GUCA, Serbia: The sound of trumpets filled the air as thousands of people crowded into a small Serbian town this weekend for the 60th Guca Brass Band Festival, with visitors undeterred by a resurgence of coronavirus cases in the country.
Launched in 1961 when just four bands competed for the Golden Trumpet trophy and only 2,500 visitors attended, the festival is now Serbia’s liveliest traditional music event but, like many events around the world, it was cancelled in 2020 amid the global pandemic.
This year, visitors had to show vaccination certificates or a negative COVID-19 test if they want to enter Guca, a small town in the rolling hills of southwestern Serbia.
“The situation is like this everywhere in the world,” said Horseco, a visitor from Cuba, “and we have to learn to live with that. We cannot stop the music. We cannot stop living.”
Brass bands have a long tradition in Serbia stretching back to a royal decree establishing a military ensemble in 1831, and groups of musicians are present at events spanning births to weddings to funerals.
More than 15 million visitors have come to Guca during the festival’s history, and organisers and local authorities are hoping that despite the health restrictions, sales of tickets and souvenirs, and the taxes and duties paid by restaurateurs can help the local economy rebound.
“Many people are prevented from coming because not all of them can follow prescribed measures for the protection from COVID-19,” said Jovan Kovacevic, director of the Culture Centre in Guca.
Serbia has seen a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections in recent weeks, driven by the spread of the highly-infectious Delta variant, mostly in the unvaccinated.
The country of around 7 million has recorded 730,222 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with 7,158 deaths. Around 50% of the population are fully vaccinated.