Review: Fanfare Ciocarlia @ Koko (London, 17th March 2015)

The Romanian ensemble Fanfare Ciocârlia, back on stage in London two years after their last performance gave life to a vehement example of Balkan brass blowout, shaking Koko from the roof to its foundations.

Sparkling brass, impeccable two-piecers, fun and energy to spare, in two words, Fanfare Ciocârlia! Introduced by an urban interpretation of Balkan traditional sound by Londoners Gipsy Hill, Koko hosted for the second time in few years a gig of the grand viziers of the Romanian brass bands. And they honoured the invitation in their own way, giving life to one and a half hours of roaring tubas, neighing trumpets and clucking saxophone, staunchly followed by bellowing drums that literally drove the audience crazy. But that’s the least you can expect from a twelve-piece band that is able to keep a frantic pace throughout a gig, saving no breath.

Announced by a mighty bass drum the ensemble burst onto the Camden venue’s stage in all its musical firepower. After a while they energised the audience and challenged them to follow their whirlwind tempo through an unpredictable and eccentric set that included original tunes from their latest album like “Swing Sagarese” and “The Absinthe-Minded Gypsy”, traditional Romanian songs as “Iag Bari” and “Hora de la Minasterea”, Gipsy favourites like “Bubamara” and “Nicoleta” and a peculiar arrangement of popular evergreens like “Caravan”, “Born to Be Wild” and the “James Bond” theme.

The only permanent feature conceded by the band members was their flawless cohesion: they act and play like an extended family. After nineteen years and more than one-thousand five-hundred gigs together Fanfare Ciocârlia have become a perfect mechanism that smoothly leads the show through its highs and lows. They know how to whip up their fans with breakneck speed, but also know when it’s time to calm down with something ‘lento’, and finally they know how to win the audience’s affection.

As if being on stage simply wasn’t engaging enough they literally decided to join the audience. At the end of the set, instead of the canonical encore, the band went off stage and reappeared minutes later in the hall, forming an impromptu marching band. Like an Eastern European translation of the Pied Piper legend, the musicians walked through the aisles of the venue and filled every corner with their unmistakable sound. They enchanted and included their fans in their trumpeting stroll as they ultimately formed a dancing huddle in the middle of the stalls, where they closed the night.

Even though Fanfare Ciocârlia had just landed after a forty-hour journey from New Zealand it seemed as though they had washed away every trace of weariness as soon as they started blowing their brass.

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