Brasslands Review (Video)

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Brasslands
Brasslands Tonight at the Roxie!

By Sailor Holladay
 
Are you sick and tired of hearing everyone around you talk about the faraway vacations they’ve taken this summer, but too broke to go anywhere yourself? Watch Brasslands! Brasslands follows three bands around the 50th Guca Trumpet Festival in Guca, Serbia. First is the US-born “Zlatne Uste”, a name the band members wanted to mean Golden Lips, but translates to “Golden Mouth”. In 1983 non-Balkan horn players started Zlatne Uste and a Balkan Camp in New York that teaches Serbian dance and music, and serves Balkan food. In 1987, Zlatne Uste was the first non-Serbian band to play at Guca and they’re back to try winning the international trumpet competition. The second band profiled in the film is the Serbian Dejan Petrovic Orchestra, led by Dejan Petrovic. Uber-confident Petrovic says, “We should play a little worse so other people can realize their dreams.” Petrovic started playing the trumpet at age 6. His dad was a trumpet player who fought in the Bosnian war. All of these players are obsessed with Serbian music and their excitement fuels the film. Brasslands has long periods of music and short sentences of description. Serbian music is percussive, triumphant, mournful. Both traditional and experimentational. We get close ups of musicians’ fingers and gorgeous vistas of rainbow-bedecked Serbian mountainsides that appear to have forgotten anything resembling war.

These lush sounds and surroundings work, because I came for the music, but the filmmakers also allude to various political issues: Romani people experiencing racism as “Black Serbians”, the 1999 U.S. bombings of Serbia that lasted for two months, the hardship of rebuilding after being bombed by a multinational power. These are important themes to cover, but it all happens in a blur. Bill Clinton’s speech announcing the air strikes. Serbia against Kosovo, and Milosevic and ethnic cleansing are covered in under two minutes. The U.S. ambassador to Serbia comes and gives a short speech wishing Zlatne Uste success in the trumpet competition and then she’s whisked off by three security guards to her Hummer. In broken Serbian, a musician from Zlatne Uste tells a fellow competitor, “It’s good to be here.” In Serbian that the American musician probably didn’t understand the competitor responds, “It’s not that good here. There are a lot of problems here”.

The third brass band is Vranjski Biseri a Romani orchestra influenced by Turkish sound that’s led by Demiran Cerimovic. We go inside Dejan Petrovic’s home to meet his wife and daughter, and we are guests at Zlatne Uste’s Balkan camp, but in order to spend time with Vranjski Biseri, the Roma band, we have to walk around Guca’s streets while they go from restaurant to restaurant trying to make a little money playing to customers. “No, we already have two orchestras in here,” one restaurateur shoos them away.
The most clarity in the film comes from an anonymous voice, presumably another Serbian trumpeter, “I will never forget those two months when they bombed us in Serbia. We watched every night as bombs dropped near our town. As a kid, I would imagine the bombs were shooting stars. When you mention Serbians, all people think is war. So now we’re trying to show off our music to all the countries of the world.” Despite some pieces lost in translation, Brasslands starts a conversation that without this film, many of us wouldn’t be invited to. Brasslands plays at the Roxie for one night on Friday August 29th, but can also be rented online for $3.99 here.

 

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