Tuesday, February 28, 2006

After Jelena, Jelena

So Andrea Šušnjara isn't the next lead singer of Magazin (just like Ana Pavić wasn't) and Jelena Rozga will still sing with them during Dora, according to the band's guitarist Željko Baričić. Nearly all the papers are carrying the story today, except, funnily enough, 24 sata, the tabloid Andrea blabbed to in the first place.

Dora article of the day, though, comes from the Split daily Slobodna Dalmacija, reporting on the local interest in the competition. Danijela Martinović's promise of 'professional' dancers and Emina Arapović's intriguing new look are one thing, but not half as worthwhile as Severina's comments on Moja štikla. (In case any of its readers have missed Seve's residence on the showbusiness pages throughout the last month, SD helpfully reminds them that 'many people have already evaluated Brega's arrangement as the Serb melos, and accused Seve of singing in ekavian'.)

Over to Severina, though:

'Only people who have never heard the song could make a comment like that. Moja štikla is a very unusual and witty song, it isn't made on a mathematical principle of 2+2=4 and chorus. It contains elements of linđo, ganga, rere, šijavica and other authentic Croatian musical moments. If some people call such a composition Serb folklore, then all of us have a dreadful problem. Then I don't know where we are! And as for ekavian, Blic in Serbia printed the lyrics of the song, in ekavian of course, and then one of our daily newspapers took over those lyrics.'

What was I saying about essentialised folklore at Eurovision? And about language and nationhood? Or the boundaries of the Croatian cultural space? Or practically anything else that I call work these days?

In advance of Seve's performance in the second semi-final on Friday (where she'll be accompanied by five backing singers in 'national costume'), the Gazette has been enjoying Slobodna Dalmacija's decasyllabic headline, too:

'Seve s rerom spremna za Atenu
Andrea neće zamijeniti Jelenu

To be fair, the Dora line-up does look like quite a contest, but I didn't realise it was meant to be as epic as all that.

* 'Seve ready for Athens with rere / Andrea won't replace Jelena.'

Monday, February 27, 2006

Magazin: Sve Je Isto...?

Take this with the usual tabloid-derived health warning, but 24 sata is reporting today that Andrea Šušnjara has officially been chosen as the next lead singer of Magazin.

At least, it's reporting that Andrea said she was the next lead singer of Magazin when it met her celebrating her 18th birthday at a Magazin concert in Zagreb. That needn't be the same thing, but she'd surely be foolish to make a premature announcement.

Andrea will follow Ljiljana Nikolovska (1983-90), Danijela Martinović (1990-96), and Jelena Rozga (1996-2005) as the fourth lead singer of the band, one of the longest-lasting groups on the Croatian music scene. Among all of them, Andrea perhaps has the hardest act to follow: Jelena's nine years in the band saw her the public face of Tonči Huljić's most creative period with Magazin, influenced by his classical crossover projects for the worldwide market.

Jelena herself begins her post-Magazin career on Friday night when she performs in the second Dora semi-final, competing against Severina and her calculatedly controversial Moja štikla.

Nobody, except maybe Ana Pavić, will be especially surprised by Andrea's career move, which some have seen as on the cards ever since Andrea's debut performance in Dora 2004. Credit to the radio DJ Zlatko Turkalj, one of the Dora presenters that year, who asked Huljić on live television when Andrea was going to be the next lead singer of Magazin.

The Gazette could say 'Sve je isto, samo Jele nema' here, but it won't.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Dream Job

Thanks to Eric at East Ethnia several days ago for calling my attention to a new documentary on turbofolk, Posao snova, made by the Bosnian director Danijela Majstorović.

Posao snova - The Dream Job - deals with the experience of women in the folk music industry, and rather than reproducing the usual stereotypes, promises to be what Eric calls 'the first film treatment that takes on the phenomenon in a way that respects its complexity': Majstorović has interviewed performers ranging from Lepa Brena and Hanka Paldum to young girls hoping to break into folk music, while also 'analyzing managers, their profit, and the way they control women's careers'.

Any Gazette readers in Zagreb still have time to find out for themselves at the ZagrebDox documentary festival, where Posao snova premieres tomorrow afternoon. Otherwise, Majstorović discusses the film in today's Večernji list (which unhelpfully headlines it as 'The film revealing the dark side of narodnjaci).

