Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Folk Revija: Another One Bites The Dust

Looks like the Zagreb Folk revija concert is off, according to, as it happens, Nova TV and either it's down to the usual excuse of poor ticket sales, or organiser Braco Zatezalo's allegation that 'Croatian patriots are threatening folk singers'.

Hloverka Novak-Srzić and the Kontakt team, after the battering (and inadvertent advertisement) they gave it on last night's show - which you can now watch by following the link on Dnevnik's page - are likely to be quite pleased with themselves...

Labels: , , , ,

Folk Revija: First Kontakt

Next month's Folk revija concert in Zagreb took another step towards scandal-hood on Tuesday as the subject of Hloverka Novak-Srzić's daily political talk-show Kontakt.

While December's turbofolk edition of Denis Latin's Latinica was concerned with understanding the social background of turbofolk, Kontakt set itself the simpler question of whether the 'turbo folk review in Zagreb' ought to be banned. (Not quite, was her guests' consensus, but it didn't mean they had to be happy about it.)

What may prove to be two decisive arguments against the concert were put forward by Damir Jašarević, a representative of the veterans' group which has declared its opposition to the event: firstly, should a venue (the Zagrebački velesajam) ultimately owned by Zagreb council be hosting turbo folk concerts, and should a broadcaster (BN Televizija from Republika Srpska) which he linked to Ratko Mladić be allowed to be the media sponsor of any event in Croatia?

(The veterans were initially no happier with Nova TV itself last month when Novak-Srzić's channel-mate Mirjana Hrga decided to invite the Serbian nationalist rock singer Bora Djordjević on to her own show to discuss the Serbian elections; however Hrga's demolition of Djordjević's support for the Četnik movement ought to have soothed the most fervent patriot.)

Duško Ljuština appeared 'in the name of the city of Zagreb's office for culture, education and sport, as a theatre man and an old rocker' to defend City Hall's position, but not too vehemently: indeed, the tone of Ljuština's and other guests' remarks was that the talk-show itself might have the unwelcome side-effect of advertising the concert even more effectively than the posters stuck up at various locations around town. (Which seem to be getting torn down much more often than the ones for Zagreb's next big klapa concert or ethno-blues musician Miroslav Evačić.)

Unlike Jašarević, Ljuština, or musicians' lobbyist Paolo Sfeci (taking ample time to warn that folk singers were mainly coming to Croatia without applying for work permits or paying tax), Osijek's folk entrepreneur in the making, Alen Borbaš, hardly got a word in edgeways (also unlike Latinica, where he had a good 6-7 minutes to put his own patriotic credentials as a Croatian veteran and volunteer who deserted from Yugoslav army service into play), although did have space to imply that it's 'turbofolk' if you don't approve of it and 'folk' if you do. (For the sake of objectivity, I should probably be switching between both.)

Borbaš has experience with similar events in his home town, where his annual Folk hit godine concert was refused permission by Osijek mayor and HSP leader Anto Djapić to hire the municipal stadium; undeterred, he's currently Balkanika television's representative in Croatia, and plans to become the Croatian distributor for the leading Serbian folk label Grand Productions.

With 68% of callers to the Kontakt phone poll voting that the concert ought to be banned, the Folk revija looks to be on believe-it-when-you-see-it status.

As of last night, that is, when Blogger wasn't working...

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, February 26, 2007

Every Week Is Turbofolk Week

Via Bosnia Vault and Yakima Gulag, the International Herald Tribune profiles Balkanika Music Television, the pop-folk satellite/cable channel broadcasting to Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Romania, Bosnia, Albania and, since January, Slovenia. The pan-ex-Yugoslav reach of TV Pink and the Braća Karić channel is one thing,but IHT's Matthew Brunwasser points out that Balkanika takes the transnational enterprise another step forward:

'Perhaps the most novel aspect of Balkanika is that it is completely multilingual: programming switches back and forth among any of 10 languages. This means most of the channel's viewers at any given time are hearing a language they don't understand.

