A Man With A Golden Tooth

For over half a century, the small and sleepy town of Guča in western Serbia has served as the stage for an annual trumpet competition, where brass bands from all over Europe, largely of Romani heritage, vie for the coveted golden trumpet prize. What began as a humble local competition has now blossomed into a massive turbo-folk party, drawing thousands of visitors from far and wide.

During the festival, the locals open their doors and gardens to visitors, and people pitch their tents and campers wherever they can find space. The brass bands play in the streets from dawn till late night, so it feels like the music never stops - well, at least as long as someone is putting banknotes in the trumpets and tubas.⁠

The trumpet has a rich history in Serbia and is a cornerstone of the country's national identity; records show that trumpeters and drummers have been a part of the Serbian army since the Middle Ages. Most trumpeters are not formally trained and learn to play the instruments by ear, often improvising when performing for the audience. Brass orchestras have long provided the soundtrack for major life events, from weddings and baptisms to funerals.

It's nearly impossible not to dance to the energetic rhythms of Balkan brass. On the hot summer days of the festival, people seek refuge in the cool waters of the Bjelica river that flows through Guča. Whole hogs are roasted over flames, filling the air with the aroma of sizzling meat, and shots of rakija warm everyone's hearts. In a country with a tumultuous past and nationalistic sentiments, the Guča festival serves as a unifying force, bringing people together through the frenzied sounds of the Balkan trumpet.