Says Majstorović:

'Young girls in Bosnia see their models in folk singers and don't know that that likfe isn't always what it looks like at first glance. They come from the village to the city and they have the choice either to be a street vendor on some corner or to try to become a singer. If they're given the opportunity, like the girls in our story are, they'll feel as if all their dreams are coming true.'

There are at least two dozen Magazin auditionees who probably ought to be in the audience, just in case.

Showbusiness Ethnopolitics: Severina

Part 1 of many, no doubt...

The Gazette realises it's coming more and more to resemble Severina's press clippings service this week, but there's nothing wrong with that when newspapers like 24 sata are making it so easy.

Imagine you're a Croatian tabloid with a Severina-shaped hole in the showbusiness pages, a scandal in Belgrade to catch up with, and the Bregović-arranged hook line of Moja štikla running through your head. Who might you contact for suitably outraged comments?

Maybe the former president of HČSP (Croatian Pure Party of Right), Luka Podrug. And maybe the president of the Split branch of the disabled war veterans' association, Goran Zlopaša.

Zlopaša says darkly that 'I don't approve of any sort of violence, but I don't even think what the reaction of Splićani will be' (sorry, but she's not exactly Gotovina, is she?), and Podrug has been even more obliging:

'In the deluge of bad taste and violent Balkanisation which has been forced into every pore of our lives, I'm not surprised by Severina's new outrage. I consider her song a provocation and I know that she could not have got used to such music in Split. [?!] The main culprit here is HTV which, playing the prime motivator [glavnog dresera] of the Balkanisation of Croatia, has been wiping out Croatian pop [zabavnu] music for years and waging the terror of bad taste over the majority of the Croatian people.'

The Gazette doesn't find itself agreeing with Podrug all that often, but 'provocation' is a fair point this time around. After all, whether through military chic (Hrvatica) or remaking a certain other video with inflatable dolls (Adam i Seva), Severina's done little else for the past two years. Given the nature of her most widespread media exposure, it only makes sense.

And so, as if by magic, 24 sata is able to proclaim that 'the release of Severina's song Moja štikla, which will compete in this year's Dora, has provoked reactions from the main veterans' associations and right-wing political parties because, allegedly, it contains explicit parts of Serbian beats'.

24 sata's Seve coverage is already outdoing the 2003 Dora scandal (is Maja Šuput the reincarnation of Lepa Brena? Discuss) to quite some extent, and rests on the questionable linguistics that Moja štikla contains a line in ekavian, ie. Serbian, namely the lines sung by her male backing vocalists 'Sojčice, devojčice, daj obuci čarapice'. Using the Croatian (ijekavian) form, they should instead be singing 'Sojčice, djevojčice' - as a woman whose greatest hits include Djevojka (rather than Devojka) sa sela ought to know.

Much ado about a vowel and a half? The word in question has even been transcribed in other places as 'divojčice'. What's more, that might just be the most plausible suggestion - since it uses the ikavian form, which is widely used in the home region of Seve's backing vocalists. And also across Dalmatia, including Split.

But that wouldn't help 24 sata, which seems set on concluding that 'Split is shocked by Seve's turbo-folk song'. And maybe it is (although, so far, not shocked enough for Split's own newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija to take any notice). But evidently it's not half as shocked as 24 sata.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Moja Štikla Update

It's official: HTV's website for Dora lists Goran Bregović as the arranger of Severina's Moja štikla. And now what?


Marie of Romania.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Severina: These Heels Are Made For Walking

Severina and her štikla have reached the Belgrade tabloid Kurir, which spent a few days in January trying to prove that Seve was really a Serb. Now, it's trying to prove that Moja štikla is really Serbian too.

More specifically, Kurir has finally got hold of the Goran Bregović story which was circulated by Zagreb's Večernji list a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, Bregović rearranged Severina's song while she was on a recent trip to Belgrade: returning the favour, perhaps, for Croatian composer Tonči Huljić's quiet involvement with the SCG Eurovision entry in 2005?

