Asphalt Tango Records

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Asphalt Tango Records
Founded 2002
Distributor(s) List distributors
Genre World music
Country of origin Germany
Location Berlin
Official website Official Web site

Asphalt Tango Records is a Berlin-based record label specialising in Balkan Gypsy music and East European rock, psychedelic folk, cabaret and electronic music.


Asphalt Tango Production was formed by Henry Ernst and Helmut Neumann in 1997. The two men became friends in the 1980s in the city of Leipzig where both were working a variety of odd jobs (Ernst as waiter and nurse, Neumann as shoemaker for disabled persons, night receptionist). In 1989 both attended the Monday Protests in Leipzig. Upon the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany Ernst and Neumann shifted to Berlin.

In 1996 Ernst was travelling in Moldavia, north-eastern Romania. Upon arriving in the tiny Gypsy village of Zece Prăjini Ernst learned that a highly distinctive regional brass band tradition still existed there. Impressed by the talent he heard and certain a wider public would enjoy hearing a Romanian Gypsy brass band, Ernst returned to Germany and set about booking a tour.

Fanfare Ciocărlia's first tour and the formation of Asphalt Tango[edit]

Ernst managed to book twenty dates for the musicians now called Fanfare Ciocărlia in Germany and France spread across 45 days in March–April, 1997. Ernst, realising the work was too much for one person, invited Neumann to help. Initially, Asphalt Tango existed solely as management and booking agents for Fanfare Ciocărlia.

Establishment as an independent record label[edit]

By 2002 the three Fanfare Ciocărlia albums released on Berlin's record label Piranha were amongst the most popular albums that label had ever handled, the combined sales proved to Ernst and Neumann that they could operate Asphalt Tango as an independent label. They released their first album Ma Maren Ma by the Bulgarian Gypsy singer Jony Iliev (produced by Ernst and Neumann), in November, 2002.

Asphalt Tango Records licensed its next two CD releases. The first album was Hungarian Gypsy band Besh o DroM's Can't Make Me. The next album was Serbian Gypsy band Earth Wheel Sky Band's Waltz Rromano. Asphalt Tango's next release was the Fanfare Ciocărlia DVD The Story Of The Band. This DVD incorporated live concert footage, the Ralf Marschalleck film Iag Bari - Brass On Fire (which follows Fanfare Ciocărlia on tour from Zece Prajini to Tokyo). Songlines Magazine, reviewing The Story Of The Band, wrote that it "set a new standard for world music DVDs."

Asphalt Tango's next release was the international debut album from Polish accordion band Motion Trio Pictures From The Street. In March 2005 Asphalt Tango released the fourth Fanfare Ciocărlia album Gili Garabdi. In 2009 Asphalt Tango issued the Fanfare Ciocărlia Live CD. This album featured a concert the band had given in Berlin's Kesselhaus der Kulturbrauerei. Live came with an accompanying DVD that featured The Story of the Band, previously issued by Asphalt Tango in 2004.

"Sounds From A Bygone Age" series and "Stand up, People!" (reissues of ′lost′ Romanian and Yugoslav Gypsy music)[edit]

In November 2005 Asphalt Tango Records released the first in a series of CD reissues of Romanian Gypsy music from the Nicolae Ceauşescu era. Sounds From A Bygone Age Vol.1 Ion Petre Stoican featured an album from the mid-1970s of the now-deceased Romanian fiddler Stoican backed by some of Bucharest's lautari (professional musician caste, Gypsy musicians). Asphalt Tango would go on to issue "Sounds From A Bygone Age" albums by Romica Puceanu, Dona Dumitru Siminica, Toni Iordache and Gabi Luncă.

In 2013 Asphalt Tango released the compilation album Stand Up, People: Gypsy Pop Songs from Tito′s Yugoslavia, 1964-1980 as a single CD, double LP. Stand Up, People continues in the same vein as the Sounds From A Bygone Age series, gathering as it does communist-era recordings of Balkan Gypsy musicians.

