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Fanfare Ciocârlia: “We decided to enjoy life more and that’s what makes the music and the sound of our band”

From Zece Prajini village, Romania, to the biggest stages of the world. With more than 2.500 concerts in 80 countries, Fanfare Ciocarlia is one of the most appreciated brass bands in the world. They will sing at Jazz in the Park, July 1st, in the Central Park of Cluj, in a concert with free access and non-mandatory tickets.

Oprica Ivancea and Costica „Cimai” Trifan answered a few questions for us:

Fanfare Ciocârlia has become a well-known Balkan music band. You are considered pioneers of the Balkan Brass and Balkan Beats genres. Where did you get the desire to play this music genre from?

Oh really, is that so? Honestly that was not a wish nor a decision, but rather based on the fact that we kept the tradition of our forefathers alive. And just as our forefathers experienced golden times and local successes with their brass music, we entered the global music business with the right music at the right time. And that makes us very happy.

Have you acquired the music and desire to play from the family or how did talent manifest in your case?

Well, frankly, we have only met the expectations of our fathers and families, and at the tender age of 5 – 6 have taken the tools of adults into our hands. This is a tradition with us and we have followed it – luckily! Besides, there was nothing better to do in the village anyway. You could choose: either to work on the fields or to make music. Well we have taken our decision….

Tell us a little bit about the band members. Where do they come from and how did you get to be part of the same team. What holds you together?

We all grew up together in Zece Prajini and know each other from childhood on. When the elderly went to perform at weddings during the weekends, we all got together and played as a band on the surrounding hills for hours. And we dreamed of endless engagements at weddings, mountains of money we bring home to our parents, and we hadthe dream of playing better and faster than our fathers and brothers. That united us and that was actually the starting signal for the founding of our own band – many years later.

Could we say that you have fulfilled your dream? Did you hope/wish to be an artist/musician one day? What were your professional aspirations and how did music change your destiny?

Our dream came true in 1996 when Henry Ernst – our current manager and producer discovered us. The first international tour took place in 1997 and was a huge success. Let’s say a whiz start with fiery trumpets, metaphorically speaking. We had dreamed a lot but every believed? That would have been like believing in a trip to the moon – it is possible for everybody – but very unlikely. Well and today we are already on the way to Mars after 2500 concerts on 5 continents – just look at the cover of our latest  album release.

Do you keep in touch with the inhabitants of the Zece Prăjini Village? What’s a day back in the village like? Does your family still live there?

Yes of course! 6 members are still living in the village and the rest have houses there, where they retire, especially in the summer. Be it, to enjoy the village life, to rehearse or simply to reminisce. The village life is very contemplative and slow – in Zece Prajini you can still experience what the word “time” means…

What are the characteristics of the Roma culture? How are these characteristics felt in your music?

You can probably talk about this topic for hours and the characteristics are sure to differ, depending on the country and its culture where Rroma lives. Anyway, music is a very important part of our life as Rroma. Music is to be heard from the morning to the night, on all important and unimportant occasions. Music has been given to us, so to speak, with breast milk and we feel and think with and trough music. Oriental music pleases our nation very much and Bollywood music but also Flamenko is the cherry on the cake. Music is the common language of our scattered nation – whether we live in Russia, Ireland or Spain. Joie de vivre and pain are the main themes for us Gypsies. Well, we as a band decided to enjoy life more and that’s what makes the music and the sound of our band.

How would you characterize your music in one phrase/sentence? How is it like?

Fast, rhythmic, wild, powerful, humorous, a bit kafkaesk, entertaining, earthy, honest

How much do you improvise in your concerts? How similar are Fanfare Ciocârlia concerts to each other?

Improvisations are still an important part of our repertoire. In almost every song there are instrumental solos and of course they are always different. It doesn’t seem like the sun is shining every day – right?

What’s the story behind the songs? Do you bring them from your tradition or compose them yourselves?

Our repertoire is now a great mix of Romanian roots music, our own compositions or cover versions of well-known songs we did during the past years. At the beginning of our career we played almost exclusively traditional music form our region. But with the time and the vast number of inspirations and influences we collect and experienced on tours, we started writing our own songs or creating renditions. The creative part inspired us a lot: confidently reinterpreting things from their own musical perspective.: that’s fun and inducement into one. Why not mixing the influences jazz, punk, rock and reggae with Romanian folklore? That was the question for us. The answer can be heard live or on our 10 album releases.

Do you have any songs with a special story, that you would like to share with us?

All 158 songs from our reprtoire….

Fanfare Ciocârlia is also known for its talent to rearrange famous songs (Born To Be Wild, James Bond Theme, Caravan, Summertime) in a specific manner. How do you choose these songs?

Oh, there are no real criteria. There are some melodies that you grew up with and you can not get out of your head. Irgandwann remark that there is no Blasmuik version of the song and then the desire arises to put a stamp on the song. And off the post goes!

Where did you feel you had the most welcoming audience and where would you return at any time for a concert?

Everywhere we feel welcome and I think the number of 2500 concerts in 80 countries speaks for itself.

What is the most original place you performed in?

Difficult question, there would be so many. Maybe Hollywood Bowl in LA during Playboy Jazz Festival? Or Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, main stage at Montreal Jazz Festival, Vienna Concert House? Oh, there are so many and, frankly, every place where we play is extraordinary and sacred for us!

Where do you rehearse and how often?

