The Boban & Marko Marković Orchestra is not only the most famous brass band to emerge from the Balkans, but is also, alongside Goran Bregović and Emir Kusturica's No Smoking Orchestra, one of Serbia's top stage wonders. Named and led by father and son, the Marković Orchestra combines traditional Serbian and Roma music, jazz, funk, and other contemporary music genres, with masterful trumpet playing and an electric stage performance. According to prestigious New York Times, the result is "a stunning blast of exuberance & virtuosity."
This unique blend has brought international fame to the band of musicians from Vladičin Han, a small town in southern Serbia. Currently recording for the German label Piranha Musik, the band also performs an average of 100 concerts worldwide each year. This spring, they are scheduled to perform in France, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Lithuania, while the summer will have them touring large festivals in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, and again, France. And they already have engagements planned for October and November.
In 2002, at fourteen, Boban's son Marko joined the orchestra, only to soon become its main soloist and arranger. The young musician has also managed to launch on an acting career, debuting with a lead role in "Guča! The Distant Trumpet" (2006), by Dušan Milić. Produced by Emir Kusturica (who won twice the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival), the film premiered in February 2007 at the Berlin Film Festival.
Speaking for "Southeast-Europe: People and Culture" with his son and heir Marko, Boban Marković recalls how he too inherited his love for the trumpet from his father. At first a mere toy which young Boban often forgot in the sand after playtime, the trumpet eventually "hooked" the boy and took precedence over everything else.
Boban Marković: I had already been playing at weddings and celebrations for five years when I formed the band, in 1984. My dreams have partially come true: I have travelled the world, my son Marko is a band member and is now better than me, but I always want more. In every trumpet player's life there are disappointments and joys. In the beginning the ultimate joy was to win [the Balkan Brass Band Festival competition] in Guča, to record a CD, and to hear myself on the radio. Later came collaboration with Kusturica and Bregović on the scores for "Arizona Dream" (1993) and "Underground" (1995). The wars in former Yugoslavia, however, halted also our careers. There was still work, but things weren't what they used to be. After the wars ended, things turned for the better. First a record deal, then a tour in Hungary, collaboration with violinist Lajko Felix, then another album, and a tour across Europe. Since then, we've been spending most of each year touring or recording. I don't think I've changed much; I still live in Vladičin Han, go out to the same places, and visit friends, or see them at home.
How do you prepare for concerts and does playing music require many sacrifices?
Marko Marković: I joined the band when I was 14 and barely remember life without tours and gigs. It's not always easy to be far away from home, your family, always on the road. We really keep up a hectic pace. The best way to prepare for concerts is to always practice at home, but at sound rehearsals as well. At concerts we try to change things, to reach better solutions. Before important performances, or tours, or recordings, we practice for several hours 3-4 times a week, sometimes every day.
How is trumpet-playing talent recognised? How did your son Marko join the band?
Boban Marković: Many boys in southern Serbia are talented for music. Most of them are trumpet players, because that's everyone's dream. I didn't notice Marko's talent at first because I was often away, but, when my wife forced me to listen to him carefully eight years ago, I was awed. I then realised he'd soon overpass me if he continued along the same line. He got one song to arrange and play on the "Bistra Reka" album (2002), and after a few months he began touring with us.
What type of music do you listen to and who were your role models when it came to domestic trumpet music?
Boban Marković: When I was young, radios were scarce, so live music - at weddings and celebrations - was the best school. For a long time that was the only music I listened to. As for role models, I should mention legendary musician Bakija Bakić, but also Junuz Ismailović and Fejat Sejdić. Today I listen to different kinds of music - jazz, Balkan music, folk music, pop. I want to hear what other people are doing and how.
How did you international career begin?
Boban Marković: The beginning of my career abroad was tied to performances with singers in Bulgaria. Then came success with Emir Kusturica's films. But things really picked up ten years ago - since then we've released eight international albums.
Do you plan to work with any other musicians abroad?
Marko Marković: Ours is an interesting job and because of that we meet interesting musicians. We have an ongoing collaboration with Shantel, with whom we've been working from the beginning of his career and we've already agreed to keep that going. Our work with Miss Platnum is something new. Her music is a new experience. We recently performed with her in Berlin - it was great and we want to perform together again. When we played with the American band Calexico, it was a surprise for everyone, only now we have to find time in theirs and our packed schedule.
Why are the trumpet and the Balkan Brass Band Festival in Guča so interesting to foreigners?
Boban Marković: When we play, our trumpet is our rhythm and rapture. Perhaps they can't experience such originality and emotion everywhere in the West?! The energy and emotion at once. But Guča? There's no place like it on Earth. The madness, the good music, the food, the drink, the atmosphere. How can you not like it?!
What is the difference between Serbian brass bands and their music and the music of ensembles from abroad?
Boban Marković: The traditions are different, sometimes incompatible, but I see that today everyone is leaning toward the Balkan sound. Sometimes they copy us well, sometimes it's quite amateurish, but at least they're enjoying themselves. My message to them is: more practice and originality.
Is there a difference between audiences in Serbia and abroad? Which is more demanding?
Boban Marković: When we were just starting out, they'd be a bit confused and scared, but then loosen up after a few songs and begin to dance to the music in their own way. After, when they'd heard a CD, it was easier - they were ready, they knew the songs and sang with us. Today audiences everywhere have enough information and recognise our music. It wasn't always like that. Our own people knew the music, but didn't always understand why we kept doing new songs, and not just old hits. Today those new songs are also hits.
Do you think audiences abroad understand your music in the right way?
Marko Markovic: I hope everyone finds something for themselves in our music. We can't impose one way of experiencing music for all. Let everyone feel it their own way - let them dance and sing, have fun, follow the technique, rhythm, movements, but think as well.
How do you envisage the future of Serbia's brass band music?
Boban Marković: Everyone should find their own path. There are many excellent musicians, bands, and there will be much good music for a long time to come.
Marko Marković: Certainly "trumpet music" will blend with jazz, pop, Latino music and other rhythms. Many paths are open, and one of them is what we did with Miss Platnum.
About the Boban & Marko Marković Orchestra
Named after father and son, Boban and Marko Marković Orchestra is the most famous brass band to emerge from the Western Balkans. This twelve-member band was founded in 1984. It has since then won several of the most important prizes ("Golden Trumpet", "First Trumpet" and "the Best Orchestra") at the Balkan Brass Band Festival in Guča – an event, which has been taking place annually since 1961. In 2001, Boban Marković won the festival's First Trumpet Award, being the first competitor to ever receive full marks from all jury members for his performance. After this triumph, he decided to quit competing.
The orchestra received international acclaim after it performed music for Emir Kusturica's films "Arizona Dream" (1993) and "Underground" (1995). Since then, the group has released eight international albums and played in festivals and concerts all over Europe, as well as in the United States and Canada.