4 To Watch: Beirut

A Trip Around The World

Music Features Beirut
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Hometown: Albuquerque, N.M.
Sole member: Zach Condon
Fun fact: Condon has worked in wood shops, carving Victorian-era frames, and he currently builds shelves in a Brooklyn furniture shop.
Why he’s worth watching: A post about Beirut by one of Condon’s friend’s somehow caught on, sending the blogosphere into an overnight frenzy. Since then Condon’s been featured on over 100 blogs and websites.
For fans of: Gogol Bordello, Andrew Bird, Rufus Wainwright 

Zach Condon can’t stay in one place. He grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., and later moved to Virginia. His father built their house to a soundtrack of Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen classics. Condon moved back to New Mexico, attending high school in Santa Fe for a while, then he dropped out and headed east.

Soon he found himself in Europe. In Germany, he hung out with accordion players and learned about Balkan brass bands. The Balkan music followed him to Prague, where he wrapped himself in the local songs, and then to Amsterdam, where he visited a brass-loving cousin. “We stayed up all night going through records,” says Condon. “I took a long list home.”

But, wherever he’s traveled, the compass has always pointed to Paris. Rich in leftover gypsy traditions and old-fashioned chansons, the City Of Light seeped into his blood. “I always wanted to be there,” he says. “I can definitely see myself living in Paris.”

Beirut, Lebanon, is a cosmopolitan seaport city, often called “the Paris of the Middle East.” It’s home to intellectuals and artists who push cultural boundaries. It’s a fitting namesake for Condon’s latest project.

Although he now calls Brooklyn, N.Y., home and his debut, Gulag Orkestar, was recorded in the States, Condon’s travels explain its youth-hostel vibe. An aural trip around the world featuring gypsy orchestras and waltzing rhythms, the record is an instrumental circus of glockenspiels, trumpets, accordions, pianos, organs, ukuleles, clarinets and mandolins, complimented by Condon’s operatic warble. It’ll no doubt be filed under “indie rock,” but it’s actually a Balkan/French/German/Middle Eastern fusion, written and performed by an American. Now, that’s world music.

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