Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Moja Štikla: Nothing To See Here

Non-Gotovina-related Severina news includes the fact that she is, as reported, filming the video for Štikla with the similarly-inclined rock group from Rijeka, Let 3.

Večernji list has photos from the set, but there's little to see other than the Letovci striking the same pose as Severina's backing vocalists from the Lado ensemble, and a green screen.

That's because post-production will turn the video into Severina dominating Zagreb with her štikla. Really.

Some incidental Gazette housekeeping at this point: I'm shortly off to Belgrade for three weeks, so I would say posts might be a little less regular than usual, but 'usual' and 'regular' are rather meaningless terms around here of late...

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Croatia's Number One Brands

Via Roma Roma, news that Goran Višnjić has been offered the lead role in a forthcoming biopic of Ante Gotovina - to be directed by Antun Vrdoljak, the eminent Croatian director whose last major project, in which Višnjić also starred, tackled the period from the 1930s to the establishment of the socialist Yugoslav state.

When the Fund for the Truth About the Homeland War was founded in January this year to finance Gotovina's defence and carry out educational activities in the same vein, the president of Matica Hrvatska, Ivan Zidić, described Gotovina as 'the number one brand in the country' at its launch event. Millions of ER viewers, who have been entertained by Višnjić's smouldering Dr Luka Kovač for several seasons now, might disagree with that.

In fact, the Višnjić-Vrdoljak story has been going around Večernji list for several days now, and the newspaper is understandably quite pleased with itself for getting the report on to the BBC. The last time Večernji list came up with such an I-can't-believe-they-just-said-that idea for a collaboration, it was the one about Severina having a song arranged by Goran Bregović; and look what happened to that.

Vrdoljak described the concept of the film to VL on Monday:

'Goran and I have been working on a film project about General Ante Gotovina for a long time. We reached the idea in the moments of the first emotional shock, in the situation everyone knows when we had to defend a man like that. But the Gotovina story is a full-blooded film story, I'd say not just a political one but an action one according to all the rules of the genre, from the clearly-profiled central hero to the dramatic elements of the content, where one can present both the people and the events through film.'

Some anonymous Photoshoppers obviously reached the same conclusion just after Gotovina's arrest in December, adding his image to film posters ranging from We Were Soldiers to Troy and The Return of the King.

The Gazette was going to wrap up with a throwaway comment that the number-one-brandedness of the project could only be improved if Severina were to appear in the role of Gotovina's wife Dunja. But as it happens, Seve's one ahead of me.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Showbusiness Ethnopolitics: 4th25

BBC Radio 1Xtra will be reporting tomorrow on the hip-hop collective 4th25, made up of US soldiers from the First Cavalry, and their album, Live From Iraq, recorded while the members were on active duty in Baghdad. (Their name's pronounced Fourth Quarter, as in the final phase of an American football match.)

In fact, the BBC is lagging behind somewhat over Live From Iraq, which depicts the soldiers' experience of serving in Iraq. The album started to come to attention last June, when 4th25 was featured in Newsweek along with a similar group from the 1st Armoured Division of the US Army.

An ecstatic review in Spin magazine at the time compared the group to Michael Herr's reports from the Vietnam War, and even described them as 'the ultimate embeds'. The yet-unsigned band is promoted with a trailer video for the title track is composed of graphic front-line footage.

Generals, politicians, unfaithful girlfriends, and untrustworthy fellow soldiers are frequent targets on Live From Iraq - as are Destiny's Child, for epitomising civilian hip-hop's military chic in their Soldier video. Now based in Texas, the group is working on a second album provisionally entitled The Gospel, and is even negotiating film rights.

This may, or may not, be the moment to point out that a similar biography was the first step towards Marko Perković Thompson becoming one of the most popular musicians in Croatia. So watch out for Neal Saunders. You never can tell.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Comings And Goings

Mainly goings, actually: Serbia-Montenegro is said to have from Eurovision, following the breakdown of Evropesma on Saturday, after a representative could not be agreed at a meeting between Serbian and Montenegrin television today.

The official statement from the joint Serbia-Montenegro broadcasting body makes no mention of withdrawal, only that 'the SCG representative for the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest in Athens was not determined', and several days still remain before the deadline for all national entries to be chosen.

If Serbia-Montenegro isn't represented at Eurovision, the Croatian entry may now avoid the qualifying phase on 18 May and be placed straight into the final (as the country which missed out on automatic qualification by one place in 2005), although at the expense of an almost-guaranteed set of maximum points from Serbia-Montenegro.

The Gazette, meanwhile, will shortly be off to Sweden for several days - normal service will probably be resumed early next week.

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Turbo Video

What feels like several hundred Moja štikla articles ago, one short-lived line of debate was comparing the song to the last album by Rijeka rock group Let 3, a relentless spoof of masculinity and turbofolk entitled Bombardiranje Srbije i Čačka (The bombing of Serbia and Čačak). The CD's cover art shows the band members dressed (and undressed) in folkloric costumes, not to mention their trademark moustaches.