While Slavic-language speakers can understand each other at least somewhat, Albanian, Greek, Turkish and Romanian are unintelligible to speakers of other Balkan languages.

(Although a travelling cover version is still a travelling cover version.)

Meanwhile, this week's issue of Croatia's Arena magazine reports on falling attendances for Croatian performers in the diaspora (usually thought of as a reliable cash cow) and the trend for the owners of Croatian clubs to hire cheaper and more popular folk singers from Serbia or Bosnia instead. According to Ivan Sokić, the owner of several clubs and bars in Munich:

'There's a new generation of Croatian emigrants coming to our nightclubs now. Most of them speak German in the club, they bring their German and Italian friends and tell them that folk-type [narodnjačka] music is actually the melos of their homeland.' Moreover, he continues, Serbian channels like Pink and OBN Televizija are available in Germany and young people happily watch them.

'Those channels are available in almost all the cable packages. And I have to say they're very neutral. You can also see [Croatian singers] Severina, Goran Karan and Oliver Dragojević on them. You can't feel any national colour, and looking at the SMSs they show at the bottom of the screen I can see that young people of different nationalities are communicating. All that is creating a new atmosphere in which young people want to have fun a different way. Add that to the expensiveness of Croatian showbusiness singers, and the result is folk singers [narodnjaci] in our nightclubs.

To be fair, the same article could have been written ten years ago, when Dragana Mirković first started showing up in Croatian discos around Frankfurt, although with rather less in the way of SMSs...

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, February 23, 2007

Dora 2007: Anything But Štikla, Including Peter Pan

The spirit of Natalija Verboten, or more precisely of her meticulously-rehearsed on-stage chaos, lived on in this year's Slovenian Eurovision selection and is likely to be revived yet again at the Croatian version (Dora), thanks to favourite (or 'favourite'?) Jelena Rozga promising Jutarnji list that she'll be escorted on stage by Peter Pan, Snow White and/or Little Red Riding Hood. (It's only thanks to the small matter of copyright that viewers were spared Harry Potter and Gandalf too.)

While Verboten's effort SOS owed a lot to the Swedish schlager school (perhaps an awful lot, for viewers who had already encountered Linda Bengtzing's Alla flickor), Rozga's is musically located closer to home. Ilko čulić's Dora preview article in Globus this week (headlined 'The crusade against nightclub-singers [cajki]'), confirming the impression of the 2007 line-up as an anything-but-Moja Štikla affair, saw Rozga's song Nemam (I haven't got) as 'some sort of Balkan folk-pop mix in which Thompson’s Dinaric pastorals rub up against the old hits of Neda Ukraden'.

There's surely more than a hint of the Lane moje-Lejla axis too - a technique which has resulted in second place for Serbia-Montenegro and third place for Bosnia-Herzegovina, both of whose delegations were sensible enough to opt for a minimalist performance with no interference whatsoever from the collected cast of classic Disney movies. (Eurovision rules restrict groups to six members - a rule which has already caused difficulties for some members of the twelve-piece Klapa Maslina in Dora - so audiences are at least unlikely to be treated to an entire complement of Lost Boys or Seven Dwarves.)

East Ethnia and, naturally enough, Anti Turbo Folk are both on top of the Folk revija story - with the latter pointing out that Croatian impressions of the genre, outside the folk subculture itself, are likely to be formed for the immediate future by whatever happens, or doesn't happen, at the Zagreb Velesajam in a couple of weeks' time. Just as the January 2006 nightclub shootings cemented the relationship between turbofolk and violence in the public imagination (in contrast, there was little sign of any impending moral panic when shots were fired at the Zagreb alternative club Gjuro on New Year's Eve), or Jutarnji list's poll of teenagers last March made it proverbial that '43% of teenagers listen to narodnjaci', expect another round of agenda-setting to come out of Zagreb's first non-nightclub folk concert in the history of independent Croatia.

For the moment, the fact that articles on Folk revija are appearing in the metro section rather than the showbusiness pages already seems to suggest that the ideal reader isn't necessarily supposed to be treating it as a source of enjoyment...

