Balkan Brass Bands @ Koko, Camden

I wouldn’t have expected Koko in Camden to sell every last ticket to their ‘Balkan Brass Band battle’ on the 22nd of May.  Slightly disappointed at the lack of dancing space, fans huddled excitedly at the prospect of a night of Balkan style mayhem, the kind of night you would have only experienced from either being from the Balkans, or having spent time there.

Two Romani Brass Bands, Romanian Fanfare Ciocarlia and Serbian Boban and Marko Markovic, rocked Camden town that night ending with an after party in a nearby Ottoman restaurant.  The bands could have sold out other nights too, had they known how eagerly the UK had anticipated their arrival.

Boban and Marko Markovic a father and son duo famous in ex Yugoslavia for their gypsy music, played us into the night lifting us into their gypsy caravan, touching the continents gypsy music has taken the Romany people. Firstly to the deepest darkest Balkans, then to North Africa, and India.  With a few Goran Bregovic favorites thrown in the mix, the crowds went wild.

Fanfare Ciocarlia’s is perhaps the most known in the UK out of the two groups, with their songs playing part in various soundtracks, most memorably for me, the moment when Cahit realises his love for Sibel in Fatih Akin’s tragic Gegen Die Wand. Cahit invades the stage where Fanfare Cioclaria are in full swing, jumping around wildly with blood on his hands.  I almost imagined this is what I’d do as I waited for the 22 May to arrive.  Someone beat me to it and before long the stage was invaded by wild fans gripped by Balkan fever, waving money around and singing along to one of the group’s most famous tracks ‘Iag Bari’.

Each group played separately, staging a ‘brass battle’ with their entourages. Ultimately there was an explosive finale when the groups united, numbering up to 30 musicians on stage.

Taking my focus off the stage just for one moment, I studied the crowd. Each of the venues’ balconies were occupied by fans jumping wildly, holding drinks in the air and throwing some shapes.  Exactly HOW you’re meant to dance to this music, I guess, would be a mystery to non-Balkanites.  Us Londoners who let no cultural barriers phase us however, rocked Koko letting the bass notes of the Tubas and the rhythms of the drums dance our way into Monday.  There were elderly people, teenagers, 30-something-year olds, lone observers, and groups of Balkan natives waving their flags. Then I understood a term I’d heard when watching music documentary ‘Gypsy Caravan’. Tener Duende. It’s loosely translated as ‘having soul’, its s Spanish term defining a heightened state of emotion experienced when listening to music.  The goose pimples which appear when your soul opens to music? That’s la duende. Here, in Koko, we were all experiencing a hysterical duende where language barriers were no obstacle to enlightenment.  We were united in the duende of Gypsy music.   Perhaps there is a bit of gypsy in all of us somewhere, a person who longs to be free and anarchic; this myriad of Balkan music had set the Gypsy in us free.

I only hope there can be more nights of Balkan madness for the UK.  I had been looking for an excuse to go back to the Balkans, this night has only rekindled my desire.

Check Out Fanfare Ciocarlia’s very own recipes here!!!!

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