The Balkan is a region mostly known for the war in the 90’s and political instability afterwards. What less people know, however, is that it is a region rich of cultural and natural heritage. Not only does it have the last natural river of Europe (I know I’m supposed to write about music here, but I thought I’d promote the region a bit more while I’m at it), it also has a long history in dance and music.
In Bosnia, in the heart of the Balkans, the traditional music is called Sevdah. Sevdah is based on traditional poems and songs, that have been passed along generation on generation. It is music that is really at the core of the Bosnian society. Some of the artists performing Sevdah, like Amira Medunjanin and Božo Vrećo, also have an international following. This is not as unexpected as it may seem (unexpected because in my experience only people from the Balkans listen to music from the Balkans), since the genre of traditional music is widespread. A perfect example of this is the band Barcelona Gipsy Balkan Orchestra, that has its roots in Catalonia and plays traditional music from all over Europe, including Sevdah.
Music that is way more popular in the Balkans itself, yet way less popular outside of the Balkans, is ex-YU rock. As the name gives away, this is music from bands that were popular in Yugoslavia. It is, apart from the language, very similar to American rock music from the seventies and eighties. However, traces of the Balkan roots can definitely be found. The song Djurdjevdan, performed by Bijelo Dugme (arguable the most popular and successful ex-YU band), is based on an original gipsy song. For the people that might not be interested in exploring a completely new genre, but are open to music in a language that isn’t English, I think ex-YU is a great place to start. Music from bands as Crvena Jabuka and Plavi Orkestar is very accessible and easy to listen to.
Of course, there is also music in the Balkans that is actually from this time. A genre that is not necessarily one to be proud of, yet also too important to skip, is that of turbofolk music. This music is a Balkan version of current day dance music that is played in clubs. It can be way too sentimental, or way too sexual and has a constant paradox surrounding it of people saying “I don’t listen to this music, but I do know all of it”. Turbofolk isn’t necessarily good, but I must admit it can be very entertaining, probably even more so when you don’t understand the lyrics. If this seems like something you would enjoy, give Ceca, Jelena Karleuša, or Maya Berović a go.
The last music that is really worth mentioning, is rap from the Balkans. With a great industry in Croatia, but also in the other ex-Yugoslavian countries, rap has rapidly become more popular in the last decade. Groups like Dubioza Kolektiv, Vojko V and Marčelo give an insight into life in the Balkans, with smart and real criticism, yet also a healthy dose of humor.
Of course, I would love to go into more detail about what makes music from the Balkans different from Western-European music, which different harmonies they use, and which great lyrics there are. I happen to find that endlessly interesting, but I can imagine not all of you would share this interest. If you do happen to want to know more, check out the artists I mentioned, there is a whole world of music to be discovered with them!
By Katja Skenderija