The original Brothers of the Baladi (Michael Beach, Colby Girard, Pete Walter and Josh Mertz) began their career in Yuma, Arizona in 1975. They formed to back up local Belly Dancer named Zamara. It was Josh Mertz who came up with the name Brothers of the Baladi. Baladi is an Arabic word and it means folk, homeland and of the people. Beach was the sole survivor of that musical group who went on with the name and the inspiration to expand on this experience. Michael Beach was born in Niagara Falls, NY, schooled in NY and Ohio and was teaching elementary school in Arizona when the Middle Eastern music he heard on cassettes and records grabbed his ears, his soul and changed his life.
A fortunate turn of events in 1978 found Michael and his hand drums in front of thousands of people on The Main Stage of the Vancouver Folk Festival performing with the world-renowned composer/conductor David Amram. This performance was also an eye opening, life-changing experience for Michael. Later that same year, Michael was in Santa Cruz, CA where he was inspired by the widely popular Middle Eastern band, Sirocco. Events relocated Michael to Oregon where he soon met and teamed up with the late Joseph Pusey. Thus Phase Two of Brothers of the Baladi commenced. The Kaleidoscope, Spirit, The Incredible String Band and, now good friends, Sirocco influenced the duo’s sound. Michael and Joseph toured the US and Canada extensively, developed a loyal following and released three well loved Belly Dance albums: Dance with Gladness (1982), Food of Love (1983) and Beyond the Tenth (1989). Being gypsies at heart, they built and created the original infamous Gypsy Stage at the Oregon Country Fair, with dancer Leo De Flambeau—-a stage that hosted years of annual performances by the Brothers of the Baladi, Sirocco and many wonderful dancers. The new stage is still one of the main attractions at the Oregon Country Fair.
In 1989 they added bass guitarist J. Michael Kearsey to their emerging “Global Rock” sound. Joseph left in 1991 but with the help of Ishmael (kanoon) and Moroccan native Boujemma Razgui (oud, nay, violin and vocals) the Brothers released Further Journeys (1994). That album features traditional acoustic Arabic and Turkish music and is one of their biggest sellers ever. Phase Three through Thirty-Three was off and running!
In 1995 the band teamed up with Moroccan born Tariq Banzi (Al Andalus) – oud, bouzouki, nay, riq and drums) and Attilio (keyboards) to release their fifth CD, Eye on the World. Michael Shrieve, of the original Santana band and of Woodstock drum solo fame, performed, arranged and produced this album. Eye on the World includes The Brothers’ Middle Easternized version of The Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black, which has been heard on NPR Radio for many years hence.
“Brothers of the Baladi are the ‘real deal’ –– a fresh take on an ancient idea“ –The Beat Magazine
The 1998 CD, Heart of the Beast, includes a unique version of Over Under Sideways Down as well as fourteen other Middle Eastern, Celtic, Afro Pop, Reggae and worldly mixes. Still not content to do the same type of CD again, one of their most popular and best sellers continues to be their 2000 Holiday release, A Time of Peace. This CD features instrumental Christmas songs performed on traditional acoustic Middle Eastern instruments with Middle Eastern drums and rhythms. It spotlights Ishmael on the kanoon, Steve Flynn on ney, Stephen Skaggs on oud, Geoff George on bouzouki and Michael Beach on zurna, doumbek, zarb, riq, def and davul. Their favorite inside joke is “ So what’s Christmas got to do with the Middle East and what’s the Middle East got to do with Christmas?” (A comment actually heard at a Christmas concert!)
Hope (2003) includes acoustic and electric Arabic, Turkish and Armenian songs sung in both English and the traditional languages. John Bilezikjian (Master of the Oud) and Sulieman Feldthouse (the Kaleidoscope and Sirocco on oud, violin and jimbush and nay) are both featured and honored guests on this Middle Eastern / World Music CD. In fact Feldthouse performed on the Armenian folk song Laz. This is basically the same song that was one of Kaleidoscope’s (with David Lindley) hits from the 1960s. The Kaleidoscope called their tune Seven Ate Suite.