The tabloid may have something of a point to say that Seve's hook line of 'Ojda da ojda daj ojda daj daj' reminds it of Bregović's Hajdemo u planine from his Bijelo dugme days and its chorus 'Ojda da ojda ojda da da da', although the Gazette says, again: Ruslana? Anyone? On the other hand, its assessment of Seve's prospects for Dora are rather more optimistic than mine:

'Still, despite the striking ethno sounds, not so well-liked in Their Beautiful Homeland, and especially despite the Serbian beats, this song has already been proclaimed the favourite in Croatia and, according to some opinions, is already seen as the representative at the next Eurovision!

It's also interesting that the authors of Dora songs must be Croatian citizens, but, bearing in mind that Bregović is a collector of various passports
[pasoša (a i putovnica)], his authorial signature will be a mere formality!'

Well, maybe. And I am Marie of Romania.

In Croatia, Index and 24 sata have both picked up the story all over again. 24 sata breathlessly announces that 'Seve's going to Dora as a turbofolk singer!', and turns the saga into a transnational game of Chinese whispers by adding the comment that part of Moja štikla is in ekavian, ie. Serbian. (Which part, exactly? The part about ojda daj daj?)

Last year, the novelist Jurica Pavičić commented on Magazin's Nazaret that - to paraphrase - it was a jolly good thing it wasn't going to represent Croatia because you just know what everyone would have said about it if it had. Pavičić, and everybody else, are likely to have an even bigger field day with Moja štikla.

If the combination of Bregović, striking ethno sounds, and Seve's own career (in more senses than one) aren't enough, just wait until the first critic notices that Severina is apparently going to be joined on stage by two ganga and rere singers - a traditional Herzegovinan a cappella vocal form - who happen to come from Dicme and Čavoglave. After all: we know who else comes from Čavoglave, and we know what some music journalists think about that.

The Dora final is 4 March, so Croatian showbusiness's answer to the perfect storm has a good two weeks to run yet.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Opatija's Walk Of Fame

Opatija's new attraction, a Hollywood-style Walk of Fame dedicated to great Croatian stars, sportsmen, scientists and artists, was launched last week at a presentation by the mayor of Opatija and a representative from Elite magazine, which founded the project. Hrvatska ulica slavnih - the Croatian Street of the Glorious - will run along Slatina beach, and the first stars are set to be unveiled on 18 March.

The slavni have been divided into four categories: the arts, sports, science and so-called 'Elite stars'. Two figures in each category - one living and one dead - have been chosen for the launch of the Walk of Fame, and the same number will be added every year, with one category announced every three months.

The inaugural slavni are Miroslav Krleža, Nikola Tesla, the geneticist Miroslav Radman, the late basketballer Dražen Petrović, the other late basketballer Krešimir Ćosić, the 100-year-old poet Dragutin Tadijanović (still in the living category, at that), the Dalmatian singer Oliver Dragojević, and - of course - somebody or other by the name of Janica Kostelić.

As the project develops, it'll be interesting to see who's counted as Croatian and glorious enough to make it on to the Walk of Fame, and who isn't. (Tesla, a Serb born in the Lika region of Croatia, is the most likely of this octet to cause debate in one or other quarter.) Local singer-songwriter and Novi list columnist Dražen Turina-Šajeta has already taken the opportunity of his birthday to put up his own star on an Opatija billboard.

Dora 2006: On Their Marks

HTV has released 40-second clips of the 32 Dora entrants. Approximately 31 of them blend quite seamlessly into each other, including Magazin's Oprosti mala, which these 25 girls might be advised to rehearse.

The exception is Severina's Moja štikla, which isn't, as the Gazette feared last week, anything to do with the Black Eyed Peas, or indeed with their humps. Instead, it seems the Wild Dances invocations are quite justified.

The Gazette remains sceptical about Severina's chances of steering her štikla through Dora's half-telephone half-jury voting system, but at least if she follows the lead of her songwriter Boris Novković and performs in Croatian at Eurovision itself, 95% of the audience won't even know it has anything to do with her high heels.

Living Next Door To Brena

Fascinating post on Csikszereda Musings today about the incomprehensible Romanian popularity of a long-forgotten British song from the 70s, Smokie's Living Next Door To Alice.

The Gazette found an explanation, eventually, to the Romanian enthusiasm for Lepa Brena, but this one may take some more thought.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

And The Nominees Are...

