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Let’s say you show up at Capitol Hill’s Russian Community Center next Friday or Saturday, make your donation, and wander into the Second Annual Balkan Night Northwest. What should you expect?

“A whirlpool of human energy,” says Devon Leger of Hearth Music, a Seattle promoter getting word out about this high-adrenaline festival of Balkan music in all its varieties.

“The event is so compelling for anyone who doesn’t have any experience with Balkan music,” Leger says. “Basically you walk in and are immediately swept into lines of ecstatic dancers. A lot of Balkan dancing happens in circles, dancers holding hands and moving in concentric circles that almost spin into spirals. They go all over the room and you can pick up the footwork quickly by watching people. The joy of Balkan Night is getting pulled into a tradition really quickly, without any experience.”

If ecstasy sounds like a pretty good time, then this expanded, follow-up edition of 2012’s original Balkan Night Northwest promises endless entertainment. More than 30 bands from multiple Balkan communities in our region and across the U.S. will participate, playing everything from guerrilla brass blasts to bagpipes to frenetic rhythms and inspired singing. Master musicians from Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia and more are on the two-day program.

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Among the special guests is a pair of Albanian music legends (and spouses), vocalist Merita Halili and accordion player Raif Hyseni, who will be accompanied by his orchestra. Halili and Hyseni will perform at Balkan Night, then appear at the Triple Door for a full set on March 17.

Last year’s one-day festival packed 800 people into the Russian Community Center, a reflection of growing excitement about Balkan music in the Pacific Northwest. Next August finds the 17th annual Balkanalia weekend underway near Portland, with multiple acts and classes for beginners in singing and dancing. In Seattle, a Google user group lists frequent showcases for Balkan music.

“All over the Northwest there are pockets of Balkan communities from the various countries, people who came here for different reasons,” says Leger. “Immigrants and first-generation Americans get involved.

“There’s also a community of people not necessarily from the Balkans but who are engaged with the music. Within every Balkan country there are so many subdivisions of music. The variety is staggering.”

The Balkan Night bill certainly captures that diversity. Among the artists is Dromeno, an in-demand family band that has been playing Greek music for 20 years; Orkestar Zirkonium, a 13-member brass-and-drum ensemble with a pan-Balkan approach but also drawing upon jazz and funk; Macedonian folk artist Dragi Spasovski; and Kafana Republik, which re-creates the music of Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Serbia.

Be prepared to move at this colorful, community celebration, says Leger.

“Balkan Night is a transformative experience for people used to standing around at concerts with their hands in their pockets.”

Tom Keogh:

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