Another popular Belly Dance and traditional Middle Eastern CD, Presence of the Past (2005) brought a return to their traditional Arabic, Turkish and Armenian sound again. This album features Ishmael, Boujemma Razgui and Stephen Skaggs again as well as Brenda Erickson (violin) and Daniel Eshoo (oud and saz).
Their Grammy nominated 2008 CD Just Do What’s Right, features “Baladiized” versions of Buffalo Springfield’s For What it’s Worth, Neil Young’s Rockin in the Free World and Chris Rea’s Nothing to Fear. This disc also includes six politically charged Middle Eastern / Rock originals in addition to arrangements of five classic Arabic, Persian, Spanish and North Africans songs. On this CD Beach sings in Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, French, English and the old Anglo Saxon dialect of Northern England.
“This is organic world music that highlights the best elements of modern world music“ –Philadelphia Weekly
Brothers of the Baladi have 11 CDs distributed exclusively both in retail and digitally by Burnside Distribution Corporation. The band averages 6000 downloads a month. As a member of Music Supervisor (LA, CA) their music has also been chosen for film and screen. Their music has been featured on TV’s Lost (ABC), Sexual Healing (Showtime), Core Culture (USA Network) and their music on the documentary Holy Family of Egypt – Jesus in Egypt premiered in Cairo and is featured and heard by millions on The TBN Channel.
The Brothers’ whole music catalog can also be heard on radio: XM, NPR Radio, Thom Hartmann’s Air America and extensively on radio stations around the world.
Credits also include music for the Tony Award winning Oregon Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and Comedy of Errors, live theater for Kismet and Inside Out’s One, featured music for Quest of Immortality – Treasure of Ancient Egypt and soundtracks for over fifty Belly Dance videos.
They have shared the stage with Maria Muldaur, It’s a Beautiful Day, The Mamas and the Papas, 3 Mustaphas 3, Leon Redbone, Paul Horn, The Lovemongers (Heart), Poi Dog Pondering and Zachary Richard to name a few, and have headlines a zillion colleges, festivals, concert halls and clubs all over The US, Canada and Europe.
“Infectiously danceable – will lure congregates to the floor, seats of chairs and even table tops“ –Artvoice Buffalo, NY
Past band members Peter Helfand, Stu Fessant, Brad Rapp, Dennis Elmer, Richard Rothfus (Pink Martini), Mark Burdon (Vagabond Opera), Geoff George (Little Women), Richard Hankey, Kerry Movassagh and Daniel Eshoo have all helped shape the sound throughout the years.
The current lineup includes Beach, fronting the band on lead vocals, doumbek / Arabic tabla, mizmar, midjwiz, def, riq and Davul, Kearsey on vocals, electric bass and percussion, Clark Salisbury on vocals, oud, saz and guitars and Charles Pike on drum kit.
Throughout the many changes, Michael Beach still keeps the dreams alive of bridging the gap between the West and the Middle East. In addition to his work with Brothers of the Baladi, Beach is also a popular clinician, teaching Middle Eastern / World Music Drum Workshops around the globe. Michael’s 1992 Basic Middle Eastern Drums & Rhythms was the first Middle Eastern instructional video/DVD ever released. His 2004 solo CD, Hands of a Thousand Dances, is one of the most downloaded CDs in their catalog. J. Michael Kearsey, a composer in his own right, has recorded two solo albums. Suite for the Columbia Gorge (1991) and Silverthaw (1989) as well as four soundtracks for Oregon Pubic Broadcasting.
Whether they are teaching Middle Eastern music workshops, providing sound tracks for movies and TV shows, performing and recording traditional Middle Eastern music and Belly Dance music or headlining and rockin’ out music festivals and clubs around the world, Michael Beach and his Brothers of the Baladi continue to embrace the true meaning of World Music.
“Anyone who has not seen them live is missing out. People were dancing in a well lit public place and that never happens. Bottom line – they make you move.”Program Board – Cornell University Ithaca, NY