Friday, September 29, 2006

Severina: It's A Matter Of Time

Today's Večernji list is announcing an unauthorised biography of Severina, to be written by tabloid journalist Vedran Strukar. Interestingly, the news has actually come via Serbian tabloid Blic (link for today only), which also reports that Severina's post-Štikla album - music by Goran Bregović and lyrics by Marina Tucaković - should be due out in December. (Probably not one for Lidija Bajuk's Christmas list.)

Blic says that unnamed 'friends of Severina' in Croatia have (very apparently) heard the new songs and said that they 'have stayed faithful to the style of music which shocked Croatian music critics on "Moja štikla"':

'Asked whether the album was ethno, our source smiled: "What you call ethno over there in Serbia, for us, that's turbofolk!"'

Tucaković's involvement with the album was first quietly announced at the end of July, although nobody seemed to notice at the time, or make what would be, for a populist tabloid, the obvious connection to Tucaković's client Ceca Ražnatović. Večernji list, however, has finally noticed that:

'Brega, who worked on 'Štikla', will continue in a similar tone, and Marina, who otherwise also works with Ceca, is responsible for the lyrics.'

Didn't it all start last time around with Croatian and Serbian tabloids swapping throwaway comments like that?

Just wait until Blic/Svet/Kurir/Press/etc happens to transcribe lyrics from the album into ekavica....

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Showbusiness Ethnopolitics: Bosnian Election Time

The three so-called 'godfathers' of Croatian showbusiness politics - the patriotic trio of Marko Perković Thompson, Miroslav Škoro and Mate Bulić - are on slightly different sides for once thanks to the finale of election campaigning in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Namely: three Croat coalitions, three possible sets of election rallies to perform at.

Things are largely in the state they're in because of the split in the Bosnian Croat version of HDZ, which was formalised this April when HDZ 1990 (named after the date of HDZ's first election victory in Croatia) broke off from the existing HDZ BiH over the leadership of Dragan Čović.

According to Jutarnji list, Škoro will be performing for the HDZ 1990-coalition Hrvatsko zajedništvo (Croatian Unity) alongside Vanna and rock band Prljavo kazalište (both long-term HDZ allies in Croatia, although the Prljavci wavered in their support somewhat during the early Sanader era), but rumour is that Croatian HDZ warned them not to hire Thompson too in case his associations with the extremist right brought bad publicity.

No such qualms, however, for HDZ BiH, which promptly added Thompson to a portfolio already including 'pure-blooded Herzegovinan' Mate Bulić. It's quite a step up from the situation at the end of August, when it seemed that HDZ BiH's rallies would only be graced by Mija Martina Barbarić. (Last seen coming second in the 2005 Bosnian pre-selection for Eurovision, with a Wild dances-type Herzegovinan ethno-pop song called Ružice rumena which did most of what Moja štikla did, only with less Afrika, paprika, sijeno, slama, sir or salama.)

The far-right (further-right?) party HSP, meanwhile, has hired Thompson's ex-bassist Tiho Orlić, another local boy who Thompson began to launch on a solo career in 2004.

This is all par for the course in an ex-Yugoslav election year: as far as Croatia's concerned, HDZ's 1990 campaign wonks came up with the audience-grabbing tactic of hiring as many singers as possible to entertain the crowd between political speeches, leaving its competitors scrambling to catch up and cram some hastily arranged raly/concerts into the last few days of campaigning.

Herzegovinan showbusiness, however, has more ambitious aims: Mostar's Dnevni list reported a couple of weeks ago that Marko Zelić from the Široki Brijeg record label Song Zelex and record producer Ivo Lesić are planning an annual Herzegovinan Radio Festival (a la the successful Croatian and Serbian models) which would debut in August next year. Potential contestants apparently include 'Marko Perković Thompson, Miroslav Škoro, Dražen Zečić, Mate Bulić and others' - that'll be the usual suspects, then - and, for a longer shot, Macedonia's Toše Proeski and Ukraine's Ruslana.

If she's not available, though, the Gazette is sure they'd settle for Barbarić instead. What else was Ružice rumena meant to be doing?