The Gazette's flattered to be nominated for Best Southeast European Blog at A Fistful of Euros, in the illustrious company of East Ethnia, Argumente, Draxblog III, and Csikszereda Musings. (Argumente has a commanding lead, at the time of writing.)

Please do drop in and vote, if you're that way inclined.

On reflection, more Ante Gotovina, or of course more Severina, and less Gordon Brown might have been a good choice today?

Born On The 27th Of June

Part 1!

Since last month, Brown has evidently been setting up a full-on West Wing series finale, and clarified what he meant by commemoration in an address on Monday to the Royal United Services Institute. The speech, archived by the Treasury, was heavily leaked during the weekend to security-conscious newspapers such as the Daily Mail to ensure a newsstand packed with his tabloid-friendliest ideas on Monday morning.

Brown's RUSI speech emphasised security (you don't get to be Chancellor of the Exchequer without learning how to pitch to your audience), and, in particular, how globalisation will enable new terrorist threats. His range of policies, such as ID cards, biometric passports, and higher police budgets (such as three high-spec paramilitary helicopters for London's Metropolitan Police) were all implicitly legitimised by - constant references to the 7 July 2005 bombing attacks on London's transport system, and the demand to keep its memory alive.

For the benefit of his military-expert listeners, Brown outlined further proposals for his vision of Britishness: not only nebulous talk of values' (what they?), but also several ideas to promote War Memory such as encouraging teenagers to conduct oral history projects with war veterans in their neighbourhoods, expanding the Combined Cadet Force into state schools (so: that'll be even more teen-oriented recruitment ads showing off the army as a cross between Faliraki and a youth training scheme), and holding an annual Veterans' Day, again on the US model.

Like so many US-to-UK imports (Lock/Stock/Two Smoking Barrels? Madonna's new career? Match Point?), the British version of American military patriotism doesn't quite have the same ring to it. And is an expanded Veterans' Day, generalising the focus away from the world wars, at all intended to legitimise more recent activities? Perish the thought.

The Royal British Legion of veterans, among others, has called for a UK veterans' day before, and has suggested the Monday after Remembrance Sunday as a suitable date for the event. However, Veterans' Day will take place in much more promising weather during June, almost certainly on the 27th.

Arcanely, 27 June was apparently chosen as 'the day after the anniversary of the first investiture of the Victoria Cross in Hyde Park in 1857'. Even more arcanely to most, but not to the Gazette, the date also happens to be when I was born. (But not in 1857, please. Thank you.)

The great Croatian anthropologist Dunja Rihtman-Auguštin wrote some of her most stimulating essays on how the state can politicise time: abolishing public holidays, giving them new meanings, or making them up from scratch. In a very, very small way, the Gazette now knows what she meant. Unless we get an extra bank holiday out of it, of course. And Meera Syal and Kevin Pietersen, among others, are probably feeling the same way.

There's still a long distance to go before ex-Army balladeer James Blunt starts to perform Bon-Jovi-ised arrangements of English folk music with new lyrics getting his boys in Basra off the hook (although even as it is, he can still arouse some startling passions), and certainly no talk of an Altar of the Homeland yet. But at least I have some topical material to start my next lecture on politicising history with.

A Flag In Every Garden

Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer (that's Finance Minister, to those who live under a less Harry Potter-esque constitution) and Tony Blair's eternal understudy, has made himself far more conspicuous in a string of recent speeches, leading to speculations that he and Blair are running a 'dual premiership'.

In January, Brown headlined the annual conference of the left-leaning Fabian Society to speak on the conference theme, The Future of Britishness. In his keynote speech, Brown called for a more developed and inclusive sense of Britishness based on a 'golden thread' of the pursuit of liberty which, he said, had run through British history since the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.

For a Fabian audience at least, Brown's new British patriotism was to be based on principles of 'fairness' and the memory of 'countless strands of common, continuing endeavour in our villages, towns, and cities' such as the trade unions, friendly societies, and voluntary associations from which - needless to say - the Fabians themselves originated.

