Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Balkan Sobranie

In a converging world, it's increasingly hard to know what "authentic" means.  Every day I see youngsters from all parts of the world all wearing the same universal clothing styles, all listening on iPhones to the same universal pop, and all wearing the same universal trainers.  Obviously this is a narrow and self-selecting sample and, true, there is resistance, especially from the Islamic world; spotting the various styles of hijab, chador, niqab and even the odd burka on campus is an interesting ethnographic pastime.  But, sadly, very few students these days wear national dress, in the way children's encyclopaedias from the 1960s might have led one to expect.  Frankly, I would feel a fool, now, wearing a bowler hat and East Anglian smock, the way I used to when I was a student.

Fig. 1, Hertfordshire towns

But there are still anomalies and outliers out there, thankfully.  For example, I recently came across the Romanian gypsy wind ensemble, Fanfare Ciocarlia. You can tell they're authentic, not because they all come from an improbably remote Romanian village (which they do), and not because some of their instruments are home-made (which they are) but, paradoxically, because they incorporate bits of the Godfather and James Bond themes (not to mention "Born To Be Wild") into their arrangements, made for playing at real gypsy weddings in the 21st century.  Yes, they'll wear preposterous stage clothes and play for cash on TV anywhere in the world; but their sense of identity resides in the music, not in the packaging. This is not museum music, or folk revival music.  This is virtuoso ensemble playing by vernacular musicians who have been taught to play in pretty much the same way they were taught to walk and speak.

There's an atmospheric documentary about them, "Iag Bari: Brass on Fire" (on YouTube here, in German with Swedish subtitles), made by the German enthusiast who "discovered" and unleashed them on the world, and they have now released several albums.  If you don't know it, give the music a listen ("Iag Bari" is very immediate in its appeal), and you'll feel the instant excitement it generates: it's like opening the door of a remote village hall on a snowy night where a celebration is in full swing. This may be the ideal music to be played at a funeral, provided the venue allows the consumption of bucketfuls of alcohol and frenzied dancing, and possible outbreaks of fighting between rival family factions.  I'm picturing something like the wake scene in Guy Ritchie's film Snatch.

Fanfare Ciocarlia are by no means unique -- check out this alternative combo, Taraf de Haïdouks, for that truly authentic Balkan look and feel.  A clear demonstration that you don't have to be young, thin, or even have a full set of teeth to swing.  Though a decent hat always helps, of course.  And isn't that Franz Kafka on violin?


Paul Mc Cann said...

You've gone all Radio 4 on us.

Not convinced. Like too much ethnic music they don't appear to know how to control the volume of the percussion

Mike C. said...


Radio 4?? True, the incessant playing of Balkan music on "Today" and "PM" is intrusive, but...


Zouk Delors said...

Why not make that picture the dress code for the big party you have when you retire?

Did you see this by the way?