Arts, Culture & Media

Gypsy brass band Karandila Junior

In Sliven, the gypsy capital of Bulgaria, an unusual Roma brass band hopes to give new life to traditional gypsy music. The band Karandila Junior is already winning fans around Europe. From Sliven (SLEE-ven), Matthew Brunwasser reports.

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Trumpet player Angel Tichaliev remembers hearing a lot of brass bands back in the old days. But they're long gone. The older masters started dying; popular tastes changed.

In the Balkans, music has been dominated by Roma or Gypsies for centuries. Since the end of communism, the coming of the free market has meant that much traditional Roma music has been squeezed out by more profitable genres.

Hoping to resurrect the tradition, Tichaliev founded the Karandila Orchestra. But that wasn't enough. So he built a music room in his house for local children. And he created another ensemble � for kids � to pass on the musical traditions.

�Karandila Junior� was born.

�I hope to God they will go to the conservatory and educate themselves later on, so this tradition can continue,� Tichaliev said. �That's why I'm doing this, because it hurts me to see this type of music dying.�

The band is made up of young gypsy musicians from Sliven, the gypsy capital of Bulgaria. The gypsy ghetto where the kids live is called �Nadejda,� Bulgarian for �hope.�

Karandila Junior is already winning fans around Europe. The band recently wrapped up their first album.

Tichaliev said their repertoire is made of modernized old songs from their great grandfathers. �We don't play them like we did 20 or 30 years ago,� he said, �we put in jazz elements and change the harmony. A traditional song, for example, is changed by about 50-60 percent.�

Karandila Junior has 17 members aged ten through eighteen. Through rigorous practice and Tichaliev's leadership, they get something young Roma rarely find anywhere else in Bulgarian society: Discipline and high expectations.

Nikolai Yordanov is sixteen and plays tenor saxophone. He said he can't imagine doing anything besides playing music. And, Yordanov loves to perform on stage.

�I pick up the mood of the audience too,� he said. �It feels great, for the people to applaud when you are on stage. They ask for an encore. Then you bow in front of them and play another song. That's the coolest part for me.�

The song �Yurush� was recorded last year at the Ost Club in Vienna, Austria. And Yordanov said there are other jazz clubs where he'd like to perform. �I want to play in New York in some famous jazz club,� he said, �that's my dream, because I love jazz and want to be a great jazz musician.�

When Angel Tichaliev was in school, there were few educational opportunities for Roma musicians. But today's youth have options. And he hopes to inspire the members of Karandila Junior to continue their education in a musical high school, conservatory or university. Only then, he said, would the Gypsy neighborhood called �hope� really live up to its name.

Karandila Junior's album �Ghetto Hope� is scheduled for release on December 9th.

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