Fanfare Ciocărlia albums & tour collaborations: Queens & Kings / Balkan Brass Battle / Devil's Tale[edit]

Fanfare Ciocărlia had participated in the 2002 US Gypsy Caravan tour (chronicled in Jasmine Dellal's 2007 film When the Road Bends: Tales of a Gypsy Caravan). This encouraged Ernst and Neumann to try to recreate something similar for Europe. They recorded a Fanfare Ciocărlia album called Queens & Kings that featured guest singers from several different European Gypsy communities.

To preview the album Fanfare Ciocărlia headlined a concert in Bucharest, Romania, in December 2006. They were joined on stage by Esma Redžepova, Jony Iliev, Kaloomé, Mitsou, Ljiljana Buttler and Florentina Sandu. The Queens & Kings project toured Europe and Australia.

In 2009 Asphalt Tango remodelled Queens & Kings with Romania's Mahala Rai Banda. A Mahala Rai Banda album, Ghetto Blasters, produced by Ernst and Neumann, was released on Asphalt Tango in late-2009 to coincide with the new Queens & Kings line-up touring Europe.

Asphalt Tango then set about producing Balkan Brass Battle. This album and tour featured Fanfare Ciocărlia versus Serbia's Boban & Marko Marković Orkestar. The Romanian and Serbian brass bands had often played on bills at festivals and both commanded loyal fans leading to much speculation as to which were the greater brass band of the two. Ernst gathered both bands in northern Romania in 2011 to rehearse then record the album (in 48 hours). The album topped the European World Music charts and was listed as one of the Best Albums 2011 by Songlines magazine (UK), National Geographic (USA), Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik (Germany), No Borderz (Netherlands). The Balkan Brass Battle toured Europe across 2011, 2012 and 2013.

In 2012 Asphalt Tango were approached by the Canadian guitarist Adrian Raso as to the possibility of recording together. Raso was versed in Gypsy Jazz and wanted to try and combine this with Fanfare Ciocărlia's brass. Fanfare Ciocărlia went to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in late-2012 to record with Raso and his musical friends: guitarists John Jorgenson and Rodrigo (of Rodrigo & Gabriela) and rock drummer Kevin Figueiredo (of Extreme). Henry Ernst produced the recordings. The resulting album The Devil's Tale was released in January 2014. The Devil's Tale topped the European World Music album charts for several weeks and was nominated for several Best Album 2014 awards including the CBC's (Canadian Broadcasting Company) Album Of The Year and 30 Best Canadian Albums. In May 2015, a 7-piece Fanfare Ciocărlia teamed up with Raso's 4-member band for a first European.

New East European Gypsy, psych-folk, rock, cabaret & electronic music releases[edit]

Asphalt Tango continue to release new music from Eastern Europe. In February 2006 they released the eponymous album from Serbian Gypsy roots rock band Kal. In October 2007 they released Voice Letter by ErsatzMusika, a Berlin-based band made up of former Soviet Bloc musicians who mix rock, Russian folk, poetry and the conceptual art ideas of band leader Irina Doubrovskaja.

In October 2008 they released Fake No More, the debut album by La Cherga, a Graz-based electronic band with ska and dub influences made up of former Yugoslav musicians. In October 2008 they released Bucharest Tango by Oana Catalina Chiţu, a Berlin-based Romanian singer who specializes in recreating the tango as played in Bucharest in the 1930s. In April 2009 Asphalt Tango released Kal's second album Radio Romanista and ErsatzMusika's second album Songs Unrecantable.

In November 2009 they released Kottarashky's debut album Opa Hey! This is an album of electronic music with samples from folk and Gypsy recordings by Bulgarian DJ/producer Nikola Gruev. In 2011 Asphalt Tango released La Cherga's second album Revolve, this found the band pursuing a sound closer to contemporary electronic dance pop than traditional Balkan music.

Another change of artistic direction came with Demoni, the 2012 second album by Kottarashky & The Rain Dogs. Where Kottarashky's debut album was a solo electronic affair Demoni found him working with a trio of musicians to create a music that mixed electronica, Balkan folk and indie rock. That same year Asphalt Tango released Zdob și Zdub's album Basta Mafia! Zdob și Zdub are a Moldavian rock band who have attained wide popularity in Moldova, Romania and Russia yet were unknown to West European audiences.

