Zlatne Uste is a folk band, but it doesn’t play Pete Seeger or Joan Baez tunes.
The local 12-piece outfit plays the modern folk music of south and central Serbia, Macedonia, northwest Bulgaria, and northern Greece. In other words, it has got the Balkan beat. But the sound is a product of evolution rather than intention, explained one band member.
“Thirty years ago, there was an East Coast version of a brass camp where we went and all had so much fun, and we have been at it ever since,” said Zlatne Uste tuba player Emerson Hawley. “We have gradually conformed more and more to the Serbian ideal.”
On Jan. 16 and 17, the band will host its 30th Zlatne Uste Golden Festival, which it bills as part showcase, part benefit, part Balkan Mardi Gras. Other acts on the bill of the two-day event, which takes place at Grand Prospect Hall in Park Slope, will include octogenarian Armenian-American clarinetist Souren Baronian, teen brass band Chochek Nation, and Moldovan-born Montreal-based accordion virtuoso Sergiu Popa.
Most of Zlatne Uste’s members are not of Balkan descent, but they have traveled to the region six times to play and compete in folk music festivals since forming the band in 1983, Hawley said. The ensemble typically features trumpets, trombones, flugelhorns, and at least one saxophone, tuba, and a percussionist. But when it is time for a competition, the group has to drop the sax, since the instrument is not allowed.
“It is a weird rule, because once it is time for the bands to go back into the clubs, there are always saxophones,” said Hawley.
But, he said, Balkan folk music is all about being adaptive and going with the flow.
“A band picks up a tune, and soon everyone is playing it,” said Hawley. “Everyone plays whatever is popular and whatever the audience wants. We do not feel like we are copying, because everyone is copying.”
The 30th annual Zlatne Uste Golden Festival at Grand Prospect Hall (263 Prospect Ave. between Fifth and Sixth avenues in Park Slope, www.goldenfest.org), Jan. 16 at 7:30 pm, Jan. 17 at 6 pm. $35–$80.