Wednesday, September 27, 2006

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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