Balkan Cabaret formed in May of 2001 when Mary Sherhart, acclaimed Balkan vocalist, started working with the folk dance orchestra Nisava. We had a common desire to revisit and perform those wonderful Balkan standards heard in cafes, many from over 50 years ago. Balkan Cabaret is: Joe Finn, violin and clarinet; Michael Lawson, accordion and vocals; Steve Ramsey, guitar, tambura, bugarija and vocals; Mary Sherhart, vocals; Rich Thomas, bass and vocals.
Balkan Cabaret continues its journey into the passing world of starogradski (Old City songs of the Balkans). We have been inspired by many warmly received performance experiences and motivated by the irrepressible emotion this music releases in so many listeners. The unexpected generosity of our ethnic audiences brought us a wealth of music sources - mostly old, but some new - with their hope that we would perform their beloved songs.
We recorded our new CD, Somewhere Far Away, shortly after our vocalist, Mary Sherhart, returned from a six-week residency in Bosnia at the Sevdah Institute where she studied and recorded with the legendary sevdah artist and teacher, Omer Pobric. Mary's experience provided us with confidence to pursue this genre of traditional urban music from Bosnia and Herzegovina in the recording. For this project, it was important for us to include friends from the Seattle-area ethnic communities who have been inspiring and supportive guides to the music. Our guest artists include three different generations of immigration experiences: they are Dragi Spasovski from Skopje, Macedonia, a master teacher of Balkan singing and dance and a former member of Seattle's Koleda Ensemble; John Morovich, a Croatian-American musician, conductor and arranger; and Marko Vukadinovic, a recent arrival from Cacak, Serbia, Dance Director of the Balkana Dance Ensemble. Additionally, Polly Tapia Ferber, from Santa Fe, a master teacher of percussion and a member of the New York-based bands including Orkestra Keyif, Merak, Eros Taksimi, and Transition, enthusiastically joined us in this project.
Balkan Cabaret is grateful and honored to play this music. We endeavor to infuse every note with respect and appreciation for the cultures that created these treasures.
Reviews of New CD "Somewhere Far Away"
This Seattle-based band draws on the traditions of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Croatia and pulls them together in a smooth-as-mousse collection of love songs and party music. Vocalist Mary Sherhart’s dark, creamy alto is at the center of it. Michael Lawson’s glistening accordion lends a sensuous air to even the most upbeat dance tune. While the music is firmly planted in the Balkans, they add a trace of tango to “Purvi grjah (First Sin).” A polished, professional debut.
Dirty Linen Dec/Jan 06-07, www.dirtylinen.com/linen/127/
Balkan Cabaret are a five-piece outfit based in Washington State. Their CD is well presented and recorded and whilst giving info on the four guest musicians, provides no info on who Balkan Cabaret actually are. I assume they are fronted by vocalist Mary Sherhart, an American who has become so immersed in Bosnian sevdalinka that she has recorded with accordeon master Omer Pobric. The band that backs Mary is certainly gifted and across 18 tracks they tackle all manner of Bosnian song with supple playing and great confidence. The music is all acoustic -- double bass, violin, accordeon, guitar, percussion, tamburica -- and never feels stilted or flashy. Mary sings with throaty ease and appears fluent in a variety of languages. The intensity of the performance and the refusal to rely on standards (i.e. Bregovic's Ederlezi or Esma/Taraf numbers) means Balkan Cabaret work as much more than either a tribute or restaurant band. What's lacking is the occasional moment of surprise that swings at you on recordings by Mostar Sevdah Reunion and co. Beyond that: highly recommended.
Garth Cartwright, fRoots Magazine, May 2006, www.frootsmag.com
Mary and Balkan Cabaret are unique. I have never heard a band like this. They perform music from the whole Balkan region - Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro. Their CDs bring joy and happiness into my heart. I know that their music will survive everything. Their interpretations are amazing. You can't think that they are not from
these countries. So many other groups try, but they can't. Balkan
Cabaret CAN and they are the best I have ever heard.
I thought that nobody will ever sing as my grandmother Nada Mamula did. I was wrong. When I first heard Mary, I was speechless. She is a person who knows how to sing. She understands sevdalinka and all its secrets. She knows where to stop, how to say the phrase. Her voice is a voice of an angel, with the kind of power well known to heavenly creatures. I am not possessive in this case. I am objective and I have the right to say this. She is one and only.
