Fanfare Ciocărlia

Fanfare Ciocărlia is a twelve-piece Romanian Romani Balkan brass band from the northeastern Romanian village of Zece Prăjini, Iași. The band is made up of Roma musicians, and they are recognised as one of Europe's most popular contemporary Romani bands. Fanfare Ciocărlia are best known for its fast, high-energy music with complex rhythms and high-speed staccato clarinet, saxophone and trumpet solos.[1]

Fanfare Ciocarlia at Zelt-Musik-Festival 2017 in Freiburg, Germany

Fanfare Ciocărlia's music includes traditional Romanian, Romani, and Eastern European folk pieces, as well as arrangements of Western songs including Born To Be Wild, James Bond Theme, Caravan, and Summertime. The band performed at the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.[2]

Band origins in Moldavia, north-eastern RomaniaEdit

Fanfare Ciocărlia originate from Zece Prajini, a village located in Moldavia, northeastern Romania. Zece Prajini is entirely populated by Romani families where, traditionally, most of the men in the village worked either as subsistence farmers or at factories in nearby towns. Playing an instrument was a family tradition, taught father to son, and while the village was noted locally for its brass musicians no one living there considered themselves a professional musician.

Fanfare Ciocărlia exist as a brass band of nine to twelve members whose roots are in Austrian and Turkish military marching bands. Fanfare Ciocărlia's instrumental lineup includes trumpets, tenor and baritone horns, tubas, clarinets, saxophones, bass drum and percussion. Their song lyrics are usually either in Romani or Romanian. Their musical style stems primarily from the traditions of Romani and Romanian folk dance music, but they also borrow freely from Turkish, Bulgarian, Serbian and Macedonian musical styles, and they incorporate a number of tunes gleaned from international radio, Hollywood and Bollywood in their broad repertoire as well.

From village obscurity to European fame: 1996 – 1999Edit

27 June 2009: Fanfare Ciocărlia live in Athens, Greece.

Henry Ernst, an East German sound engineer who frequently travelled in Romania, returned to northern Romania in October 1996 to search for traditional village musicians. In Moldavia a farmer suggested he head to the small Romani village of Zece Prajini where a brass band existed to play weddings and baptisms. Ernst made his way to Zece Prajini – the village was so obscure locals would boast “it is not on any map” - and, upon arrival, asked about the brass band. He was introduced to Ioan Ivancea, a local farmer and clarinet player who was considered to be the leader of the village's musicians. Ivancea invited Ernst to stay with him and assembled the brass band he led to play. Ernst was impressed by the band's speed, finesse, repertoire and unique tunings. Ernst also realised that the village band were one of the few Gypsy brass bands still in existence in Romania and, through being isolated from contemporary popular music, played in a manner quite different to that of the Balkan brass bands found in southern Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria. Ernst determined to return to Germany and set up a tour for Fanfare Ciocărlia – as the band had now named themselves – and told the musicians that they should apply for passports. Back in Germany, with the help of his friend Helmut Neumann, Ernst managed to book Fanfare Ciocărlia into a series of festival and club dates. While the tour was a critical success it lost Ernst his life savings and, when over, he considered the tour to have been a one-off. Then he received a phone call from WDR, a German public-broadcasting institution and festival promoter at the time, who wanted to book Fanfare Ciocărlia and was willing to pay a fee that would cover all transport, visas and other expenses and leave enough money for Ernst and Neumann to form the management and booking agency Asphalt Tango.

Fanfare Ciocarlia from romania IMG 4389

Fanfare Ciocărlia quickly won a large following in northern Europe with their powerful brass sound appealing to rock and rave fans as well as the world music audience. In 1997 Ernst and Neumann took Fanfare Ciocărlia into Bucharest's Studio Electrecord to record their debut album. The album, Radio Pascani, was released on the Berlin record label Piranha Musik in 1998 and proved an instant success. Radio Pascani received extremely positive reviews – many reviewers noted that they had never heard a brass band who played with such speed and Eastern flavour – and went on to become one of the biggest selling albums in Piranha Musik's catalogue (selling over 150,000 copies on CD) so making it amongst the most popular East European albums released in the West.[citation needed]

From European success to world wide fame: 1999 - 2005Edit

From 1999 to 2005 Fanfare Ciocărlia toured extensively, playing across Europe and the United States. The band's second album, Baro Biao, was also recorded in Bucharest at Studio Electrecord and released on Piranha Musik. Baro Biao was well received and helped further Fanfare Ciocărlia's international popularity. Dates in Japan and Australia followed as well as playing at the UK's Womad Festival. In 2001 Piranha Musik released Fanfare Ciocărlia's third album, Iag Bari. Iag Bari featured music influenced by New Orleans jazz standards (West Side Blues) along with the Romanian folk music, including the ballad Lume Lume (where they were joined in the studio by the Bulgarian female vocal band Angelite).

