Arts & Culture

The ever-evolving Makedonians play Balkan music that ‘breaks the frame’

The Makedonians have had about 200 regional musicians play as part of the band over the years. On Monday, you can hear them play their energetic Balkan music at Olympia’s Rhythm & Rye.
The Makedonians have had about 200 regional musicians play as part of the band over the years. On Monday, you can hear them play their energetic Balkan music at Olympia’s Rhythm & Rye. Courtesy of The Makedonians

While studying abroad nearly 40 years ago, Tom “Diz” Carroll fell in love with Greece and its energetic and rhythmically complex music.

“When I first went to Greece, I realized, ‘These are my people,’ ” said Carroll of Tacoma, whose family background is Irish-American. “My heart is Greek.”

He’s followed his heart ever since, spreading Balkan music through the Northwest via The Makedonians, an ever-evolving band playing Monday in Olympia.

“It’s different from a regular band,” he said. “After 35 years, I could almost call it a school. People play with us and learn the style, and some of them move on and join other groups.”

The result is a musical community that extends from Bellingham to Portland. Over the years, some 200 musicians have been members — including highly regarded multi-instrumentalist/composer Amy DeNaio of Seattle — with some moving through, some dropping in here and there, and some sticking with it to become core members.

Sonja Wiedenhaupt of Olympia is in the last category. The flutist and singer — who also plays with the Brazilian combo Choro Tomorrow and the funky brass band Artesian Rumble Arkestra — was captivated by The Maks since she first encountered them some 15 years ago. She joined soon after.

“I thought, ‘Wow!’ ” she told The Olympian. “The rhythms and the harmonies and the energy. It felt really, really good. And they looked like they were having so much fun.”

She’d heard Balkan music before, but not played live by locals, including longtime member John Ridgway of Olympia, a multi-instrumentalist who leads Artesian Rumble and started Samba Olywa.

Wiedenhaupt loves the music for its infectious and widely varying rhythms that get the body moving — much Balkan music was created for folk dancing — and for its mysterious, metaphorical lyrics, lyrics she feels she’s still coming to understand.

Of the rhythmic variety, she said: “It breaks the frame. … It’s expansive. It makes me listen in a whole new way.”

Being part of this community is, she said, “better than therapy.”

“I never came to music for the purpose of performing,” she said. “I came to the music for the purpose of being able to sit with people and feel like I’m part of something bigger.”

The Makedonians

  • What: The 35-year-old band — which has a “k” to reflect the spelling and pronunciation used in the region — plays the traditional music of the Balkans and the near East, spiced with a bit of American jazz.
  • When: 8 p.m. Monday
  • Where: Rhythm & Rye, 311 Capitol Way N., Olympia
  • Cover charge: $5-$25 donation suggested
  • More information: 360-705-0760, themakedonians.com
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