The Barbican’s Blaze festival is presenting an astounding range of contemporary music this summer, a line-up – from Staff Benda Bilili to Youssou N’Dour – that puts every other London presenter in the shade.
They’ve also neatly circumvented the problem of presenting lively bands, like Bilili, in the formal atmosphere of the Barbican rather than a club or bar. Step forward the Hackney Empire, Edwardian Music Hall and resurrected East London gigging venue.
This event is a case in point. The riotous double bill of the Marko Markovic Orkestar (his father Boban withdrew for unstated personal reasons) and Taraf de Ha?Ødouks would have been a much more polite affair had they appeared in the Barbican. Instead, the sweaty standing crowd wigged out to Marko Markovic’s beefy, hyperactive brass extravaganza and cheered the charismatic elder statesmen of Taraf de Ha?Ødouks. It felt like a proper way to watch some of the finest Romany Gypsy music on the planet.
With his frizzy hair, beret and lithe movements, Marko Markovic’s impish stage presence was in fantastic contrast to the, er, more heavily-built members of the brass band he fronts with his father. Nearly always playing at the limit of what’s possible on their instruments, the group’s arrangements nevertheless have real depth. There is a lot of fast-slow-fast, always whip-crack on the beat and funky, but there is real ensemble playing happening too underneath all the showboating. Trumpeter Sasa Jemcic doubled up as an unlikely vocalist, his voice higher and more fragrant than his stature would suggest possible. The true star though, was Marko. A quite brilliant trumpet player and front-man, he is good at providing visual and aural variety for what is a fairly repetitive sound world. The final act of their long set, saw the band surround Markovic on stage as he made animal noises his trumpet before leading them all off on a manically-paced final flourish.
Shambling and venerable rather than tub-thumping, Taraf de Ha?Ødouks are different stage animals, despite singer/violinist Constantin Lautaru’s tendency to dance raucously around the stage. With ages ranging from early 20s to goodness-knows-what, Romania’s number one Gypsy band is a community outfit. The ‘local’ atmosphere to their music making has always appealed and success hasn’t dimmed that feeling. What’s more, their music remains as irresistible as it ever did. The bouncy zither, scratchy violins and Gheorghe Falcaru’s penny whistle still create a magically earthy atmosphere. Their set included pieces from 2007 album Ma?°karad«é, including a fabulous re-working of Bart??k’s Romanian Folk Dances.