Moustaches aside, does this remind you of anything? Severina obviously thinks so: according to Jutarnji list, she intends to feature them in the video for Moja štikla, where they will stand in for her ganga-singing backing vocalists from Lado.

This ought to be good fun, but judging by some of the comments on the article online, it may be a riskier collaboration for Let 3 than for Severina.

Talking of videos, the Bosnian portal (not to be confused with the Croatian tabloid) reports that the promotional video for the BiH Eurovision entry (Hari Mata Hari's Lejla) will be directed by Pjer Žalica, director of the 2003 film Gori vatra, and filmed in various locations around Mostar, including the famous bridge.

According to Sabina Bačvić-Zečević, a spokeswoman for Bosnian television:

'Given that 'Lejla' is a BH version of Romeo and Juliet, the video will carry strong BiH symbolism and will entirely follow this year's slogan "It's time for Bosnia-Herzegovina". As the director Pjer Žalica's synopsis promises, the video material will be ambient. Žalica is foregrounding the natural and cultural variety [šarolikost] of this country and, of course, the brilliant interpretation by the performer, Hajrudin-Hari Varešanović.'

Without a pre-selection scandal in the manner of Dora or Evropesma, one might have forgotten that Macedonia was even participating in Eurovision this year. In fact, Elena Risteska was chosen on the same day as Severina to represent her country in Athens, and her Ninanajna is (again, sticking to a theme) a satirical song about Shakira, Madonna and, yes, turbofolk, something like Alka Vuica's Profesionalka.

Now, what does one need to do to get her to add a line about Severina?

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Turbofolklore: Aleksandar Kostadinov

Jutarnji list's detailed Štikla coverage continues with an extensive interview with HTV's head of entertainment, Aleksandar Kostadinov, who is naturally 'not surprised' at the weeks of Severina-related controversy and very satisfied that Dora was watched by 'more than half of Croatia'.

Asked whether Severina's song counts as 'ethno or turbo-folk, Kostadinov unambiguously replies:

'That song has nothing to do at all with turbo-folk. Turbo-folk is Serbian newly-composed music performed by, for instance, Lepa Brena and Jelena Karleuša. I don't like that sort of music, and I don't follow it.

--Still, many people have compared Severina and 'Moja štikla' with Lepa Brena and 'Sitnije, Cile, sitnije'. But, while you didn't let Lepa Brena appear on HTV in the autumn, at the same time you chose Severina to represent us in Eurovision. Can you explain that?

First of all, I have nothing against Lepa Brena. I don't even know her. I presume she's an OK person, her husband is [tennis player] Boba Živojinović... But, I consider there's no place for her songs on our national television station. As long as I'm the editor of entertainment programming, such songs will not be put on air.

Kostadinov is also asked to comment on whether 'Štikla' also contains elements of Montenegrin folklore, as claimed by another jury member Željen Klašterka. (In fact, Klašterka referred to elements from Montenegro and Herzegovina; and it may or may not be wise to advertise a Montenegrin connection right now.)

'Nobody is disputing that. In that song there are indeed traces of folklore from this region present. Derivaties of the ljerica and similar instruments also exist in a part of Montenegro, only they are differently used.'

Kostadinov continues by dropping hints that a 'euro-disco' remix of Štikla would be extremely well received, 'Not at [Zagreb turbofolk club] Ludnica if that's what you're thinking,' but at Euro-disco clubs 'with a slightly gay audience.'

On the first version of 'Moja štikla',

'The lyrics were different. The first version was about a Croatian sokol [falcon] and it was patriotic [domoljubna]. However, the melody itself stayed very similar, apart from the so-called Bregović break-beat. From time to time, he interrupts the basic melody with that beat and throws in 'kvrc-kvrc, štrc-štrc, sss-seks'... That's typical for him.'

In fact, for Kostadinov it seems to be precisely this contribution - itself controversial - which distinguishes 'Štikla from the dreaded turbofolk:

'Štikla is a pop song with a break beat which might remind [one] of Shakira [or] Bijelo dugme. There are people from Lado in the ensemble, and I don't know who associates Lado with turbo-folk. There's also a ljerica there, a specific instrument in the linđo, and rere which is sung in the Drniš, Zagora and Herzegovinan region.

'The boys were wearing costumes from the Neretva region. If someone associates those costumes with Serbia, I really can't help him. I don't understand the statement by [folk musician] Mojmir Novaković from Legen. Because, on 'Štikla' the ljerica plays a melody which, if you were to stamp your feet, is in fact the deaf kolo from Vrlika. And Mojmir, who made his career out of the deaf kolo, claims that 'Štikla' is turbo-folk. Anything!

And for the record? His own favourite was Massimo Savić.