Fanfare Ciocărlia continued an extensive international touring schedule where German film director Ralf Marschalleck followed the band from their village to Berlin and Tokyo for his feature-length documentary Iag Bari – Brass On Fire.[3] In 2005 Ernst and Neumann produced the Fanfare Ciocărlia album Gili Garabdi - Ancient Secrets of Gypsy Brass both in the band's home village of Zece Prajini and in Berlin's Headroom Studio. The album featured the band's interpretations of 007 (James Bond Theme) and Duke Ellington's Caravan. Both tracks became very popular in the band's repertoire. British world music DJ Charlie Gillett often played Caravan on his BBC radio shows and included it on his double CD compilation World 2006 (Rhino). In 2005 Fanfare Ciocărlia appeared on the cover of Garth Cartwright's book Princes Amongst Men: Journeys With Gypsy Musicians (Serpents Tail). This book contained interviews with Ernst, Ivancea and members of Fanfare Ciocărlia.

The death of Ioan Ivancea & the beginning of concert and recording collaborations: 2005 - 2015Edit

Ioan Ivancea was diagnosed with cancer in 2005 and, after a short illness, died in October 2006. After a period of mourning Fanfare Ciocărlia determined that they would continue. Balkan Gypsy music was now at the zenith of its popularity and Fanfare Ciocărlia were considered to be amongst the genre's most popular bands, their concerts attracting large audiences while Djs played their records in clubs. Ernst and Neumann decided that an effective way of both celebrating Ivancea's life and capitalising on the public's enthusiasm for Gypsy music was Queens & Kings. This involved getting an array of guest vocalists to sing on selected songs with Fanfare Ciocărlia backing them. The vocalists engaged for Queens & Kings were Esma Redzepova (Macedonia), Saban Bajramovic (Serbia), Kaloome (France), Ljiljana Butler (Bosnia), Jony Iliev (Bulgaria), Florentina Sandu (Romania), Dan Armeanca (Romania), Mitsou (Hungary). The album finished with Farewell March, a funeral ballad sung by Ioan Ivancea that had been recorded by Ernst but never previously released, and Born To Be Wild, Fanfare Ciocărlia's rendition of the Steppenwolf song that the band had recorded for the soundtrack to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for MakeBenefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The first Gypsy Queens & Kings concert took place in Bucharest, Romania, in December 2006 and found Fanfare Ciocărlia both playing Romania's capital city for the first time and joined on stage by Esma Redzepova, Jony Iliev and Mitsou. The Queens & Kings album was released by Asphalt Tango in 2007 and they began touring Gypsy Queens & Kings across Europe and to Australia. The tour initially featured Fanfare Ciocărlia joined by Esma Redzepova, Kaloome, Jony Iliev and, occasionally, Mitsou or Ljiljana Butler. After touring Gypsy Queens & Kings for more than two years Fanfare Ciocărlia took a year off to rest at home in Romania and the Gypsy Queens & Kings tour continued with Bucharest-based Gypsy band Mahala Rai Banda backing the vocalists for the latter part of 2009 and much of 2010.

The band won the BBC Radio 3 World Music Award for Europe in 2006.[4]

Asphalt Tango Records released Princes Amongst Men – The Soundtrack To The Book in 2008. This CD compilation came out to complement the German edition of Garth Cartwright's book Princes Amongst Men: Journeys With Gypsy Musicians and featured Fanfare Ciocărlia on the cover. In September 2009 Asphalt Tango Records simultaneously released two Fanfare Ciocărlia albums. Live featured the band's Berlin concert that had featured in the Gypsy Brass Legends DVD ( and included the Gypsy Brass Legends DVD as part of the package). At the same time Asphalt Tango Records released Best Of Gypsy Brass, a compilation album of Fanfare Ciocărlia recordings, on vinyl.

Fanfare Ciocărlia returned to the studio in early 2011 with Ernst producing for the Balkan Brass Battle session. These sessions – and the subsequent concert tours – pitted Fanfare Ciocărlia against Serbian Gypsy brass band Boban & Marco Markovic Orkestar. The pairing of the two foremost Balkan brass bands proved popular and the ensembles toured Europe several times, both bands sharing the stage as they engaged in a good natured battle to see who could generate the loudest audience response.

Having toured Balkan Brass Battle internationally, Fanfare Ciocărlia were invited to Toronto in 2013 to record with Canadian guitarist Adrian Raso. The resulting album, Devil's Tale, was released by Asphalt Tango Records in Spring 2014 and is billed as Adrian Raso & Fanfare Ciocărlia. Devil's Tale is regarded as the most subtle Fanfare Ciocărlia album, with Raso's jazz, flamenco and surf guitar mixing with the band's brass and percussion.

