Friday, December 29, 2006

Comeback Of The Week: Zdravko Čolić

Via Jugoslavija Yugoslavia Jugoslawien, Tamara Skrozza in Vreme marks the release of Zdravko Čolić's new album Zavičaj with an overview of his career:

'Among the petty Cecas, Leontinas and Joksimovićes, who pride themselves on their voice, build or status, Čola still remains untouchable. There are no music academies or producers who will drag Čola's vocal talents out of them; no evening classes which will teach them how Čola behaved in the age of his greatest fame; no magazine which will ever make a star out of them such as Čola has been and remained...'

And at least Čolić, unlike Seka Aleksić or Jelena Karleuša, has never felt the need to start a fashion line...

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tuesday Odds And Ends

The Gazette opened its inbox today to find multiple emails about the 'Chinese turbo-folk star' making waves on the Banja Luka nightclub scene. According to the Hina report in Večernji list, Chi Xsiao Yin moved to the city with her parents in 2001 and has since been 'throw[ing] the audience into a trance with the hits of Lepa Brena and Ceca Ražnatović' under the stage name of Ćin-Ćin.

I'm undecided whether or not this is a fair swap for a planned Chinese TV remake of the cult Partisan movie Valter brani Sarajevo (Walter defends Sarajevo)...

Meanwhile, on a not dissimilar theme, Henry Jenkins reports from Poland on a brief encounter with Polish reggae.

And it's an early buon Natale from the Burekeaters, who have put up a Christmas tree of which Walter would certainly approve.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Positively The Last Word On Borat?

Daniel Marcus in the latest issue of Flow magazine has an extensive article on how 'the former Yugoslavia has caught Borat fever' and how Slovenians can feel superior to Kazakhs, generic easterners and Americans by laughing at the fake documentarist:

'Assuredly, to most Americans, Borat might as well be from the former Yugoslavia – the jokes would work the same to American audiences. In Borat, however, the distance of the character's sophistication from the self-conception of the audience here means that the possibility that Baron Cohen is using Kazakhstan as a stand-in for their own homeland is not even considered.'

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Friday, December 15, 2006

One Book: Middlesex

Andy at Csikszereda Musings tagged me for this one with the introduction that 'Like a bus, you can wait years to be tagged and then loads come all at once.'

This post has ended up equally like a bus in that when you're waiting for the damn thing, it takes its own sweet time to turn up.

Anyway, a week ago I was supposed to do the following:
  1. Once nominated, name one book you'd recommend wholeheartedly and explain your choice within one paragraph.

  2. Nominate three people that you'll introduce to your readers in one paragraph.

  3. Let these people know that they've been tagged.

  4. Refer back to the person who tagged you, so that readers can travel back as well.

Let's go with Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, then. It's the story of an intersex teenager growing up in 1970s Detroit; two incestuous Greek lovers' escape from Smyrna to America in 1922; and the intersection of big-brush American history and Greek diaspora life in between. Eugenides ties the whole plot up with allusions and foreshadowings as tight as brown paper packages tied up with strings, which appropriately enough makes it one of my favourite things.

Tag, you're it: Katja, who fillets Balkan news and battles storms in the Yakima Gulag; Andrea, an author from Zagreb living in London; and Chig, a pop blogger (etc.) from Birmingham.

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Čija Je Ona Livada, Čija Ona Trava

In the words of the Herzegovinan folk song Moj Ivane (My Ivan), re-arranged by Marko Perković Thompson in 2000: 'Whose is that lawn, whose is that grass?'

If it's been talked about in the last couple of days, it's probably been Franjo Tudjman's.

Jutarnji list goes into much more detail today about architect Nenad Fabijanić's planned redevelopment of the square into 'a big park with paths, a long pool, a glass pavilion and underground parking.'

The new Tudjmanov trg could eventually host the type of cultural events currently held on Zrinjevac, Jelačićev trg and Cvjetni trg, and even replace the Manduševac fountain as school-leavers' preferred location of watery chaos during their end of year Norijada celebrations.

In fact, the plan seems to have been kicking around Zagreb Town Hall for several years, but according to Fabijanić 'has the greatest urban and social potential in the area of the broader centre of Zagreb', whatever its name:

'When I was working on the project, just like today, I thought that that space could become a city park which could contain various urban functions, from the utilitarian to the symbolic, and become an important social area in the western part of the city where there isn't a single square between Britanski trg and Črnomerec. [...] Whatever name it has received, I see that space as a starting point for the reurbanisation process of the western part of central Zagreb and a place where its urban identity in the 21st century can be confirmed, in which I expect participation by the artistic elite of Zagreb and Croatia.'