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Post-Štikla: Chalga Follows Ganga

Even leaving Evropesma to one side, Severina's role as the most controversal entrant in this year's Eurovision contest may be short-lived: Bulgarian National Televsion (BNT) has announced that the chalga singer Azis will take part in Eurovision alongside the winner of Saturday's pre-selection event, Mariana Popova.

The Gazette is trying, and failing, to find a non-sensationalist way of describing Azis as a transvestite Roma singer of the Bulgarian equivalent of turbofolk, who's flirted with politics and probably many other things too, and who released an explicit autobiography (soon to be in need of a new edition?) some days ago.

According to the Doteurovision website: 'He did not take part in the national final, since it was thought his popularity could sway the vote.' This is something of an understatement: suffice it to say that Azis could make Severina look uncontroversial, and possibly will.

He's certainly the only participant this year with an asteroid named after him...

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Showbusiness Ethnopolitics: Evrop(j)esma

Despite Saturday's events, the final of Serbia-Montenegro's own pre-selection for Eurovision went ahead on Saturday night, and all involved might wish now that it hadn't.

For the last two years, Serbian and Montenegrin television (RTS and RTCG) have both held their own semi-finals (Beovizija and Montevizija) for the event before combining the best-placed songs from both shows in a final called Evropesma or Evropjesma, depending on who's asking.

In total, eight acts from each show qualified for this year's Evropesma, headed by the Beovizija winners Flamingosi and the Montevizija winners No Name, who had also represented Serbia-Montenegro in 2005.

Rumours had been widely circulated before Evropesma that the Montenegrin members of the expert jury were planning to vote en bloc, and unfortunately appeared to be confirmed when the Montenegrin jurors gave no points to Flamingosi. In fact, according to RTS, all the Beovizija songs received 20 Montenegrin points between them, compared with 52 points awarded by Serbian jurors to songs from Montevizija.

Once No Name's victory was apparent, the audience of more than 4,000 chanted 'Thieves' at the Montenegrin jurors, interrupted the reprise of No Name's performance and called for Flamingosi to perform instead (as they then did, joined by other performers from Beovizija). RTS has refused to recognise the Evropesma result, and as things stand the SCG entry may be withdrawn altogether: a solution is supposed to be reached by tomorrow (Tuesday).

A commentary in Danas today is especially pessimistic, comparing it to 'the match between Dinamo [Zagreb] and Crvena Zvezda [Belgrade]' which 'announced what would happen later in the then common [Yugoslav] state.' The famous football match in question took place in Zagreb in May 1990, when police beat up Croatian spectators in a fight between Dinamo and CZ fans and the Dinamo captain Zvonimir Boban launched a drop kick at one police officer; there are shades, too, of the 1991 edition of Jugovizija, where a block vote from the Serbian, Montenegrin, Vojvodinan and Kosovo juries awarded victory to the Serbian representative Bebi Dol.

The Croatian press have caught up with the story too, although with Severina scheduled to perform in the Evropesma interval, it's no wonder it was a little more interested in the show than usual. Večernji list, for one, is on the Flamingos' side:

'While Flamingosi this year, in combination with the legendary Luis, offered Europe a seductive and 'good-natured' [dobroćudnu] combination of Latino and urban pop, the song by the Montenegrin group No Name openly flirted with nationalism in its lyrics - because it is wrapped in a form that it presents the referendum which will be held in Montenegro on 21 May, and it is indicative that the very evening before, Eurovision is being held in Greece.'

Is their song Moja ljubavi (My love) nationalism by stealth? It's no Hrvatski sokole, much less a Don't Ever Cry, My Croatian Sky - Croatia's first Eurovision entry as an independent state. Here's the full text in Montenegrin (heavy on the dawn, sea, mountains and so forth): true, it can equally be read as referring to romantic love or to the patriotic kind, but the same could be said about - for one thing - Ivan Mikulić's Daješ mi krila (You give me wings), which won Dora two years ago. So the jury's out.

The audience did like Severina's guest appearance, though...

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Slobodan Milošević Dies

Slobodan Milošević has died.

East Ethnia is on top of it already, as are many other blogs. As for the Gazette, not being the editor of Otvoreno it really doesn't feel right to run another string of Severina posts today.

That said, this morning's Jutarnji list was trying to have the final word on why young people in Croatia listen to turbofolk. It takes 29 paragraphs before they mention the usually ubiquitous Ceca Ražnatović, and Zagreb ethnologists Ivo Žanić and Ines Prica have been involved, so this report has more to say than most.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Rajska Sevo, Kraljice Hrvata

Croatian gossip magazine Stars, via Severina's unofficial fanclub, has the unambiguous headline this week: Rajska Sevo, Kraljice Hrvata.

That's as in Rajska Djevo, Kraljice Hrvata (Heavenly Virgin, Queen of the Croats), one of the most famous Croatian hymns.

