Fanfare Ciocârlia is a popular twelve-piece Romani Balkan brass band from the northeastern Romanian village of Zece Prăjini. The band is made up of Roma musicians, and they are recognised as one of Europe's most popular contemporary Romani bands. Fanfare Ciocârlia are best known for a very fast, high-energy sound, with complex rhythms and high-speed, staccato clarinet, saxophone and trumpet solos, sometimes performed at more than 200 beats per minute.
Fanfare Ciocârlia are also known for their arrangements of songs, including Born To Be Wild, James Bond Theme, Caravan, and Summertime. Fanfare Ciocârlia never use sheet music in their performances. Since appearing in 1996 Fanfare Ciocârlia have played more than two thousand concerts in more than 70 countries. In 2016 the band will celebrate their 20th anniversary with a world tour.
Fanfare Ciocârlia originate from Zece Prajini, a village located in Moldavia, northeastern Romania. Zece Prajini is entirely populated by Romani families where, traditionally, most of the men in the village worked either as subsistence farmers or at factories in nearby towns. Many men in the village played music at local weddings and baptisms. They tended to play brass instruments as farming left their fingers too rough to play string instruments. Playing an instrument was a family tradition, taught father to son, and while the village was noted locally for its brass musicians no one living there considered themselves a professional musician.
Fanfare Ciocârlia exist as a brass band of nine to twelve members whose roots are in Austrian and Turkish military marching bands. Fanfare Ciocârlia's instrumental lineup includes trumpets, tenor and baritone horns, tubas, clarinets, saxophones, bass drum and percussion. Their song lyrics are usually either in Romani or Romanian. Their musical style stems primarily from the traditions of Romani and Romanian folk dance music, but they also borrow freely from Turkish, Bulgarian, Serbian and Macedonian musical styles, and they incorporate a number of tunes gleaned from international radio, Hollywood and Bollywood in their broad repertoire as well.
Henry Ernst, an East German sound engineer who frequently travelled in Romania, returned to northern Romania in October 1996 to search for traditional village musicians. In Moldavia a farmer suggested he head to the small Gypsy village of Zece Prajini where a brass band existed to play weddings and baptisms. Ernst made his way to Zece Prajini – the village was so obscure locals would boast “it is not on any map” - and, upon arrival, asked about the brass band. He was introduced to Ioan Ivancea, a local farmer and clarinet player who was considered to be the leader of the village's musicians. Ivancea invited Ernst to stay with him and assembled the brass band he lead to play. Ernst was impressed by the band's speed, finesse, repertoire and unique tunings. Ernst also realised that the village band were one of the few Gypsy brass bands still in existence in Romania and, through being isolated from contemporary popular music, played in a manner quite different to that of the Balkan brass bands found in southern Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria. Ernst determined to return to Germany and set up a tour for Fanfare Ciocârlia – as the band had now named themselves – and told the musicians that they should apply for passports. Back in Germany, with the help of his friend Helmut Neumann, Ernst managed to book Fanfare Ciocârlia into a series of festival and club dates. While the tour was a critical success it lost Ernst his life savings and, when over, he considered the tour to have been a one-off. Then he received a phone call from WDR, a German public-broadcasting institution and festival promoter at the time, who wanted to book Fanfare Ciocârlia and was willing to pay a fee that would cover all transport, visas and other expenses and leave enough money for Ernst and Neumann to form Asphalt Tango management and booking agency.
Fanfare Ciocârlia quickly won a large following in northern Europe with their powerful brass sound appealing to rock and rave fans as well as the world music audience. In 1997 Ernst and Neumann took Fanfare Ciocârlia into Bucharest's Studio Electrecord to record their debut album. The album, Radio Pascani, was released on the Berlin record label Piranha Musik in 1998 and proved an instant success. Radio Pascani received extremely positive reviews – many reviewers noted that they had never heard a brass band who played with such speed and Eastern flavour – and went on to become one of the biggest selling albums in Piranha Musik's catalogue (selling over 150,000 copies on CD) so making it amongst the most popular East European albums released in the West.
