Date: February 20, 2016
Location: Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong.
Fanfare Ciocarlia is a twelve-person gypsy brass band hailing from northeast Romania. Suited up in black slacks, shiny shoes and oversized belt buckles, they dressed moderately, but there is nothing moderate about their music. Vibrant and punchy, their music speaks the language of a crackling dynamite. Slick trumpet lines show off their dexterous fingering. Horn and tuba provide the assured carpet flooring on which the human vocals and tweety brass lines dance. A bass drum not only anchors the procession with head-bobbing beats but awes with the occasional whiplashing sticking. The twelve musicians may each be doing something different, and the overall texture could sometimes sound cacophonic, but their phrasings always end with a rewarding unity that declares any turbulence merely temporal and insignificant. It takes no more than a song or two before the aisles of the concert hall at the Cultural Centre were filled with a large dancing audience. Gypsy reincarnations of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” or Ellington’s “Caravan” could sound cheesy at first, but upon closer inspection, these makeovers sound sincere — more like a fair commentary than an infringement of the original. Jazzed-up gypsy fares such as “Toba mare” and “Iag Bari” reflect their music’s full potential as a voice of lyricism and message. Fanfare Ciocarlia is a rare gem in today’s world of music, of any kind. If one were to nitpick, their facial expressions could be dull and stoic. Contrast that with the vibrant music, however, and one could sense the genie in the bottle lurking impatiently from within, and a fully gratifying, coordinated menace awaits.