GYPSY CARAVAN 2 featuring Fanfare CIOCArLIA with Esma Redzepova And ENSEMBLE Teodosievski, Maharaja and Antonio El Pipa Flamenco Ensemble at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Wednesday (October 17). $28.50-$42.50. 416-872-4255. Rating: NNNNN
the misconception that gypsy music begins and ends with flashy fiddling is the least of the regrettable stereotypes that Romania's mighty Fanfare Ciocarlia has been trying to blow away. The 11-strong Gypsy brass band, which hails from the secluded village of Zece Prajini (10 fields) in mountainous eastern Romania, near the Moldovan border, have become an international sensation since the world music network first caught wind of Fanfare Ciocarlia's hyper horn hoedowns -- typically clocking in at a feverish 150+ bpm.
These boys can honk up a helluva storm, but it's not merely velocity that's made them the featured attraction on this second instalment of the Gypsy Caravan tour with Rajasthan dance troupe Maharaja (formerly Musafir), Andalusia's stomping Antonio El Pipa Flamenco Ensemble and powerhouse Macedonian diva Esma Redzepova. As Fanfare Ciocarlia's fantastic new Iag Bari (Piranha/Fusion III) CD amply shows, they've got a crowd-pleasing way with a melody, too.
Listen closely, and out from in between the intricately woven hora, sîrba and rusasca dance rhythms jumps a bit of ABBA's Money, Money, Money or a quote from Boney M's One Way Ticket To Hell. It's not necessarily a conscious thing; they're freestyling with melodies that work in the moment. But whether they nicked it from their grandfather or the radio, it's all good.
The ancient art of sampling, Gypsy-style, can make the concept of song authorship difficult to nail down. A seemingly simple question about who wrote what may be impossible to answer.
"Although we are usually working with traditional songs we all know," explains trumpeter Costica "Cimai" Trifan through a translator, "there are times when we'll be playing something no one will be able to recognize. Whether it's something old that has been changed or something completely new, it's very difficult to say.
"We don't set out to create new songs, but each of us has different melodies in our mind, and we use them to express how we feel at the moment. So we start with a familiar theme, but when you have 11 people working together and adding their own ideas, you soon have something that sounds very different from the traditional song you started with."
While Trifan admits that the money is good, what really makes the long stints away from family and friends back home worthwhile has been the enthusiastic response they receive on a nightly basis from complete strangers. Just like every other group's experience, it wasn't until Fanfare Ciocarlia was successful in foreign countries that they finally started getting some props back home in Romania.
"As musicians, we've encountered a kind of racism between some Romanians and some Gypsies. We might be hired for a night to play at a wedding, yet we would be treated not as artists but as labourers who are paid to do a job exactly as ordered. But in the past two years, things have changed for us and we're more accepted.
"Now you can hear traditional Gypsy music on the radio. It's very strange that it's only now that people in positions of power at Romanian radio and television stations are recognizing this great music from their own country that has been neglected for so long."