Monday, December 28, 2015

Review of Brasslands

I've been meaning to watch this for ages, as compensation for deciding not to go to the Guca festival itself (Ruth decidedly lukewarm, and the idea of trying to take trains to the migrant crisis frontline somehow seems both unkind and potential uncomfortable).

Watching the film I feel better about the decision. Guca looks like a pissed-up version of the nastiest English funfair you can imagine, with lots of beer tents, burger vans and hog roasts, only with a huge arena and main stage for some of the best music on the planet. Serbian culture, at least as represented here, is not all that attractive to an outsider – it’s about ethnic nationalism, Orthodox religion, and the consumption of vast quantities of pork and booze. There are pictures of saints and military heroes, including Radovan Karadzic. Not much sign of Yugo-nostalgia, lots of flags with double-headed eagles.

And yet the music is so, so wonderful – a bit like klezmer but with more dynamic and tonal variation, and with fabulous infectious percussion rhythms. The film follows a New York group that plays Serbian music even though none of them are of Serbian or Slavic extraction – quite a few are obviously Jewish; they are captivated by the music but not unreflective about the culture from which it comes, including the fact they are the only band with women musicians. It also follows two Serbian bands vying for the ‘best band’ prize; these are characterized by the Serbs as a ‘black’ band – meaning it’s from the South and seems to mainly include Roma players, and a ‘white’ band – paler, beefier crop-haired men. There’s a bit of discussion about how the music of the two streams differs. The ‘black’ band also needs to play at the tables of the beer tents for money.

A good, thoughtful music documentary – I'm only sorry there wasn't more concert footage.

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