Ivan Mamula, grandson of legendary Sevdahlinke singer, Nada Mamula
I got your CD - and I am very surprised with the quality . Excellent !!!
It is amazing that a group of Americans can play so well our music - even I am very sure that there are not so many bands in the Balkans with a performance like you guys. Very, very nice CD. The songs are chosen very nicely- I like it. Nice overview on Balkan music. I would say that the flavor of the CD is very traditional - and very high quality. And there not so many Bosnian ladies to sing Sevdah so good as Mary :)!
Dragi Sestic, Manager- Mostar Sevdah Reunion, www.snailrecrods.com
Ethnic Communities Love Balkan Cabaret!
That night at Bronko's Restaurant was a special treat for everyone. All had a good time. The orchestra was superb and impressive. Should this group ever appear in your area, I would encourage you to see them for yourself and enjoy an evening of beautiful music. It is amazing to see what this group has accomplished for the love of our music. They are truly remarkable."
"As the orchestra started playing their first song, I watched and listened intently as Mary Sherhart wove her musical magic. For the rest of the evening, she proceeded to captivate the audience and keep them spellbound."
"Mary has a beautiful voice and a lot of stage presence. She strolled through the lounge with a hand-held microphone and rendered one song after another, singing our favorite pesme and pleasing the crowd. Her diction was flawless, and her phrasing unique."
"Mary Sherhart's style, at times, was reminiscent of the late Vinka Ellesin with a touch of Nada Mamula. At other times, she even reminded me of Belgrade's famous cafe singer, Sofka."
Milan Opacich in the January/February '05 issue of SERB WORLD
The lights went dim. The candles glowed. The melodic soothing Balkan ballads filled the air. The Balkan Cabaret evokes the spirit of the people whose lives are very storied. The candles flickered to the Balkan circle dances which enrich each night that the Cabaret graces Porta Greek Taverna with their song and dance.
Demetri Georgakopoulos, owner, Porta Greek Taverna, Seattle
On March 6, 2004, on their first great concert in front of the Bosnian and Herzegovinan audience in Seattle, Balkan Cabaret simply captured the hearts of our people. Four months after the concert people still talk at Bosnian gatherings "about that American woman Mary who sings as if she were one of ours" and " who appeared on the stage in shalvars with the small women fez ornamented with golden coins and with headscarf with fine handmade laces." "May her mother's milk which fed her be blessed!" "What a woman! What a voice! She sings like the late Nada Mamula.
When Mary or "Meyra," as Bosniaks call her now in Seattle as an endearment, started singing the song " U dul basti, " many people felt as if a strange membrane in their chest was pierced, a membrane to which over time we had grown so accustomed that we were not aware of its existence anymore. It felt as if all of that war hardship suddenly fell off from our hearts. As if somebody said a prayer against fear for us. All pain was removed with ease.
Once when we were transferred into timelessness, with the song "Bosno moja" Mary woke us up in the Bosnia of some worriless and happy times. All people started dancing in chairs when they heard the song "Omer beze", and when "Muyo started shoeing his horses by moonlight," all people were already on their feet dancing. That night one could have heard many sevdalinkas. One pearl after another. Balkan Cabaret is a harbor of sevdalinka pearls - a real treasure chest of love (sevdah). They are simply unbelievable!
At the end of the concert it was not clear who had more fun - Bosnians and Herzegovinans and their friends and neighbors with Balkan Cabaret or Balkan Cabaret with the audience who did not let them stop playing until very late in the night. That night in Seattle was filled with joy, laughter, happiness, song, and line dancing as if there was a wedding party going on. No, it was not. That was just "Meyra's" song, which gave wings to our people and returned them to some times when they lived like human beings. After the concert we went back home convinced that life is still worth being human and that we still have a lot of life concealed in our hearts.
Balkan Cabaret, thank you very much for the revelation.
Denis Basic, Director Ensemble Sevdah
Seattle, July 2004
Reviews of First CD
"The new group's debut CD, "Nostalgic Café Songs From the Balkans," is a winner.... Sometimes rousing and rowdy, but more often sentimental and achingly beautiful, these are the kind of songs that wedding crowds break out with the brandy, late at night."
Paul de Barros, The Seattle Times, Friday, January 10, 2003
"...the recording is intoxicating for bringing to life, yet again, Balkan songs long heard in cafes and clubs."
R. M. Campbell, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Tuesday, December 10, 2002
"...one of the most pleasant Balkan CDs to come our way in recent years."