The Polskadots and Mazaika

Mark Bignell celebrates Belfast's international entertainment

Wednesday May 9 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome. To celebrate the occasion, Belfast City Council and the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival organised the EU night at the John Hewitt.

The bar stocked a selection of beers and wines from all over the EU and just before the music began a variety of foods from across the continent was handed out. The food was delicious.

The Greek moussaka went down well with festival-goers. Despite the fact that my plastic spoon wasn’t able to cut through the aubergine, the food was a welcome surprise and set a comfortable, informal tone for the night.

The first group to perform was The Polskadots, a quartet of female musicians from Finland and Cork. The group comprises of two violins, a guitar and an accordion, playing songs from across Europe. They skip through a variety of genres including tango, polska, gypsy and Finish and Irish folk.

The Polskadots, impressively, sang in Roman, Finnish, Irish and Italian. They also mentioned that Finland is the promised land of Tango and Karaoke and that many Finnish folk songs describe how miserable it is to live in Finland, and how great it must be in the USA.

The Polskadots finished with a heartwarming, subtle version of the gypsy classic 'Mori Shej', to a silent crowd which exploded with applause at the end.

The highlight of the night was Mazaika, a wonderfully refreshing duo featuring an incredibly talented violinist, Sarah Harrison, and the charismatic Russian accordionist and tenor, Igor Outkine. The pair ran through a set of songs ranging from Russian romance, folk and gypsy fiddle, tango, jazz-swing and Outkine’s own compositions.

Harrison’s gypsy violin and Outkine’s accordion playing were impeccable. The swing and jazzy elements of their music could have made the evening somewhat more serious but their on stage personae added the perfect pinch of comedy to the performance.

Between songs, Outkine’s remarks to the packed pub consistently raised smiles, and the duo’s blend of old swing and classics such as crowd pleaser 'O Sole Mia', which prompted a surprise sing-along, proved their capability to entertain a packed house.

After a several encores including a tender rendition of 'Ta ostatnia niedziela' (Burnt by the Sun), a Polish (or Russian, depending on where you're from) classic by Jerzy Petersburski, which features on the Russian film of the same name.

They followed this with a spectacular variation of 'Oczi Cziornyje', again from a soundtrack. But this track, Outkine pointed out with a hint of pride, a re-working of a traditional gypsy track, has been recorded for the David Cronenberg movie Eastern Promises. A Russian mafia thriller set in London, due out later this year.

After an energetic and entertaining evening the band finished with the ever-popular Russian traditional favourite 'Kalinka', to an animated standing ovation and boisterous applause. A fitting end to a fantastic night of entertainment. I hope Mazaika return to Belfast sometime soon.