UPDATE: According to 24 sata in Croatia, it now seems that Thompson isn't having anything to do with the HDZ BiH election rally at all, despite it being clearly advertised on the front page of the party's website yesterday; HDZ BiH supporters will have to be 'satisfied with Feminnem, Giuliano and Ivan Mikulić.'

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Around the Blogosphere

Running a quick Technorati search on Ceca Ražnatović while compiling the last post, the Gazette came across a blog on the World of Oriental Dance Music, which took yesterday's transnational theme to a deterritorialised, probably diasporic conclusion.

Odd to see Jelena Karleuša, Ceca, Ivana Kindl, Rihanna, Elena Paparizou and Alazán all together somewhere which isn't my in-tray. (Does Kindl know she's being included as 'oriental'? Although, if she didn't want to be, she shouldn't have premiered the song in question from a sedan chair.)

The Gazette will be keeping an eye on newish covers blog PopEatsPop as well, in case any more posts like this head any further into its sort of territory...

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Ceca Ražnatović: Let's Hear It For The Rainbow Tour

Somewhere down the line, 2006 was supposed to be the summer of Ceca Ražnatović: the so-called first lady of Serbian turbofolk would re-establish herself with her latest album 'Idealno loša' (Ideally bad), freshen up her sound with a little help from Madonna's 'Hung Up', and hold the concert of her career at the Ušće stadium in Belgrade.

June's Ušće concert, at least, lived up to some of its spectacular billing
(the 'highlights' are still clattering around YouTube, if you must), although in front of a mainly teenage audience and without the patriotic flavour that B92's blogger Jasmina Tesanović had been afraid of. Madonna comparisons, however, may be wider of the mark, especially since Madonna devoted the rest of the summer to some equally provocative choreography.

Looking at it musically, Idealno loša didn't quite match the Abba-sampling, aerobics-practising kitsch of 'Hung Up' itself. From a wider point of view, as Tesanović comments:

'Ceca has always idolized Madonna, supposedly using Madonna's show trailer and Madonna's make-up artist, but any Madonna concert would have been vastly better organized than this. Madonna is not a small-time local war-looter like Ceca but a ruthlessly organized global capitalist, so Madonna would have sold tens of thousands of dollars worth of Madonna merchandise to such an adoring crowd.'

News from Ceca's Bulgarian concert, however, leaves the Gazette more in mind of Madonna's alter ego Eva Perón and her anti-climactic Rainbow Tour. According to Tatyana Vaksberg in last week's Balkan Insight, Ražnatović attracted only 3,000 of an expected 25,000-strong audience to her recent concert in Sofia's national stadium, despite sensationalist publicity in the Bulgarian media playing on her political notoriety.

This needn't be a sign that turbofolk is declining in Bulgaria, though - far from it, says Vaksberg, who points to the opening of a new folk-music nightclub (Sin City) and growing sales for Bulgaria's domestic turbofolk - chalga - singers. The emergence of Bulgarian chalga, in fact, owes something itself to Serbian showbusiness-folk music (most of all to Lepa Brena?), and the genres have kept pace ever since: chalga has its fair amount of Serbian cover versions (the biggest name, off the top of the Gazette's head, is Mile Kitić's Šampanjac into Kamelia's Cheluvai me), just as the usual Greek and Turkish transnational favourites are present and correct.

Vaksberg concludes that Ceca's Bulgarian rise and fall - or the replacement of foreign performers by a domestic product - has come all the quicker due to the Bulgarian public's lack of information on the Yugoslav conflicts, meaning that neither Mrs nor Mr Ražnatović carried any 'political context'.

Be careful what you wish for, though, because you might just get it: if what Ceca needs to succeed is notoriety, she has that in spades in the ex-Yugoslav successor states. Slovenia's already been chalked up on the 'rainbow tour', with her Ljubljana show in summer 2005 marking her first performance outside Serbia-Montenegro or RS, complete with a carnival of immigration hitches, protest letters from Slovenian musicians, and riot police outside Tivoli hall.

