|Boban Markovic (Credit below)|
Bravado and bold statements abound as the Balkan Brass Battle prepares to roll into town. The two best Gypsy brass bands are squaring up for a flamboyant musical showdown the likes of which hasn’t been seen on stage. (Balkan Brass Battle: Interview Part 1)
For two hours nightly, Serbia’s Boban & Marko Marković Orchestra will sound-off against Fanfare Ciocarlia from Romania to see who can blow hottest and hardest in a marathon battle royal currently touring Europe. Each orchestra will play their heart out in a battle to blow the other band off stage, with the crowd’s enthusiasm declaring the winner Heavyweight Champion of Balkan Brass.
Boban Marković, Serbian brass legend and unbeaten champion of the Guča Brass Festival, took time to speak with W!LD RooSTeR about preparations for the tour. But first, congratulations were in order for Boban’s recent birthday.
“Thank you very much!’ he beamed. “I was born on the day of Saint George (Đurđevdan), which is a very meaningful day for us. I repeated the same tradition I have been repeating for years. I spend time with my family and relatives and visit relatives and friends that also celebrate this particular day.”
Boban is quite the star at home in Serbia. Over the past decade The Boban & Marko Marković Orchestra has been receiving plaudits as the fastest Gypsy brass band, winning numerous awards and performing blistering live shows.
At the same time, Romania’s Fanfare Ciocarlia have risen from rural obscurity to build an international reputation as the foremost Balkan brass band. Both bands have riden a global wave that they helped create.
But a successful Gypsy musician craves the respect that comes with hearing the world proclaim him the Greatest Living Trumpet Player. Both Fanfare and the Marković’s realised that to gain this hard-won respect, it would require an on-stage showdown between the two undefeated heavyweights.
“For too many years I have heard experts, journalists, promoters comparing my Orchestra with Fanfare Ciocarlia,’ said Boban. “Our two worlds haven’t really met until last March and now I am curious to see what will happen. But I don’t fear anything. We are quite calm. We are the best, we don’t doubt it. Now the time has come to prove it!
That’s not to say that the gloves have come off. This is a battle of mutual respect, as Boban explained: “No battle can be won without exact rules and respect. A wild competition is not what we want to show to the audience, but a fair one. Fair play is the basis of everything. Just not too much!”
|Boban & Marko Markovic Orchestra (Credit below)|
Boban is looking forward to bringing the showdown to the UK, when the Balkan Brass Battlewill call at the Brighton Dome (21 May) and London’s Koko (22 May). “The UK audience has always been very enthusiastic,’ he said. “They are warm and far away from stupid prejudices. I have good memories of playing Britain, in particular the ‘All Tomorrow’s Party’ last December. The audience kept on singing Caje Shukarje for more than a half an hour.”
Boban’s son Marko, who has taken the reins as arranger with the Orchestra, is equally buzzed about the tour – and he is in no doubt of the outcome. “I think that the public will enjoy something unique: the defeat of Fanfare Ciocarlia! The Boban & Marko Marković Orchestra is the Best!’ he told W!LD RooSTeR, with confident laughter.
Boban agreed: “I promise you it will be unforgettable. But be careful not to get a heart attack!”
Being able to play to the Serbian diaspora across the world, enabling them to enjoy their culture away from home is important to Boban. “Of course it is a great feeling to be able to give them, for a couple of hours, the feeling to be ‘at home’, he said. “It is not easy for them, even though they probably have a ‘better’ life abroad. But nothing is like home.”
Judging by their combined reputations, the orchestras on stage at the Balkan Brass Battle will ensure energy levels peak in a way that only the best musicians can manage.
“We play for ourselves, because we are in love with the music,’ said Boban. “This comes first. But the audience is the fuel on our natural fire. Sometimes, even if I am tired or not at top fitness, it is enough to go out on stage to forget all the problems and get ready for the party!
“This is something that not everybody is able to do,’ said Boban, fondly remembering how he got a seated London audience dancing in the aisles. “We, from the Balkans, are experts in this kind of thing. One of the most positive aspects of our region is our charisma. All audiences absolutely deserve the same engagement and respect. I am pretty accustomed to the fact that there are not many people able to resist our rhythm!”
At one spectacular performance at the Pepsi Sziget Festival, even headliners Oasis had to bow to the power of the Balkan brass, as Boban explained: “Well, it was really incredible! The Orchestra performed on the World Music Stage for a capacity crowd of 15,000 people. Oasis had to postpone their set by 30 minutes due to the fact that from the audience demanded to hear more of our outstanding performance!”
|Boban & Marko Markovic (Credit below)|
Playing to exuberant home crowds was one thing but it was inclusion on the soundtracks for Emir Kusturica’s Underground and Arizona Dream that triggered international success. “I felt very proud of myself and my Orchestra,’ Boban told W!LD RooSTeR. “I had prepared the guys in the best way possible. Goran Bregović and Emir Kusturica heard me play at a private party and they came to meet and ask me if I would record for them. Nobody could foresee at that time the worldwide success of Underground, but Emir was already very famous. All the greatest things happen by chance, I always say that.”
While Kusturica’s films present the Balkans laid bare, others have been accused of parodying culture to the extent of ridicule. Boban’s views on this are clear: “People present our culture according to their artistic point of view or sometimes according to the way they can better sell,’ he said. “But we present our culture in the way it deserves, and this means through our music.”
Recent years have seen Balkan music reaching an international audience beyond the World Music tag. With others such as Goran Bregović and Fanfare Ciocarlia, Boban Marković and his Orchestra has been at the forefront of that advance.
“Both Goran and Fanfare are ambassadors of Balkan music in the world,’ said Boban. “I admire the Fanfare because they come from a little village and they are now acclaimed international artists.
“Brega is our icon and the most successful musician in the Balkans. Not forgetting how much he owes to the tradition, of course, that he was able to discover and appreciate like no one else. We are in a good relationship and it is always nice to meet him somewhere, even though we are both very busy and we don’t cross very often.”
An inevitable part of this crossover has seen international producers and DJs borrow from the Balkans to have dancefloor hits. Boban is supportive of the resulting spotlight on the region’s music but he has mixed views on how some have plundered the musical chest.
“Some of those DJs, amongst others my friend Robert Soko/BalkanBeats, my friend Shantel or Gaetano Fabri, have done a great job and popularised Balkan parties and hits in a constructive and positive way,’ he said. “Others are less successful and qualitative. But in general I have to see this phenomenon as a positive one.”
Boban is keen that his music and the international success of events such as the Guča Festival will encourage more people to take a fresh look at the Balkans, more than aware that past conflicts have left some blinkered to Serbia and its rich culture with many misconceptions about the region and its people.
“With our music, I think that we surely help people leave behind their prejudices about our region,’ he said. “I see many people coming to our concerts dressed in Gypsy style. They ask many questions, they approach our culture enthusiastically. I think that music is the strongest means we currently have against the prejudices.
“But I want to add that in our region more people are like us: Totally cool and normal. What happened has happened and, as with many other populations in history and even in present day, it was not only our fault. But that is not important anymore. I think that we reacted really good to all the crises and the region is recovering. Serbia is rich in culture, as are the other Republics of the Former Yugoslavia.
“Please come and see for yourself. You will like to return, I can assure you.”
See Part 2 of this interview for discussion on Guca and music influences
· Boban & Marko Marković Orkestar
Photography provided for promotional use only. >>
Credits: Michael Mann (Marko & Boban) and Izedin Amautovic (Boban & Band)