Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Prima Donna: Zorica Andrijašević

The final of the 10th Hrvatski radijski festival - Croatia's largest pop competition - will be taking place in Trogir this weekend.

Among the 24 finalists (who include the Macedonian singer Toše Proeski, a widely-tipped duet between Lana Jurčević and Luka Nižetić, and Marko Perković Thompson with another song from his delayed Bilo jednom u Hrvatskoj project) is a familiar name from the 1990s Croatian dance scene, Zorica Andrijašević Donna.

Andrijašević's songwriting team, responsible for most of the songs on her comeback album Snovi (Dreams), are - to say the least - unusual for Croatian showbusiness: Serbian folk composer Zoran Lesendrić-Kiki and the best-known lyricist in Serbian showbusiness-folk, Marina Tucaković.

Closer co-operation with Croatian musicians would be nothing new for Tucaković, who wrote lyrics for a number of Croatian performers during the 1980s, including many songs for Tonči Huljić's group Magazin.

Interviewed about the album in Slobodna Dalmacija in April, Andrijašević was predictably told that 'the majority of people will connect it with turbofolk because it is characterised by the sounds of the Balkan and eastern melos', and asked whether she was 'afraid to record such an album in Croatia.'

For the record, she wasn't; and with Serbian folk music so fashionable in Croatia that tickets for a small-scale Seka Aleksić concert in the village of Sedramić were - reportedly - changing hands for as much as 700 kn last week, it'll be intriguing to see whether many more Croatian performers develop closer links with what are often said to be the Serbian 'originals'.

HRF is broadcast by Nova TV this year, the station which is currently the subject of interest from the Serbian channel (and proverbial home of turbofolk) TV Pink. The channel's owner, Željko Mitrović, has himself been interviewed in Večernji list on his transnational ambitions for the channel:

'It's no longer possible at all to establish a regional character for programming and tele-bridges without information from Zagreb. It seems to us that the entertainment content which would be produced there would be very significant, even if we do not establish a media system in Croatia in the near future.'

Mitrović is nonetheless optimistic about a Nova TV takeover, pointing out the disappointing financial performance of its owner Central European Media Enterprises (which continues to deny any interest in selling the station).

Asked, again, about TV Pink's association with turbofolk, Mitrović stresses that the station's programming has 'evolved so much in its 12-year life that it can be compared with the best-quality American and European programming', that only 5 hours of a possible 168 are devoted to folk music on the Serbian channel today, but that the target audience for 'that sort of programming' ranges from 30% to 70% in various states.

The Croatian media and blogosphere (not least the turbofolk and antiturbofolk blogs) will likely make their own assessment of where the domestic audience falls on a spectrum like that.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Nova TV: The Future's Pink?

Croatia's first private television channel, Nova TV, is the subject of a €30m bid from the Serbian channel TV Pink, according to reports in today's Jutarnji list. Nova TV itself has promised a response during the working week.

Mitrović is in any case prepared to invest up to €50m in building one or two Croatian studios for his Pink network, and is also investigating opportunities in Slovenia with the Pop TV station.

Nova TV, home of the Slovenian/Croatian/Serbian crime drama Balkan Inc. and broadcaster of the largest-scale pop promotion event Hrvatski radijski festival, also introduced music reality television to Croatia in 2003 with the Story Super Nova Music Talents project, covered in-depth by Draxblog at the time.

TV Pink, meanwhile, is Serbia's largest commercial channel, best known for its entertainment programming, its domestic and foreign soap operas, and its promotion of showbusiness-folk music. For many - such as Željko Cvijanović from Blic News, or Jared Manasek in the Columbia Journalism Review - the channel is synonymous with the development of Serbian turbofolk in the 1990s, when Mitrović was well-connected to the ruling regime.

Nova TV's previous associations with turbofolk prompted controversy in 2005, when its journalist Petar Vlahov travelled to Belgrade to interview Ceca Ražnatović for his Drugo lice show. The much-publicised interview was never broadcast due to the volume of public complaints - mainly at Ceca's description of her late husband as 'the greatest Serbian war commander', although fans of Dinamo Zagreb seemed just as upset to see Vlahov hand her their club's shirt. (Here's Draxblog again on the whole shebang.)

However, when asked whether a Croatian channel under his ownership would broadcast showbusiness-folk music, Mitrović told Jutarnji list that 'it would depend on a detailed analysis and it is possible that there might not even be any at all.'

Mitrović's ambitions towards the Croatian market have already been discussed in the Croatian media: in 2004, the weekly Nacional reported that 'the owner of TV Pink wants to Balkanise Croatia and open the doors for the broadcasting of Serbian folk music' by purchasing Nova TV, Croatia Records and the CCN network of local television stations. Interviewed by Globus magazine last year, Mitrović stated that taking over Croatia Records would not be in his company's 'strategic interest', but did admit an interest in CCN.