Will Ceca be engaged to perform in Croatia in, say, the next five years? The bureaucratic, legal and political obstacles would probably be insurmountable (would you want your signature on her work permit when the populist tabloids came knocking?), and she might not even agree to go herself, but that doesn't mean somebody isn't going to try.

And no matter how much Ceca continues to represent Croatia's ultimate Other when it comes to newspaper columnists with turbofolk-loving footballers to disapprove of, the emerging youth folk subculture in Croatia has - according to a Jutarnji list survey this spring - more interest in the newer generation of Serbian singers, including Seka Aleksić, who are challenging for first-lady status of their own.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Magazin: It's A Family Affair

After searching for the best part of a year, Magazin have finally revealed Jelena Rozga's replacement and their fourth lead singer: Ivana Kovač, daughter of the iconic Dalmatian singer Mate Mišo Kovač. (Actually, make that sixth lead singer: the band's two first vocalists during their Dalmatinski magazin days have dropped out of history along the way.)

Kovač's family, famously, come from Šibenik rather than the Magazin heartland of Split, though Magazinologists might almost be more surprised that the group chose a brunette rather than another of their trademark blondes.

Believe everything you hear, though, and it would seem that Magazin nearly ended up with a transnational revamp this summer: according to Jutarnji list in August, the group's manager Tonči Huljić was so impressed by Macedonia's Eurovision representative Elena Risteska when they met on a TV show that he offered her the job backstage.

No word, yet, on where this leaves Andrea Šušnjara, the teenage singer from Split who's been the gossips' long-term favourite to take over the Magazin role for at least two years - and might have had the gig in February if she hadn't shot her mouth off to a tabloid reporter.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Football Ethnopolitics: The Fontana Three

After spending the summer titillated by violent incidents in crowded coastal resorts, it's back to the metropolis for the Croatian tabloids, which have been able to start September with one of their favourite stories: a fight in a nightclub which plays narodnjaci, or turbofolk, or 'Serbian narodnjaci', or 'eastern trash [istočnjački šund]', depending on how judgemental a particular journalist wants to be.

This time around, the loxus in quo was the Zagreb club Fontana, site of the first of four such incidents in January 2006. The reason why the story's still current a week later, though, is that among the club's clients that night were three footballers from the Croatian national team who were halfway through a training camp ahead of their European Championship qualifier with Russia.

Or, as Jutarnji list had it:

'Although the three national players did not directly take part in the incident, the fact that they were wildly 'whooping it up' with the help of narodnjaci only three days before the Russia match is shameful for Croatian football. According to Fontana visitors, [Darijo] Srna, [Boško] Balaban and [Ivica] Olić were the main stars among the guests of the folk club where a Serbian narodnjački band was playing that night. Certain Croatian footballers have already shown their inclination towards the eastern melos in narodnjački clubs across Croatia.'

Ivica Olić, Darijo Srna and Boško Balaban were promptly dropped from the squad by the new manager Slaven Bilić, and the team scraped a 0-0 draw against Russia. Srna, at least, was missed, although the Gazette has a minor score to settle with Srna after wasting a slot in its Fantasy World Cup squad on him this year when it could have had Andrea Pirlo instead. Meanwhile, many fans of Aston Villa - where Balaban spent an underwhelming 2001/02 season - would be wondering what Balaban was doing in the national team at all, let alone being sent home from it again.

From time to time, it's almost seemed as if the Fontana Three were more at fault for going out 'to narodnjaci' than for doing it in the middle of a training camp, even though, as Davor Butković pointed out a few days later, they 'wouldn't have been any less guilty if the police had caught them at [alternative club] Tvornica, after a Pixies concert, and if, instead of whisky, they'd been consuming some of the opiates characteristic of the Zagreb 'urban' locale' - although Butković too noted the association between football and narodnjaci going back to Severina's 1998 World Cup anthem 'Djevojka sa sela' (Village girl).

