Fanfare Ciocârlia impress with their musical dexterity
Nothing could have adequately prepared the audience’s ears for the audio assault of Fanfare Ciocârlia on Sunday night.
The 12-strong gypsy brass band from rural Romania were in the capital to perform as part of the inaugural programme at NYUAD’s The Arts Centre – and within seconds of taking to the stage, it was like a collective sugar rush took over the crowd, with heads bobbing and limbs flailing theatrically to the beat of this wailing wall of blaring brass.
At the back, a row of four tuba-like players blurt out arpeggio chords and one-two, root-to-fifth, bouncing baselines, sounding a relentless, up-down rhythmic stroke, like one big brass guitar. In the centre, two percussionists bash out a primal beat, while out front, trumpets and saxophones spurt the snaking gypsy dance melodies first heard by the grandfathers of those on stage – who probably taught them to play.
And it’s all so fast – a breakneck pace to rival the manic 200bmp of a late-1990s hardcore trance rave. But played on quaint village brass instruments, it becomes the imaginary soundtrack to a vintage, sped-up black-and-white silent slapstick comedy.
“We like your ‘luxus’ country,” one elder bandmate announces with a big-grin in broken English, clearly still bewildered that somewhere along the way he had swapped scraping a living performing at rural Romani weddings for concert halls and baffled students on the other side of the world.
In that respect, at least, it doesn’t seem unfair to call them real-life Leningrad Cowboys, the fictional, fish-out-of-water Soviet rock band dreamed up by Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki. Tongues are kept firmly in cheek by the band and crowd alike – the Borat-commissioned Born to be Wild cover is played just for laughs.
Other crowd-pleasers included a frenetic take on the 007 theme which I would challenge anyone to hold a frown throughout.
But there’s more than sheer novelty value here – alongside the meat-and-potatoes Balkan folk dances, the tightly toned repertoire took exotic detours, with welcome Arabic flavours emerging in some swaying Turkish traditional tunes.
For all the gags, this was an impressive display of dexterity from a bunch of (supposedly) self-taught villagers, with some gravity-defying solo work from the front-line players. But, really, this music is far too communal for any one player to hog the limelight for long.
As the night wore on, the frenetically thrown body shapes just got louder and sillier, groups peeling off to dance in linked-elbow rings. But in the party-sparking stakes, even the mighty Fanfare Ciocârlia face some serious competition soon – NYUAD’s next major musical booking is former James Brown sidemen Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley, who on April 16 will present the world premiere of a “multimedia performance” called Funk: Evolution of a Revolution. And if anyone knows how to start a party, it’s The JBs.
• For details of future events at NYUAD’s The Arts Centre, visit www.nyuad-artscenter.org