From 1999 to 2005 Fanfare Ciocârlia toured extensively, playing across Europe and the United States. The band's second album, Baro Biao, was also recorded in Bucharest at Studio Electrecord and released on Piranha Musik. Baro Biao was well received and helped further Fanfare Ciocârlia's international popularity. Dates in Japan and Australia followed as well as playing at the UK's Womad Festival. In 2001 Piranha Musik released Fanfare Ciocârlia's third album, Iag Bari. Iag Bari featured music influenced by New Orleans jazz standards (West Side Blues) along with the Romanian folk music, including the ballad Lume Lume (where they were joined in the studio by the Bulgarian female vocal band Angelite).
Fanfare Ciocârlia continued an extensive international touring schedule where German film director Ralf Marschalleck followed the band from their village to Berlin and Tokyo for his feature-length documentary Iag Bari – Brass On Fire. In 2005 Ernst and Neumann produced the Fanfare Ciocârlia album Gili Garabdi - Ancient Secrets of Gypsy Brass both in the band's home village of Zece Prajini and in Berlin's Headroom Studio. The album featured the band's interpretations of 007 (James Bond Theme) and Duke Ellington's Caravan. Both tracks became very popular in the band's repertoire. British world music DJ Charlie Gillett often played Caravan on his BBC radio shows and included it on his double CD compilation World 2006 (Rhino). In 2005 Fanfare Ciocârlia appeared on the cover of Garth Cartwright's book Princes Amongst Men: Journeys With Gypsy Musicians (Serpents Tail). This book contained interviews with Ernst, Ivancea and members of Fanfare Ciocârlia.
Ioan Ivancea was diagnosed with cancer in 2005 and, after a short illness, died in October 2006. After a period of mourning Fanfare Ciocârlia determined that they would continue. Balkan Gypsy music was now at the zenith of its popularity and Fanfare Ciocârlia were considered to be amongst the genre's most popular bands, their concerts attracting large audiences while Djs played their records in clubs. Ernst and Neumann decided that an effective way of both celebrating Ivancea's life and capitalising on the public's enthusiasm for Gypsy music was Queens & Kings. This involved getting an array of guest vocalists to sing on selected songs with Fanfare Ciocârlia backing them. The vocalists engaged for Queens & Kings were Esma Redzepova (Macedonia), Saban Bajramovic (Serbia), Kaloome (France), Ljiljana Butler (Bosnia), Jony Iliev (Bulgaria), Florentina Sandu (Romania), Dan Armeanca (Romania), Mitsou (Hungary). The album finished with Farewell March, a funeral ballad sung by Ioan Ivancea that had been recorded by Ernst but never previously released, and Born To Be Wild, Fanfare Ciocârlia's rendition of the Steppenwolf song that the band had recorded for the soundtrack to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for MakeBenefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The first Gypsy Queens & Kings concert took place in Bucharest, Romania, in December 2006 and found Fanfare Ciocârlia both playing Romania's capital city for the first time and joined on stage by Esma Redzepova, Jony Iliev and Mitsou. The Queens & Kings album was released by Asphalt Tango in 2007 and they began touring Gypsy Queens & Kings across Europe and to Australia. The tour initially featured Fanfare Ciocârlia joined by Esma Redzepova, Kaloome, Jony Iliev and, occasionally, Mitsou or Ljiljana Butler. After touring Gypsy Queens & Kings for more than two years Fanfare Ciocârlia took a year off to rest at home in Romania and the Gypsy Queens & Kings tour continued with Bucharest-based Gypsy band Mahala Rai Banda backing the vocalists for the latter part of 2009 and much of 2010.
The band won the BBC Radio 3 World Music Award for Europe in 2006.
Asphalt Tango Records released Princes Amongst Men – The Soundtrack To The Book in 2008. This CD compilation came out to compliment the German edition of Garth Cartwright's book Princes Amongst Men: Journeys With Gypsy Musicians and featured Fanfare Ciocârlia on the cover. In September 2009 Asphalt Tango Records simultaneously released two Fanfare Ciocârlia albums. Live featured the band's Berlin concert that had featured in the Gypsy Brass Legends DVD ( and included the Gypsy Brass Legends DVD as part of the package). At the same time Asphalt Tango Records released Best Of Gypsy Brass, a compilation album of Fanfare Ciocârlia recordings, on vinyl.
