Blue Mountains Theatre, March 12


When it does catch fire, it blazes up in a sudden inferno. The two saxophones coil and snake around each other in a mad scramble of melody over tearaway rhythms punctuated by bucking syncopations and juddering stop-times. And then out the front there’s Sarah Bedak, with her eyes also ablaze and her voice by turns sultry or strident.

That’s Lolo Lovina at their best, upholding the proud Romani musical tradition, which has been pervasive and influential on a scale to rival African American music. It, too, has been steeled in persecution and suffering (the Roma, like the Jews, subjected to Nazism’s most brutish terror), spawning songs of lament, resilience, and, above all, celebration of this transient thing called life.

Sarah, Bedak. Photo: Sian Sandilands. Top photo: Yvonne Hellmers.

Lolo Lovina’s members know about that transience, this concert – part of Blue Mountains Theatre’s admirable Wanderlust series – marking a year since their futures fell off the COVID cliff. So they were as grateful to be playing as the audience was to be listening.

It’s no coincidence their music catches fire so suddenly, because the arrangements are routinely tinder-crisp. Yet at other times the songs felt oddly anaemic, as if the fussiness of some arrangements stole too much attention from the real business of having fun. Perhaps a year of not playing should take the blame, alongside the audience not being allowed to sing or dance.

Those skirling saxophones were Matt Ottignon’s alto and pianist Leonid Beshlei’s occasional soprano – a double-act that never failed to ignite the music. Leading the rhythmic charge was drummer Nenad Radic, aided by guitarist Nikos Sousamidis and bassist George Nikolopoulos. Amid the rampages Bedak was good enough to command attention, without being one to rock you back on your heels with her power, other than in the occasional pools of sadder reflection. It’s a band that would benefit from more backing vocals. But such highlights as the manic reimagining of Paint it Black, the saucy original Gypsy Love Machine and the anthemic Gelem Gelem certainly relit the Gypsy torch in Sydney.