upbeat array of material bursting with rhythmic energy.

Their music, fascinating for its technical bravado, was even more impressive in its capacity to find linkages between Gypsy sounds, klezmer and traditional Jewish song, while spicing the musical goulash with sprinklings of jazz, reggae and electronica.
- Los Angeles Times 2006


By Josh Kun

Shma Yisrael
I AM AN American Jew and I have never been to Israel. When I was growing up in Los Angeles, it seemed like just about every other Jewish kid in braces I knew had taken one of those teen tours to the motherland and learned how to say "aliyah" like it was a new store at the Beverly Center. They came home with gum-snapping stories of wailing walls and kibbutzes and with new guttural pronunciations of Hebrew words that sounded nothing like what we mumbled and regurgitated in secularized transliteration at Hebrew school (where we sang Simon and Garfunkel and called it tradition). The closest I ever came to going to Israel was planting a tree there, and I didn't even do that. I signed my name to a certificate that supposedly meant that somewhere in the Holy Desert, where the real Jews lived, some real Jews were planting a tree in my name.

Over the years, as I grew less interested in organized Judaism, I grew less invested in Israel. It may have been an explicitly Jewish state – one that, like all other members of the Diaspora tribe, I was supposed to feel connected to – but it was still a state I didn't live in, full of people I didn't have much in common with. Maybe it's because the Holocaust survivors in my family didn't take Israel up on its 1948 offer to be a safe haven for genocide's dispossessed and instead came to L.A., where they lived and died without ever looking back. As a result, my Jewishness has always been locally Californian first and nationally American second, with Israel offstage as the imaginary center – the invisible Jewish wizard of the Diaspora's Oz.

Because the war against Iraq has been so often spun as a war for Israel by some of the right-wing Jewish members of the Bush imperium, and because too many American Jews cry anti-Semitism when these armchair warrior Jews are critiqued, and because too many American Jews equate opposing Israeli occupation of Palestine with advocating Israel's destruction, it has been hard (as well as politically irresponsible) not to think about Israel as something other than imaginary these days. On the one hand, there is the transcendental Israel of Jewish tradition that is, as Simon Rawidowicz wrote in 1948, "constantly on the verge of ceasing to be." On the other, there is the current brute political state of Israel that has turned this fight against disappearance into a fight for the disappearance of its Arab neighbors.

For an American Jew living far from these occupied front lines of bulldozing tanks and bulldozed human rights activists, what lies between these two Israels is a question of memory. Just how far should the memory of past suffering dictate present policy? How much should American Jews be driven by what they (are asked to) remember? The Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit asks similar questions in his new book, The Ethics of Memory (Harvard). "Are we obligated to remember people and events from the past?" he asks. "Who are the we who may be obligated to remember: the collective 'we,' or some distributive sense of 'we' that puts the obligation to remember on each and every member of the collective?"

These questions are implicit in the new albums by The Klezmatics and Les Yeux Noirs – groups who belong to a vaguely sketched Jewish "we," groups who make contemporary music that carries Jewish memory with it. The Klezmatics are radical New York Yiddishists who refuse to split the sacred from the profane (they riff on Holly Near and the Song of Songs), and Paris's Les Yeux Noirs are French sons of Polish immigrants, slick violin revivalists with a penchant for Jew and Gypsy sound summits (if Epcot ever had a "Jewish Diaspora" exhibit, Les Yeux are Strunz and Farah enough to be the house band). For Jewish listeners, there is no way of hearing the former's Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf! (Rounder) and the latter's Live (World Village) and not feel the challenge to face history straight on.

Israel haunts both recordings like it haunts the very notion of the Diaspora – the very thing that is there and not there at once. Listening to the music of both bands is, like it or not, an engagement with what you know or don't know about who you are. For me, at this historical moment, listening to the records is like facing an incessant, nagging question: Do you remember? Have you forgotten? I don't understand the Klezmatics' Yiddish or Hebrew. I'm not fluent in the Jewish and Gypsy melodies of Les Yeux. But I know this music deeply and feel somehow at its mercy. Because as a reform West L.A. Jew, none of this is my music, yet all of it is supposed to be, and sometimes when I listen to it, the conflict is all I can hear.

The Klezmatics call the album's most lulling, plaintive song "Di Gayster" ("Ghosts"). There are no words that specify which ghosts, but what I hear are the spirits we share – all of us – in the vast, contrary expanse of our collective memory. I hear the homelands we've never seen, the holy places that s - SF Guardian 2003


January 23, 2009


Propelled by violin-playing brothers, the Paris-based sextet Les Yeux Noirs played an intoxicating mix of gypsy and klezmer music last night in a packed Fawcett Center at Ohio State University.

The auditorium was filled for a reason – this was the third time Les yeux Noirs has played in Columbus. In fact, they were voted by CityMusic’s audiences as the favorite band ever to play at its World Music Series. Seeing that this is the local arts organization’s 25th season, it was fitting to bring back a fan favorite.

