Fanfare Ciocarlia is known as being one of the hardest working gypsy bands around, playing somewhere almost every night. Are there even days when you do not touch your instruments?
Lazar Radulescu (trumpet, vocals): "There are days we don't touch our instruments, yes, but honestly, that only happens very rarely because even when we're not playing a concert somewhere we still have to practice to maintain our skill."
At the traditional feasts and weddings in Romania, you guys often play for hours in a row. How much of what you do is improvised?
Lazar Radulescu: "There's always a fixed structure we stick to in each song, but around that the solo-instruments improvise all the time. The main instruments for improvisation are the saxophone, the clarinet and sometimes the trumpet. In that way our music is somewhat similar to jazz."
What can you tell us about your band name? What does "ciocarlia" mean?
Lazar Radulescu: "The word "ciocarlia" means "lark" in Romanian, which of course is a nice singing bird and it's also the name of an old song in which we imitate bird song with our instruments. If you can play this song it kind of establishes your virtuosity as a musician in the gypsy community."
You're from Zeje Prajini, a small village in Romania. What can you tell us about that place?
Lazar Radulescu: "As you say, it's a small village of about 400 people. About a century ago, the land it was built on was given to the gypsies by a rich "boyer" or land owner. Ever since that time gypsies have settled there to try and make a living playing music or farming."
Gypsy music is influenced by a lot of music styles ranging from Viennese waltzes over Jewish klezmer to influences from the music played in the old Ottoman Empire. Are there any elements in your music that you would call particularly Romanian?
Lazar Radulescu: "Yes, of course. Apart from gypsy music, we also play traditional Romanian music. The difference is that in our own music we are more able to put our feelings into it by improvising."
Being gypsies, Romani people, living in Romania, do you feel like Romanian nationals?
Lazar Radulescu: "We're very well integrated and have been playing music for and with Romanians our whole lives, so yes I think we consider ourselves to be Romanian citizens, although we will always be Romani first."
With the help of western deejays like Shantel and movies like "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" (in which the Fanfare Ciocarlia cover version of the song 'Born To Be Wild' was used for the soundtrack, red.) gypsy music is now hotter than ever. Does that also mean your lives have changed for the better because of it?
Lazar Radulescu: "Yes, our lives have definitely changed for the better. For Fanfare Ciocarlia that already started about ten years ago, when we started doing international tours."
The great godfather of Fanfare Ciocarlia, Ioan Ivancea, passed away not too long ago. How do you remember him?
Lazar Radulescu: "It's always sad to think of his passing. He was our teacher and the father of three musicians in Fanfare Ciocarlia. Ioan represented everything Fanfare Ciocarlia stands for!"
You're now touring with the Gypsy Queens And Kings project. How did that project come about?
Lazar Radulescu: "Well, because we play so many festivals we tend to run into a lot of our colleagues from other countries. That way we met Johnny Iliev, Tato (Antoine 'Tato' Garcia, band leader of the Perpignan based gypsy ensemble Kaloome, red.) and all the other participants of the project. It seemed a nice idea to do a project where we could bring all these people together and bring a kind of international portrait of gypsy music from all corners of the world to the stage."