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Let 3: Trouble In Travnik

So, the current state of the Croatian-Bosnian cultural flow seems to be as follows: one batch of a dozen showbusiness-folk singers (with a handful of reinforcements from Serbia) heads one way, and one controversial Rijekan art-rock group Let 3 heads the other.

Or possibly not: a Homeland War veterans' organisation has predictably enough condemned the Folk revija concert scheduled for 7 March in Zagreb (although with the 5,000 tickets rapidly selling out, the 'poor sales' excuse for a diplomatic cancellation isn't going to wash), and Let 3's 24 February concert in Travnik is under threat after the new director of the local Cultural Centre revoked their right to use the hall with not much more than two weeks' notice.

Emir Maličević was apparently concerned at the group's tendency to strip naked on stage and its effect on 'the proper cultural education of the young people who would attend the concert' - although Let 3's gimmick these days, in line with their most recent album Bombardiranje Srbije i Čačka (The Bombing of Serbia and Čačak) - is turbo-punk covers of newly-composed folk music performed in a variety of hyper-Balkan national costumes. (Which they intend as the highest possible degree of irony, and surely not as folk music for people who would never listen to folk music.)

After the ban was confirmed by Travnik council at the weekend, Željko Komšić - the Croat member of the Bosnian state presidency - has now intervened in defence of Let 3, arguing that Bosnia-Herzegovina's international reputation would be threatened by 'any kind of ban in the sphere of culture and the arts' and that 'I know Travnik has never been, nor will it be, a "dark vilayet [Ottoman province]" as some ill-intentioned people want to present it.'

The organisers of the Travnik concert, Alter Art, are collecting messages of support on their website (166 of them, at last count), including a response from the marketing and promotion manager of Let 3's label Dallas: according to Mario Grdošić, 'few people in the civilised world today do not understand creative and artistic freedom, and the basic principles of good pop provocation - and he adds that despite the title of the band's last album they have successfully sold out their concerts in Belgrade and other Serbian cities, plus an appearance at the 2006 Exit festival in Novi Sad.

Alter Art are currently vowing that the concert will go ahead - if not at the Cultural Centre then at another venue. And as for Folk revija? All systems seem to be 'go', despite opposition from Narodni radio's authentic-folk-music DJ Drago Rubalo, who complained to Jutarnji list:

'When was the last time you saw [tamburica singers] Kićo Slabinac or Vera Svoboda on HTV? Domestic television's music programming is too serious and viewers need musical education to follow it. We're dealig with high culture, and on the other hand countless Bosnian and Serbian TV stations, which are accessible 24 hours a day in Croatia as well, are playing turbofolk. People need a rest and
detachment from the grey reality of everyday life, and unfortunately they're finding it on Serbian TV stations.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Old Croatian Soap Opera

When a brief article in Kurir at the end of January mentioned plans for BN Televizija from Bijeljina to organise a large-scale concert of Serbian and Bosnian showbusiness folk singers in Zagreb's basketball stadium in late February or early March, the Gazette resolved to believe it when it saw it. (Which, given the Gazette's current on-location status, can be taken quite literally.)

To mangle an English proverb, great showbusiness-ethnopolitical oaks have a habit of growing from little acorns in Kurir; or, at least, that's how we ended up with such a fuss over Severina's 'Moja štikla'.

Now that there are half a dozen posters between my flat and the station for a BN Televizija Folk revija to be held at the Zagrebački velesajam (Zagreb's sprawling trade-fair complex) on 7 March, involving Šerif Konjević, Halid Muslimović, Viki Miljković, Mina Kostić, Goga Sekulić and 8-10 other singers (although neither of Bijeljina's own two contributions to the narodna scene, Lepa Brena or Seka Aleksić), it looks as if Zagreb may be set for the highest-profile pop-folk event since Željko Joksimović played the Dom sportova in November 2004, bucking the usual trend of folk performers appearing in out-of-town nightclubs. (The event's even being trailed on a Slovenian listings site; and yes, Joksimović counted as a folk singer from this end.)

