Balkan Music

Balkan Music - Evstafiev playing the Cello in Bosnia (source: wikicommons)

Balkan Music

One of the great experiences while hitch-hiking is a very simply one…listening to the radio. Most of the time you don’t have language in common with the driver and so communication, beyond facial expressions and hand signals is often impossible. This is where the radio comes in. Now, sometimes you might catch a western song that you know, or the latest pop song you might be vaguely aware of, but generally that’s not the case. Instead you get treated to a wonderful shower of native tunes, all weird, all wonderful and mostly terrible. But don’t let that put you off, however, as just occasionally you might find something in there to like…

On our recent Balkan Peninsula by Thumb trip one music we couldn’t help but get acquainted with was ‘music of South-eastern Europe’ or as its more commonly called Balkan music. So difficult was it to avoid that whilst we were travelling in Italy and the Balkans you couldn’t help but hear it: from cars, shops and bars and when we were in Mestia near Venice we even went to a Balkan Music Festival, which you can read about here.

Balkan music sounds like no other in Europe and is characterised by complex rhythms and marked tempo changes. Its uniqueness lies in the wide variety of influences it has absorbed, including Byzantine Medieval music, Greek music, Ottoman music, and Traditional Bulgarian / Serbian music and it comes in plentiful varieties.

Today Balkan Music, like all forms of music, is evolving, playing with new sounds, and creating new styles as a product of these experiments. Perhaps the most internationally known Balkan musician is the Bosnian Goran Bregović. His music has pushed Balkan rhythms to interesting extremes by creating a fusion of popular music with traditional music from the Balkans, tango and brass bands.

Goran Bregović – Kalasnjikov

Another genre of new Balkan music is what is termed as ‘Turbo-Folk‘. It is extremely popular in Serbia and increasingly so in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Albania, Turkey and Montenegro, and is a sub-genre of Balkan folk music with pounding dance, Euro-dance beats and/or pop elements. We lost count of the times we listened to its thumping baseline over Turkish influenced rhythms and it was especially popular with younger men.

Ivan Gavrilovic – 200 Na Sat

One of the most interesting bands that we heard were Dubioza Kolektiv, who perform reggae, dub, ska and rock intermixed with traditional rhythms. Their lyrics, we were told, promote themes of peace, understanding and tolerance, with a forthright criticism of nationalism and were extremely popular among the young, urban liberals that we encountered on our path.

Dubioza Kolektiv – Kažu

written by: Jon

If you have any other suggestions for Balkan Music that you think we all need to know about, simply post suggestions below the line…

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  • First of all, I suggest you to check 70s and 80s yu-rock, with bands such as Bajaga i Instruktori (my favourite, and, as he sings really slowly, it’s really helpful in learning Serbian), Haustor, Elektricni Orgazam, Bijelo Dugme or Idoli. Some are more influenced by punk, some by progressive rock, some by pop rock, but they’re all good.

    At least better than turbo-folk. I really can’t stand this kind of music and can’t understand it’s phenomena.

    Here is the link to Kosovo-born British pop star:
    The video was filmed in Prishtina and in the comments there is quite funny flame war between people from all the Balkans.

    • Thanks a lot for these wonderful recommendations, Jar! There is still so much we have to learn about Balkan music!
      Now you mention it, we recognise Rita Ora. Our host in Kosovo recommended her to us and she is a big thing at the moment. I would say Rita is a Balkan Rihanna, would you agree? :)

      • In this song – yes. In the others she’s sometimes like KeSha, sometimes like Beyonce. So she’s like contemporary show-business in a nutshell.

  • So interesting to see an article on Balkan music. I recommend you check Serbian artists Svi na pod! and Zemlja gruva although they don’t fit in the ‘Balkan music’ genre.

  • Check out Lemon Bucket Orkestra!! They are my favorite band, a mix of balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk, really fun stuff