Goulash Archipelago are a 4-5 piece band playing traditional Eastern European ukulele music, and have just finished their 1st CD. Their music is heavily influenced by their experiences gained during a trip to Ukestan in 2009 (for more on that, keep reading below). 
There are some tracks for you to listen to below, and there are photos of the band’s Hamilton performances on our photos page.
The long awaited Goulash Archipelago album came out in 2011. Includes nine instrumentals and two songs as vaguely remembered and quickly scribbled on to pie wrappers and serviettes when touring Ukestan in 2009. To listen to some tracks click here. To buy CD, contact us here.
Goulash Archipelago go to Ukestan: While at the November 2008 Kiwiukulele Festival we of The Big Muffin Serious Band were approached by a stall-holder there, who suggested we might like to travel to the tiny East European state of Ukestan (purportedly) as part of a cultural exchange. It was to be sponsored by the Mikhail Ukulele and Heavy Industrial Corporation (MMGKmb), organised by the New Zealand-Ukestan Friendship Association, and the big event would see us performing on the international stage at the biannual Ukestan Festival of Music and Dance. We were skeptical. We always get people coming up after gigs with absurd propositions.
However, in early April tickets and visas duly arrived and the three of us who were available put our misgivings aside, jumped on an aeroplane, and a day and a half later touched down in Chisinau International Airport, Moldova. We were greatly relieved to be greeted by the same fellow who had invited us in the first place. He introduced us to Sergei Kozack (photo below) who was to be our state registered tour guide and constant companion, who bundled us into the Mikhail Ukuleles promotional car - a gold-painted stretch Lada- and whisked us across the border, into Ukestan. 

It was a whistle-stop tour over 13 days involving 3 big performances for our sponsor, and many smaller performances and vegetable kazoo workshops in schools. To fulfill the ‘exchange’ part of of the trip we came away with a raft of traditional and contemporary Ukestani Folk tunes, and left the locals struggling over April Sun in Cuba, a number of Crowded House and Split Enz songs. Interestingly though, the real crowd pleaser was Peter Cape’s Joker on a Hilltop.                             

Ukestan is situated on the edge of the Black Sea, and only recently (2005) gained independence from Moldova. Despite being a recent democracy, self-censorship is still practiced. In the Lonely Planet Guide to Moldova it warranted not even a page mention, and in recent updated issues the Ukestanis actually physically removed material themselves to discourage tourists. The crudely reproduced (and slightly inaccurate) map on the top left of this page is a black market English language copy of the removed Lonely Planet map bought from a street vendor.

Ukestan is a fiercely private nation still heavily cloaked in Soviet era thinking, and which actively discourages overseas tourists. As such there is no tourist infrastructure, and all tourists are required to be escorted by state registered guides. In the interests of protecting Ukestan’s recent independent identity all tourists such as ourselves were required to forfeit our digital cameras and cell phones for the duration of our stay. After the hammering Kazakhstan took at the hands of Borat, they are rightfully suspicious of all tourists bearing digital media. However, we were able to buy from Sergei a late model plastic Russian analogue camera (see below) and 4 rolls of slide film- again, because of the risk of photoshopping, only slide film is sold, and it must be developed in Ukestan before the tourist leaves. This created certain problems for us on our return home, as you might imagine, especially as only 12 of the 144 potential slides were returned to us, and they were mostly the worst ones.


Our guide Sergei was both charming and disarming, and slightly suspicious of us. When it suited him he was convinced that we were Australians- against our fervent protestations.  It might have had something to do with his sideline activity of selling to random Ukestanis information we had supposedly given him about what was going to happen on the next episodes of Neighbours. At times he was enormously friendly. During those moments his tour guide patter became more animated and he would deviate from the state written script. However his stories and explanations became correspondingly harder to believe -such as the vodka pipelines running into Ukraine from the Ukestan turnip-vodka distilleries. Perhaps it was all a cunning ruse so we decadent foreigners left with a confused idea of places of strategic importance. Despite knowing we had been invited to Ukestan, we suspect Sergei also entertained the notion that it was still the 1960s and we were engaged on a spy mission.

In any given country petty competition inevitably flourishes between groups - often the fiercest competition is between groups that are incredibly similar and share the same core values. Ukestan is no exception. The biggest rivalry we observed was between the neighbouring towns of Stovern and Blik, who are both part of the same canal system. Photo to left captures us half way between the two. Comments from Blik-dwellers would warn us of the savage weather we should expect in Stovern, via comments like “ the coldest winter I ever experienced was a summer in Stovern”. And then the Stovernites, with no prompting, would  offer unsolicited gems like “ the difference between summer and winter in Blik is that in summer you roll your sleeves up underneath your jersey”. We had just driven through both towns, and they were both as cold/warm as each other. Apparently tensions run high when the Blik Dynamos play Stovern Athletika at football (soccer). Both are teams who are wallowing unceremoniously at the bottom of the 3rd division.

 It comes from two sources:
* An old Slavic word: "kaij", meaning "edge", "border", or "cut"
* The indo-arayan word :"sthana", meaning "place"
Thus there are two possible (though similar) derivations: Either border-land, as in the border between the land and the sea; or border-lands or cut-off lands, referring to the innumerable invasions, conquests, political upheavals and border disputes that have occurred in this area over the centuries.
Oldest reference to Ukestan dates from the 16th Century, in the Polish Chronicles, where a portion of the Black Sea border is referred to as "Ukaistana"

For your general edification: a communist era propaganda documentary in a series on Women of the Soviet empire, of which Ukestan was a part. Very interesting, and unlike most of what we do, almost completely authentic. It is not really worth watching all ten minutes worth, and the sound track is at times excruciating but... here it is.