Except, according to the Bosnian edition of Svet, or rather Svijet, there's (not very detailed) word of opposition from the Croatian Musicians' Union (HGU), an organisation once renowned - under its former president - for opposition to Serbian performers (most of all Djordje Balašević) appearing in Croatia. If that's the case, though, the Bosnian media knows more about it than their Croatian counterparts.

There is, in the meantime, news from Večernji list that another Serbian pop-folk singer, Ana 'Romale, romali' Nikolić, has been lined up for a leading role in a new Croatian soap opera, 'Strast koja ubija' (Deadly passion).

(The old Croatian soap opera, Turbofolk, continues.)

Labels: , , , , ,

Comeback Of The Week: Tajči

Yes, the Gazette's fallen back on recycling old headlines, but Tatjana Matejaš Tajči is starting to make a habit of this.

Jutarnji list has the not entirely surprising story that Zagreb's all-things-to-all-people mayor Milan Bandić has associated himself with a Herzegovinan peace marathon from Grude to the Marian shrine of Medjugorje (there's a shorter Ljubuški-Medjugorje leg for the less athletic) under the title of 'Trčimo Gospi' (Race you to the Lady'). Having raced each other to the Lady, runners will be rewarded with a post-marathon concert featuring Herzegovina's biggest star Mate Bulić, his brother-in-musical-arms Marko Perković Thompson and - rather than, say, Miroslav Škoro, who's usually the other member of that trio - former teen-pop star Tajči.

After leaving the heights of late-Yugoslav showbusiness for America in 1991, Tajči got into the Ohio/Illinois Christian music scene under her married name of Tatjana Cameron (with a year-round repertoire of musical spectacles for churches) and dropped back to the old country last summer to perform at - where else - Medjugorje. It can't have escaped her attention that, while she's been away, patriotic showbusiness with a side order of charismatic Christianity has become big business in her domovina, with the same Thompson at its vanguard.

On the other hand, it's quite literally a band of brothers as things stand: Croatia's been without a female religious-patriotic headliner since Vera Svoboda faded from the spotlight along with the rest of the tamburica scene (although Doris Dragović made quite a claim to the position in the early 90s). Gap in the market, anyone?

Labels: , , , , , ,

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Votes From The North, Flower From The South

When Croatian televoters gave a maximum 12 points at Eurovision to Serbia-Montenegro's representative Željko Joksimović in 2004, Jutarnji list headlined one of its articles with the apparent paradox that 'Hrvati vole narodnjake' ('Croats love folk songs').

With the victory of a song by a Croatian composer in the Slovenian Eurovision pre-selection this weekend, it might be worth keeping an eye out for headlines along the lines of 'Slovenci vole Hrvate' ('Slovenes love Croats') - a situation which, from the point of view of Slovenian foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel, would be every bit as paradoxical.

Rupel, embittered by a series of pedantic border disputes with Croatia which resulted in an exchange of diplomatic notes a few days ago, went on record earlier in the week as stating that 'Croatia needs us more than we need them' since Slovenia will have a say in Croatia's entry to the EU, and the vice-president of the Slovenian Parliament, Marko Pavliha, called on Slovenians to holiday at home on Triglav rather than on the Croatian coast.

Summer will prove which option turned out to be more attractive for Slovenians, but it turns out almost immediately that at least 44,000 of them (judging by the figures in the final round of voting) either think a Croatian songwriter can do a better job at Eurovision than his domestic colleagues or couldn't really be bothered either way. More precisely, that's Croatian songwriter Andrej Babić, who travels to Eurovision with opera singer Alenka Gotar and their song Cvet z juga (Flower from the south) four years after sending Claudia Beni to Eurovision for Croatia and two years after girlband Feminnem represented Bosnia-Herzegovina on his behalf.