Two years on from Nacional's suspicions, Croatia's broadcast media remain an exception to the observation that the 'doors' have already been opened to Serbian folk music for some time, especially among teenagers - see, for instance, the results of a major survey conducted for Jutarnji list this spring.

In other news, Croatia has a new Miss: 18-year-old Ivana Ergić from Vodice. She sides with Severina rather than Vlatka Pokos, since Index ask...

Monday, May 22, 2006

High Heels And Falcons

Might the Štikla momentum die down after Severina's undignified Eurovision experience? Perhaps; or perhaps not. Severina's forthcoming album will continue the collaboration with Goran Bregović which arose from Štikla, suggesting a change of tone from her 2004 comeback CD, the R&B-influenced Severgreen.

More immediately, Štikla is finding an afterlife or two - in a club remix that was completed too late to be sent to Eurovision, and in its first version with patriotically-themed lyrics which were rejected when the song was rearranged in February. (And given the potential for politicised readings of an entry like that, it might have been just as well.)

News of the first version, then called Hrvatski sokole (Croatian falcon), first broke around the time of Dora, but the song was only played today on Zlatko Turkalj's Turki party radio show - with Turkalj considering that Moj sokole (My falcon) would have the potential to be a hit in its own right.

In the meantime, Jurica Pavičić in Jutarnji list reflects on the significance of Štikla itself, reaching the conclusion that 'tonight in Athens one epoch for Croatian culture is coming to an end, and another is beginning.'

Not only was Severina's song 'the most commented-on and disputed song in the whole history of Croatian pop music' (and the Gazette doesn't need much convincing of that), but it would be hard to overstate its importance in a redefinition of Croatian culture:

'A song which in its first line contains a motif of trade (a high-heeled shoe), and then immediately a rustic-peasant motif of grass and a lawn, served as a collective catalyst which enabled the vast majority of Croats to let out their own cultural traumas. To all those who have suppressed the Balkans into themselves for 15 years, who took care not to be heard listening to narodnjaci, for their neighbours not to see them coming back from the village, to all those who suppressed their štokavski accent and tried to speak the city way, Štikla brought them all collective therapy. Thanks to Štikla, Croats could finally - to use gay vocabulary - "out" themselves: for the first time, they could admit to themselves and others that they were from the Balkans.'

How Štikla might be (re)assessed after its result in Athens remains to be seen. As Pavičić pointed out in his article published on Saturday itself: 'If it does badly, conservative Croatia will say "We told you so". If it does well, the same "common sense" will say "Look what Europe wants from us, folklore and folk singers [cajke].'

And if it finishes slap in the middle of the scoreboad? Wait and see.

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Moja Štikla: Let The Hindsight Begin

Severina's štikla may have come to a disappointing halt on Saturday, but now anyone who had an opinion on the song first time around gets to make sense of its thirteenth place.

There'll likely be more of this in mid-week once the showbusiness supplements come out, but for now the commentaries and excuses mainly centre around the prominence of ever more extreme spectacle at Eurovision - to the extent, claims Merita Arslani in Jutarnji list, that the Finnish winners Lordi were in 'complete opposition and mismatch to Eurovision'.

The music critic Zlatko Gall, meanwhile, feels that Štikla was ultimately too specific to its own region to capture the pan-European audience:

'Perhaps Štikla and Severina are an ideal product for us and our neighbours, but not for something else. If Štikla is a reflection of Croats' taste, then hard rock is Scandinavian heritage. [...] Europe can swallow something like Štikla once or twice, but not forever. However high Severina's Štikla was, it isn't the standard of Europe..'

Gall is typically no fan of Severina, but Severina's team seemed to have anticipated these reservations themselves when they introduced a dance routine into her choreography for Eurovision, as if admitting that simply relying on national costume from Lika and Dalmatinska zagora - as provocative as it was in the context of Dora - wouldn't itself have the same impact on Eurovision viewers as a whole. (Not least because Albania's Luiz Ejlli had attempted much the same thing in the Eurovision semi-final: for ganga and rera, read four-part southern Albanian Lab iso-polyphony.)

Štikla's domestic connotations, then, failed to be transferred into what Dragan Jurak, also in Jutarnji list, sums up as 'the deconstructive trend of the 51st Eurovision', which has begun to ironise the showbusiness kitsch of the event - be it 'the classic Abba kitsch of Eurovision, standard Irish Johnny Logan kitsch, unexpected sevdalinka kitsch a la Seid Memić Vajta, and the usual variants of dance kitsch, Cher kitsch, urban hip hop kitsch, reggae kitsch or ethno boy band kitsch'.