In 2013 Asphalt Tango released Oana Catalina Chiţu's second album Divine. This album found the Bucharest vocalist focusing on the catalogue of Maria Tănase, the celebrated Romanian folk singer, so to highlight Tănase's centenary. While Chiţu's approach is rooted in Romanian folk music she brings contemporary jazz and cabaret flavours to the material.

Princes Amongst Men: Journeys With Gypsy Musicians[edit]

Princes Amongst Men: Journeys With Gypsy Musicians (Serpents Tail) is a 2005 book written by the London-based journalist Garth Cartwright that follows his travels through four Balkan states (Serbia, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria) in search of the region's foremost Gypsy musicians. In 2008 Princes Amongst Men was issued in German as Balkanblues und Blaskapellen (Hannibal Verlag). To coincide with the German edition Asphalt Tango issued a Princes Amongst Men CD compilation that gathered most of the musicians discussed in Cartwright's book. Princes Amongst Men is Asphalt Tango's first compilation.

Expanding horizons: Asphalt Tango release contemporary dub, klezmer, rebetiko, Cuban and soundscape albums[edit]

Asphalt Tango released a series of albums across 2013/14 that were experimental and genre challenging. The popularity of the Mahala Rai Banda recording Balkan Reggae (from their album Ghetto Blasters) in clubs saw a dozen musicians/DJs (including Mad Professor, G-Vibes, Nick Manasseh) work on the tune so to create the 2013 album Balkan Reggae. This release followed in the Jamaican dub tradition where a selection of DJ-producers work from the same rhythm track so to create a series of individual interpretations. Blues from Elsewhere by Koby Israelite, released in 2013, found the London-based Israeli multi-instrumentalist creating a fusion of East European melodies and heavy rock. The album found Israelite playing a dozen instruments while guest vocalists contributed. These included Mor Karbasi and Annique.

Mortissa by Çiğdem Aslan is the 2013 debut solo album by London-based Turkish Kurdish singer Çiğdem Aslan. Aslan is the featured vocalist in London klezmer-Balkan band She’koyokh. Mortissa found Aslan exploring the Ottoman roots of rebetiko, a music often described as “the Aegean blues” and, in recent decades, more associated with Greek communities from Asia Minor than Turkish musicians in Istanbul. Aslan assembled a group of English, Turkish and Greek musicians for the sessions so to create a contemporary rebetiko hybrid. Mortissa received Best Album Of 2013 nominations from British world music magazines fRoots and Songlines alongside positive reviews in France, Germany, Austria and Turkey.

Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics’ album Cigarros Explosivos! came out in 2014 and found the Swiss group mixing Balkan tunes with Cuban rhythms and surf guitar. Milko, born in Czechoslovakia, recognized on a visit to Cuba how similar that nation’s communist infrastructure was to that of his homeland and so set about fusing Cuban son with Balkan music and surf guitar in the style of Dick Dale. Kumushki Pjut by Volga was released in 2014. The Moscow-based experimental electronic trio Volga blend contemporary dance music with Russian folklore and avant-garde stylings. Volga are influenced by shamanic rituals – they are known to draw upon ancient texts - and aim to create a synthesis that challenges listeners and acts as the opposite to easy listening.

In late-2014 Asphalt Tango issued Sons Of The Wind on vinyl and digital download only. This album by the Soundwalk Collective, an ensemble who both create installations for art museums and perform in concert as turntablists. Sons Of The Wind is a soundscape that follows Soundwalk Collective's journey down the Danube to Gypsy villages in Romania, Moldavia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Macedonia, Slovakia and Ukraine. Mixing samples of music, speech, village activity and ambient drift Soundwalk Collective created the Sons Of The Wind album.

Asphalt Tango’s first release of 2015 was Heads Up, the debut album by London-based vocalist Annique. Annique had guested on Koby Israelite’s album Blues From Elsewhere. For Heads Up Annique and Israelite wrote the music together. The album aims to be convey a synthesis of torch song and contemporary electronic pop. One song, London's Burning, relates to the London riots of 2011.