The epic-decasyllabic headline which appeared in Slobodna Dalmacija a day or two before Dora was one thing, but it doesn't get much more hyperbolic than this.

Severina herself is interviewed (again) in Novi list today, going over much the same ground as her other interviews this week.

Here she is defending Moja štikla again:

'It's like we're ashamed of something that is Croatian. We've got nothing to be ashamed of, Greece went with their own folklore last year [in Eurovision], Ukraine before that, and Turkey. It turns out that we're ashamed of what we are. and we can't cut outselves out from this territory and put ourselves somewhere else. I'm not ashamed of that, I sang 'Djevojka sa sela' [Village girl] even though I was born in Split. I don't have any problems with my origin. Aside from Dora, I could sing that song anywhere.'

Severina also confirms that she will shortly film a role in Mi nismo anđeli 3, directed by the Serbian director Srđan Dragojević, and that a video for Moja štikla is in preparation, which she would like to shoot in the song's birthplace of Dalmatinska Zagora.

The Gazette probably ought to take back its 'Ustani Seve' comment, before that shows up somewhere too...

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Moja Štikla: In Front Of Europe

The proportion of the Croatian cultural scene instigated by Goran Bregović will go up again in a couple of weeks' time, when his opera Carmen with a Happy End opens in Rijeka. It won't, however, be starring his number one Croatian collaborator, despite some earlier reports. Instead, Vaska Jankovska (a vocalist on his Weddings and Funerals project) will take the title role; Severina, needless to say, has other commitments looming.

Split's daily newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija took longer than most to catch up with Seve, but compensates today with two articles heading its Reflektor supplement.

Among today's snippets are that the song's (second?) most infamous line 'Afrika paprika', it turns out, was apparently thought up as a joke by one of the Matić brothers during a recording session; that Severina didn't know she'd have to take part in the Eurovision semi-final until she was reminded by Petar Grašo's mother; and that she's prepared for some lively press conferences in Athens because 'when they put "Severina" into Google, it could give them absolutely everything.' (Maybe they should try it with Moja štikla, though.)

As for the continued debate over whether or not the song is turbofolk:

'When the attacks began [saying] that my song was turbo-folk, I thought "I can take it", because I've always been accused of evertthing. [...] When we went to borrow the costumes which the Lado boys were going to appear in, they wanted national costume from the Neretva, which I looked at and saw there were buttons which looked like Turkish, oriental decorations, which isn't strange - sailors brought that to our parts. I have to thank the Matić brothers from Čavoglave who sang on my song in the studio and gave it its real form, from which we went forward later. I'm glad that in the song there's linđo, ojkalica, rere and šijalica, and that Stjepan Večković played the ljerica sensationally. When Goran Bregović did the arrangement, he gave him instructions about how to play.'

Meanwhile, Arsen Oremović in Večernji list reflects on 'whether Severina's Štikla is turbofolk and what turbofolk is anyway':

'So Severina's song is without any doubt turbofolk, but here something Serbian is necessarily implied under that term, so the resistance of stars in Croatia to such labels is all the stronger. Far from turbofolk being [...] something of which one should be proud, something to be praised.

'Still, the fact that the people wants to legitimise itself in front of Europe with "Štikla" tells [us] that the audience's general taste is worse than 25 years ago, because then a certain Lepa Brena, despite a forceful campaign and lobbying by her record label, did not manage to march to victory at that year's Eurovision pre-selection with the folk
[narodnjačkim] hit "Bum, cile, bum". And today it's not really so impossible to imagine that even Lepa Brena would win Dora if she was extravagant enough to turn up there.'

Oremović also comments on how Eurovision itself:

'still has definite weight only in eastern European countries and the countries of the ex-USSR which like to prove how Europe has reached their borders too by using foreign forms like that. There various fripperies like Eurovision (everything with Euro in the title) become state priority number one.

'Such countries with their Severinas (or, if you like, with their Ruslanas) have shaped the Eurovision musical taste in which Štikla fits in more than well. And when it spreads across the internet that the Croatian singer has her own blue movie which can be seen at such-and-such web adresses, and that is undoubtedly waiting, we can at once begin getting ready for the next Eurovision somewhere in Croatia.

With plans suddenly reported to build a new conference hall in Opatija on the site of the present Summer Stage, it seems somebody is.

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Comeback Of The Week: Tajči

Via Index, news of Tajči, the 1980s predecessor of Maja Šuput (etc.) who represented Yugoslavia at Eurovision when Zagreb hosted the contest in 1990, or 'the Britney Spears of her native Croatia' according to her US press coverage. Now known as Tatiana Cameron, Tajči lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and according to the city's newspaper, The Enquirer:

'Tatiana Cameron, a former pop star from Croatia, will present her Lenten concert program, "I Thirst - The Crucifixion Story," a mix of traditional, contemporary and original music, at several Greater Cincinnati Catholic Churches.

