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Feature 19 Apr 16

Serbia’s Small Trumpet Princess Wins Hearts

Being a lady and playing a trumpet is uncommon, says Danijela Veselinovic, the first and only female leader of a Serbian brass band.

Ivana Nikolic
Veselinovic first took up the trumpet at the age of eight. | Photo: Courtesy of Danijela Veselinovic

Danijela Veselinovic was only eight years old when she first took a trumpet in her hands.

She formed her first band a year later. She’s kept a tight grip on the instrument ever since.

Now 22, Veselinovic is an accomplished professional musician who is finishing her musical studies at the Novi Sad Arts Academy.

“I started playing trumpet out of curiosity,” Veselinovic remembers. “My father, Mile, bought a trumpet so he could play it. My brothers and I appropriated it as a toy.”

Only a year later, in February 2003, the young girl, her brothers, and a few relatives formed a band in their home town of Arilje in western Serbia.

The band consisted of six musicians: five boys and a girl, aged six to 10. The band was called Danijela.

“I was the only girl, so the orchestra was named after me,” Veselinovic says.

Over the years, the unorthodox band has attracted more than a little media attention. Most recently, Serbia’s Vice made a film about the orchestra.

“Disanje” (Breathing) brought them to the attention of a much wider audience.

Pioneering a place for women

It was rare to see a girl playing trumpet when Veselinovic and her brothers formed Danijela.

It’s still rare today. Veselinovic is the only woman in Serbia’s musical history to lead a brass orchestra.

“At first, people are surprised to see me on the stage,” Veselinovic says, “because in Serbia it is not common that girls play this instrument. But then they accept it with huge support.”

The band has participated at brass festivals not only in Serbia, but in Poland, Switzerland, Spain and Greece.

In addition to the traditional Roma music played by other Serbian bands, Danijela plays brass versions of Serbian and foreign popular music.

“Foreigners adore music from the Balkans,” Veselinovic says.

Royalty in the trumpet kingdom

Serbian brass bands perform at weddings, funerals and holiday celebrations throughout the country, but the centre of the trumpet universe is the Guca Trumpet Festival, held each August in a small western Serbia town, around 160 km from Belgrade.

The Guca festival gathers music lovers from all over the world. The main attraction is the brass band competition, in which the best ensembles battle it out for the coveted Golden Trumpet award.

During the seven-day festival, all you can hear in Guca is the sound of trumpet bands.

That’s not just hyperbole.

Last year, festival organisers pledged to fine any shop or restaurant caught playing other kinds of music 300,000 dinars (around €2,500).

Guca has always been something special for the young band. It’s where they first came to prominence and attracted the attention of Serbia’s musical community. “Guca is where we emerged,” Veselinovic says.

Danijela competed at Guca from 2003 until 2014. The band won a prize at its very first appearance.

Veselinovic remembers receiving the trophy from Boban Markovic, a Roma trumpet player who is deemed the greatest trumpeter ever to emerge from the Balkans. “You are a small trumpet princess,” he told her.

Since that year, the band has won five additional awards at Guca competitions.

Organizers say that since 1961, when the first brass fest took place in Guca, there has never been another female band leader.

Veselinovic is especially proud of her place in the musical history of Serbia.

Danijela and her band. | Photo: Courtesy of Danijela Veselinovic

No trumpets, no fun

Playing the trumpet has not always been Veselinovic’s only passion.She is also an accomplished archer.

She trained with bow and arrows for a long time and was quite successful, she says, but things changed when she started her musical studies in Novi Sad.

“I had to devote more time to trumpet, so archery is now only a hobby,” she says.

Some students leave Serbia to pursue musical careers after graduating, but Veselinovic says she may stay. Her first priority is to finish her studies at the Arts Academy. “And then we will see,” she says.

Besides, she adds, there are many concerts yet to be played, both as part of her studies in Novi Sad and with her band.

But it is not just at concerts and festivals that Veselinovic and her six colleagues perform.

She says they have often “adorned various celebrations,” providing musical accompaniment to weddings, funerals, birthdays, anniversaries and other events.

“Everyone in Serbia knows there is no fun without trumpets,” she says. “We keep busy playing at private events.”

Keep that in mind. Your next party could become a more festive and traditional event with the addition of a trumpet band – maybe even Danijela.

If you haven’t heard a Serbian trumpet band, head to Guca – or a kafana in the bohemian quarter in Belgrade’s Skadarlija – and check it out!

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy. 

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