Fanfare Ciocărlia celebrate 20th anniversary with new studio and double vinyl anniversary albums in 2016Edit

In 2016 Fanfare Ciocărlia released their eighth studio album, Onwards To Mars!, on Asphalt Tango Records. This album finds the band celebrating their 20th anniversary and is a return to their roots as a high-speed, Balkan brass party band. It features Fiesta de Negritos, a cumbia dance track the band recorded in Medellin with Puerto Candelaria when they were touring Colombia.

Also released in June 2016 was a compilation called 20. 20 is available solely as a double vinyl album and gathers recordings from across Fanfare Ciocărlia's career. The same year the band celebrated their band anniversary with an extensive world tour.

Influence in North AmericaEdit

Songs from the debut album Radio Paşcani ("Ah Ya Bibi" in particular) have appealed greatly to American fans of Gypsy music. American Gypsy musicians Balkanarama covered "Ah Ya Bibi" on their 2003 release Nonstop. The eclectic, Santa Cruz-based jazz/rock/metal act Estradasphere, who are known for frequently interpreting Gypsy music, often play "Ah Ya Bibi" at live shows (on their EP "The Silent Elk of Yesterday", the track is recorded under the title "A Tune by F.F.C."). New York City's Hungry March Band covered the song "Asfalt Tango" on their On the Waterfront CD, and the Extra Action Marching Band recorded "Ciocărlia Suite" on their Live CD.

Fanfare Ciocărlia was invited to play music at Danny Elfman's 50th birthday party in Hollywood during 2003.

Balkan Beats: Fanfare Ciocărlia's influence on dance musicEdit

During the early 2000s, Fanfare Ciocărlia were sampled multiple times within the dance music genre "Balkan Beats". Balkan Beats is the name coined by the Berlin-based, Bosnian DJ Robert Soko in 2001 for a club night he started where he played Balkan brass music. Fanfare Ciocărlia were amongst the bands Soko DJ-ed and, since then, their music has become a staple of DJs and remixers who play Balkan music in clubs.

The Fanfare Ciocărlia song "Asfalt Tango" was used by Basement Jaxx, a British electronic dance group, on the song "Hey U", which featured on their 2006 album Crazy Itch Radio.

A cover version of the James Bond theme is included on the album Gypsy Beats and Balkan Bangers compiled by Basement Jaxx' Felix B

In filmEdit

Fanfare Ciocărlia at the international world music and landart festival "Sheshory" 2006 in the Hutsul village Sheshory, Ukraine

The full-length film Iag Bari - Brass on Fire, directed by Ralf Marschalleck, features the life of Fanfare Ciocărlia members, focusing on the small Romanian Gypsy village of Zece Prajini in contrast to the large concert venues the band attends. It would go on to win "Best Documentary Award" at the Festival De Cine Documental Musical in Barcelona and Madrid in November 2003. It was also awarded "Best Long Documentary Award" on the Romani Festival for TV and Radio Production Golden Wheel in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia.

The band appear performing in a Hamburg club in the film Gegen die Wand (Head-On) by Turkish film director Fatih Akın. In 2004, the film won the Golden Bear at the International Film Festival in Berlin.

The song "Asfalt Tango" was the main track of the animated movie Fallen Art by Tomasz Bagiński as it was in the short film Son by Daniel Mulloy.

In October 2004, Asphalt Tango Records released the first Fanfare Ciocărlia DVD that included a full live concert and Iag Bari, along with other video segments.

Fanfare Ciocărlia were commissioned to record the Steppenwolf song "Born to Be Wild" for the film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

Their version of "Moliendo Café" can be heard throughout the Spanish comedy Crimen Ferpecto.

Their recording of the "James Bond Theme" accompanies the end titles of the drama-documentary Becoming Bond.



Vinyl onlyEdit

  • Best of Gypsy Brass (2009)
  • 20 (2016)


  • Gypsy Brass Legends - The Story of the Band (2004)

Current line-UpEdit

Costel Oprica Ivancea - saxophone & clarinet

Dan Ionel Ivancea - saxophone & vocals

Costica "Cimai" Trifan - trumpet & vocals

Paul Marian Bulgaru - trumpet

Radulescu Lazar - trumpet & vocals

Craciun Ovidiu Trifan - trumpet

Benedikt Stehle - percussion

Costel "Gisniaca" Ursu - large drum

Constantin Cantea - tuba

Monel Trifan - tuba

Constantin Calin - tenor horn

Laurentiu Mihai Ivancea - bariton horn

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Fanfare Ciocarlia". Europop.
  2. ^ "Romanian band Fanfara Ciocarlia headlines Nobel Peace Prize concert". Romania Insider.
  3. ^ "Romanian folk band Fanfare Ciocărlia". Asphalt Tango. Archived from the original on 2006-08-31. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
  4. ^ Cartwright, Garth (2006-04-07). "WINNER 2006 FANFARE CIOCARLIA (ROMANIA)". Archived from the original on 2007-02-04. Retrieved 2018-02-21.

Additional readingEdit

External linksEdit