Every year, WOMADelaide offers the best in music, arts and dance from around the world, and this year is no exception.
The festival brings us the weirdest, most wonderful and utterly unique sights and sounds from across the planet, including acts like Super Rats.
Playing this weekend on Saturday and Sunday evenings, Super Rats are described as a hijacked taxi ride, bringing classic Romanian and Roma (gypsy) tunes from the backstreets of Bucharest.
And while they sound like they have come straight from a faraway, exotic place, the band actually hails from Canberra and feature a cimbalom player accompanied by accordion, violin and double bass.
Cimbalom player Tim Meyen says he discovered the unique and enormous instrument when he was a teen and has even been as far as Romania to study its secrets.
“I fell in love with the sound of the instrument when I was 15,” he says. “When you’re younger you just think, I would really like to do that. And luckily, where I live here in Canberra, there was an instrument maker at that time, a lady who made similar instruments to that. I was able to get in touch with her and she built me the first instrument that I played. Then I started going over to Romania to learn music from people there.
“The cimbalom is used in lots of countries. There’s a Chinese version, there’s a Middle Eastern version, from lots of other European countries too, like Hungary. The reason I got into the Romanian music is just because to me it’s the best music for that instrument. You do the most cool stuff. You play the most interesting parts and you can play the melody, play the accompaniment, and there’s heaps to do so, I really like that about it.”
Super Rats’ music is frenetic, contagious and makes you want to get up and dance; and the band is one of a kind here.
“There’s really not many bands in Australia that are playing this sort of music, and not many bands that have gone into it as far as we have. There’s a few bands that play kind of gypsy music or music from Eastern Europe and they play a little bit of a Greek tune, and a tune from Turkey, and a tune from Serbia or whatever; a mix of everything. And what I wanted to do was, instead of just glossing over the surface, I really wanted to get into this style of music,” Tim says.
“So, I went to Romania the first time in 1998 and I’ve been going there a lot since then. I’ve been seven times there and then stayed for a long time and had lessons with people who are the best musicians in this style. So our band is kind of like the ‘uber-nerds’ of this music. We are way more into it than anybody I know.”
And the passion for the instrument runs so deep that the band has needed to transport it to gigs in a range of vehicles.
“It is really big and it’s heavy and it’s very inconvenient. You know it takes a long time to tune as well.,” Tim laughs. “We don’t do that much touring, but for WOMADelaide, we’re sending it over in a crate on a truck and then we’ll fly over and meet it. Sometimes we put in the car and drive, that’s possible to do. In Romania when I was there, we sometimes would put it in a horse cart.”
The name of the band, Super Rats has come from a Romanian word meaning ‘annoyed’ or ‘angry’, which Tim explains was the best name they came up with at the time.
“We didn’t have a name for the band at the beginning and I thought maybe we should call it something like what a Romanian band would be called, but Romanian bands don’t usually pick very good names. They don’t translate into English very well, let’s put it that way. In Romania they would just call it something like ‘Tim’s Band’, or something like that, which doesn’t really fly in Australia. I don’t think people would go for that,” he laughs.
“One of the pieces that we were rehearsing early on had this word ‘supărat’ in it, which in Romanian, that means, if I say I’m supărat, then I’m upset, I’m angry about something or I’m annoyed. It can go from pretty mild to being really quite angry. It’s a good word for that and one of the guys in the band said, that sounds like Super Rats, we could be called that and I thought, well, we don’t have any better ideas. Let’s just make a little kind of dad joke. But, you know, it stuck. And one of the things I like doing is drawing and if we’re called Super Rats, I get to draw a little sketches of rats to put on a poster and that’s kind of fun.”
But he and the band are not angry or annoyed about coming to WOMADelaide and Tim says he is looking forward to being part of the festival.
“It looks really great and I’ve never been before. There’s a couple of acts that I’m pretty interested in seeing. I used to see some Indian concerts that we put on here in Canberra and we went one time and heard Dr L Subramaniam who’s a violin player who’s going to be at WOMADelaide this year. We heard a whole concert of him playing Indian music and he’s really amazing. It’ll be good to hear him again,” he says.
“The other act I thought was really interesting is Ustad Saami from Pakistan. He is playing some kind of really ancient music with a special scale only he uses. And that kind of thing really appeals to me. He sounds like he’ll be great.”
Super Rats comprises four performers, who are all great friends with an appreciation of good biscuits.
“The violin player is Pip Thompson who is my partner in life and we live together as well as playing music. She very kindly agreed to play in the same band as me. I don’t know whether many people would like to play in the same band as someone in their family, but it works pretty well for us,” Tim says.
“The accordion player is Alistair Price and he actually used to be my next door neighbour. I heard the accordion just drifting over the fence one day and I thought, ‘Oh that sounds like something I recognise’. He really likes Bulgarian music as well as Romanian music. They kind of have some similarities and he was playing the Bulgarian music in those days and I just leaned over the fence and said, ‘Hey, do you want to come and have a jam?’
“And then our bass player is Simon Millman and we’ve known for ages. He was actually primary school friends with Pip. It’s a close knit band and we all live basically in the same suburb of Canberra, kind of like five minutes walk away from each other, which is really good, because there’s no substitute for being in the same room at the same time and being able to talk about things and that’s kind of what we do. We meet up and sample different biscuits and play through a bit of music and, it’s a really nice way to work.”
You can catch Super Rats at WOMADelaide on Friday at 8:00pm at Frome Park Pavilion and Sunday 7:00pm at the Zoo Stage.
Grab your tickets HERE.