'Tajci, as she was known in Europe, left stardom and fame to come to the United States at age 21 to follow her faith. She began sharing it through song.

'"When I came seriously to Christianity as a teenager, the crucifixion story spoke to me and my heart tremendously. The people and Christ reached out to me in a non-judgmental and loving way, and I want to do that for other people," she said.

Her I Do Believe project will shortly be coming your way if you're located in Iowa City, Dr Luka Kovač's home town of Chicago, or more than a dozen other northern US cities where her website invites you to 'share the power and the passion: the Concert Events that are sweeping America'. Depending on the time of year, churches can book 'THREE shows for the seasons of faith by the international artist who is inspiring a nation to believe again': Emmanuel for Christmas, I Thirst for the Easter period, or Let It Be: Mary's Story for months not so well-served by the Gospels.

Not to worry if you're nowhere near Iowa City, Chicago, or et cetera: Tonći and Vjekoslava Huljić (responsible for Jelena Rozga's Ne zovi me Marija, and many more songs in the same vein) have probably written secular versions of all of these.

From The Talk Shows

So the Moja štikla situation was supposed to have calmed down a bit? Think again: Večernji list is extremely pleased to be reporting today that the song was debated at the highest level of Croatian broadcasting by the state broadcaster's Programming Council.

On closer inspection, though, the argument actually concerned HTV's Monday-night current affairs show Otvoreno, which had chosen to discuss Štikla ahead of a rather more significant news event, the suicide of former Croatian Serb leader Milan Babić in The Hague. The Council's president Zdenko Ljevak thinks something isn't right there, and one probably has to agree.

(In fact, I should point out that you probably ought to be reading Eric's discussion of the BiH vs. Serbia genocide dispute today, instead of eavesdropping on a vaguely politicised showbusiness event. Go on. Shoo.)

The editor of HTV's information programming, Vladimir Rončević, has nonetheless argued that Monday's Otvoreno was 'the most-watched edition of Otvoreno with the highest number of calls from viewers, except for the Ante Gotovina edition which was broadcast in prime time immediately after the evening news.'

Although, as Neven Barković comments for Index:

'HTV is not a commercial station but a public one, and ratings should on no account be a justification as they were, for instance, for Nova TV when it once wanted to broadcast an interview with Ceca Ražnatović, widow of the Serbian war criminal Arkan.'

HTV has a track record of running into trouble with controversial talk shows in recent months - most of all over an edition of Latinica broadcast late last year which dealt with the historical legacy of Franjo Tudjman and led to stronger oversight from the Programming Council over the station's current affairs output.

Another HTV employee in trouble this week is Danijel Despot, the presenter of Shpitza, after Globus magazine reported last week that in 1996 he had belonged to the Association of Young Pravaši, an extreme right-wing youth movement, and written an article for the journal of the Croatian Liberation Movement (HOP) originally founded in exile by Ante Pavelić and revived in the diaspora in the early 1990s.

The story has been given slightly longer legs thanks to another member of the Shpitza team reporting on Ustaša symbols and messages of support for Ante Gotovina carried by a small number of youths at last month's charity concert by Marko Perković Thompson, Miroslav Škoro and Mate Bulić. (The item also drew comparisons between their audience and that of the hip-hop group TBF, playing their first Dom sportova concert two days later.)

Despot, however, says that he was never a HOP member, although he did associate with them during his student days, and that the article in the Nezavisna država Hrvatska journal must have been written by someone else under his name. One of the concert organisers would still welcome his resignation for 'finding two minors and placing them as the leitmotif of the whole concert'.

The Despot case could in fact have rather more implications than the slučaj Štikla, but is that likely to slow the latter down? Not quite yet.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Moja Štikla: Peace At Last?

Maybe it's just that the weekly showbusiness supplements appear later in the week, but some Croatian newspapers are coming awfully close to passing a whole day without mention of Moja štikla. (To be fair, 24 sata is trying awfully hard to create a scandal from Goran Bregović having been in the same room as a version of Moja štikla which could potentially be interpreted as a message of support to indicted general Ante Gotovina; but keep it quiet, for goodness' sake, and maybe Kurir won't notice.)

One paper which has kept remarkably quiet even though Dora took place in its own back garden (i.e. Opatija) is Novi list, the daily paper published in Rijeka. Today, however, it has a marginally less obvious interviewee than the usual string of folk musicians or HTV officials: Rambo Amadeus, the alternative musician from Belgrade who coined the term 'turbofolk' in the late 1980s. And who has come to regret it:

'I christened that musical trend "turbofolk" and I feel like Nobel inventing dynamite and thinking it would be used for civil engineering, and people went to war with it. Or, more modestly, like Einstein creating e=mc2, and then they made the atomic bomb.'

