Beirut's Musical Journey Began With Fisher-Price Karaoke

For a man obsessed enough with geography to not only name his band Beirut but to write songs with titles like "Gibraltar," "Perth," and "Santa Fe," it's surprising that Zach Condon has never before played Miami. "I have visited many times," the Beirut founder tells us over the phone. "I have family in Key West, so my parents and two brothers would stop there on the long drive from New Mexico."

Condon's family is a musical one. His paternal grandfather was a New York City jazz-band leader, and his maternal grandmother played the accordion and bagpipe and sang. So from an early age, he took to making music. "I had a Fisher-Price machine you could karaoke with two microphones that any child of the '90s probably remembers. I sang with these Beach Boys tapes until their death. My dad wanted me to play guitar, but it never clicked. I got bored by guitar bands."

As all kids must rebel against their parents, Condon instead got training in the trumpet, playing in bands at school, which eventually led him to the piano, which led him to the accordion, which led him to the flugelhorn, which he described as "a larger, mellower trumpet." He continues: "I first saw one when I bought a CD of a Balkan brass band. I had to know what they were. There was something fluid about their sound that I liked."

Throughout his four-album recording career as Beirut, Condon has used odd, foreign instruments, starting with his debut, 2006's Gulag Orkestar. He wrote and recorded that LP completely by himself in his New Mexico bedroom. His 2015 album No! No! No! was written with his band in a dank Brooklyn basement while huddled over an electric heater in the winter and a dehumidifier in the summer. 

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 No! No! No! has a lot of piano-based songs. Condon moved the instrument into his home, an hour and a half outside New York City, but it was also his travels to Turkey that influenced his newfound obsession with the keys. "When I wasn't recording, I was with my fiancée in Istanbul. There's a song ["Fener"] about the neighborhood we stayed in. I got obsessed with Turkish music, but it is difficult to get their rhythms and melodies right."

Though inspired by the music of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and South America, Beirut's most recent effort is a sound from closer to home — one Condon is greatly looking forward to bringing to the Rhythm Foundation's TransAtlantic Festival at the North Beach Bandshell on April 8.

Consistent with the rest of his catalog, No! No! No! merges sensitive lyrics with exotic world music, but this album was also influenced by a trip into Condon's past. "I found in Santa Fe an archive of music I recorded as a teenager. I realized I had been a touring musician for a decad, and it made me very introspective. Oftentimes when I record, I try not to listen to other people's music so it doesn't psyche me out that I can't do what they do. I figured I could make an exception listening to myself."

TransAtlantic Festival with Beirut, Kazoots, EMEFE, and more. Friday, April 8, and Saturday, April 9, at the North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $22 to $53 via eventbrite.com

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