Balkan folk group Goddess of Arno was created as a homage to band member Beth Cohen’s dog, Brigit, and the street she lives on.
Based in southeast Albuquerque, the seven-member dance group blends traditional Balkan music with modern instruments.
Group members include Cohen on violin and guitar, Barbara Friedman on electric bass, Leanne Mennin on percussion, Randy Edmunds on guitar, Jamie Cohen-Edmunds on alto saxophone and Cherrymae Golston on vocals. All members perform vocals as well.
Their live performances include traditional music from countries in the southern Balkans, such as Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece and Albania, and dance that maintains the folk traditions of those countries.
“I just like this particular type of music better than almost any other,” Friedman said. “I love doing it, I love dancing to it, I love playing it and singing it.”
Friedman, Cohen and Edmunds said they have many influences. Those influences include Macedonian-Romani vocalist Esma Redzepova, Turkish-Bulgarian Roma saxophonist Yuri Yunakov and Merita Halili.
Friedman said dancing is an important element, both to their music and to the individual lives of the band members.
“If there’s a song that I don’t play on or don’t sing on, I go dance,” Friedman said.
Dancer Patsy Gregory helps teach and lead the dancing of Goddess of Arno’s live shows. She said she began dancing as a freshman in high school after watching her friend’s folk dance group in Los Alamos.
“I really like dances that use the feet a lot and so that was the start of my journey from then through now and many other things,” Gregory said. “I just kept doing it.”
Cohen said Goddess of Arno has performed at Low Spirits, Sunshine Theatre, and various dance parties throughout Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
“I love the dance parties,” Edmunds said, “I think that’s the best … I mean it’s all about creating a community. It’s like having a little neighborhood get-together and everybody dances and sings and plays music … it’s a really fun thing, there’s a lot of energy.”
Cohen-Edmunds, who has been in the band since 2006, said she loves to get to play music with her mom, Cohen, and her dad, Edmunds.
“To me it’s this,” she said, “hanging out with my family and playing music and having fun.”
Goddess of Arno originally formed in the mid 1990s as a side project, when Friedman and Cohen were members of the Svirka Women’s Balkan Chorus, she said.
Practicing outside of the choir group soon led to the formation of the band. Barbara Basinger, who has since left the band, and Mennin joined Friedman and Cohen soon after and become known as the Goddess of Arno.
“We started getting into the Roma music and I really think that lent itself to the smaller group,” Cohen said, “And it lent itself to the instrumentation that we had at the time.”
This original lineup released its first, and so far only, album called “Balkan Dance Party!” in 2002. The album won the New Mexico Music Industry Coalition award for Best Instrumental Performance that same year.
“It’s a sampler of the things we love,” Friedman said, who is proud of the album. “Many of them we still do, but we do them in a different, you know, arrangement.”
Although they have talked about it, the members of Goddess of Arno currently have no plans for a new album.