Kocani Orkestar, Macedonia’s most accomplished and best-known gypsy brass band, featured in the film “Time of the Gypsies” and take their name from a nearby town on the outskirts of Skopje, where such music is known to this day as romska orientalna muzika (?oriental gypsy band?).
The line-up consists of two trumpets, one clarinet, one saxophone, four tubas and one tapan, a large double-skinned cylindrical drum, beaten in complex rhythmic patterns with a heavy stick in one hand and a thin switch in the other.
The group’s international recognition came after they were discovered by Michel Winter and Stefan Karo, the same team responsible for first bringing Romania’s much-loved gypsy troupe, Taraf de Haidouks, to world attention. Both acts were signed to Belgium’s Crammed label, which led to the Kocani Orkestar guesting on the Taraf’s Band of Gypsies album.
Kocani Orkestar’s critical breakthrough came with their acclaimed second release, L’ Orient Est Rouge, a showcase of gypsy eclecticism, integrating original pieces into the traditional brass band repertoire, all played in a dazzling array of complex time-signatures. The title song came from China and there were Hindi film songs alongside their versions of local Macedonian dance tunes, as well as a great version of the Roma anthem, “Djelem, Djelem”.
The Orkestar continued to go from strength to strength with a new and expanded line-up. Their album Alone at My Wedding, explores the music that accompanies the three-day traditional gypsy weddings that still take place regularly all over the Balkan region. With typical gypsy diversity, Turkish and Bulgarian rhythms are married to local folk dances, with even a dash of Latin flavor thrown in for good measure.
The record also finds the Orkestar transcending the strict boundaries of the brass band genre (not that gypsy musicians ever had much respect for boundaries of any description) by showcasing the talent of their new vocalis, the charismatic young Ajnur Azizov, who sings variously in Slavic, Turkish and Roma.
At the same time, they can rock like an untamed, mutant gypsy funk band, mixing James Brown-style brass riffs with oriental and eastern European influences. The thundering rhythm is provided by the tapan drum of Saban Jasarov and the four tubas of Redzai Durmisev, Nijazi Alimov, Sukri Zejnelov and Suad Asanov. Then there are passionate, wailing solos courtesy of sax player Durak Demirov, the two trumpeters Turan Gaberov and Sukri Kadriev, and Dzeladin Demirov on clarinet.
Live, Kocani Orkestar are an even mightier experience, and whether they?re playing at a gypsy wedding in Kocani or in the more sedate setting of a western concert hall, it apparently makes no difference to their feral approach.
A Gypsy Brass Band (Long Distance, 1994)
L’Orient Est Rouge (Cramworld, 1997)
Gypsy Mambo (Yeni Dünya Müzik, 1999)
Cigance (pläne, 2000)
Gypsy Folies (pläne, 2002)
Alone At My Wedding (Crammed Discs, 2002)
Ulixes (Materiali Sonori, 2002)
Live (Il Manifesto, 2005)
The Ravished Bride (Crammed Discs, 2008)
Band Of Gypsies 2 (Crammed Discs, 2011)
Jazzwerkstatt Peitz Live / Live In Concert (Jazzwerkstatt, 2011)
Romeo Scaccia Meets Kocani Orkestar (Morgenland, 2011)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.