ROMANIA: Iag Bari - Fanfare Ciocarlia
Updated: Jan 20
Furiously fast-paced and fun, Iag Bari is a perfect showcase of the Romanian band's excellent musical talents
The opening two songs of Iag Bari, the third album by the seminal Balkan brass band Fanfare Ciocarlia, are deceptively slow and melancholy. The first, Doina, has a funereal quality to it, and the second, Wild Silence, with its quiet guitar solo, paints a picture through sound of a quiet night sat by a campfire. It is only on the third song, the title track, that we hear the fast-paced and frenetic sound that made this Romanian band of Romani origin a world-renowned act.
“Fanfare Ciocarlia’s success is a by-product of the globalisation of society, culture and music, and a reminder that seemingly niche or otherwise non-mainstream elements of culture have the potential to reach a wide audience and remain popular in spheres where popularity may seem unlikely”
Fanfare Ciocarlia have their origins in the tiny village of Zece Prajini in North Eastern Romania. They were discovered by a German sound engineer named Henry Ernst, who was travelling in the region, in an attempt to find traditional village musicians. With his help, they went on tour, gained a recording contract, and eventually achieved a world-wide fandom, and have had their music used in films such as Borat. Fanfare Ciocarlia were one of the last Romani brass bands in Romania, and as such, this exposure has not only provided a historical document for those wanting to listen to traditional styles of music from Eastern Europe, they have also revitalised the genre, and given it a worldwide popularity. Their crazily fast paced music has been repurposed and reused many times in different musical contexts, finding a particular popularity among dance music DJs. Fanfare Ciocarlia’s success is a by-product of the globalisation of society, culture and music, and a reminder that seemingly niche or otherwise non-mainstream elements of culture have the potential to reach a wide audience and remain popular in spheres where popularity may seem unlikely.
These guys play incredibly fast, faster than I thought possible, and at its best it’s infectiously fun. Brass band music can often get repetitive and dull, in my opinion, and it’s usually best in a live setting, but Fanfare Ciocarlia successfully manage to remain interesting enough to sustain a full listen of this album. One thing Fanfare Ciocarlia are well known for is covering songs from very different genres and reworking them into the Balkan brass style. On this particular album there is a cover of Moliendo Café, a popular Venezuelan song, and the Romanian pop standard Lume Lume. These songs both show the versatility of the genre, and also Fanfare Ciocarlia’s ability to look beyond their comfort zone and incorporate non-traditional styles of music. Another song, Hora Andalusia, while still firmly in the Balkan brass style, has Spanish trumpet inflections particularly noticeable in the intro of the song, and Besh o Drom seems to have borrowed some riffs from The Godfather theme. While there is little variation throughout the album, there is just enough experimentation for the music to remain varied and catchy.
Furthermore, while it is mostly an enjoyable cacophony of competing trumpets, saxophones and clarinets playing to staccato rhythms, occasionally they do lower the tempo, which is a welcome break considering the album is just under an hour long. We have already spoken about the slow introduction, but there is a mid-album break too, with Balada Lui Ioan taking us back to the sad, solemn march we heard at the start of the album, and the aforementioned Besh O Drom starting soft and slow, riffing on the theme to The Godfather, but by the end of the song we are back to the frenzied, hectic brass band playing we have become accustomed to. This structure to the album helps it a great deal in my opinion, as it could be easy to get bored of the same musical style for a solid hour, and with these breaks from the feverish, up beat music, it allows you to take in what you’ve heard and process it.