Indeed, Severina herself was apparently a target of the Icelandic comedian Silvía Night - who opened her song Congratulations by sliding down a giant pink štikla.

And judging by the result, it seems one did have to be an ex-Yugoslav - or Monégasque - to understand that Moja štikla was about more than taking off your skirt while shouting 'Afrika, paprika'.

For my part, it took a conversation with a taxi driver on the subject of 'that woman from Poland or somewhere' to realise that what Severina, Novković, Bregović, Kostadinov, Dora voters, Dora viewers and the Gazette itself all think of as ganga, rera, linđo and so on and so forth could just as easily have been interpreted as 'singing out of tune'...

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Tamo Gdje Je Stala Njena Štikla...: The Weekday After

High heels, an 'Afrika, paprika' striptease, and excerpts of linđo and kolo dancing were clearly no match in the spectacle stakes for Lordi, whose monster outfits and Hard rock hallelujah brought Finland their first victory at Eurovision. While Hari Mata Hari achieved third place for Bosnia-Herzegovina with Lejla (and applause from the audience after each of his longest notes), Severina finished only 13th with 56 points - two places down from her composer Boris Novković's effort last year, and no better than Ivan Mikulić's placing in 2004.

More revealingly, the breakdown of her score shows the high points coming exclusively from the ex-Yugoslav successor states: 12 from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and 10 each from Slovenia, Macedonia, and Serbia-Montenegro. German and Turkish viewers accounted for another 6 between them, while the only indication of any wider appeal came from Monaco, whose jury awarded Severina an unexpected quatre. (Anything to do with the fact that the Monégasque representative was herself called Séverine?)

There's every chance that the media attention attracted by Lordi's stage presentation - itself indebted to the US band GWAR? - brought one-off viewers to the event who might not have considered voting for any other song; at the same time, take away the costumes and the rock guitars, and what you're left with - according to the Swedish schlager composer Thomas G:son - still resembles the schlager pattern of far more inoffensive Eurovision entries, ensuring its acceptability for a more 'traditional' Eurovision audience.

Dragan Antulov's commentary in Index points to the strength of 'the northern and post-Soviet voting blocs', with first place going to Finland and second to the Russian entrant Dima Bilan. With the debut of Armenia, a post-Soviet factor did seem that more apparent in this year's event (would an independent Montenegro redress the balance?); more significantly for Severina's chances, Andre's song and staging, likewise based on various 'ethnic elements', is likely to have competed directly, and more successfully, with Štikla.

It won't be much consolation to Seve and her team, who were expecting to win the thing last week, but the Norwegian application of the same 'essentialised folklore' principle, Christine Gulbrandsen's Alvedansen (The elves' dance) finished directly below Štikla, even though this too had been tipped as a pre-contest favourite. If Armenia's Andre called to mind Toše Proeski, Christine's performance was - even visually - definitely reminiscent of Tonči Huljić's Dora work with Andrea Šušnjara. (How about a Scandinavian candidate to be the next lead singer of Magazin?)

A final thought: if Štikla really was as close to turbofolk as the domestic consensus on the song seemed to think, surely it should have been much better received in the wider Balkans?

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Monday, May 15, 2006

On The Move Again

The Gazette is off for a quick break, so by the time it gets back, we should all have a clearer idea of whether Moja štikla has done what most of Croatia is either hoping or fearing it might do - and whether Opatija will need to build that sparkling new conference centre to be ready for hosting a Eurovision Song Contest by May 2007. (Doesn't Eurovision normally mean basketball stadia these days, though?)

There are going to be on-the-spot rehearsal reports from Schlagerblog and World of Chig all week, if you're really that interested; meanwhile, probably the last thing I'll have to say on Štikla before this time next week is that Severina and her team have incorporated yet another element of Croatian musical tradition (at least from a Eurovision point of view) into her stage performance.

That is, the disappearing costume as demonstrated by Danijela Martinović and Doris Dragović: or rather, Večernji list reports that 'Severina's dress will become a miniskirt during her song'.

I'm no expert on bunjevačko kolo, the latest addition to Seve's choreography, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't include that.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Knowing Your Audience

The Gazette signed up for Google Analytics recently, and guess what most of its incoming visitors seem to have googled for. Yes. Well, it's that time of year.

In the same spirit, then, the news from Jutarnji list that Severina has thrown elements of 'linđo, and vrličko and bunjevačko kolo' into the mix for her choreography on stage in Athens, which will also require slightly flatter štikle than the infamous Dora pair. (Anyone who hasn't seen their particular regional musical marker referenced in Štikla by the time this is over will have the right to feel affronted.)