All very social and, well, democratic. In fact, art historian Krešimir Galović even recommends that 'monumental monuments' (such as those already erected to Tudjman in towns such as Slavonski Brod) won't suit the space at all, although 'a giant screen' might do the job nicely.

The Gazette doesn't like to be one for predictions, but it's safe to say Ankica Tudjman, Ivo Sanader, Jadranka Kosor and the rest aren't likely to be satisfied with a big screen. Or even the 'single square between Britanski trg and Črnomerec.'

There's not much chance of landing Zagreb with two Tudjman Squares, but it's worth wondering whether the pressure will continue until another prime zagrebački location is named after the late president.

Somewhere like... Zagreb airport, perhaps?

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Thursday, December 14, 2006


The Tudjmanov trg decision aside, yesterday had an even more direct connection to the late president - it being the seventh anniversary of his death in 1999. With which a government delegation laying wreaths at his grave in Mirogoj cemetery, led by prime minister Ivo Sanader, broke into commemorative song.

Their 20-minute set list, according to Jutarnji list:
  • Djani Maršan's Bože, čuvaj Hrvatsku (God save Croatia)

  • Fala (Thank you)

  • Tereza Kesovija's Moja Dalmacija (My Dalmacija)

  • Miroslav Škoro/Zlatni dukati's Ne dirajte mi ravnicu (Hands off my plains)

  • Zovi, samo zovi (Call, just call)

  • Zdravo Djevo, kraljice Hrvata (Hail the Virgin, Queen of the Croats)

  • Lijepa naša domovina (Our beautiful homeland)

HDZ deputy Andrija Hebrang tells JL that they decided to sing 'several appropriate, patriotic songs' as background to the 45-minute ceremony, and that one or two of the numbers would have been particularly special to Tudjman - particularly Bože, čuvaj Hrvatsku, which he adopted as HDZ's anthem in the early 1990s.

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Showbusiness Ethnopolitics: Jugoslovenka

In 1987, the emblematic Yugoslav showbusiness-folk singer Lepa Brena expanded her multimedia empire that little bit further by releasing a feature film, Hajde da se volimo (Let's make love). Now eerily reminiscent of the ill-fated SpiceWorld, the film's pantomime-style plot saw Brena pursued by Arab sheiks intent on foiling her rendezvous in Dubrovnik with an English promoter who intended her to star in a thinly-veiled analogue of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Two years later there not unreasonably came Hajde da se volimo 2. Among the musical centrepieces this time was Brena's Jugoslovenka, with guest vocals from three regionally representative male stars (Danijel Popović for Montenegro, Vlado Kalember for Croatia, and Alen Islamović for Bosnia) and a syncretic chorus of:

'Oči su mi more jadransko
Kose su mi klasje panonsko
Sestra mi je duša slovenska
Ja sam Jugoslovenka

('My eyes are the Adriatic Sea
My hair is Pannonian wheat
My sister is the Slavic soul
I am the Yugoslav woman

Hajde da se volimo 1 has been out on DVD for a while, and indeed last Christmas the Gazette nearly ended up with two copies. This year, the DVD of Hajde da se volimo 2 has sensibly been reissued in its 'original version' - so says its packaging - for the '06 holiday market.

Except, it would seem the time for rewriting musical memory isn't quite over yet: the Serbian tabloid Kurir discovered yesterday, for the Jugoslovenka segment, which has been replaced by a clip of Brena performing in Sofia; the best Kurir has been able to get out of the issuers ZAM is that the segment was excised at the wish of the song's composer, Marija Čavić.

Večernji list in Zagreb has now picked up the story of 'Brena's Yugo-trash trilogy' - basically reprising the Kurir title, but adding (with typical cross-border tabloid chemistry) that 'the song was sung together with Lepa Brena by the Croatian singers Daniel Popović and Vlado Kalember.'

Never fear, though: there's always YouTube for these situations.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tudjman Square: Consensus (Or Not)

Jutarnji list is now reporting that the Zagreb City Council's committee on such matters has decided the public space to be renamed in honour of Franjo Tudjman will be - 'the currently unnamed space' between Trg Francuske Republike, Ilica and Ulica Republike Austrije. (So much for Rooseveltov trg and all the other proposals.)

So nobody/nowhere needs to be displaced from public memory after all (except Rudolf von Habsburg, that is: the space is sometimes called Rudolfove vojarne or Rudolf's barracks) and the naming will usefully commemorate 'the space [where] the first president Tudjman held his legendary speech and mass rallies during Croatia's independence.'