As for 'whether Severina's song is Croatian turbofolk', Amadeus says that he has better things to do than comment; on the other hand, how widespread was the idea of Croatian turbofolk before a few days ago?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Ustani Seve, Hrvatska Te Zove

Severina also tells Jutarnji list today that several versions of Moja štikla exist, including one with 'nice, patriotic lyrics' which may eventually be released. This may be the first version of the song mentioned by today's Večernji list, which was apparently called Oja-noja or Hrvatski sokole (Croatian falcon, a folkloric synonym for 'hero'):

'Tamo iza planina,
preko žita, maslina,
tu gdje vječno sunce sja,
tu mi je domovina

To je zemlja ponosna,
rođena iz kamena,
U tebi je sva moja sudbina i snaga,
Ti si moj heroj,
a ja sam tvoja draga

In other words:

'There behind the mountains
Past the wheat and olives
There where the sun shines forever
There's my homeland

It's a proud land
Born from stone
All my fate and strength are in you
You're my hero
And I'm your darling

The Hrvatski sokole version, lyrically (though not musically) reminiscent of several early-nineties numbers by Doris Dragović and others, didn't survive its encounter with Goran Bregović, who wanted to speed up the song into what became Moja štikla. As far as VL's Nevenka Mikac is concerned, that might be just as well, especially given how the song was received by the Serbian tabloids:

'What would have happened... [with a version] from whose lyrics and title one could very easily have read a message not only to "various Croatian Army generals" but to the Croatian falcon detained in a cell in The Hague?'

Throw Gotovina and Croatian patriotic showbusiness (the Thompson-Škoro-Bulić-Bete tendency) into the mix, and the Croatian media might have reached overload: not to mention the Gazette, which is frankly off its virtual feet.

Two or three comments on the Jutarnji list website have already compared the Moja štikla version (not always favourably) to Let 3's 2005 album Bombardiranje Srbije i Čačka, a more instantly apparent spoof of turbofolk, Bulić-style hypermasculinity and the 'glorious soldierly tradition of the Balkans'.

Even as it is, Mikac seems to consider the slučaj Štikla (as Index is now terming it on a dedicated page) something of a watershed, which has finally provided 'a definition of Croatian turbofolk.' Seve still rejects the label, and others might say 'Croatian turbofolk' has existed rather longer than a few weeks. Either way, with coverage like this - it certainly does now.

Severina: In Her Own Words

Among congratulations from foreign TV stations, and notwithstanding the obligatory annual Dora jury scandal (can't the tabloids do better than that this year?), Dora organiser Aleksandar Kostadinov is entitled to feel rather pleased with himself at the moment, and evidently does.

Although, wondering why we seem to have heard from everyone but Severina about Moja štikla since the weekend? Probably because she spent most of Sunday asleep after celebrating her Dora victory, and only began to give interviews again yesterday.

Asked in today's Jutarnji list what musical genre the song belonged to, Severina said:

'"Štikla" is something authentic [izvorno]. And I'm really sorry that the song was attacked so much. I'm happy about those lyrics because they sound like some folk proverb [narodna poslovica]. I get accused because the lyrics are banal, but I didn't notice that any song in Dora was exactly War And Peace. Eurovision songs in fact ought to be like that. So we won't 'spin' it into English either.'

In fact, as she tells Slobodna Dalmacija, Moja štikla was the most Croatian song in Dora as far as she's concerned:

'"Štikla" is an ordinary pop song with some funny and witty elements. We wanted to do a song in which something autochthonous, humorous and effective would be shown in three minutes. In this Dora there were various genres, Italian canzone, French chanson, tango, R&B, Spanish folklore, and my Štikla was actually the most authentic and most Croatian!'

Ivana Banfić, whose Slavonian ethno-anthem finished mid-table, might disagree, and so, of course, have a number of folk musicians. Yet, as Nevenka Mikac asks in Večernji list:

'But what would happen if that "terrible" singer and film actress who, as the sentry-chaplains of the Croatian nation claim, has shamed the nation with her ganga happened to bring Eurovision back to Zagreb in the final on 20 May? Would she then be the scandalous mockery of the nation, or would a reception be arranged for her on Trg bana Jelačića and would people cheer "We've got Seve, we've got Croatia?"'

Monday, March 06, 2006

Turbofolklore: Moja Štikla

The implicit question throughout the Croatian media's coverage of Moja štikla: is the song 'Croatian folklore', or is it 'turbofolk'? (Although how do the two ideas end up as opposite poles in the first place? And what are the implications when they are?)

Severina and her composer Boris Novković made their justifications clear last week, stating in a string of interviews that the song was 'real Croatian folklore' (Novković) and included a variety of folk singing styles from Split and Zagora (Severina).