Brown also called for 'a modern national community service' where young people would undertake voluntary work during their gap years in return for help with their university tuition fees, and concluded with a US-influenced passage emphasising the absence of any public national celebration of Britishness:

'What is the British equivalent of the US 4th of July, or even the French 14th of July for that matter? What I mean is: what is our equivalent for a national celebration of who we are and what we stand for? And what is our equivalent of the national symbolism of a flag in every garden? In recent years we have had magnificent celebrations of VE Day, the Jubilee and, last year, Trafalgar Day.

Perhaps Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday are the nearest we have come to a British day that is – in every corner of our country – commemorative, unifying, and an expression of British ideas of standing firm in the world in the name of liberty, responsibility and fairness?

After all, royal jubilees don't come round that often, and Brown's new Britons have a lot of work to be getting on with, like reclaiming the Union Jack. Obligingly, Brown posed in front of the same throughout his speech - leaving a somewhat jarring impression on the mind of Timothy Garton Ash.

Part 2!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Dora 2006: Seve vs. Jele vs. Banfićka vs. Magazin

32 songs are confirmed for Dora 2006: the largest edition of the show to date. Unlike previous years, the selection includes a roll-call of established performers from the late 90s (alongside the show's annual regulars and the survivors of the reality-show boom) such as Severina, Magazin, Ivana Banfić, Minea, Danijela Martinović, Petar Grašo, and Marija Husar, latterly of the girlband Divas.

Jelena 'ex-Magazin' Rozga head's HTV's list with a solo entry, leading to speculation that she might perform on two songs if Magazin have not chosen a new lead singer in time. A spoof Dora line-up posted to a HTV forum last Tuesday made the almost credible announcement that Jelena's solo song would be titled Pod Poncijem Pilatom, presumably as a sequel to Magazin's 2005 entry Nazaret (or Doris Dragović's 1999 winner Marija Magdalena, written by the same team).

Notwithstanding Aleksandar Kostadinov's irritation at the interference of 'some joker', Jelena has in fact been confirmed to sing - nothing less than Ne zove me Marija (Don't call me Marija). Unfortunately Zovem se Jelena, Jelena was taken by Ms Karleuša several years ago.

A 'satisfied' Aleksandar Kostadinov announced Dora for 2-4 March in its traditional venue of Opatija, and stated it was 'not our problem' if Jelena appeared on two entries. HTV also reserve the right to 'do whatever we want' with the winning song, including extensive reworking or even a change of performer.

Nothing more has been heard yet on anything resembling the Severina-arranged-by-Goran-Bregović story from last week. Perhaps disappointingly, Severina will not be singing anything called Balkan, as last Tuesday's spoof had claimed, and in fact is going to be singing Moja štikla - My high heels. (The Gazette trusts it won't turn out to be a Croatian equivalent of the Black Eyed Peas' inexplicable radio hit My Humps.)

Meanwhile, NBC is developing an American version of the Eurovision Song Contest as a multi-episode challenge to Fox's American Idol. Martin Stenmarck of Sweden jumped the gun last year by performing Las Vegas at the real thing; here's hoping the Nevadans are grateful enough to have Stockholm lined up.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Opet Sevku Okupio Brega

The Gazette can add to its weekly quota of Tijana Dapčević-inspired plays on words, following the report in Večernji list at the weekend that Severina's much-anticipated entry to Dora 2006 is - apparently - going to be arranged and produced by none other than... Goran Bregović.

According to Večernji list, Severina apparently recorded the song with Bregović while her manager was arranging a Belgrade run for her stage show Čekajući svog čovika, which she performed in Split last autumn.

Having internationally presented himself as a world music artist with his adaptations of Roma melodies, and established himself as a cinematic composer with scores for (among others) three Emir Kusturica movies and Patrice Chereau's La reine Margot, Brega was reunited with his Bijelo Dugme bandmates (in the spirit of retromanija - and Coca-Cola sponsorship) in June 2005 for three stadium concerts in Sarajevo, Zagreb and Belgrade.

Tijana quickly commemorated the reunion in her own retromaniac anthem, winning the Budva festival by singing 'Sve je isto samo Njega nema / Opet Dugme okupio Brega' over and over again. ('Everything's the same, but He's not here / Brega's put Dugme together again.)

Bregović at Eurovision? He wouldn't be the first dugmetaš to make the trip: ex-drummer Milić Vukašinović co-wrote Bosnia's entry in 1997 for Alma Čardžić. But a Bregović Eurovision project is sure to involve more publicity and more exoticism, both of which are winning strategies at present.