Needless to say, not everyone's happy with it. Deputy prime minister Jadranka Kosor has attacked the decision as 'completely unacceptable to [her party] HDZ' and a politicised message from the city's social-democrat mayor Milan Bandić over 'who decides everything in Zagreb'.

Meanwhile, Tudjman's wife Ankica (who's been lobbying for Rooseveltov trg) has complained that Tudjman only held one election rally on the square at a time when he was president of HDZ rather than president of the Croatian state, and moreover that 'it isn't a square at all, but a "named space".'

It's not all bad news for the državotvorni lobby, though: check out the chequerboard-heavy mockups for the square's redesign.

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Cikla Nikla, Cikla Nikla

Ante Cash, a rapper from Imotski, is promoting his forthcoming album Idemo u varos by pre-releasing one of the tracks, Moja cikla (My beetroot).

Currently available on 24 sata's website, it does for the gajde what Shorty's Dodji u Vinkovce did for tamburica, with less in the way of ethno-politicised history and more in the way of satirising Severina's road to Athens. (There's competition for the Ante Nacionale title, of course, but isn't that the point?)

24 sata profiled Cash, aka Ante Vlašić, in December 2005, when he was sending a copy of his first album U ime oca i novca (In the name of the father and money) to Mr Gotovina himself and, 'since he also sings about injustice against war veterans [branitelji], expects that all patriots who love General Gotovina will listen to him'. As Cash explained at the time:

'My name's Ante anyway, and I come from Imotski, so it was completely to be expected that I'd become Cash. That name's the bomb! Like all Imoćani, I too sympathise with the general so the first thing I'll do at this time is - send my album to him in The Hague.'

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Retromanija Miscellany

First up, Jugoslavija Druga mentions that Bajadera chocolates (that iconic product of Croatian confectionery) are 50 today. Viki Miljković would no doubt like to celebrate the fact.

The eminent Croatian film director Lordan Zafranović's new project, according to Večernji list, is something of a departure - a pop music show devised by veteran zabavna (light-entertainment) singer Duško Lokin and featuring other performers of his generation. Evergreen club, produced for the satellite Croatian Music Channel, will be offered to other Yugoslav television stations, and might help to allay zabavna musicians' fears that there's never enough space for Croatian music on TV.

Meanwhile, it's time for the annual obsession of Croatian showbusiness reporters: who's going to earn how much for their New Year's Eve concerts. Halfway through Jutarnji list's latest set of figures comes the seemingly no longer controversial information that Doris Dragović will be entertaining the Montenegrin town of Kotor for Silvestrovo (elsewhere in Crnoj Gori, Nikšić gets a cut-price Boris Novković and Budva gets top-dollar Dino Merlin). It's all a long way from 1999, when Dragović's icebreaking NYE performance in Igal kicked off a controversy from which her career arguably never recovered.

Lastly, since we're talking transnational misadventures, it seems that Severina's US tour-that-wasn't from November picked up coverage on Bruce Sterling's blog at Wired as an example of 'cruelly postponed globalizatsiya'. Here's hoping it won't be indefinitely so - and that she finds her way to London in the process...

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...A Vrati Nam Franju

Neretva River also relays the suggestion from Večernji list that the circus over which Zagreb square should be renamed after late president Franjo Tudjman may finally have pulled into... Britanski trg. Britain out of zagrebački municipal memory, and Tudjman in? It's probably a fair exchange for most, although it's a wonder nobody's yet proposed renaming Britanac after that well-known friend of Croatia, Paul Robinson.

(So far, the inexhaustive list of potential Tudjmanovih trgova (etc.) has included Rooseveltov trg, Trg Francuske Republike, Ulica Hrvatske bratske zajednice, and Zagreb's Pleso airport - all unsuitable in the eyes of one or other Tudjman relative and/or municipal politician.)

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Uzmi Stipe...

Croatia's Index portal has previous form for uncovering public figures discussing the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) in terms they'd rather have kept quiet about: in 2003, Marko Perković Thompson received the unwelcome New Year's Eve gift of discovering that a recording of his performing Jasenovac i Gradiška Stara had been released on to the internet courtesy of the Indexovci.

