Monday 15 August 2011

Guča trumpet festival

After three weeks of debating whether or not I would go to the Guca festival, the stars aligned and I got to see for myself the madness in all of its beer-soaked glory. For those of you who do not  know, the Guca trumpet festival is the largest music festival in Serbia, and one of the largest in Europe. During one week, one million people descend on what is otherwise a sleepy village in central Serbia to get drunk and be blown at by horns.

While this sounds like a grand time in principle, Guca has been criticized in recent years for a turn towards corporate showcasing and away from music. Which is not to say that music is not abundant. 10-piece brass bands play at full volume a few feet away from each other, separated only by a gaggle of hippie-dancing festival goers sporting newly purchased pink afros and green army caps. Brass bands are fundamentally the work of Roma in Southern Serbia, and nearly all of them are at the festival - if they are not competing they are working for tips under restaurant tents or in the streets.

One of the students at the Amala school was offered a set on the stage through the Australian embassy, so I got to tag along and hang out back stage at the cultural house.

One of the highlights of the festival was seeing some of the dances up close. Unlike in some of its neighboring countries, Serbian folk dancing is more performative than social. After spending the past few weeks working on the feel and ornaments of this music on the accordion, it was great to see similar gestures happening in feet. I came really close to buying a pair of these leather elfy dancing shoes, I'm regretting already.

Not much else to say about Guca, except that I could not help but notice a lack of acknowledgement of any Romani contribution to the festival, despite the fact that Guca exists only because it can draw from a longstanding tradition of Romani brass music in the area. The brass bands playing at Guca are function bands, gigging throughout the year at weddings and celebrations. Nevertheless, Guca is presented as being all about trumpet, not so much the people who play them. Trumpets are pretty boring if you don't have bad-ass musicians behind them.

A perk of traveling with the band is that I got a free meal ticket. This is the vegetarian option. Yes, that is beef floating in oil.

1 comment:

gruve said...

Hey Matt,
If you don't get a chance to buy they shoes (oponce?) again there, we can probably connect you with some back over here.

Thanks for sharing your adventures - fascinating!

- Steve Gruverman