“Sometimes when I tell people I come from Zece Prajini they think I come from the end of the earth. But here, at the end of the earth, is the right place to make music,” says trumpeter Costic “Cimai” Trifan.
Zece Prajini—which means ten fields—is a village of 400 souls, surrounded by gentle mountains and dusty tracks. Situated in east Romania, it is less than a stone’s throw from former Soviet republic Moldova. In the evenings, when the winds calm down, the sounds of the fanfare echo from surrounding slopes. This is the home of the twelve gypsy musicians who make up the brass ensemble Fanfare Ciocãrlia whose CD is called Iag Bari—The Gypsy Horns from the Mountain Beyond (Piranha).
Romany brass bands originate from the Turkish military bands of the early 19th century. The Ottoman occupation of the Balkans had a considerable influence on the music there. Brass plays a central role in the musical life of the region. However, western-oriented bands with electric instruments are increasingly in demand, and are gradually killing off opportunities for traditional brass bands. Bandleader Ioan Ivancea says, “We’re one of the last, and we’re the fastest of them all!”
This art has been handed down from generation to generation. There is no sheet music. The instruments—bearing the marks of the previous decades—have lost their shine and gained their own patina. Fanfare Ciocãrlia manages to set off a musical firework display of traditional dances from Romania and rhythms from Turkey, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. Every weekend the players haul off their instruments to weddings often playing for over thirty hours non-stop. Back in their village they soothe their sore lips and await their next engagement.
With an age range from 23 to 69, there is a wonderful symbiosis between the older and younger musicians. There is respectful silence when old master Radulescu Lazar reaches for his trumpet and strikes up a wild dance. The younger musicians’ eyes narrow dreamily at these sounds as their fingers nervously caress their instruments. The older musicians wink tolerantly whenever the younger generation blasts new sounds through their horns. Since music cannot only be about tradition, they adapt melodies from movies of Bollywood and Hollywood and adapt international radio hits to their own style.
Nowhere else in Eastern Europe is there such a clash of western and eastern musical traditions. In Romania, music still occupies an important place in everyday life. A wedding or other celebration without musicians would be simply unthinkable. Fanfare Ciocãrlia’s thumping bass, driving percussion and spinning horn solos plunge us straight into a wild world of Romanian Gypsy parties.
“Not only does the band play at top volume, it also plays fast, throwing tongued trumpet tuplets into convoluted rhythms that jolt the body... Soloists as familiar with western jazzsters as with traditional currents keep the mixture fresh… as the ensemble turns its horns and reeds into a massive melodo-percussive piston.”—Bob Tarte, The Beat
“High-energy tunes without using a volt of electricity. ...As odd as this will sound to the average American, this fast and fun folk music is surprisingly accessible and listenable.”—Marty Lipp, Newsday