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At 'Serbia's Woodstock', Female Musicians Are Rare

Aug 13, 2017
Originally published on August 13, 2017 6:09 pm
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(SOUNDBITE OF BOJAN RISTIC BRASS BAND PERFORMANCE)

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

You may not see tie-dyes and bell bottoms there, but the locals call it the Woodstock of Serbia. Hundreds of thousands come each year to celebrate Balkan brass music at the Guca Trumpet Festival.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOJAN RISTIC BRASS BAND PERFORMANCE)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is the brass band of Bojan Ristic. His orchestra won best orchestra at last year's festival. They'll be onstage tonight as other trumpet masters compete in a musical Balkan battle.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRASS BAND PLAYING)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We got an audio diary of the festivities from Eleni Govetas. She's an American musician. Her parents play traditional Greek folk music, and she grew up going every summer to a Balkan music camp in California. This year, she's made her first pilgrimage to Guca.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ELENI GOVETAS: Guca's kind of a small town. There's a river that runs directly straight up and down. It's a pretty dirty river; it's filled with trash. And then there's mountains. It's like a big bowl. There are mountains all around - big, green mountains. And then Guca's just this small little town right in the middle of the bowl, very pretty.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRASS BANDS PLAYING)

GOVETAS: We walked through the whole town on the first night. On the left side, you've got rows and rows of cafes, little kiosks where you can buy beer, restaurants for crepes and whatever street food. It's all the same, though, meat and bread. It's pretty much all you can find here. There's drunk folks climbing on statues, Romani brass bands busking on the street trying to make a buck.

All the bands who are performing are parading through the streets one after the other, all holding little signs of what village they're from. From my end, it's hard to even hear the difference to distinguish who's playing what.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRASS BANDS PLAYING)

GOVETAS: I'm actually really excited because there's a female trumpet player this year named Danijela Vesilinovic...

(SOUNDBITE OF DANIJELA VESILINOVIC PERFORMANCE)

GOVETAS: ...Which may not sound like a big deal. But here, it really is because there are no female musicians. In fact, it's taboo for women to really play music out here. So I'm rooting for her.

(SOUNDBITE OF DANIJELA VESILINOVIC PERFORMANCE)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

GOVETAS: This was at the very end of the Boban Markovic show. They had just finished playing "Caje Sukarije," which is a favorite around here; you hear it about 30 times a day. The very last chorus, which you can hear everybody singing along, they just continued singing it. The folks are off the stage now. But the whole crowd doesn't want them to stop, so they continue the singing.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Balkan music fan Eleni Govetas with an audio diary from the Guca Trumpet Festival, which finishes up tonight in western Serbia.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAJORIJE SUKARIJE")

BOBAN MARKOVIC ORCHESTRA: (Singing in foreign language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.