By Michael Grondin
CALGARY — There’s an old song from the coast of the Ukraine on the Black Sea called “Little Lemons.” It’s a gangster tune; ‘lemons’ is slang for money. In Toronto, thousands of kilometres away, an orchestra of traditional musicians grew out busking for change on the street. But it was not just for pocket change of passers by, but in hopes to spread culture of traditional forms of music making. That band is The Lemon Bucket Orkestra (LBO), a 15-member Balkan-inspired gypsy-punk outfit bridging the gap between the old ways of traditional folk music and the culture of today.
“We started as a busking band, and we put out our bucket and worked for our lemons out on the street,” says Mark Marczyk, violinist and singer of LBO.
The songs of LBO are founded in roots music from Eastern Europe, with a wide range of instrumentation and inspiration from other parts of the world. LBO sings in many different languages with an endless list of instruments and styles.
Marczyk spent time living in Ukraine and upon returning home to Canada he started working with members of Worldly Savages, a world music group with an accordion player from France, a drummer that played samba from Mexico and a bassist that was into circus performance.
After playing on the street with Worldly Savages, members of the community began to take notice and LBO grew and grew and grew.
“It grew from this diverse street project into a full-fledged band that with some very outgoing, interesting musicians,” he says. “It’s a whole community of musicians that lead to a big sound of celebration.”
In the early stages of LBO, the members were invited to tour Eastern Europe. They spent day and night busking for three weeks and raised $15,000, getting them all the way to Romania. The band garnered international attention for playing on a delayed Air Canada flight on their way to Romania and later.
Marczyk says touring and playing in Eastern Europe was life changing.
“It gave us a sense of the culture we were drawing on and it gave us a lot of inspiration and an understanding of the real roots of the music we play,” says Marczyk.
“It was a completely different world, and the band had a chance to see that world, but not only from a musical perspective, but also the life, the streets, the food the people — to really understand the culture that we want to share with the rest of the world.”
In 2012, LBO released their debut album, Lume, Lume. The band will be releasing their second full-length album titled Moorka on March 24. The album was recorded in a barn in Waterloo, Ontario. Marczyk says it has a new blend of emotions and inspirations in its sound.
“It was recorded live off the floor in this beautiful barn in Southern Ontario, so it has this traditional Canadian rootedness with a lot of the weight of our experiences over the past year,” says Marczyk. “There’s this dynamic tension to the music that we’re really proud of to have on record and to share with our fans and the community. It’s a whole range of emotions that come from a range of cultures and backgrounds.”
So how does a 15-piece traditional-European-gypsy-punk-band from Canada fit within a fast-paced digital world? Marczyk says that though LBO uses current digital means of sharing their music, there is a tendency to forget where the sounds are drawn from.
“The roots of music [are] very expressive, and rhythmic, using parts of the body, using voice and drums, and instruments that we make by hand. We express ourselves and the moments of sadness and joy we share together as a community through that,” says Marczyk.
“Community is embedded into the essence of the music.”
LBO will be touring Canada and they will be playing Festival Hall in Calgary on April 8.AB, Alberta, Festival Hall, The Lemon Bucket Orkestra