For almost a dozen years now, Orkestar Kriminal has created daring arrangements of old underworld ballads in 12 different languages, telling the tales of impoverished peoples the world over, driven to a life of crime. With their unique instrumentation (upright bass, trombone, saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, musical saw, bouzouki, baglamas, electric surf guitar, drums, piccolo, flute, violin, accordion, organ, voice) and a refreshing gender-mashup in their musicianship, Orkestar Kriminal has arranged some of the world’s long-forgotten criminal ballads with all the fervour and gusto that they could muster. After continuous touring and a multitude of festival performances, the biggest criminal punks in world music released Razlomanye Ryobra in 2020, hitting the #1 spot on the Earshot “National International” charts. Orkestar Kriminal is now fired-up with "Originali", their first ever all-originals album produced by Grammy award-winning Producer-Engineer: Mark Lawson, out March 15th, 2024 on CPL-Music. Their bittersweet melodies are delightfully infectious, so for Orkestar Kriminal, there is no turning back. 


In the extensive arrangement work Orkestar Kriminal did on "Ryobra", the band began to develop a unique sound that was all their own. Songs took on a character of original composition, and the band knew then that they were up to the challenge of creating "Originali". As a 10-piece, Orkestar Kriminal already has the perfect set up for a balanced approach, with each member composing roughly 1-track each. The compositions were meant to be skeletal, so as to leave room for the band to arrange them as an ensemble, giving rise to the improvisational expression and stylistic sound that Orkestar Kriminal had become known for. Along with their original Yiddish, Greek and Spanish compositions, the band worked extensively with native-speaking linguistic collaborators from all over the world to compose lyrics in Hindi, Mixteco, Arabic, Polish, Bosnian and Norwegian Bokmål. With all these nuanced, stylized arrangements, and 9 different languages featured, "Originali" is Orkestar Kriminal's most ambitious album yet. 


When the band began to come up with song concepts for this album, they was taken aback by the overall theme of the storylines where the "underworld" becomes the "overworld". The criminals in these compositions were often those in positions of power, with wealth and status, and the crimes were committed against those that have less access to resources. Take "Sin Miedo", for example, sung in Spanish and Mixteco, it tells the true story of indigenous Mexican factory workers in Tennessee, whose boss collaborated with the local sheriff to send them to jail after they did a sit-in demanding they be compensated for months of unpaid work. The criminals in this story were the factory owner and the sheriff who intentionally detained these unpaid workers on false charges. In their Hindi jammer "Shaapit Heera", the thieves of the Kohinoor diamond are rulers and empires the world over, who soon crumble from it's mysterious curse. "Falsh" sung in both Polish and Yiddish, is musically mashed-up as if it were Greek Rembetika, and tells the true story of a Jewish-American criminal rabbi who sold fake Holocaust-era Torah scrolls on the open market at inflated prices. "Wardatun Li Ajlin Qalbin Mansiyin", although written in Arabic, sounds very much like an old 1930s Parisien bistro waltz, and relates the story of Zeus and Io from ancient Greek mythology to the crime of sexual assault on young women, that with the #metoo movement, has shaken the ground of the indie music scene. There are many songs such as this on "Originali", where the criminal narrative has been flipped in surprising and powerful ways, helping to shape the evolution of folk music storytelling.  


Orkestar Kriminal's "Originali" will be launched with the band's first ever European tour, anchored around a feature performance at the Jewish Music Today Fürth. One of the band's key specialties has been uncovering rare archival Yiddish criminal songs, creating dynamic, improvised arrangements with them, mixing in all kinds of genres like psychedelic surf, experimental rock, and otherwise. This unique and often disregarded genre of criminal music has become a part of them, in such a way that the band felt it only natural to give back to the collective narrative.  So, including original Yiddish compositions (such as Keynemsland, Az Iz Vert Mir Shver, Falsh), plus an original doina/nigun (A Shpatsir In Shtot) on Originali is Orkestar Kriminal's way of giving back to this community. Modern Yiddish compositions are few and far between, and those who take the time to create beautiful new works in this genre are helping to maintain a cultural heritage that was almost lost entirely after the Holocaust. 


Originali is a crucial, groundbreaking album for Orkestar Kriminal, and it uniquely thrives in the collective nature that is Montréal. Very often these compositions are influenced by the vast range of musical cultures the band has been exposed to in diverse neighbourhoods such Montréal's Parc-Extension, which very much "gave birth" to the band. For many of Orkestar Kriminal's members, who come from assimilated immigrant families, it was the first time they had ever composed music in the original language of their ancestors. For others, it was the first time these fiercely talented virtuosos had ever composed a song at all. With the challenge of 10 composers and 9 different languages set before them, Orkestar Kriminal managed to achieve the impossible, creating a work that is just as fluid as it is eclectic, with that characteristic Orkestar groove the band has become known for. Drenched in expression, celebrated and improvised, this is "cabaret noir" at its finest!