Are you one of the original band members?
Yes, since we started as a band Fanfare Ciocărlia I am the lead vocalist and trumpet player.
What was it like twenty years ago right when the band was starting up?
Well, before we started touring twenty years ago I was a worker in a factory near to a city near our village. And beside having that job, I was playing at weddings occasionally, whenever possible. And then on one day in ’96 Henry showed up. And you have to know, our village is full of brass musicians. He came to our village and he wanted to listen to our brass music. Everyone was starting to come and starting to play. And he did some recordings, some field recordings. He was totally amazed at our style of playing. He was blown away. So he went back to Germany, and after a couple of months he came back. And he said, “Guys, I will bring you on a tour of Germany”. And then we really started to think about doing this professionally, what we did as a hobby. So we came together for hell of rehearsals. We set up a program, a repertoire – and the story goes on.
Did you imagine twenty years ago that you would have had the success that you had eventually?
No, for sure, we couldn’t imagine that kind of success. We thought, OK, that’s a great idea, he will bring us to Germany. We were scared because we didn’t know how to behave. It was totally new. But then we said, “Let’s take that chance. Let’s go to Germany. And for sure it’s just for one time. We will enjoy it.” But since then we are on tour for twenty years, and it proves that we had a special kind of fate, and a talent and we can impress people. And of course, all in all, it’s also a matter of hard work.
The first concert was in Germany?
No, it was in France.
But then shortly thereafter came Germany.
We had one tour: a couple of concerts in France and a couple of concerts in Germany.
What was it like to play in front of a non-Romanian audience for the first time?
Well, you know, the first three shows were very difficult for us because we had no idea how people would react, what we had to do on stage. We were used to playing at weddings, and usually people were sitting and listening to our music. So it was really hard. But after those three shows we realized that people really enjoy our music. And finally, it came close to a wedding atmosphere. So we started enjoying our performances on stage, and we got much more relaxed, and we started gambling around, having a kind of choreography, and so on. But the first three shows were really tough ones.
In the time being you’ve played all across the world, from the U.S. to Japan. Who were some of your best audiences?
You know, the audiences where we play are reacting everywhere the same way. There is no difference. And, anyway, for me, it’s important my music. I don’t care so much about the audience. I just want to do my music, and I want to do it in the best way possible. And tonight we are in Berlin. We know Berlin and it’s a home game.
You’ve played festivals, met different musicians and been exposed to different styles of music. In the beginning you were just influenced by local Romanian music. Can you tell me something about what you learned in twenty years. Were there some musicians that you met, who played jazz or Latin, that made an impression on you. Or were there some personalities who you enjoyed meeting and learning from?
Yeah, it’s true. In the beginning we started with our very local music from the region of northern Romania. But when we started playing festivals we met so many different musicians, different style and so on. It had a huge influence on us. And we very quickly learned to pick up things, some elements from jazz, from samba, from Latin American music, which we really enjoyed, and where we believed it could fit our new arrangements. And I want to say, that after having that chance to widen our minds, it’s one of the biggest things I could earn from those years besides the money. Because now I am a person who has a different view on different kinds of music, and I can use the knowledge I could collect for myself. And we have a saying in Gypsy language: “ A good musician is stealing everywhere whatever is possible.” And I had that chance to do it. And now I am here because of all of these experiences I could have.
Can you tell me some names? Some people that you met in the course of twenty years that stick out in your mind.
Yes, we met many artists, for example Esma Redžepova, with whom we had a project together. She impressed us very much. And we had the chance to learn something from her musical culture. The same story with Jony Iliev or Boban Marković. But also we met Cheb Khaled, and we enjoyed his shows. And Ray Charles in Canada. And many others. And personally I know that many other names.
Do you still play weddings?
Yes, of course. I love music, and at the moment when I have time I join every wedding.
Local Romanian weddings, or also abroad?
How have the wedding changed over the years?
Well, mainly the musical repertoire is the same as twenty years ago. Maybe the wedding style has changed, and it’s more luxurious. There is more money influencing. And of course in twenty years even the music developed a little bit. But all in all it’s basically the same.
From 2011 to 2013 you were involved in the Brass Band Battle with Boban Marković. What was that like working together with him?
It was a very interesting project and something very ambitious and we had nice shows and nice so-called fights on stage, but unfortunately it took just two years. Then Mr. Boban Marković ran away. He took it serious, you know.
Can you tell me something about the new CD?
Well, this album was very important for us. And really we put all of our soul into Onwards to Mars because now with this twenty years anniversary we had this chance to realize all the ideas which we collected in many years. So we could do some nice covers. We could go a new path in the direction of jazz, and we could include some samba feel. So, everything we always wanted to do we did with this album. And it was one of our greatest joys to record. We even had the chance to invite some guests, for example, Julian Canaf, a Gypsy blues singer from Iași, a big city near to our village. And, as we always wanted to record Screaming Jay Hawkins’ version of I Put A Spell On You, we asked him if he would join us, and he said, – Yeah, for you I’ll do it. So we were very happy. And then we had for our first time a composer, Koby Israelite, who we knew for many years – we met at festivals, we did jam sessions – we really fell in love. And he was happy to compose six songs for our album. So it was something new for us – cool, and then very spontaneously we met a band, a Columbian band and Medelline last year. They played support for our show and we became friends very easily and we also had a jam sessions, and then the next day we decided to go to the studio and record another song for our album. And last but not least we could also include a new-commer from our village, a clarinet player who performed two songs for our album. So, all in all, it was a huge project and we are glad about the results.
When the band started out twenty years ago, this Balkan wave was slowly taking shape, which peaked in around 2010. What’s the future like for this style of music? Will to become like a style of music like reggae, which will never really die out? How do you foresee the future?
Henry: I will answer for him because I know what we will say. He doesn’tgive a shit about it. I think bands like Fanfare Ciocărlia became a brand after twenty years, and they will be able to remain on the market. But all in all, the Balkan hype, the Balkan music hype we had five, eight years ago, I think this is gone for a long time, and it will be a niche music. But bands like Fanfare Ciocărlia, they were able to attract so different kinds of people, they can easily play concert halls but also clubs.
Are there any well-known people that have declared themselves as fans of Fanfare Ciocărlia.
At least I know three names: Danny Elfman, the composer of Batman and so on. He’s a huge fan of our music. We even performed for his fiftieth birthday. Sarah Jessica Parker, she came to us and said, “I know your music, I love you guys”. And last but not least, the King of Norway, he came and shook hands with us and said that he has had a couple of our records for a couple of years. And may others, but sorry, I can’t remember.
And the last question: how has your village of Zece Prăjini changed in twenty years?
Our village has changed of course in twenty years. The money we brought in was reinvested in buildings, in infrastructure. And last but not least, people took us, our story of success, as an example for their own lives. So everyone knows through believing in your art or the idea that you have, if you follow your idea you can reach higher level. And that’s what we feel in our village.
Is there a younger generation coming up of brass musicians?
Unfortunately not really. Young people go other ways.
Thank you very much.