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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 August 2005, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Serbian town has much to trumpet
By Matt Prodger
BBC News, Guca

It is late afternoon and a young woman is belly-dancing on a table, while her husband is blasted in both ears by a pair of trumpets inches from his head.

A band parades through the streets of Guca
The Guca trumpet festival is the biggest of its kind in the world
A man is hanging from a tree pouring beer over a brass band beneath him, and a chef is carrying the carcass of a pig across a makeshift dance floor.

Welcome to Guca. It is fair to say that usually not very much happens in the hills and valleys that make up this part of rural Serbia.

The silence is broken only by the sound of farmyard animals and the occasional tractor.

At least that is the case for 51 weeks of the year.

And then the trumpets come to town - hundreds. And behind them, close to half a million visitors who descend on this village for an exhausting week of music, dance and very little sleep.

It is officially called the Dragacevo Trumpet Festival, the biggest of its kind in the world, and held annually since 1961.

Unofficially it is named after the village which hosts it - Guca. Guca is a celebration of folk music from across the Balkans, principally Serbia.


The most popular musicians are the Roma - or Gypsies. Scores of bands compete in a competition for the coveted golden trumpet - an award that more often than not will lead to a recording contract and enough wedding bookings to keep the winning band busy for months.

An open-air grill in Guca
A quarter of a million servings of meat are said to be made at the festival
But it is away from the main stage, in the bars, restaurants and catering tents that the action really takes place.

As entire pigs and sheep rotate on spits above open fires, the bands target the customers, swooping on tables and blasting the diners with a cacophony of sound.

The audience shows its appreciation by plastering Serbian dinar notes on the sweat-streaked foreheads of the musicians.

It goes on late into the night, and starts again first thing in the morning.

Rumour has it that in the space of a few days, revellers at Guca consume three tons of bread, 50 lorry loads of cabbage, a quarter of a million servings of meat and three million litres of beer.

Organiser Adam Tadic says: "This year, we reckon on about half-a-million people, like last year. That's an enormous amount of food and drink.

"And the biggest miracle is that we can get all these people safely into and out of a village which is normally home to only 3,000 people.''

Light-hearted Serbia

While Guca sees ever more visitors arriving from abroad, old hands like Dragan Antic from the Vruc Vetar Orchestra laments the quality of the music nowadays.

"Sadly a lot of people are here only for the money," he says "The standard of the musicians has gone down.

[The festival] presents a more light-hearted image of Serbs at odds with the stereotype of warmongering nationalists
"Some of them - well one day they're peasants ploughing a field, the next they're in a band playing here. Guca's not what it used to be."

Nonetheless, members of the Vruc Vetar Orchestra made about $600 (340) a head at last years' festival.

In Serbia and Montenegro the average monthly wage is half that. Brass bands play a prominent part in Balkan life.

They are present at everything from christenings and weddings to funerals, and have been popularized abroad in the films of the award-winning Serbian director Emir Kusturica.

Recently, images of Guca have joined the monasteries and religious icons which dominate brochures issued by Serbian tourism chiefs.

It presents a more light-hearted image of Serbs at odds with the stereotype of warmongering nationalists, which was established during the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Unfortunately, nobody appears to have mentioned the re-branding exercise to the street side vendors selling T-shirts emblazoned with images of Europe's most wanted fugitives: Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb leaders charged with genocide by the Hague war crimes tribunal.

Country profile: Serbia and Montenegro
08 Jun 05 |  Country profiles
Timeline: After Milosevic
08 Jun 05 |  Country profiles

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