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Serbia's Guca Trumpet Festival Celebrates Traditional Music

The trumpet is present at all major life events throughout the Balkans, from baptisms and weddings to funerals. And Serbia's Guca Trumpet Festival, held every year for the past 53 years in the small western town of Guca, celebrates this tradition.

But the festival is increasingly finding itself torn between its dedication to traditional music and the allure of Serbia's more commercial music industry.

Brass bands, pig roasts, copious quantities of strong Serbian rakija, and impromptu performances by partially clothed women is how the weeklong festival kicked off on August 5.

Besides traditional orchestras -- the backbone of the festival -- there are also more and more performances by so-called "turbo-folk" singers, such as Aca Lukas. While these performances are generally welcomed, some lament the shift toward more commercial music and away from the traditional atmosphere of the festival.

Music critic Vojislav Pantic thinks it's simply an attempt by organizers to attract more visitors.

"On the one hand, Guca is a brass-band competition and it represents the art of brass," he says. "But on the other hand, it is also about folklore. And finally it is a commercial manifestation, which like every other festival aims to attract more people."

If past years are any indication, tens of thousands of revelers will be in attendance on August 10 when Serbia's 16 best brass bands will compete for top honors.

The festival -- which attracts a few thousand foreigners each year, mostly from Slovenia, France, and Italy -- concludes on August 11 with a performance by Goran Bregovic, one of the world's best-known Balkan musicians.

The Guca festival even made an appearance in the classified U.S. diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks website in 2010. In 2009, the year a U.S. Navy orchestra participated in the event, the then-deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, Jennifer Brush, wrote:

"It is a festival of traditional Serbian music but in a bullying beer lubricated atmosphere. The [U.S] orchestra was welcomed by the officials, the organizers and most importantly the people."

Unlike previous years, politicians have chosen to bypass this year's Guca festival. Nevertheless, a nationalistic component can be seen in the souvenir stands, which contain royalist Chetnik hats and traditional Serbian nationalist badges.

-- RFE/RL's Balkan Service and Deana Kjuka

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