Boban Markovic - Keeping the Serbian brass band tradition in the family


There’s nothing like a few home truths for keeping a musician’s feet on the ground. Whenever Boban Markovic thought he was improving as a young trumpeter, his mother would tell him yes, he was good … but not as good as his grandfather was. Since his grandfather had died when Boban was very small, he had no way of gauging how far he had to progress – and he still doesn’t because his mother is still telling him that he’s not the trumpeter that his illustrious relative was.

Judging from tunes such as Beli Dvor and Paun from Markovic’s latest album, his grandfather, who played for royalty by invitation, must have been quite a musician. Paun is Serbian for peacock and this musical impression has all the hallmarks of its subject, poise, pride, colour – and all delivered in a scarily detailed melody with fabulous expression and panache, although Markovic notes with good humour that his mum probably thinks he can improve on this performance.

Markovic was an initially reluctant follower of the family tradition. The music that his grandfather and his father played has a long, if uncertain, history. It’s a confluence of Oriental, Roma, Serbian and Bulgarian strains passed on orally because no-one took the trouble or perhaps didn’t have the necessary skills to write it down. As a young boy Boban felt that it was in his blood but he had a more important pursuit in mind: football.

“My father was playing in a band and he wanted me to play as well but I was more interested in being like the other kids, playing football,” he says. “But when I was about nine or ten, my father gave me a trumpet. He gave me some hard lessons and a lot of practice and I fell in love with the instrument.”

An all-consuming passion might not be an overstatement of this love affair as Boban practised at every opportunity and his father began showing off his son’s progress whenever and wherever possible, even if it meant walking ten kilometres to get there. By the age of thirteen the youngster was playing professionally with his father’s band, working on weddings and other social occasions. Unsurprisingly, his schooling suffered – anybody’s would, he says – and he left after the eighth grade with, he adds, not great marks.

With his father’s encouragement, however, at sixteen Markovic was becoming an attraction in his own right. The Golden Trumpet competition – the Dragacevski Sabor - in Guca was the holy grail for trumpeters following the gypsy brass band tradition in Serbia and winning it became the main event in Markovic’s career. It required a lot of hard work, both as an individual musician and as a bandleader, because the judges were – and are – looking for the strongest soloist with the most disciplined band and the most original arrangements.

“Gaining that title was an important step in anyone’s career,” he says. “And I wanted so badly to win that, once when I didn’t get the prize, even when everyone said that I deserved it, I was really hurt.”

He couldn’t have felt this disappointment too often, though, because he went on to win the Dragacevski Sabor so regularly that he was eventually asked to step aside and give other competitors a chance.

These days there’s another Markovic among the trumpet kings and in the Markovic band, Boban’s son Marko, who inherited his father’s love of the instrument and may even, says Boban, have eclipsed him in terms of work rate.

“Marko, when he was just a little boy, used to go to sleep with the trumpet still in his hands,” says Boban, “and by the time he joined the band at the age of fifteen, he was playing really, really well. It makes me proud as a father. His skills and energy are amazing. He surprises me all the time. His role is so important now: composing, recording, rehearsing, mixing the sound, doing most of the solos on the concert.”

Another skill that Marko has brought to the band is his own form of musical notation. Previously, Boban would compose a tune – or rather have one come into his head – then learn to play it and work it up with the band. Now Marko writes down his own compositions and teaches them to the band by sections, a skill and a quicker way of working that impress Boban no end. The band still rehearses like crazy, though, to get its trademark tight sound.

“I’m lucky because all the boys in the band are ready to work as hard as I want them to,” says Boban. “We rehearse back home when we come off a tour, then when we go back on the road, we’re rehearsing whenever we get the chance, during soundchecks, even during the concerts we’ll work on stuff and polish it as we go. It’s important that we do this because we want people to dance to our music and feel the passion in it. If everybody leaves our concert with a smile on their face, then I will be very happy.”

From The Herald, July 7, 2009.


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