Asphalt Tango’s music trips to Romania[edit]

Asphalt Tango, having established themselves as a leader in recording and touring Romanian music, began taking interested music lovers to Romania in 2009. The first trip was organised by Transilvania Aktiv-und Kulturreisen in collaboration with Asphalt Tango. The label has led subsequent trips in 2010, 2013 and in 2015. The 2015 trip was organised by Transilvania, Asphalt Tango and British world music magazine, Songlines. The trips involve Asphalt Tango guiding fans of Gypsy music around Romania. Trips arrive in Bucharest (where they witness contemporary Gypsy music in restaurants), visit the village of Clejani (home to string band Taraf de Haidouks) and Zece Prajini (home to Fanfare Ciocărlia) alongside exploring Romania’s countryside and visiting Unesco World Heritage Sites.


CD-ATR 0102 Jony Iliev "Ma maren ma" / Release date 15.11.2002
CD-ATR 0203 Besh O Drom "Can't make me!" / Release date 24.01.2003
CD-ATR 0303 Earth Wheel Sky Band "Waltz Rromano" / Release date 03.10.2003
DVD-ATR 0404 Fanfare Ciocărlia "Gypsy brass legends – the Story of the band" / Release date 25.10.2004
CD-ATR 0504 Motion Trio "Pictures from the street" / Release date 25.10.2004
CD-ATR 0605 Fanfare Ciocărlia "Gili Garabdi" / Release date 07.03.2005
CD-ATR 0705 Motion Trio "Play-Station" / Release date 10.10.2005
CD-ATR 0805 Sounds from a bygone age Vol.1 "Ion Petre Stoican" / Release date 01.11.2005
CD-ATR 0906 Kal "Kal" / Release date 10.02.2006 / debut
CD-ATR 1006 Sounds from a bygone age Vol.2 "Romica Puceanu" / Release date 24.02.2006
CD-ATR 1106 Sounds from a bygone age Vol.3 "Dona Dumitru Siminica" / Release date 29.09.2006
CD-ATR 1207 Fanfare Ciocărlia "Queens and Kings" / Release date 23.02.2007
CD-ATR 1307 Sounds from a bygone age Vol.4 "Toni Iordache" / Release date 27.04.2007
CD-ATR 1407 ErsatzMusika "Voice letter" / Release date 21.09.2007 / debut
CD-ATR 1508 Sounds from a bygone age Vol.5" Gabi Lunca" / Release date 04.04.2008
CD-ATR 1608 Various "Princes amongst men" / Release date 06.06.2008
CD-ATR 1708 La Cherga "Fake no more" / Release date 26.09.2008 / debut
CD-ATR 1808 Oana Catalina Chiţu "Bucharest Tango" / Release date 26.09.2008 / debut
LP-ATR 1908 La Cherga "Fake no more" / Release date 26.09.2008
CD-ATR 2009 Kal "Radio Romanista" / Release date 30.01.2009
LP-ATR 2109 Kal "Radio Romanista" / Release date 30.01.2009 / limited edition, Vinyl 180g
CD-ATR 2209 ErsatzMusika "Songs Unrecantable" / Release date 10.04.2009
CD-ATR 2309 Fanfare Ciocărlia "Live" / Release date 25.09.2009
LP-ATR 2409 Fanfare Ciocărlia "Best of Gypsy Brass" / Release date 25.09.2009
CD-ATR 2509 Mahala Rai Banda / "Ghetto Blasters" / Release date 16.10.2009
CD-ATR 2609 Kottarashky / "Opa Hey!" / Release date 13.11.2009 / debut
CD-ATR 2711 La Cherga "Revolve" / Release date 15. April 2011
LP-ATR 2811 La Cherga "Revolve" / Release date 15. April 2011 / Vinyl 180g
CD-ATR 2911 Fanfare Ciocărlia vs. Boban & Marko Marković Orchestra "Balkan Brass Battle" / Release date 20. Mai 2011
LP-ATR 3011 Fanfare Ciocărlia vs. Boban & Marko Marković Orchestra "Balkan Brass Battle" / Release date 20. Mai 2011 / Vinyl 180g
CD-ATR 3112 Zdob și Zdub "Basta Mafia!" / Release date 27.01.2012
LP-ATR 3212 Zdob și Zdub "Basta Mafia!" / Release date 27.01.2012 / Vinyl 180g
CD-ATR 3312 Kottarashky & The Rain Dogs "Demoni" / Release date 04.05.2012
LP-ATR 3412 Kottarashky & The Rain Dogs "Demoni" / Release date 04.05.2012 / Vinyl 180g
CD-ATR 3513 Koby Israelite "Blues from elsewhere" / Release date 15.03.2013
LP-ATR 3613 Koby Israelite "Blues from elsewhere" / Release date 15.03.2013 / Vinyl 180g
CD-ATR 3713 Mahala Rai Banda / Various Artists "Balkan Reggae remixed" / Release date 22.03.2013
LP-ATR 3813 Mahala Rai Banda / Various Artists "Balkan Reggae remixed" / Release date 22.03.2013 / Vinyl 180g
CD-ATR 3913 Oana Catalina Chiţu "Divine" / Release date 31.05.2013
LP-ATR 4013 Oana Catalina Chiţu "Divine" / Release date 31.05.2013 / Vinyl 180g
CD-ATR 4113 Various Artists / Stand Up, People / Release date 31.05.2013
LP-ATR 4213 Various Artists / Stand Up, People / Release date 31.05.2013 / Vinyl 180g
CD-ATR 4313 Çiğdem Aslan "Mortissa" / Release date 27.09.2013 CD-ATR 4414 Adrian Raso & Fanfare Ciocărlia "Devil's Tale" / Release date 17.01.2014
LP-ATR 4514 Adrian Raso & Fanfare Ciocărlia "Devil's Tale" / Release date 17.01.2014
CD-ATR 4614 Jaro Milko & The Cubalkanics "Cigarros Explosivos!" / Release date 04.04.2014
LP-ATR 4714 Jaro Milko & The Cubalkanics "Cigarros Explosivos!" / Release date 04.04.2014
CD-ATR 4814 Volga "Kumushki Pjut" / Release date 16.05.2014
LP-ATR 5014 Soundwalk Collective "Sons of the wind" / Release date 26.09.2014
CD-ATR 4914 Annique "Heads Up" / Release date 23.01.2015


