Comically large tubas, the wailing wah-wah of trumpets and an exuberant crowd with their hands in the air, it sounded and looked like the circus had come to town. Close, but not quite, it was Fanfare Ciocarlia that had come to Koko Camden. Fanfare Ciocarlia, a Romanian brass ensemble, basking unashamedly in pure showmanship oblivious to all March 17th traditions, ignored the St Patrick’s green and turned the air a hot gypsy red. The ensemble’s North London set was the latest instalment in the season of gypsy fever that seems to have gripped the city, following in the steps of the Romani influenced Serbian Month and Sadler Wells’ flamenco festival.
Fanfare Ciocarlia’s set was pure good-time music and the crowd were happy to party. There was also something faintly comical about the ensemble and the happily baying audience warmed to that too. Remaining true to the spirit of showmanship they shared with that other Romani tradition, the travelling circus, they tickled the crowd with their blaring horn versions of the Pink Panther and James Bond 007 theme tunes. Their Mista Lobaloba, a bastardisation of Shaggy’s Boombastic, was pure brass comedy. And of course, Duke Ellington’s good time jazz standard Caravan quite rightly got the jolly horn treatment. There was nothing layered or complex about Fanfare Ciocarlia’s music; it was a pure wall of sound beckoning you into the gypsy groove and in its loud and merry simplicity the ensemble hit all the right notes with its fans.
In between Fanfare Ciocarlia’s tracks of “furious brass” there were a few vocals, notably by Radulescu Lazar. From afar Lazar, with his elder stateman’s hat, looked rather like Compay Segunda of the legendary Buena Vista Social Club, though with the trumpet instead of Segunda’s guitar. There is more to the parallel too between Fanfare Ciocarlia and the BVSC than the likeness of their respective members: both ensembles share an almost identical story of discovery and road to fame. As with the Cuban ensemble, it was the fascination of an outsider with the distant and exotic – in the case of Fanfare Ciocarlia the record producer Henry Ernst – which led to the creation of this brass outfit. Today Fanfare Ciocarlia has gone from providing the entertainment at weddings and parties in an obscure Romanian village to becoming a global phenomenon, just like the Cuban Latin act.
As the night drew to an end, the same could scarcely be said for the party atmosphere in Koko. Encore after encore simply wouldn’t suffice for Fanfare Ciocarlia or its crowd. The ensemble didn’t simply take a final bow, but in a style more reminiscent of a circus act they came offstage in musical procession. And as if that wasn’t enough the procession continued round the floor-space of the venue, for another half hour, with their crowd of fans baying, clapping and dancing. The whole scene was completed with that authentic Romani touch – a member of the ensemble cap-in-hand weaving through the procession canvassing for donations from the fans. Who says you can’t be a global phenomenon and remain true to your roots?
Fanfare Ciocarlia’s UK tour was organised by Junction2Music. For details of Fanfare Ciocarlia’s forthcoming European dates, please click on the link below.