Everybody practices his instrument daily. Whether alone or with friends does not matter. We only practice together when a new repertoire is rehearsed or a new album production is due. Otherwise, we are non-stop on tour and practicing in real time, so to speak.

Your originality also consists of the fact that you never use scores in your music. What is the secret behind this?

We don’t have a secret: we grew up without any knowledge of sheet music but our ears are perfectly trained during the years. Thus, we can analyze songs very quickly and store them in our musical cortex. Works very well – check it out!  Forget the notes and concentrate on the music and the feeling. We  highly recommend!

Since the band was founded, in 1996, Fanfare Ciocârlia has had more than 2000 concerts in over 70 countries. You celebrated 20 years of existence through a world tour. What were some of the moments and memories that you would like to share with us, from places where you have had concerts?

Oh, my gosh – there are thousands of great moments to tell: birthday party of film composer Danny Elfmann in Hollywood, where Larry Hagman danced together with Tom Jones to freaking Romanian brass music, a concert together with Eugene Hütz from Gogoll Bordello in NYC, Sarah Jessica Parker as our perosnal MC in Oslo, handshakes with the King of Norway or from Japan, playing  in front of 300,000 people in Poland, Joan Baez storming the stage and dancing to our music during a concert in Cambridge, Matt Groening, the Simpson’s inventor, who picks up an autograph after a show. My God – 22 years and these little memories are just a small piece of the puzzle.

You perform often abroad, but you also have concerts in the country. Where do you feel you have the most welcoming and the warmest audience, in what countries/locations?

Everywhere – without any exceptions.

You are highly successful, both nationally and internationally. Why do you think your style is so original and so highly appreciated?

Maybe just because we play good, funky, honest and handmade music? Because we were lucky? Because we are simphatic? Because we are awesome? Just kidding – don’t take that seriously! But honestly: We have no idea – these are and this remain all theories that can’t and shouldn’t be analysed. However, we are very very happy that we have million fans we can make happy with our music. We are very thankful about that. At this point a loud hello to all our fans and those who want to become one !!!

How much of a year do you spend on tour?

On average, we are on tour for 150 days a year.

What do you propose to send through your music? What is your message?

We do not play “headmusic” nor send out certain messages. Live is hard enough – we just want to give our audience a good time, give positive vibes and bring people energy with our music. And when people dance to our wild music that’s good for their health too.

Have you had fans curious to know more about where you come from, Romania/Iași/Zece Prăjini?

Fans from all over the world have been visiting our village for many years. India, America, Germany, Japan, Finland. Some stay one day, others for weeks. Some just want to see the village where their favorite band comes from, drink a beer and enjoy the authentic life. Others come with the desire to learn an instrument or our brass music style. We also regularly act as tutors for tuba, trumpets and saxophone. For 10 years there is even a tourism program that offers music tours through Romania with a 2 days stopp in our village. These group irons have been regularly sold out for years.  Check it out: it’s called “Gypsy music live. A musical tour through Romania”.

What are you preparing for 2018?

Good mood and a lot of concerts.

We can’t wait to see you perform at Jazz in the Park 2018, July 1st, on the Main Stage in the Central Park. How do you feel about performing on a stage, in a park, in Cluj?

Pretty much normal. Finally, Cluj is doing what has been going on for many years in New York’s Central Park. Summer, park, stage, people. Is there a better place for music? We’re glad.

Have you ever played in parks before? Where and what was it like?

Of course! In just about every country, during the usual summer festival tours: Central Park in NYC, Olympic Park in Munich, just to name two.

What music do you listen to, when you’re not playing?

Pretty much any music. We are 12 people in the band and everyone has his won taste. But if I’m going to take a cross section now, I have to call it that: jazz (especially 70’s bands from Ethiopia), rock (as older as better), classical (there’s one guy in the band who listens to Tchaikovsky almost nonstop), blues (we love John Lee Hooker and his ZZ Top version of “boom boom boom”), manele (yeah, we know but there is some cool stuff too), reggae (Holli Cook is always in our tour bus player), muzica lautareasca (come on: who can refuse to listen to Romica Puceana, Toni Iordache or Fratii Gore?) , Pop (Waka Waka pretty Shakira), and many others.

How would you characterize jazz music, what is jazz music from your point of view?

Oh – that’s a big field! Jazz offers a wide range to express feelings and moods. This can sound wicked and pompous when I think of the Cotton Club era of the 30’s. Jazz can be extremely entertaining and also very brain-heavy. Jazz offers the opportunity to paint musical images that can be easily understood or even not in a hundred years. Depends of the listener, his background and current feelings. Free Jazz is such a cue. I admire musicians who use their instruments and fantasies to express themselves – even though I can not interpret much of it. However, jazz is the important sensual and creative puzzle piece of music.

In Romania, we have a large community of Roma people. Many of them consider that they don’t stand a chance of having a normal life, they feel discriminated, few attend school classes and many of them have failed to identify a talent in any field. What would you recommend them, what would be your advice to them, if they asked you which way to go?

We only say: Stand up and fight for your rights!

We are certain that our audience will be delighted by the concert. What would you like to say to those who will attend the concert from Jazz in the Park, in Cluj? How about those who are still not sure about coming to your concert?

We are really looking forward to Cluj especially after we performed in 2017 the Electric Castle Festival. We guarantee you a good time in the beautiful park of Cluj with a lot of humor and powerful music. If you want to check us out: tune in at Spotify, Apple Music or whatever is your preferred streaming app.

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