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Source Material

Source Material: Beirut, Gulag Orkestar

by Rachel Devitt

Source Material: Beirut, Gulag Orkestar


When Beirut burst (OK, shuffled quietly) onto the scene in 2006, Zachary Condon's rotating crew wowed fans and critics alike with both his precocious songwriting and the globe-trotting, youth-belying range of stylistic sources he employed. As the legend goes, the New Mexico native dropped out of school as a teenager and went bumming around Europe, where he discovered and thoroughly absorbed folk and pop music traditions from French musette to Balkan brass to (especially) Roma/Gypsy folk. Back home, he wove his sonic discoveries into the tapestry of his debut album, along with bits and pieces of other influences, like the mariachi music he often heard while growing up in Santa Fe, the inclinations of his fellow globally inclined American singer-songwriters, and, of course, a lot of indie rock and pop. Then he filtered it all through a sweet, pensive haze that constituted both a gesture toward Roma music's palpable sense of yearning and his own take on the tradition.

In short, Gulag Orkestar was a remarkable (and remarkably mature) debut for a young singer-songwriter who has gone on to live up to the hype (and continue his sonic globe-trotting) on subsequent albums, including this year's The Rip Tide. Join us as we retrace Beirut's steps and take a deep dive into that debut album's roots and routes.