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Serbian trumpet festival attracts 400,000 revellers

The growing popularity of an annual Roma trumpet festival has drawn hundreds of thousands of revelers to Serbia over the past few days.

The majority of the 1,500 participants of the 46th festival in Guca, about 160 kilometers (about 96 miles) south of the Serbian capital Belgrade, are Roma from around the region. But as the word spreads further west, the festival has been attracting an increasing number of foreigners, boosting the attendance numbers to an estimated 400,000 this year.

At the main stage, standing not far from the village's Orthodox church, Ludovic Delomme effortlessly carries a 13-kilogram (28-pound) sousaphone and is welcomed by a vociferous crowd. Delomme is a member of "Tzi Slav Orkestar Paris" -- a French brass outfit formed in 2000 and attending Guca for the third year.

"They don't play too badly," says Julie Del Toro, a 25-year-old from Toulouse in southern France, as the band warmed up for the "Golden Trumpet" competition. "If such a festival was held in France, I'm not sure it would be as successful," she adds, referring to the uninhibited behavior of the young spectators.

In Guca, they jump onto tables to strut their stuff and show their appreciation for their favorite bands. Played by up to 50 or even 60 musicians at the same time, the melodies are transformed into a kind of deafening, higher sound.

Founded as a local trumpet competition in 1961 by musicians who earned a living by playing at baptisms, marriages and other family ceremonies, the festival gained its renown in the '90s. Nowadays, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who attended the final day of the festival on Sunday, speaks of it as having become a "national label" that his country contributes to world heritage.

For the organizers, it has become "the most important trumpet event in the world" -- a phrase that wouldn't surprise the greats of music like Miles Davis.

"I didn't know you could play the trumpet that way," the famous late American jazz musician said once after a pilgrimage to Guca. The trumpet festival, which offers visitors free entry, is well on the way to becoming a commercial event.

Serbian brewery MB, the main sponsor of this year's festival, reported beer sales of 4,000 hectoliters, or more than 700,000 British pints. The event has also become lucrative for various travel agencies.

A representative of a Berlin-based travel agency, Snezana Knoepffler, a former refugee of Bosnia's 1992-1995 war, hopes to attract more and more Germans seeking a music festival with a difference. "There used to be a hatred of Serbs, and it takes time to overcome this," says Knoepffler.

German student Jelena Kleisler said that like her, many young foreigners come to the festival in Guca attracted by music "that has a heart." The festival is also to be immortalized in a film, organizers said. "Guca -- Distant Trumpet" is in the tradition of Emir Kusturica, the Balkan director who first introduced the world to the cacophonous sound of the region's "Gypsy music" through a string of award-winning movies.

Written and directed by Dusan Milic, the new feature-length film is a history of love surrounding Marko Markovic, the young, talented son of Serbia's best known trumpet player, Boban Markovic.

Milic hopes to unveil the film soon after the latest edition of the festival in Guca, a tiny village in southern Serbia, with the soundtrack already released ahead of the celebration of trumpet music.

Boban and Marko Markovic attended the latest version of the Guca festival, where they were seen sauntering among dozens of the shiny brass instruments, chatting about music together in both Serbian and Romany.

Boban prefers the traditional Austro-Hungarian bugle, while Marko is a virtuoso of the valve trumpet, best known for its use in jazz music.

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