The mighty Macedonian brass band Kočani Orkestar took the Western world by surprise in 1997 with their album L’Orient est Rouge.
The band’s trademark thundering style soon became very popular: their powerful rhythm section (drummer + four tubas), their passionate soloists, and the sheer funkiness of their beats would lead any audience to break into dance… despite the fact that Koçani Orkestar use many asymmetrical rhythms, those 7/8 or 9/8 time signatures sometimes called aksak in traditional Turkish music. Oriental brass bands are a Gypsy speciality throughout the Balkan region, from Serbia to Macedonia. These brass bands were created in the 19th century, in imitation of the military brass bands of the Turkish janissaries.
The Kočani Orkestar hails from the town of… Kočani, and was founded by trumpet player Naat Veliov. As showcased in L’Orient Est Rouge, the band’s original repertoire was based on Gypsy tunes from various parts of the Balkans and on Turkish/Bulgarian rhythms, with a sprinkle of Latin flavour. The band’s popularity rose to new heights with the release of Alone At My Wedding, for which their line-up was rejuvenated: original trumpet player Naat Veliov left, and several younger players joined the band. The repertoire transcended the strict boundaries of the brass band genre, with the exploration of salon music played during wedding parties in Macedonia, and the integration of more subtle instruments such as darbuka, banjo and clarinet.