She’s an English rose, an accordionist and circus performer from a Cotswolds hamlet. He’s a virtuoso Roma violinist from a village in West Serbia.
How Faith and Branko came to form a successful band, and the trials and tribulations they had to overcome en-route, provides a compelling backstory.
It began a decade ago when Faith felt impelled to drive to Serbia to learn local styles of accordion playing. While there, she met Branko, a fiddle player who the BBC would later mention in the same breath as Paganini. Despite a language barrier, they began creating music together. They fell in love and two years later, when Faith returned to Serbia, they married.
The couple spent the next five years attempting to gain entry to live in the UK. “During this time, I was immersed in the music and language of the Roma village in which we built a house near his family,” Faith relates. They eventually made it to England two years ago, via Vienna and work in the Austrian Roma music scene.
“The stresses of the past half-dozen years or so have been immense,” Faith reveals. “Branko’s health has been difficult — his life before was traumatic — and trying to understand a way to be together in the fast modern world that we have now moved to, has been a huge challenge. But whether our joint lives are joyful or problematic, all of this — happiness and pain — is poured into our music and creates the energy between us that you can see on stage.”
Until he met Faith, Branko had never travelled internationally, been on an airplane or used a bank or computer. “Life in my village was natural, communal and simple,” he says. “Before Faith arrived in my life, I had had one of my visions — that a girl would come who I would travel the world with and play music with.”
In 2015, his dream was realized when they jetted to Australia for a handful of gigs with Sydney band Lolo Lovina. For Branko, simply arriving in the world-renowned harbour city with Faith was mindboggling: “It was one of the most spectacular moments of my life.”
Faith i Branko currently perform with Serbian-born guitarist Stefan Melovski and Yugoslavian-born double bass player Viktor Obsust. “The quartet is the sound we currently prefer,” says Faith. “After working with drummers and additional instruments, it provides the fullest and most delicate sound for our requirements.”
The band’s music has been described as wild and energetic. “It doesn’t have much middle ground,” Faith agrees. “The emotions expressed within it are very intense, whether in slow painful passages or super-speed joyful bursts … it’s music that expresses the extremes of being alive.”
She continues: “The music works from a musical foundation of Serbia Roma music — the traditional music of Branko’s village of Gornja Grabovica. While we make journeys into other flavours, this is the style that predominates.”
Although Faith utilises a traditional English tabor pipe within their music — playing the accordion with one hand and the pipe with the other — she says there’s very little deliberate melding of their heritages. “It is more in the combining of two very different cultural personalities that this heritage can be felt.”
By all accounts, Faith i Branko’s music has matured considerably in recent years. “It has progressed from a much more simplistic way of playing to something more detailed, complex and full as we have travelled and matured as people and players.”
One of the things they have done is to stretch the capacity of the violin. “Branko has changed greatly as a player due to being exposed to an international music scene, and the music reflects the change in our current personal relationship from the relationship between us four years ago.”
• The above interview first appeared in Rhythms, Australia’s only dedicated roots music magazine.