If Seve (and her songwriter Boris Novković) are selected for Dora, if they make it past their nineteen competitors, and if there's an ounce of truth in the Bregović report, let alone the copy-of-Ruslana one, the prospects begin to take on a 'perfect storm' quality. Especially because the Gazette will be in Dresden talking about essentialised folklore in the Eurovision Song Contest a month after Seve and Boris either win Eurovision for Croatia, or don't.

The only other question in the Gazette's mind is what might have become of Croatia's own entrepreneur of Eurovision exoticism, Tonči Huljić, who last year reportedly filled the Bregović role for (Serbia-)Montenegro's entrants No Name.

There are even less substantiated rumours circulating that Huljić might be involved with the next Severina album, but for now, it seems he's quite well-occupied.

February New Arrivals

Hi to Maisie Hitchcock World, based in Berlin (I think) and recovering from various encounters with Serbian newly-composed folk music including Mile Kitić, Dragan Kojić-Keba, Dragana Mirković and, needless to say, Ceca Ražnatović.

(Hey, doesn't anyone ever have a good word for Ceca Slavković?)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Magazin: Introducing Ana Pavić

The Croatian media has its candidate to replace Jelena in Magazin: Ana Pavić, formerly the lead singer of the Split group Viva.

However, all this came as news to Magazin, whose guitarist Željko Baričić expects the over-subscribed auditions to take at least another month. In fact, Pavić didn't even audition, Magazin now say, so expect the new girl to be anyone but her.

Once the new singer has found her feet, promotional concerts or 'a unique generational journey of Magazin through time' are planned to take place in Croatia, Sarajevo, Belgrade, Ljubljana, and Skopje. (No word on whether the process will take so long that they'll be obliged to add Podgorica.)

Today's Slobodna Dalmacija, suddenly quiet on the Pavić front, suggests a string of other Huljić projects, including a 'Mediterranean'-style soap opera set around a marina and intended to star a singer not unlike Doris Dragović, and a Cuban-themed musical.

And a return to Eurovision? Wait and see.

Croatia's Number One Brand

The Board for the Truth about the Homeland War, formed after General Ante Gotovina's arrest in December, was publicly launched yesterday with a speech from the president of Matica Hrvatska, Ivan Zidić. Zidić described Gotovina as 'the number one brand in the country', but pledged support to other indicted generals such as Mladen Markač and Ivan Čermak.

The Board aims to finance the defence teams of Gotovina and other accused Croats, to promote 'safeguarding and spreading the truth about the Homeland War', to support 'scientific research' about the war and to contribute to the education of veterans' children. The idea was conceived by the mayor of Gotovina's native Pakošstana, Gotovina's wife Dunja, and a military officer, Željko Hučić, only days after Gotovina's arrest in Tenerife.

Yesterday's launch was directed at corporate sponsors; according to Novi list, the Board is also seeking money from the Croat diaspora, eg. from a similar organisation in Australia led by the Croat-Australian businessman Marko Franović.

Viktor Ivančić, writing in Feral tribune, deconstructs the Board's title as an attempt to present the Hague trials as directed against 'the whole magnificent conglomerate - ie. the Croatian defensive war - and not against individuals with concrete names and surnames', and suggests following the financial trail.

From the point of view of 'showbusiness ethnopolitics', it might be worth noting that one member of the executive committee is musician Miroslav Škoro, also the president of Croatia Records. Škoro expressed his pride to Jutarnji list on Tuesday:

'I'm privileged to be a member of the Executive Committee of the Board, which will be responsible for promoting the truth about the Homeland War and all other truths which are misinterpreted in public, and sometimes come from individual journalsts as well. We are a people who are inclined to forget things. [...] This is a non-governmental, non-political organisation, of the sort that there are hundreds of thousands of in the USA.'

Škoro's last hit, 2005's Svetinja, was dedicated to the Croatian values of 'vjera, ljubav i domovina' - faith, love, and the homeland - and asked where is the truth', or rather:

'Svaka laž je trn u oku mojih predaka
A gdje je istina?

Happily, he's a little clearer on that now.