Folk musicians and ethnomusicologists - in other words, dealing with the authentic sort of folklore - are looking at it differently: or at least, the ones quoted in the newspapers are. A quick-off-the-draw 24 sata contacted the eminent Croatian musicologist Joško Ćaleta to quote him in Saturday's edition as saying:

'Moja štikla are bad quotes of our musical tradition uninventively lumped together according to a 'copy-paste' system, typical Bregović handiwork which ought not to be called Croatian ethno music.'

The same article quoted Jadranka Gračanin, an ex-member of the folklore ensemble Lado (which provided the backing vocalists for Novković's own Eurovision entry last year), as saying that the song could only be considered folklore in a 'pejorative context' and that the chorus reminded her of the Yugoslav newly-composed folk-music icon Lepa Brena.

With great respect for Ćaleta and Gračanin, whether Moja štikla is authentic folklore may not be the point in the context of an international media spectacle like Eurovision. Ruslana's Wild Dances, Eurovision winner in 2004 and possible inspiration for this song and many others, likely had as little to do with authentic Hutsul traditions as Seve and her štikla have with Lado's stock-in-trade.

Today's Jutarnji list has done the rounds of Croatia's folk musicians too, and emphasises similar themes, not least from Mojmir Novaković, the lead singer of the folk groups Legen and Kries. Says Novaković:

'Moja štikla is pure turbofolk. Severina's brought it into Croatia through the front door. Until now it was around, in some clubs, and it wasn't on screens, but now we can say that turbofolk has gripped Croatia officially as well. There's no question of classing it as ethno music [etnoglazbu] in any way whatsoever because it does not have the basic traditional elements of any Balkan ethno-culture. It's a big fake [lažnjak] and the people who did it know that's what it is. When I heard the song, I went back to my childhood and Severina reminded me of when Lepa Brena appeared with her song 'Mile voli disko'.'

JL readers also heard from Dunja Knebl, who like Novaković was instrumental in the authentic folk music movement emerging in the mid-1990s, and who pointed to the nature of the Croatian music scene in general as a precondition for Severina's popularity:

'Primary-school children now listen to turbofolk en masse because it is, unfortunately, omnipresent. Domestic ethno-musicians like Tamara Obrovac are excellently placed abroad [Obrovac was nominated for a BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music in 2004], while they're rarely heard on our radio stations.

'On the other hand, turbofolk is heard all over the place - in clubs, in cafés, on the radio. The average listener, who also decided about Severina's song, has no opportunity to hear quality music and have better taste.

The third folk musician in the article, Lidija Bajuk, once competed in Dora herself, unlike Novaković or Knebl.

'Although the song has elements of Croatian folklore, it definitely isn't because Severina isn't an authentic ethno-singer. The words of the song carry elements of musical tradition, like the expression zumba, so I'd call it, shall we say, pseudo-folklore, while in a wider sense it would still be turbofolk.'

On the other hand, as Knebl pointed out in today's piece: 'This is another good move by Severina, and the more we talk about it, the more publicity we give to her and that sort of music.'

Which Seve nacionale, of course, has known all along.

Severina: The Show Goes On

100,000 telephone votes, many more television viewers and even more column inches later, the Croatian media still isn't tired of Severina or her štikla, which will be going all the way to Athens after her weekend Dora win (the winning performance is now viewable on the HTV website).

Moja štikla has been happily increasing its notoriety for the last six weeks: partly due to who Severina is, partly due to what turbofolk is, and largely due to what newspapers, musicians, and the viewing public are.

Among its opponents is Vlatka Pokos, an unsuccessful competitor in Severina's semi-final on Friday. Vlatka, who had already stated before Dora that she was 'bothered' by the amount of turbofolk, told Večernji list afterwards:

'I just hope that Severina will translate her lovely song into Greek before she goes to Eurovision so that everyone there can also hear what lovely music the Croats are making.'

On the other hand, Tonči Huljić, manager of Jelena Rozga and his own band Magazin, is - publicly, at least - reconciled with Severina's victory:

'This is the best Dora yet and who finally wins isn't at all essential to me. I'm also happy that the singers have finally started to be pushed to the foreground in the media. And the high viewing figures show us that the people [narod] want that sort of culture of mass entertainment and have nothing against it.'

Newspaper columnists are beginning to get in on the act too: Davor Butković in today's Jutarnji list has a fair old time comparing Severina to Lepa Brena, although that isn't anything Seve isn't used to. Zlatko Gall from Slobodna Dalmacija, for one, can almost certainly be expected to come up with another in the next day or two.

(The real Brena has, meanwhile, given a rare Croatian interview to Tena magazine, tangentially related to the Posao snova premiere. Tena, to their credit, managed not to ask her a single thing about Moja štikla.)

Belgrade's Kurir has also joined in, calling the song 'the most stupid lyric in the history of turbo folk' (is this a trick question? But at least it's not My Humps) and replaying the lines-in-Serbian controversy that Kurir itself did much to start in the first place.

