Trumpeter Tung Pham first got into Balkan and klezmer music playing in a circus band in Boston, his home town.
"It’s really live,” Pham says of Balkan music. “When you get into the vibe of the music, it’s got a great beat that can be so celebratory. The tradition of the music is for occasions like weddings and funerals. And the fact that you've got the horn section that’s blaring, the beat, like driving rhythms — it’s so infectious that it made me get really inspired to really explore and learn about it.”
So when Pham moved to Boulder for graduate school in 2009, he started the brass band Gora Gora Orkestar, which will be playing the 2018 Westword Music Showcase, as a way to continue exploring Balkan music and klezmer. Eventually the band branched out into other genres as well, like New Orleans second line music, which Pham says in itself is also a really celebrated tradition.
“We learned a lot of music from that tradition, writing music in that idiom,” he adds. “We have played shows just expressing that."
The band also started delving into different types of Latin music, like merengue and cumbia, as well as funk and tango.
“We became sort of a world citizen band,” Pham says. “We were like, ‘Okay, what can a brass band do that’s kind of like this and that would sound great? Why don’t we try this?' It sort of became its own thing of really trying to honor different traditions no matter where they come from. We always try to play them in their most accurate depiction and really try to honor what people have done before.”
Pham says a lot of the band’s original compositions are a fusion of the different styles, and a lot of the songs they’ve written this year blend Balkan music and hip-hop, which they’ve dubbed “brass-hop.”
“It’s really exciting to do things like that,” he says. “The thrust of our band right now is to emphasize that fusion.”
Last March, Gora Gora Orkestar uploaded a video for "Gora Borealis (with Tubasco Sauce),” written by saxophonist Pete Lyons, as a submission to NPR's Tiny Desk Contest. Pham says the band’s tentative plans are to shoot another video this year.
“Right now it seems like the thrust is to have more of an online web presence so that people can consume our music that way,” he says.
Gora Gora Orkestar performs from 5:15 to 5:55 p.m. Saturday, June 23, at Stoney's, 1111 Lincoln Street, as part of the 2018 Westword Music Showcase.