Remixing the Balkans

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very pleased to introduce a new (hopefully regular) contributor to this blog: Tanchi

This is the first round of enlargement (to use some EU speak) for the Kosmopolit blog. So stay tuned and witness some more accessions in the near future. But now let’s welcome Tanchi with her first post (ever!) on a piece of Balkans in Brussels.

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The hall of queuing people, an echo of the music coming from different directions, the smell of the spices that dive my memories into the long forgotten nostalgia, and of course women skilled in belly dancing remind me of my own belonging and are a promise for an amusing night. I cannot decide which direction to take and what to do first. Should I try the wine which reminds me of home or should I go straight to the movie? But wait a minute, the concert just started…The cacophony that appeared in my head brought a smile on my face: “Welcome to the Balkans!”

Balkan

Balkan Trafik, the festival that took place at the Bozar in Brussels between the 27th and 29th of March 2008, was the reason for writing my first blog post. The meaningful name gave the impression that the place is a perfect spot for the traffic of music and culture which reminds me that there is not only one, but rather many Balkans. This post combines only a few of the impressions and leaves an open space for the parts which are not intentionally forgotten, but rather left for future writing…

The difficulties of coexistence in the former Yugoslavia seems to be a well-known fact. However, the struggle for a more positive image of the split territory turns many times only into a nice try. But everyone who has lived, even for a short time, in any of the former republics, can guarantee that, despite the problems (which are mostly politically created), people easily find a way to connect with each other. Sometimes I get the impression that humor, parties and of course songs were born in this part of Europe. In this sense, the traffic of music was for me a promise for traveling to some parts of the no longer existent state. I opened the door of the first hall and started my journey with:

Sevdah. A music genre that originally comes from Bosnia and Herzegovina was a bridge that survived. The almost 450 years old bridge of Mostar which was destroyed in 1993 by the side of the Croatian Council of Defense (HVO) was a symbol of the remarkable history, as well as a reminder of the attempt to erase everything which might be considered as a part of the Ottoman legacy and today connected with Muslims. However, the ones who demolished it, forgot that the heritage carried also their own memories, pieces of their own identity and they did not think that the traces of the past cannot be forgotten by simply destroying the material…This is one side of understanding Mostar Sevdah. The bottle of people’s most hidden feelings which can express all the bitterness and joy in melancholic melodies which touch the listener’s ear regardless his/her origin and even if he/she never put a foot into Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Even though the musical genres from the South-Eastern part of Europe seem to be clear and distinguished, I would claim that they totally mirror the variety of cultures and ethnicities that have always been coexisting there. Only this combination is a guarantee that average turns into the extraordinary. The example can be seen in the combination of the above mentioned Sevdalinke in the performance of Mostar Sevdah Reunion and deep voice of one of “the gypsy queens” Ljiljana Buttler. The woman, who cleans for living, turns to the singing diva as soon as the music begins. The analogy is more than obvious: even though the Roma rights are often not properly recognized nor highly violated, everyone has a big respect regarding their music. And again, even though there might be no declarative equality among different ethnic/national groups, the music makes us forget about borders and shows us how great the difference is. We connect, like puzzles do…

And yes, for all of you who thought that trumpets are not popular anymore and that Guča beats inspire only bored tourists looking for exoticism: Dejan Lazarević proved the opposite. People almost in an ecstatic mood made temporary friendships by holding their hands and imitating a kind of a kolo style. The selection of songs, which were during the 1990s successfully exported by Kusturica’s movies and the performance which awakes every single cell in people’s body was a guarantee that the night was even shorter than usual.

I decided to leave. There was still so much to explore and to enjoy, but I left when the party was at its best. I did not want to lose the feeling of differences I went through – I felt too rich to stay :)…

Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for enlargement emphasized recently in a speech at the European Parliament that the phrase: “Don’t expect that something will change; that’s how it is in the Balkans” should finally disappear from people’s common vocabulary. The Commissioner referred to the political path(s) which will affect the future of the region. As he put it in a rather witty way, “the Balkans might become as boring as Western or Northern Europe is.” I do agree it is necessary to overcome the cheesy phrase, which in many cases contributes to the unchanging discourses in many of the former republics. But I want to emphasize that Europe sometimes forgets that its richness lies in the variety it offers. People in the region just have to respect each other, and they will realize that the Balkans can be beautiful and boring.

Written by: Tanchi

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6 responses to “Remixing the Balkans

  1. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Belgium: The Balkan Presence

  2. florianwagner

    Finally there is girl power on your blog! Chuck likes that! Great post!

  3. Go on, girl! 1A!

  4. prim, miška

    Very well written Tungi, I expect more of the same soon, perhaps a piece on the sports side:), by the way how is my coin collection progressing:)?

  5. Thankyou for this wonderful wonderful post!!! I ABSERLOUTLY MUST go to this festival next year! I love balkan music and culture- I ecently saw Taraf de Haidouks at the Latitude Festival in England which I can safely say was one of the most fun amazing magic crazy experiences of my life!!! My one concern about Balkan Trafik is that I dont speak a word of French though I will learn some before the trip- would you say this can be a problem?

  6. Hey, Rozina! I am glad you liked the post and even more that you enjoy in the Balkan beats. I highly encourage you to attend Balkan Trafik. There’s no problem if you don’t speak French (I am also illiterate in French); you will easily manage with English, body language, etc…so, go, go, it’s a great experience and the only precondition is that you are a bit in love with the Balkans-then you’ll enjoy the event!