Alternating between incredibly fas and rhythmic instrumentals and mournful traditional and original songs, Les Yeux Noirs had many people clapping and dancing in the aisles over a nearly two-hour concert.

“It’s music for travelers,” violinist Eric Slabiak said of the group’s music, “so we wish you a good trip.”

For Les Yeux Noirs, their trip began in 1992. Brothers Eric and Olivier Slabiak were conservatory-trained violinists who dramatically changed their tune after hearing klezmer and gypsy music. They named their band Les Yeux Noirs (the black eyes) after a gypsy song played by jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.

For much of last night’s concert, Eric and Olivier were sawing away on their violins, seemingly dueling to see who could finish a refrain quickest. This was taken to the extreme during the final encore – Eric fired away with fast fiddling, while Olivier slowed it down with some creak sounds, thanks to some electronic effects foot pedals. Then, Olivier and Eric sizzled as they simultaneously drew their bows rapidly across Eric’s violin. It was a neat trick, and better yet, it sounded good.

Also impressive was the Slabiak brothers’ singing – not only in French, but in Yiddish. Like their violin playing, their voices were in unison, and were often joined by guitarist Francois Anastasio. Of the songs they sang, my favorites included the Yiddish lullaby Yankele, the gypsy anthem Djelem and Yiddish Mame.

The rest of the band was up to the Slabiaks’ virtuosity. Anastasio quickly strummed out rhythms on his electric guitar. Elise Marie Blanchard played nimble rhythms and cool solos on her electic bass, while drummer Aidje Tafial deftly kept time without playing too loudly on a kit loaned by Columbus Percussion. Last but not least, accordion player Dario Ivkovic was the glue, joining the Slabiaks on many of the melodies.

Earlier in the day, Les Yeux Noirs gave a workshop at the Arts Impact School, executive director Steve Rosenberg told the audience before the show. The kids initially thought they didn’t want to hear French music, but once they heard Les Yeux Noirs, “by the end these kids were dancing.”

Rosenberg’s idea to play a chamber music concert in the Short North 25 years ago has resulted in CityMusic providing the community with two high-quality music series and assorted outreach efforts. We wish it a good trip.

-Gary Budzak - Columbus Dispatch 2009


Discography

A Band of Gypsies - 1992 - Buda/Melodie
streaming http://www.lesyeuxnoirs.net/en_bandof.htm

Suite - 1994 - Buda/Melodie

Izvoara - 1997 - EMI/Odeon
streaming http://www.lesyeuxnoirs.net/en_izvoara.htm

Balamouk - 2002 - EMI/Odeon
streaming http://www.lesyeuxnoirs.net/en_balamouk.htm

Live - 2002 - EMI/Odeon

tChorba - 2005 - World Village
streaming http://www.lesyeuxnoirs.net/en_tchorba.htm

Best Oyf/Opre Scena - 2009

Photos

Bio

For over twelve years, LES YEUX NOIRS (" The Black Eyes") have been carving their own path down the road of Yiddish and Gypsy music, supported by a growing audience. Inspired by multiple influences, LES YEUX NOIRS invite us to share in moments of intense emotion and indescribable joy, as they weave their magic with extraordinary energy.

Both joyous and nostalgic, this nomadic music perfectly reflects the lives of a persecuted people in exile, caught up in a massive Diaspora, all with an unshakeable will to live.

In 2000, the band left behind traditional standards and enriched their line-up with drums, cymbalum, electric bass and guitar, incorporated their own compositions into the mix and reinterpreted a French song in the style of LES YEUX NOIRS. Balamouk, their fourth album, has made a name for itself as a reference in the genre, both in France and abroad .

In 2001, LES YEUX NOIRS debuted their career in the United States. To date, they have performed more than a hundred concerts in their six tours in the States and they now regularly tour the US three months out of every year.

The Live album, released in 2002, portrays the evolution of the band’s universe.

LES YEUX NOIRS have widened their original base out of the comfortable networks of cultural centers and theaters, conquering new venues worldwide: reggae, jazz and classic festivals, Californian biker clubs, churches and smoky cellars… Meeting these different audiences, the band has fulfilled their dreams and revealed its multiple facets.

The 2005 release, tChorba (“soup”) is made up of these contrasting experiences. It gathers various ingredients that were recorded, co-produced and mixed by the colorful Stuart Bruce (Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin, Al di Meola, Amadou & Maryam, Susheela Raman, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, etc.)

Self-produced by the band for the first time, this album includes some songs in French as well as rich and heady atmospheres that are just like these very eyes.

2009 sees the release of the double CD "Best Oyf/Opre Scena", combining a retrospective collection of favorites from the band's past with a 2007 live performance recording made by Radio France in Aix-les-Bains.