In fact, there's now even a clash-of-cultures theory, as advanced by Milan Jajčinović in Večernji list this week, suggesting that Bilić reacted so strongly to the Fontana Three because their sub/cultural backgrounds are at odds (and, in passing, that Severina's music and the typical folk-club playlist are too entirely different things):

'We've known for a long time that our footballers aren't academicians. But we found out they're crazy for narodnjaci when they went to [well-known narodnjački club] Ludnica in Zagreb to celebrate leaving for [the World Cup in] Germany. [...] The musical differences [between] Slaven Bilić and his former team-mates and current players cannot only be understood on the level of taste. Cultural levels are involved as well.'

And moreover: 'When the team went out to narodnjaci to celebrate their qualification for the World Cup, the only one to refuse was Niko Kranjčar, saying that he didnt listen to that sort of music. Maybe they even teased him that he didn't know how to have fun, but the guy with a different education, a Viennese childhood and Zagreb refinement showed that his cultural matrix was something completely different from the matrix of the Balkan south-east.'

What may or may not be the last wsord on the matter belonged to the president of the Croatian Football Federation, Vlatko Marković, who praises Bilić today as 'a moral vertical. An intellectual. An exceptional footballer', and, needless to say, is also put on the spot about the narodnjački connection:

'The team until yesterday was a 'Dinaroid' one, hard and stubborn boys, many of them gastarbeiter kids. Maybe some of those folk [narodna] melodies, which we're inclined to immediately call 'narodnjaci' in a pejorative sense, were also a particular link with the old region. Not every narodnjak is Ceca - as it's often interpreted.'

But tell that to the authors of this poem...

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All Must Have Prizes

Eight or nine years back, no summer weekend on HTV would be complete without a live prime-time broadcast from one of the many pop and folk music festivals hosted by practically every municipality with a picturesque town square and a co-operative mayor.

Marko Polo Fest Korčula, Slavonski Brod's Revija nove domoljubne pjesme (Review of New Patriotic Songs), Pjesme Podravine i Podunavlja (Songs of Podravina and Podunavlje): the only things more numerous than festivals seemed to be articles and columns asking whether every small town in Croatian needed a festival of its own.

The proliferation of festivals has calmed down somewhat since then, but looks to be creeping back again this year: Trogir acquired its own event dedicated to the late composer Zdenko Runjić, Etnofest Neum returned after a rained-off 2005, and this weekend the Festival kajkavske popevke reinvents itself with a competitive element for the first time.

Krapina's contribution to the regional festivals map has gone through several incarnations since its premiere in 1966: a serious attempt to nurture light music in kajkavian dialect, a suspiciously nationalist gathering (according to 1970s socialist cultural administrators), an annual memorial to the Yugoslav regime's repression of Croatian culture (according to their 1990s equivalents), and an excuse for showbusiness singers to sing in (for many) an exotic dialect and dress up in national costume.

The first few editions of Krapina didn't even admit performers who came from outside the kajkavian-speaking area. Like most regional festivals, things are a little more pan-Croatian these days: alongside the local regulars, the 2006 line-up features not only the Međimurje ethno-musician Lidija Bajuk, but Zagreb pop songwriter Rajko Dujmić and the Herzegovinan singer Ivan Mikulić.

Aside from his ventures into central European schlager, Mikulić has also experimented for some time with deriving pop music from the folk singing - ganga and rera - of his native Herzegovina. His first attempt at it was 1997, when he wrote several songs for the short-lived Mostar group Mobitel, but we've heard a lot more about Herzegovinan folk-pop since then, first via Mate Bulić's music, and then all through this spring via a little song about a štikla.

Mikulić's own application of the technique, Igraj, igraj, nemoj stat', won the Melodije Mostara festival this year with, apparently, the most elaborate choreography seen on a Croatian festival stage. (Would that include the dance spectaculars traditionally ordered up by HTV for their Sunday evening entertainment shows?). Igraj, igraj continues to pick up airplay here and there, which is more than could be said for Štikla.*

Rumours seem to have started already that Mikulić has, to put it kindly, a better chance than most of walking away with the festival's inaugural prize. They'll be proved right or wrong in six or seven hours' time. The Gazette, for its part, is more concerned that any combination of popevke and Herzegovinan melos can only have one imaginable result, as proved this summer by Slovenian semi-turbofolk singer Rebeka Dremelj and her Štikla-impersonating Ribica.

