In Vladičin Han,  the South Serbian town, where Marko Marković hails from, nearly everyone plays brass . “Growing up I didn’t have a choice,” says Marko. “The trumpet chose me.”

Marko Marković (30) is the son of Balkan brass legend Boban Marković, five times winner of “Best Trumpeter” award at Guča, Serbia’s annual summer-time brass music blow-out.  

Almost before he could walk, Marko reached for the trumpet. The trumpet was his first toy, and heclaims to have found his mouthpiece in the sand pit when he was a child, and has played with it ever since.

At the age of seven Marko was already starting to play traditional compositions, kolos, or  Serbian round dances, and old Romanes songs.Boban didn’t take note of his playing up until the age of fourteen, when one day his mother said, “instead of going fishing listen to Marko.” 

“When he heard me for the first time he started crying. He just couldn’t believe that I could play so well,” says Marko.

Marko began playing in  Boban’s band in 2002 and  on his eighteenth birthday  Boban handed over the orchestra to him. 

“’Not just because you are my son,’ my father said, ‘but because you deserve it.’ Well, and then I started working even more.”

Since then Marko has branched out, exploring jazz and Latin idioms while remaining true to his Balkan Roma roots.  He has a strong affinity for Turkish music, which he says occupies sixty percent of the music he listens to, mentioning to me such names as Turkish arabesk crooner Ibrahim Tatlises and clarinet maestro Hüsnü Şenlendirici. 

Marko plays an American  Schilke brand flugelhorn, which resembles a trumpet but has a wider, conical bore. In Vladičin Han, says Marko, everyone plays this particular trumpet variant. With its  bigger interior chamber, he finds the instrument lends itself to his energetic, powerful style of playing which veers lightning quick between jazz and traditional Roma music. In recent years Marko has switched to playing with piston valves as opposed to rotary valves as he prefers the brighter sound and it makes it easier to play at a high register.

The trumpet is the national instrument of the Serbs thanks to the influence of Austrian marching bands and Ottoman Janissary mehtars. Anyone who has visited Guča, will notice that the tradition of Serbian trumpet playing is tended not only by Gypsy orchestras, but “white” or Serbian bands as well. 

Asked what separates the “white” style of playing from the Roma style, Marko says, “We Gypsies, love our čočeks” – a popular Roma dance with a 4-4 and 7-8 time signature – “while  the whites they love their round dances. It’s a different way of listening to music.”

Right after our interview, Marko took the stage with his orchestra at a packed Lido in Berlin. Beginning with a slow and ruminative intro, Marko soon launched into a frantic array of Balkan hits, verging off into jazz and Latin territory, all the while displaying a  luminous stage presence, urging the audience to sing along to songs like Ederlezi and Djurdjev Dan.

“I’m a completely different person when I play,” says Marko. “I am quite a quiet person when I am in private. But when I take the trumpet I just completely change. Sometimes when I see my performance I ask myself, ‘Is that really me?’ Normally I am a very withdrawn, quiet person, but when I come out on stage I look like the biggest junky.” 

Marko is himself a proud father of three. His eldest eight year old son is currently learning trumpet at music school, while his daughter is showing signs of promise on the trumpet.

“It’s a little unusual for Roma girls to play the trumpet in Serbia,” says Marko. “But I am encouraging her.”