Fanfare Ciocârlia returned to the studio in early 2011 with Ernst producing for the Balkan Brass Battle session. These sessions – and the subsequent concert tours – pitted Fanfare Ciocârlia against Serbian Gypsy brass band Boban & Marco Markovic Orkestar. The pairing of the two foremost Balkan brass bands proved popular and the ensembles toured Europe several times, both bands sharing the stage as they engaged in a good natured battle to see who could generate the loudest audience response.
In 2013 Fanfare Ciocârlia toured North America extensively. They also recorded in Toronto, Canada, with Canadian guitarist Adrian Raso. Raso, who specialises in playing Gypsy jazz and hard rock, was fascinated by Fanfare Ciocârlia's sound and proposed he and the band record together. The sessions – produced by Ernst created The Devil's Tale album. This was released by Asphalt Tango Records in 2014 and demonstrated Fanfare Ciocârlia's ability to play slower, more atmospheric music. Both critics and the public responded strongly to The Devil's Tale and in 2015, after Fanfare Ciocârlia headlined at Womadelaide in Australia and Womad Taranaki in New Zealand, they combined with Raso and his rock ensemble to tour The Devil's Tale for the first time.
Songs from the debut album Radio Paşcani ("Ah Ya Bibi" in particular) have appealed greatly to American fans of Gypsy music. American Gypsy musicians Balkanarama covered "Ah Ya Bibi" on their 2003 release Nonstop. The eclectic, Santa Cruz-based jazz/rock/metal act Estradasphere, who are known for frequently interpreting Gypsy music, often play "Ah Ya Bibi" at live shows (on their EP "The Silent Elk of Yesterday", the track is recorded under the title "A Tune by F.F.C."). New York City's Hungry March Band covered the song "Asfalt Tango" on their On the Waterfront CD, and the Extra Action Marching Band recorded "Ciocârlia Suite" on their Live CD.
Fanfare Ciocârlia was invited to play music at Danny Elfman's 50th birthday party in Hollywood during 2003.
Fanfare Ciocârlia are considered to be pioneers of the dance music genre, Balkan Beats. Balkan Beats is the name coined by the Berlin-based, Bosnian DJ Robert Soko in 2001 for a club night he started where he played Balkan brass music. Fanfare Ciocârlia were amongst the bands Soko DJ-ed and, since then, their music has become a staple of DJs and remixers who play Balkan music in clubs.
The Fanfare Ciocârlia song "Asfalt Tango" was used by Basement Jaxx, a British electronic dance group, on the song "Hey U", which featured on their 2006 album Crazy Itch Radio.
A cover version of the James Bond theme is included on the album Gypsy Beats and Balkan Bangers compiled by Basement Jaxx' Felix B
The full-length film Iag Bari - Brass on Fire, directed by Ralf Marschalleck, features the life of Fanfare Ciocârlia members, focusing on the small Romanian Gypsy village of Zece Prajini in contrast to the large concert venues the band attends. It would go on to win "Best Documentary Award" at the Festival De Cine Documental Musical in Barcelona and Madrid in November 2003. It was also awarded "Best Long Documentary Award" on the Romani Festival for TV and Radio Production Golden Wheel in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia.
The band appear performing in a Hamburg club in the film Gegen die Wand (Head-On) by Turkish film director Fatih Akın. In 2004, the film won the Golden Bear at the International Film Festival in Berlin.
The song "Asfalt Tango" was the main track of the animated movie Fallen Art by Tomasz Bagiński as it was in the short film Son by Daniel Mulloy.
In October 2004, Asphalt Tango Records released the first Fanfare Ciocârlia DVD that included a full live concert and Iag Bari, along with other video segments.
Fanfare Ciocârlia's were commissioned to record the Steppenwolf song "Born to be Wild" for the film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
Their version of "Moliendo Cafe" can be heard throughout the Spanish comedy Crimen ferpecto.
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