All about that brass: Balkan music fest showcases Raya Brass Band

The Brooklyn Paper
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These bands are Balkan up!

Park Slope’s ornate Grand Prospect Hall will shake with the rollicking sounds of the Balkans on Jan. 15 and 16. Brooklyn’s own Raya Brass Band will be among the 60 vibrant outfits performing on the four stages of the Golden Festival, and the band’s accordion player says that six-piece is charged up to play for its hometown audience.

“It’s definitely one of the more exciting gigs of the year for us because everyone’s a fan and they know us,” said Matthew “Max” Fass, of Prospect Heights.

This year marks the 31st incarnation of the festival — a yearly institution thrown by local band Zlatne Uste — and the seventh time Raya Brass Band has played the raucous gathering. The group has played Golden Festival every year since it formed in 2008, during a week of music, singing, and dancing lessons (and all-night extravaganzas) at a Balkan camp in the Catskills.

The brass, percussion, and accordion combo began as a pan-Balkan wedding and dance band, playing traditional music from across southeastern Europe. About three years ago, says Fass, the members started composing their own original tunes in the Balkan style. They still play eight to 12 wedding a year and meet plenty of colorful characters along the way, said Fass.

“The people who hire a roving Balkan brass band for their wedding are going to be interesting people,” he said.

The lively group will play on both Friday and Saturday nights of the festival, which will also feature acts from across the world, including Turkish band Dolunay, brass band Black Masala and New Orleans-fusion outfit Blato Zato.

But the audience is the most important part of the event, said Fass, who claims that the hordes of dancers is what makes the music so special.

“What I like about Balkan music is that it’s more than just the music — it’s about community involvement,” he said. “Often when these Balkan-style wedding bands are playing, many people know the dances — and the dancing and the music are very strongly interlinked.”

Golden Festival at Grand Prospect Hall [263 Prospect Ave. between Fifth and Sixth avenues in Park Slope, (718) 788–0777,]. Jan. 15, 7 pm–12:30 am; $35. Jan. 16, 6 pm–2 am; $55. $80 for both nights.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at or by calling (718) 260–2511.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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