Now they've done it again - this time with the Croatian president Stjepan Mesić, who is said to have given two speeches at a Croatian club in Sydney in May/June 1992 (partially transcribed in Večernji list thanks to an enterprising Sydneysider) in which he described the Croats as having 'won twice' during the Second World War:

'The Croats won in 1941 when on 10 April they proclaimed a Croatian state. Because the Croats did not proclaim that state because they were fascists, but because they had a natural and historical right to a state. But the results of the Second World War are well-known, but it is also well-known that the Croats won in that war on a second occasion too because they found themselves together with the allies at the victors' table.'

The second speech involved an exposition of the current war in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in which 'we are fighting for our own territory, and they are fighting for other people's', then headed off along the same lines, including the rhetorical instruction to those who disagreed to 'go and kneel down at Jasenovac'.

Neretva River has been following this assiduously all weekend, including reactions from Žarko Puhovski (Croatian Helsinki Committee), Vesna Pusić (leader of HNS, to which Mesić belongs), prime minister Ivo Sanader, and Mesić himself - plus the controversy over two Croatian Television journalists who have been suspended for their coverage of the story.

Mesić is holding to the line that he 'never supported the Ustaša regime', separating the idea of statehood from the criminal reality of the regime itself (The League of Anti-Fascist Fighters and Anti-Fascists of Croatia, for its part, is still behind him), and that the statement - which he no longer remembers giving - must have been a product of its time when 'it was necessary to win over [pridobiti] and consolidate [objediniti] all people in the defence of Croatia from aggression.'

(And when, he could have added, Tudjman's HDZ - to which Mesić still then belonged - was conducting an intricate balancing act between emigres some of whom believed wholeheartedly in the NDH and international sympathies which certainly didn't.)

Ironically enough, Mesić was himself the butt of insults in the final verse of Jasenovac i Gradiška Stara, which called on Our Lady of Sinj to 'take Stipe away and give us Franjo [Tudjman] back' (uzmi Stipu a vrati nam Franju). Is this the first time Mesić and Thompson have actually found common ground?

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Whose Is This Carol?

Via Global Voices Online, there's a festive version of the Whose is that song? phenomenon at Ukraine List: you might have heard of an American carol called Carol of the Bells (this Londoner only knows it as 'that song in the Christmas episode of West Wing season 2'), but not that it's adapted from a Ukrainian folk song Shchedryk. (Anthony Potoczniak, an anthropologist at Rice, is on the case.)

Meanwhile, Bosnia Vault relays this story from B92 on ex-Yugoslav hip hop's 'musical offensive against nationalist politicians, corrupt businessmen and priests meddling in politics', including artists from Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo and Croatia. Says Serbia's Marčelo:

'What we're offering is an alternative to MTV and to American hip hop. Our fans are not looking for a gold chain and a gold tooth. They already have that in turbo folk, so hip hop is seen as something rebellious outside the slimy mainstream.'

One presumes that the Shorty of Marčelo ft. Shorty's 'Definicija' is a different one from the Shorty of Dođi u Vinkovce...

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It's Esma Vs. Borat

Joining the queue of Americans preparing to sue the producers of Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat movie, reports Večernji list, is none other than the Macedonian Roma singer Esma Redžepova.

Redžepova's song Chaje shukarije is used to soundtrack the film's opening sequence, purporting to display the poverty of Borat's home village in Kazakhstan but actually shot in the Romanian village of Glod, largely populated by Roma who have themselves attacked the producers for originally misrepresenting the film as a documentary on the hardship of their village.

Redžepova now claims she was never consulted before the song was included on the soundtrack, which raises the question: who holds the rights to the track and thought that this would be an appropriate project to license them to in the first place?

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Anyone For Statistics?

Nancy Baym at Online Fandom has cottoned on to the potential of to feed back listening data from 240 countries, which arrived in my newsreader at just the right time for me to mess about with it.

The list of music deliberately tagged as Croatian isn't as definitive as it could be, but browsing various ex-Yugoslav artists and seeing what considers to be 'similar artists' based on overall listening habits is the Gazette's official lunchtime time-waste today. Transnational Eurovision fandom throws a slight spanner in the works (especially where Severina's concerned - and why else would Croatians or Andorrans be listening to both Goran Karan and Marijan van der Wal?), but the figures for Miroslav Škoro, Baruni, Seka Aleksić or Mile Kitić are pretty much what one might expect, while Neda Ukraden's eighties stuff obviously lives on somewhere.

On the other hand, that really isn't a nice thing to say about Rebeka Dremelj now, is it?

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Folk On Film

London's annual Bosnian Film Festival closed on Sunday with a showing of the new 'European mainstream' film from Danis Tanović and, more relevantly to the Gazette, Danijela Majstorović's documentary Posao snova (The dream job), which investigates women's experiences in the Serbian and Bosnian showbusiness folk-pop industry.

