Balkan up: Golden Fest brings Balkan party to Park Slope

Balkan up: Golden Fest brings Balkan party to Park Slope
Photo by Oresti Tsonopoulus

The Balkan beat goes on.

The Golden Festival, an annual celebration of Balkan music and dance, has been bringing together brass bands and the people who love them for nearly 30 years, since its humble beginnings in a Manhattan studio with three bands playing to about 100 people. When the festival takes over the Grand Prospect Hall in Park Slope on Jan. 17 and 18, more than 50 bands will play to an anticipated crowd of 3,000.

The party has grown each year, mostly by word of mouth, as more people have become familiar with traditional and contemporary forms of the frenetic folk music that is dominated by horns and drums.

“When it started nearly 30 years ago, there wasn’t an audience for this type of music,” said Michael Ginsburg, director of Zlatne Uste, a 14-member Balkan brass band that produces the festival. “But it’s moved much closer to the mainstream.”

At the two-day festival, Zlatne Uste — the name means “golden lips” — will play the traditional music of the Balkans, representing Serbian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, and Romany traditions. Other highlights will include Merita Halili, a well-known Albanian singer, performing with the Raif Hyseni Orchestra; Souren Baronian, a specialist in Near Eastern jazz, who has been a fixture in New York since the 1950s; and local acts including the Veveritse Brass Band, Slavic Soul Party, and Sherita.

Sherita, which has performed at every Golden Festival since forming a couple of years ago, plans on performing a mix of Sephardic songs, Turkish dance tunes, and original songs in English.

“It is inspiring to play in a setting with so much deep appreciation, to hear so many wonderful bands exploring the music in their unique ways, and to dance in a huge circle with so many spirited and sweaty people,” said band director Rima Fand.

Indeed, dancing is a big component of the festival, which kicks off with a dance workshop on Friday and will feature traditional folk dancing throughout the weekend.

“There’s all kinds of dancing going on, from fairly complicated footwork to really simple steps which people can join in right away,” said Ginsburg. “It’s always been a very joyful and joyous event.”

Golden Festival at Grand Prospect Hall (263 Prospect Ave. between Fifth and Sixth avenues in Park Slope, www.goldenfest.org), Jan. 17 at 7:30 pm; Jan. 18 at 6 pm. $30–$80.

Circle up: The dancing is just as important as the music at Golden Festival.
Photo by Oresti Tsonopoulus