Željen Klašterka, one of the five members of the Dora jury, told today's Jutarnji list:

'In Moja štikla, primarily rural elements of folklore from the region of former Yugoslavia are woven together. There is both Montenegrin and Herzegovinan folklore in there. Opponents will say that the eastern [istočnjački] influence is prevailing, and supporters that Herzegovinan folklore is dominant. Personally, I wouldn't class Moja štikla as turbofolk, but in the category of so-called shock songs. I don't think it's inappropriate for Croatia to be represented by that sort of song in Eurovision.'

As usual, of course, some disagree.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Severina: One Of These Days These Štikla Are Gonna Walk All Over You

Don't ever ask the Gazette to predict anything: Severina and her štikla won Dora about fifteen minutes ago.

Ready for two more months of this sort of thing?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Dora 2006: Eight Down...

Severina has at least won something today: the title of the best-dressed woman in Croatia as awarded by today's Večernji list.

If the votes from the expert jury during last night's Dora semi-final are anything to go by, that might be the only thing Seve wins today: top marks for Tina Vukov (with a jazz song performed partly in Italian), Massimo Savić (among the nominees for MTV Adria's best act last year) and Magazin ('retro-schlager', according to Večernji list's critic Denis Leskovar) suggest a pretty clear signal for the woman described in yet another VL Dora article today as the 'queen of scandal'.

In all, Tina Vukov, Lana Jurčević, Massimo Savić, Danijela Martinović, Ivana Banficć, Magazin, Petar Grašo and Angels have qualified for Saturday's final; tonight's second semi-final will add another eight. Slovenian turbofolk acts Natalija Verboten and Atomik Harmonik, who were similarly sidelined by the expert jury in the Slovenian equivalent of Dora, will know how Severina is likely to be feeling in about six hours' time.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Severina: Dora As Folklore Exhibition

As for the Gazette becoming Severina's press clippings service for the blogosphere, it turns out that she effectively already has one. And she's had much more to say to Grazia magazine about her staging:

'Unfortunately, I'm only allowed another five musicians on stage with me. But there'll be a ljerica player anyway - that's an autochthonous instrument, like the gusle, but it has two strings. It's played around Dubrovnik and Lika. Stjepan Večković plays the ljerica from the heart - it was a pleasure to record that. First he took out a gajda, then a mijeh, but I didn't like it, but I'd never heard a ljerica. In the song he plays dvojnice - a double wooden flute [frula].* And the Matić brothers, who otherwise sing at weddings and nobody apart from them could sing that.

'But in that song I've somehow joined Split and Zagora, thrown in some ojkavian singing from Drniš, rere from Sinj, which actually got its name from the Split-Sinj train, and is similar to ganga and šijavica from Čavoglave...

Also via 1severina1: Moja štikla's composer Boris Novković, interviewed on HR2 today, confessed to nervousness at yesterday's rehearsal at how well his combination of 'this ojkavica, ganga, linđo and folklore' would come together. (Extremely well, apparently.)

Novković gave his reaction to the ongoing Moja-štikla-in-ekavian debate:

'There were nerves about those incorrect articles in the media, we were particularly insulted by the articles about ekavian when in fact the lyric is in ikavian. [Thought so!] [...] Some people laughed at what was written in the papers about ekavian because they saw that in fact it was real CROATIAN FOLKLORE.'

Novković's involvement with Moja štikla is almost more interesting than Severina's, or even Bregović's. Unlike Seve and Brega, Novković has never been known for performing anything resembling newly-composed folk music - except for his 2005 song Vukovi umiru sami (also featuring Večković and his bagpipes), which represented Croatia at Eurovision and led one journalist from Novi list to comment that 'Željko Joksimović really won Dora'.

Tonči Huljić's reputation as an entrepreneur of musical exoticism is well-established; these days, however, it seems he has competition.

* Otherwise known as 'the thing Željko Joksimović played on Lane moje', needless to say.

Queens Of The Torcida

The first semi-final of Dora takes place this evening, but, for a change, the tabloid turbofolk story of the day has nothing to do with it.

Instead, a rather unremarkable report in the Novi Sad weekly Svet about Seka Aleksić's first concert in Split has somehow become, on its way to Jutarnji list and 24 sata, the much more histrionic claim (admittedly via the cover of Svet) that Seka has deposed Doris Dragović and Severina as Queen of the Torcida, i.e. the favoured diva of Split football fans. (One 24 sata reader makes the entirely fair point that 'a couple of days ago when it was Seve, you concluded that Split was shocked by her turbofolk which isn't even folk but ethno...')

Dragović's unofficial title was just as unofficially removed by the Croatian popular press, including Slobodna Dalmacija, in 2000 after she performed at a New Year celebration in Montenegro. However irritated (or satisfied) Severina might be with the reactions to Moja štikla, the political climate of Croatian showbusiness has nonetheless been transformed in the last six years.