* And you can just about sing 'Hajde da se volimo' over the chorus, if you really, really want to.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Let's Take It From The Top

The Zagreb summer-break spirit seems to have infected the Gazette, which is slowly rediscovering its work ethic just as Catherine starts to wind down hers and think about spending a few days looking around castles in the Zagorje.

In approximately chronological order, these would probably have been full-length posts, if I'd had my act together.

Severina performed her summer season with her leg in plaster after an accident roller-skating in the dark, and revealed quite in passing to Jutarnji list that the team for her new album, due out at the end of the year, consists of Moja štikla's arranger Goran Bregović alongside Marina Tucaković, one of Serbia's most prolific pop/folk lyricists. Even more in passing, she described her 2000 hit Ajde, ajde, zlato moje as 'on the borders of turbofolk', although somehow that's less of a surprise than the Tucaković link-up.

Severina's pre-Bregović version of Štikla, the less comically folkloric Moj sokole, has had the sort of airplay one would expect from a summer hit by one of the most famous women in Croatia. Štikla, on the other hand, has not. Hari Mata Hari's Lejla, on the... third?... hand, has had more airplay than both songs put together. Which of the three would a visiting Martian think had been Croatia's Eurovision entry?

The fifteenth anniversary of Operation Oluja and the end of the Homeland War was marked by an official ceremony in Knin, and an all-day celebration in Čavoglave culminating in a concert by the village's most famous branitelj, Marko Perković Thompson. Thompson's own album, due late last year, may be delayed again now that he and his wife are expecting their third child - to be called Jelena if a girl (after the queen?), and Ilija for a boy (after the saint?).

The onset of Bosnian elections nautrally meant a race for the Croat parties to sign up famous musical names from the domovina. As of Večernji list's article in late August, Hrvatska koalicija (the Croatian Coalition) was counting on three acts who had all, in their time, been the biggest name in Croatian showbusiness ethnopolitics: Thompson, Miroslav Škoro and Prljavo kazalište. HDZ-BiH scooped up most of the other Herzegovinan pop singers of the moment, among them Mate Bulić, Ivan Mikulić, and girlband Feminnem.

Back in May, the Gazette's eye was caught by the line-up for Croatian singer Zorica Andrijašević's forthcoming album, namely, the Serbian folk songwriting team of Zoran Lesendrić-Kiki and Marina Tucaković (again). Andrijašević has now gone one better, according to this week's Arena magazine, and signed for the Serbian folk label Grand Productions - only the second Croatian singer to do so, says Arena, with the first being Siniša Vuco.

As East Ethnia reported at the time, three of Croatia's best-regarded alternative acts - TBF, Let 3, and Damir Urban - withdrew from Zadar's planned new rock festival Ups! when it turned out that the show would be sponsored by the Foundation for the Truth about the Homeland War, the lobby group founded in January with the aim of promoting... well, what else would it promote. The Foundation, apparently, got involved with Ups! 'to show that the historical truth about the Homeland War is not only supported by people who go to Thompson and Mate Bulić concerts', but may instead have helped to suggest the opposite.

The Gazette's more intrigued by who in the first place could have thought it was a good idea to invite the Letovci - whose current album deals with 'the collective memory, collective romances and irritations of the peoples who live in the states of former Yugoslavia', mainly by rearranging old newly-composed folk songs, adding swear words and wearing false moustaches - to a festival sponsored by an Ante Gotovina defence fund. (At least Gotovina never wore a moustache.)

Allowing me a brief trip into Glory of Carniola territory, the Slovenian singer Saša Lendero - who specialises in translating her Eurovision pre-selection entries into Croatian and re-entering them in Budva Festival or HRF - presented her summer hit Ne grem na kolena, currently available at her official site. It seems it isn't just turbo folk - Slovenian turbo polka - which has made it across from the Serbian and Bosnian markets: the trend for covering Greek pop songs has headed west as well. On the way, it's dropped Despina Vandi's Simera off in Croatia as Lana Jurčević's Odlaziš - but this does seem to be a year when Croatian music realised it had a little to catch up on.

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