Ah, gypsy music! The wild violins, the flamenco style guitar, the hammered strings of the cimbalom, the deep rumble of a double bass and the careening clarinet accompanying a tortured voice singing of love, religion, troubles and other aspects of their marginalized lives. In spite of the fact there are Romany people living across a span of territory stretching from India to Spain in Asia, the Middle East and Europe, most people tend to latch onto this one, very romantic, notion of what their music should sound like. While its true there are bands where the violin is important, the music can not only be radically different depending upon which country those who play it reside in, even within a single country it can change from province to province and town to town.
For not only were the Romany a nomadic people who absorbed the musical influences of those whose territories they passed through, they were also survivors who learned quickly how to adopt the music of the local dominant culture so they could earn their keep as entertainers. While in some cases it has become difficult to tell whether the Romany have adopted local folk traditions or vice versa, in others the non Romany influence is obvious. When the Ottoman Empire of Turkey swept up the Danube River through Eastern Europe, until they were halted at the gates of Vienna from entering the West, they brought with them a sound that was new to European ears. While marching bands, military bands especially, are now commonplace, they were first introduced to Europe by the conquering Turkish armies. Throughout the territories they occupied they brought with them their love of brass bands and those wishing to perform for the new rulers quickly learned to play what would sell.
Not only did the Romany people under the Ottoman Empire pick up brass music, they gradually developed their own distinct styles of performance which reflected both their own musical heritage and the regions of Europe they lived in. Although it's only been recently this style of music has made its way over to North America, it is easily as popular and well known as what we refer to as "traditional" Romany music elsewhere. The Guca Festival of brass bands in Serbia, featuring Romany bands from across Europe, is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year and routinely draws over two hundred bands who compete for the title of champion brass band of Europe. One of the most celebrated contestants was Serbian native son the Boban & Marko Markovic Orchestra, who, after receiving unprecedented high marks from all the judges in all the categories at the 2001 festival, no longer competes but performs as a special guest every year. Needless to say they were shocked when whispers began reaching their ears of a band of part time musicians from a small town in Romania who were gaining international recognition and acclaim and being talked about in the same reverential tones usually reserved for them.