Her latest comments on the song suggest that Severina, at least, is very much enjoying all this:

'I went to Dora with a song I liked and which was done according to my taste. I'm going to Eurovision with that song as well, and I hope it'll also be to Europe's taste. My song is distinct from the others, and the fact that I'll be bringing šijavica to the capital of European culture and civilisation strikes me as the peak of conceptual art!'

Far more importantly, though, Denis Latin, the editor and presenter of the Latinica talk show, is to leave HTV at some point in the next six months, ending the show's 13-year run. No wonder that he's dissatisfied with the broadcaster, after the reception of his edition on 'Tudjman's Heritage' last December (which coincided with the fifth anniversary of the ex-president's death): HTV responded by placing his show under special supervision.

But you haven't come here to read about that, have you? There are 130,000 results on Google for 'moja štikla'. This surely doesn't still deserve to be the top one...?

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Quick Štikla Soundbites

Back in Štiklandija, today's Jutarnji list asks various showbusiness personalities what they think of Severina's chances at Eurovision in a little less than two weeks. (Nobody dared ask Vlatka Pokos, after last time.)

Sanja Doležal (ex-Fosil turned talk-show host) sees her in the top ten, showbusiness manager Zoran Škugor worries that the song will get lost 'in a sea of various folklore', and Mišo Kovač thinks that after Severina's extracurricular activities turned up in Bild, 'everyone will expect a call girl to turn up on stage, and instead they'll get an attractive girl with a happy, extreme song.'

Alka Vuica, who must be wishing she'd thought of Štikla first, thinks that Severina will 'either come back with her shield, or on it'. She's off to Athens, not Sparta, but we take the point.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Hail To The Chief?

Civil service incompetence stories are flavour of the month here at the moment (when we aren't being distracted by mechanical elephants), but even the ex-Home Secretary might be relieved not to be in charge of the Croatian Ministry of Defence, which has been compiling a register of Homeland War veterans for welfare purposes.

As Jutarnji list revealed yesterday, the register contains the names of 489,407 Croatian branitelji, ranging from front-line soldiers to 'numerous [female[ secretaries, cleaners and officials who worked in the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Defence during the war'. The position of Franjo Tudjman, President and Commander in Chief throughout the war, at the top of the list would obviously go without saying.

Indeed, it went so far without saying that nobody at the Ministry of Defence thought to say it, and the register was drawn up without Tudjman's name, providing tabloid gold dust and the chance to blame the Ministry of Defence, Jadranka Kosor's Ministry of Branitelji, or both.

Under pressure from branitelji and members of her own (and Tudjman's) party, such as Andrija Hebrang from the party presidency, Kosor stated that the omission was 'absurd', since 'President Tudjman ran the army in the most difficult times' and it had 'never crossed her mind that the Commander in Chief would not have the status of a branitelj'.

The defence minister, Berislav Rončević, is sticking to the letter of the law, arguing that Tudjman's C-in-C status derived from the Croatian constitution rather than a working relationship with the Interior Ministry of the Ministry of Defence, and that he had not belonged to any particular unit. To get Tudjman on to the list: 'If you want Tudjman to get branitelj status, the Sabor will have to change the Law on Branitelji' for 'commander-in-chief' to be recognised as an eligible category.

Friends of the Tudjman family are - perhaps not unreasonably - upset, according to Večernji list, and see further evidence of his neglected memory in the fact that Zagreb still has no street or square named after Tudjman. (Possibly because the city council would have to agree on what to re-name first.) They'd be happy with Zagreb airport instead, or so we're told.

There's a definite West Wing feel about this story, although the chances are that C.J. Cregg wouldn't be doing any better or worse than Kosorica right now.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Moja Štikla: Seve International

At the very first hint that Severina might represent Croatia internationally, a friend who's surprisingly well-acquainted with German showbusiness commented that it would only be a matter of time until her... out-of-hours... career came to the attention of the German tabloid Bild.

Dating from the very first appearance of Štikla-to-be in the Croatian media (when the only scandalous thing about it was that it was alleged to be a copy of Ruslana's Eurovision-winning Wild Dances), the Gazette can conclude that 'a matter of time' now stands for 'more or less 90 days'.

The Bild article - the first and last time Severina will be described as a 'Schlager-Star'? - has quickly found its way into the Croatian press, complete with the comments from Nicole, the German winner of Eurovision in 1982:

'The Grand Prix, or the Eurovision Song Contest as it is called today, is not a sex contest, but a serious musical presentation! And this sort of affair damages the seriousness of the contest. The people responsible for Eurovision ought to review whether Severina is allowed to participate in it at all under such circumstances.'

'Afrika paprika' to you too, Nicole...

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