I was excited about this one back in February, when it premiered at a documentary festival in Zagreb, and with good reason. Even if the interviews with Ilinka Maršić, a young girl from Republika Srpska joining an 'orchestra' of miniskirted backing dancers (something which Robert Palmer's Addicted To Love video surely has a lot to answer for?) aren't quite so revealing, there are meatier contributions from the top rank of established stars: Hanka Paldum, Lepa Brena, Beba Selimović and (skipping a few generations) Selma Bajrami, who talks more candidly than one might expect about male managers and (of course) her famous tijelo.

That's Posao snova taken care of, then, but it still leaves me chasing the other film on south-east European folk music that I've been repeatedly told I ought to watch: Adele Peeva's Chia e tazi pesen? (Whose is this song?). In a nutshell, Peeva traced the same folk melody around the Balkans, where her informants are all convinced that it came from their country. (Making it the ancestor of transnational folk-pop such as Tarkan's Simarik or Despina Vandi's Gia?)

While I wait for it to show up on a convenient festival programme or a region 2 DVD, Gergana Doncheva has reviewed it for the new issue of Kinokultura (a Bulgarian cinema special):

'The film explicitly reveals how a popular musical piece becomes associated with any given national imaginary (for example, Albanian, Bulgarian, Greek, or Turkish). It comes as no surprise that the characters categorically refuse to accept that representatives of a foreign, though neighboring community, could sing the same song and love it as they do. By a bitter irony, instead of dividing them, the song binds together these national territories like a thin red thread, uniting collective memories and personal stories. Above all, however, it shows the typical Balkan predisposition to stubborn negativism.'

Lastly, talking of London and Bosnia, London Sevdah will be posting some recordings on their website as long as ten people leave a comment on their blog and ask for them. At last count, they need seven more!

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Borat Yet Again

Via East Ethnia, it seems a call for papers on '"Borat", Eurasia, American culture and Slavic studies' is doing the rounds in order to make benefit cultural learnings of Slavic Review.

It'll be disappointing if nobody has a go at analysing the movie's not exactly Kazakh soundtrack (not to mention the blatantly Time of the Gypsies-esque baptism to the sound of Ederlezi), but it probably needs a Roma specialist to do it justice.

Any takers?

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Otherwise Comeback of the Week: Vanna

The Croatian singer Vanna, formerly of ET, is releasing her first new material for four years - the end of an even longer absence than Thompson's, if you count his 2003 song in honour of Pope John Paul II. Accordingly, she's given an extensive interview to Večernji list, in which she reflects on stardom in a country where 'you can see me every Saturday on Kvaternik Square buying tomatoes' and where singers only find space on the state broadcaster HTV if they're presenting talk shows:

'I understand that we miss those 1990s when there was Croatian music on HTV every day, we remember the war years alone when the news and Croatian music were the only programming. Don't get me wrong, I don't want the times when we just had the news and music to come back, but allow me to remember the times when Croatian music experienced its most shining moments.'

Meanwhile, Magazin's first song with new lead singer Ivana Kovač will be Neću plakat' namjerno, which 24 sata is helpfully previewing today. Chances are it might appeal to anyone who enjoys post-2000 Doris Dragović (rather than the harder stuff), or, the tabloid points out, one or two numbers by Ivana's dad.

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Comeback of the Week: Marko Perković Thompson

There's nothing in the papers yet, but the Gazette's Slavonian grapevine reports that Marko Perković Thompson's long-awaited new album will be released on 9 December. (Surprisingly, perhaps, they've missed the opportunity to release it on the anniversary of Gotovina's arrest, which would be about twelve hours from now.)

Gotovina's arrest, in fact, was one of the excuses for Bilo jednom u Hrvatskoj (yes, that's Once upon a time in Croatia) running so late; it seems they haven't delayed it yet again to account for whatever may or may not end up happening to Branimir Glavaš.

Thompson's official site now pictures the album cover and gives a complete tracklisting for the album, and will be releasing an extra set of lyrics every day before the 9th.

Along with the three pre-released hits - Dolazak Hrvata (The coming of the Croats), Tamo gdje su moji korijeni (There where my roots are) and Lipa Kaja (Pretty Kaja) - we're in for nine more songs with the usual mix of medieval personalities (King Zvonimir making his second appearance in the Thompson repertoire after 1993's Anica, kninska kraljica), heavenly figures, and disaffected soldiers from the Homeland War.

And all in time for the Christmas market, too...

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