Boban Markovic Orkestar

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Boban Markovic Orkestar

Brass band

For more than 20 years the Boban Markovic Orkestar has brought audiences to their feet with an infectious and energetic music that originates from their homeland of Serbia. Known throughout the Balkans, Boban Markovic Orkestar is an all-brass band consisting of flugelhorns (a kind of trumpet), trumpets, tenor horns, and backing percussion. It is perhaps one of the most famous and best orchestras of this type. Ken Roseman of Sing Out! described the range of their music as "frantic with flashy brass blasts [moving] to calmer, more reflective pieces." In 1995 the orchestra provided the soundtrack for Emir Kusturica's film Underground. The exposure they gained from the starkly political and award-winning film helped the group increase in popularity. They also worked on the soundtrack for Kusturica's film Arizona Dream. The charisma and talent of the band leader, Boban Markovic, has helped the orchestra earn its high standing in the world of the brass band, with music that crosses ethnic, religious, and political boundaries.

A Long Tradition

Boban Markovic is a third generation trumpeter from Vladicin Han in the southern region of Serbia. He began playing at the age of seven. His grandfather is said to have played for the king of Serbia. Markovic's father carried on the tradition of horn playing, eventually teaching the instrument to the young Boban. Markovic told Bob Young of the Boston Herald, "Until I was ten all I really wanted to do was play ball, but now I'm not going anywhere without the trumpet." The family tradition continued with the addition of Markovic's teenaged son Marko to the band. He plays flugelhorn as well as trumpet and kaval (a traditional Balkan flute). Markovic told Rebecca Ostriker of the Boston Globe, "I am so happy he is with me. I see him growing and improving day by day."

Boban would grow up to become one of Serbia's best trumpeters. Each year the country celebrates its brass instrument tradition with a festival in Guca (GOO-cha). In particular it focuses on the brand of playing introduced by the Roma people. Serbian brass orchestras have a long history that dates back to the sixteenth century. During that time, the military bands of the Ottoman Empire introduced their sound and instruments to the Balkan countryside. The Roma, with their roots growing from North Indian nomadic peoples, used the ingredients of flugelhorn and indigenous music to create something completely new. Markovic has been a darling of the Guca brass festival for years, winning the coveted "Best Trumpeter" award for five years. In 2001, after having won it for several years in a row, he stated he would refrain from competing, but the spirit overtook him and he once again competed and won.

Hard Working, Fun Loving

Markovic has chosen musicians for his orchestra from his region of Serbia. The hard-working group performs more than 100 times a year. Their gigs include prestigious dates with the Monterey Jazz Festival in the United States and the Durham International Festival in the United Kingdom, which is the leading music venue for brass musicians and groups. But the group is also willing to play all-out for a wedding. According to Markovic, who talked to Rick DelVecchio of the San Francisco Chronicle, his band plays anywhere from five to ten weddings a year. Markovic remarked that they are harder than concerts, "but you are happy when you see people happy anyway." The manager for the band is Bojan Djordjevic, who is also a popular disc jockey and a producer for B92, a radio station in Belgrade.

The band members are known for their virtuosity but also for their ability to stay close to the roots of their music. They are as adept at playing flamenco as they are in breaking out into authentic klezmer. Their version of "Hava Neguila" is fast and furious, adding a new level of energy to the classic Jewish song. In addition to their strong traditional sounds, the Boban Markovic Orkestar has not hesitated to innovate and explore. Ostriker wrote of their music, "The songs are also remarkably unconventional, nimbly borrowing ideas from a vast range of other countries and cultures."

Multiple Influences on Tradition

Markovic, who arranges and composes almost all of the orchestra's numbers, explained to Ostriker why he makes these forays into more diverse genres. "I played traditional music for ages. … I want to develop, to expand the horizons, and introduce new elements to my music. … No matter what country it comes from. If I like it, why not?" Markovic described to Young the ability of his orchestra to please even diehard traditionalists. "When you play with emotion, everyone understands it." An example of this was his orchestra's contribution to the 2002 album Brotherhood of Brass. The album brought together established klezmer artists as well as Egyptian brass bands and the work of Markovic to show how these politically and religiously disparate groups have created music from similar foundations that is even more powerful in its interconnectedness. That same year they were the highlight of the World Music Festival in Chicago.

Reviewers' praise for the Boban Markovic Orkestar is almost as unrestrained as the crowds who enjoy the band's music. Chris Nickson of Sing Out! reviewed their 2002 release Live in Belgrade, describing their ability to easily flow from playing "Cocek Medley," which was played fast "until they can go no faster," to the "achingly slow and gorgeous" "Ederlezi." In a 2006 review for Sing Out! Nickson described their music: "The sound is huge. … but it's always in control, beautifully arranged." Neil Strauss described the complicated mixing of traditions that is southern Serbian brass music in the New York Times as "an intoxicating surge that sounds like equal parts military music, circus tune, parade march, spaghetti-western soundtrack, klezmer, and … a Dixieland band trying to play free jazz." Young wrote that legend has it that when Miles Davis, a leading jazz trumpeter of the twentieth century, traveled to Serbia and heard the brass bands, he exclaimed, "I didn't know you could play the trumpet that way."

The Boban Markovic Orkestar seems sure to continue engaging audiences in frenetic dancing and emotional reflection throughout the coming years. As Marko gains experience and perhaps steps into his father's shoes, the band can be assured of many more years of success. Hopefully they will carry on Boban's goal, which he described to Ostriker as his favorite part of performing: "making the audience happy and proving there are no borders."

For the Record …

Members include: Asim Ajdinovic, tenor horn; Sasa Alisanovic, helicon; Asmet Eminovic, snare drum; Dragoljub Eminovic, tenor horn; Isidor Eminovic, tenor horn; Boban Markovic, band leader, lead flugelhorn; Marko Markovic, flugelhorn, trumpet, kaval; Goran Spasic, tenor horn; Srdjan Spasic, flugelhorn; Nezdat Zumberovic, drum, darbouka.

Formed by Boban Markovic and musicians from his region of Serbia; provided music soundtrack for film Underground, 1995; released Hani Rumba, 1997; Zlatna Truba, 1998; Srce Cigansko, 2000; Millenium, 2000; Bistra Reka, 2001; released Live in Belgrade, played World Music Festival, appeared on Brotherhood of Brass album, 2002; released Boban i Marko, 2003.

Awards: Guca Festival of Brass Music, Best Orchestra, 2000; Guca Festival of Brass Music, five-time winner, for Best Trumpet (Boban Markovic), including 2001.

Addresses: Record company—Piranha Music, Bergmannstrasse 102, 10961 Berlin, Germany, phone: +49 (0)30 318 614 14.

Selected discography

Hani Rumba, ITMM, 1997.

Zlatna Truba, PGP-RTS, 1998.

Srce Cigansko, X Produkcio, 2000.

Millenium, X Produkcio, 2000.

Bistra Reka, X Produkcio, 2001.

Live in Belgrade, Piranha, 2002.

Boban I Marko, Piranha, 2003.



Boston Globe, September 24, 2004, p. C12.

Boston Herald, September 24, 2004, p. E08.

New York Times, September 5, 2001, p. E3.

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), September 16, 2001, p. 13.

San Francisco Chronicle, September 10, 2004, p. F5.

Sing Out!, Spring 2003, p. 132; Summer 2004, p. 148; Fall 2006, p 138.

—Eve Hermann