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Kočani Orkestar

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The Balkan brass band tradition may have resulted in dancers throwing all restraint to the wind and cavorting wildly into the night, but it actually came about through the intermingling of two forms of strict military discipline, one from the East and the other from the West. The former is the ancient Ottoman mehter military band, and the latter the familiar Western brass band, complete with tubas, trumpets, and saxophones. This Macedonian brass band, who proudly proclaimed themselves as A Gypsy Brass Band on their debut album, comes from a tradition that has been providing live music for various important social rituals as well as pure entertainment since the late 1800s, at the very least. Named after the town of their origin, the Kocani Orkestar began as a local group, then picked up a following outside the region due to a triumphant performance in Emir Kosturica's film Cingene Damani. This led to tours in Western Europe, Canada, and Turkey, as well as throughout the Balkans. They began releasing a new CD every few years, including one on a Turkish label. The group's music includes influences from the Macedonian tradition as well as Turkey, Serbia, and the Romany world, with roots that stretch all the way back to India.

The group's leader is Naat Veliov, a trumpeter, composer, and arranger born in 1957 to a family of trumpet players in Kocani. The father, grandfather, and son (a bandmember) all play trumpet, and Veliov is a strong believer of keeping the band membership open to family members and friendly neighbors.

In their native land, the group plays for a variety of social celebrations, and there tends to be one for each step of life. The Kocani Orkestar might begin a day by playing a gig outside a hospital to welcome a newborn baby; a week or so later the same child may be the source of another gig, this time a naming ceremony with the local community shelling out the fee. If the child is Muslim, a third gig might be in the offing when the circumcision ceremony takes place. The group is also on call for all manner of wedding events, funeral processions, burials, and special banquets and intimate coffeehouse, or kafic, gigs.

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