In the Balkans and especially amongst the region’s Roma or gypsy communities, music is life. Sorrow, joy, fear, anger, they all find expression through song. Traditions and history pour into melodies and back out in sounds you didn’t know trumpets could make.
It was during a random trip down Brick Lane in London almost two years earlier that I first stumbled across balkan gypsy music. I had wandered past a band busking on the side of the road, violins screeching, and unstoppable energy pouring out from their small territory on the pavement. The music was raw and magnetic and I was hooked. A few days later while browsing through a charity shop I turned up Garth Cartwright’s book Princes Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians and with it an introduction to Guca. Cartwright’s description of the festival captured my imagination and set my feet twitching to be on the move.
I got to planning and in August 2010 I was on my way; headed for Guca’s 50th anniversary festival. This trip was about experience rather than speed and instead of flying I took trains from London down to Belgrade. This was traveling; old world style.
After Belgrade I took another two buses to finally reach Guca. Although there are one or two hotels available the best way to experience the festival is to set-up camp on one of the hillsides that enclose the village. I secured my spot by wandering aimlessly through the village with my rucksack until a little old man appeared and said, ‘camp?’. After which he led me to his family’s farm on the hillside. A few euros covered my stay for the entire festival and complimentary shots of rakia (Serbian moonshine) appeared while setting up camp.
The music never stopped. Bands from all over the world wandered through the village during the day ‘serenading’ festival goers at cafes and in the streets. One day I spent a few hours sitting in the shallow river running through the village sipping the local lager and watching men of all shapes and ages cooling off and parading around in their underwear. Every night the pace shifted from mellow to crazed. Concerts, competitions and street parties ensured the air was never silent and my feet were rarely still. The music was unforgettable with its commands: Move. Dance. Scream. Sing.
This is a music festival deeply cherished by the locals and one that has remained authentic despite its increasing popularity with outsiders. One for the free spirits, the misfits and the dancers.
2011 Guca dates are August 10-14
Our Guest Blogger Ashley Erdman has recently returned to the US after three and half years living and working in London. An activist, writer and world traveler Ashley will shortly be heading to New Zealand to work on organic farms and cycle around the islands. You can follow her adventures and travels on her blog: .bedheadednomad