Black Masala brings unprecedented musicality and an inexorable sense of fun to the ska template. Charging a hard-hitting punk rock rhythm section with syncopation and powerful brass arrangements, the Washington, D.C. octet takes influence from anything from ’60s soul to Niki Manaj in a compelling stylistic palette. In fact, the band’s inception traces back to drummer-singer Mike Ounallah’s fascination with Gypsy jazz and the Arabic pop records from his childhood. This multifaceted energy informs the band’s third LP, Trains and Moonlight Destinies, and the music video that RIFF is debuting for the title track.
“Trains and Moonlight Destinies” embodies the playful groove Black Masala naturally exudes. This stems from the way the brass players integrate into the rock instrumentation. Bassist Scott Clement and sousaphonist Michael DiCiurci don’t compete with each other, managing to join forces for a distinct low-end combination. While latter-day iterations of ska tend to amount to punk rock with a brass section, Black Masala makes a point to use its unique instrumentation to serve interesting songs. Whether it’s the “Hey!”-powered breakdown or the infectious two-tone beat, the band remains locked into sticky vocal hooks and choppy up-stroked guitars.
The video’s visual aesthetic reflects the band’s eclectic blend of fantasy and reality. Ounallah’s lyrics read like a folktale, guiding you alike through unpredictable jumps from masquerades to a rock jubilee. Instead of apologizing for its approach, the band doubles down on its eccentricities. The video joins fun-loving sonics with a diverse color palette and quirky videography.
Giving “Trains and Moonlight Destinies” a visual accompaniment is just the start of what Black Masala has in store. The band will end 2018 with a trip to Canada, but 2019 will see it land some festival dates. The band has a New Year’s resolution to record a new album and play at least 100 shows. Though Ounallah predicts a shift for the band’s sound the coming year, the band’s mission’s statement remains clear: “You want to have a good time? You need brass.”