  • Garth Cartwright (4-05-10), Asphalt Tango Records, Asphalt Tango Records  Check date values in: |date= (help)

External links[edit]

  • [1] Official website Asphalt Tango Records
  • [2] YouTube-Channel Asphalt Tango Records
  • [3] Facebook-Page Asphalt Tango Records
  • [4] BBC World Music Award 2006 for Fanfare Ciocărlia
  • [5] fRoots Critics Poll 2008 (Sounds from a Bygone Age Vol.5: Gabi Lunca; Princes amongst Men)
  • [6] ITB Book Award (CD & book Princes amongst Men)
  • [7] World Music Charts Europe
  • [8] Underworld frontman Karl Hyde's world music playlist for Songlines July 2009 (Dona Dumitru Siminica)
  • [9] Songlines Top of the World albums March 2010 (Kottarashky: Opa Hey!)
  • [10] Songlines Top of the World albums January/February 2009 (Oana Catalina Chiţu: Bucharest Tango)
  • [11] Songlines Top of the World albums May 2007 (Fanfare Ciocărlia: Queens and Kings)
  • [12] Songlines Top of the World albums January/February 2007 (Sounds from a Bygone Age Vol.3: Dona Dumitru Siminica)
  • [13] Songlines Top of the World albums März/April 2006 (Sounds from a Bygone Age Vol.1: Ion Petre Stoican)
  • [14] Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik (German Record Critics' Award) 2008 (La Cherga: Fake no more)
  • [15] Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik (German Record Critics' Award) 2008 (Sounds from a Bygone Age Vol.5: Gabi Lunca)
  • [16] Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik (German Record Critics' Award) 2006 (Sounds from a Bygone Age Vol.2: Romica Puceanu)
  • [17] Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik (German Record Critics' Award) 2005 (Motion Trio: Pictures from the street)
  • [18] Asphalt Tango Records on Discogs