In the meantime, Babić has concentrated his efforts on the Slovenian pre-selection EMA, composing songs for Saša Lendero in 2005 and 2006. Both the Babić-Lendero efforts scored highly with the public televote but poorly with the expert jury in the 50:50 weighting system employed by RTVSLO until this year (likewise other folk-pop and turbo-polka acts such as Atomik Harmonik, Rebeka Dremelj and Natalija Verboten), leading to suspicions that either Babić's nationality or the 'southern' flavour of his music might have counted against them. (The songs themselves both ended up translated into hrvatski for festivals in Montenegro and Croatia.)

However, this year's televote-only system - potentially to Rupel's and Pavliha's chagrin - produced a convincing victory for Gotar and Babić over the nearest rival, Bitka talentov casting-show winner Eva Černe, and 12 other contenders for whom spectacle was the order of the day. (Gold flags, red dresses with ">metres-long trains, a guest appearance by the Phantom of the Opera, vaguely lesbian dancers, and a song apparently set in a nuclear plant...)

Clearly, Cvet z juga hardly hides its southern inclinations, but a glance over the last few EMAs would suggest that the heart of Slovenian pop in general is currently being drawn - as in the old Doris Dragović hit Srce vuče južnom kraju - to 'southern parts', whether Croatian or even further south and east.

Severina's old Eurovision and pre-selection routines? Ask Rebeka Dremelj and Steffy (who cleverly turned up with a brass band months before Seve's album with Bregović is even due to be released). 1940s costumes and a list of as many European capitals as Flamingosi could fit into three minutes (before their pre-selection dissolved into chaos, but that's another story)? That'll be Don Corleone, third-placed this weekend. And the 'turbo polka' of Atomik Harmonik and their rivals Turbo Angels? Surely not too far away from turbo folk...

EMA quote of the evening, however, belonged to co-presenter Mario Galunič, explaining the task ahead:

'We need a song that Europe can't ignore. So that they will say "Very good! Very interesting song from... Slovakia!"'

Labels: , , , , ,

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Multi-Channel World

There's unfortunate news for Ceca Ražnatović, whose performances and videos have apparently been dropped from the playlist of the Serbian channel TV Pink after a witness in a court case against the Zemun Clan accused her of suggesting the kidnap of Pink's owner Željko Mitrović. In certain quarters, Pink and Ceca have been all but synonymous, despite Mitrović's attempts to take his station upmarket by cutting back the amount of newly-composed folk music it broadcasts.

Should the collapse of Ceca's relationship with Pink become permanent, it'll be almost as unfortunate news for tabloid picture editors across the ex-Yugoslav region, who like nothing better than to illustrate the briefest mention of Pink with a picture of the woman herself. (Of Ceca, that is. Not of Pink.)

In the long run, however, one wonders if the image of Mitrović and his channel might benefit from 'dececaizacija', if its first associations - according to a Globus journalist who interviewed him in 2005 - remain 'the folk programme, silicone beauties and prettifying the wartime reality of Serbia under sanctions.'

The contemporary TV Pink now uses 12 studios across the ex-Yugoslav region and is broadcast in every ex-Yugoslav state except Croatia (although Croatian viewers with the right satellite or cable connection can pick up the Pink BiH signal). However, Mitrović has shown interest in investing in the 'huge potential of the Croatian media market' (as he told Globus) for some time - whether by buying into its largest record label Croatia Records, building a film-making complex in the country, or becoming involved with one of the private national terrestrial channels, Nova TV.

Turning to some (for now) thoroughly unrelated news: Večernji list reports that multi-channel digital terrestrial television is coming to Croatia, with 32 new channels expected to go live across the country by the end of 2009 and concessions to be awarded in 2008. (If you thought the politics involved where four national channels were concerned were intricate enough, wait until there are 36 of them.) Assuming the Croatian digital landscape evolves in the same way as the UK's, expect the multiplex to be made up of existing channels broadening their portfolios, plus new arrivals taking their first steps into the national media market.

New arrivals like... well, perhaps like Željko Mitrović?

Labels: , , , , ,