Out of Sarajevo
It's hard to think of good things that have come out of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, but one happy result of those brutal conflicts has been the growing international recognition of the music of Goran Bregovic. The Sarajevo-born musician was already famous in the Balkans and throughout Europe by the mid-seventies, as a result of his recordings and concerts with Bijelo Dugme (The White Button), widely acknowledged as the most popular rock band ever to come out of the former Yugoslavia. In the late eighties Bregovic gained even wider acclaim after he began composing soundtracks for numerous movies, including three for the preeminent Serbian filmmaker, Emir Kusturica.
But it was only after he exiled himself to Paris in the mid-nineties, to escape the horrors of the Serb-Croat fighting, that he began traveling widely, bringing his music to audiences from Australia to Israel, from Singapore to Buenos Aires. He first appeared in America in 2006 in a handful of high-profile concerts in New York and Chicago, and the first CD of his to be released in the United States came out in 2009. It's no small feather in UMS's cap that his current North American tour, consisting of only about a dozen dates, includes a stop at Hill Auditorium on Saturday, October 15.
Bregovic's constantly evolving post-rock-band music is practically uncategorizable. It would be easier to say what it isn't than what it is. He grew up on Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, but has grown way out of their confining genres. In addition to over thirty film scores, he has composed operas, theater pieces, and multimedia extravaganzas employing hundreds of musicians. His music mixes the raw, earthy traditional folk and gypsy music of his region with European classical music, klezmer, and Muslim, Orthodox Christian, and Catholic chants. Bregovic and his musicians sing in half a dozen languages, including Roma, Spanish, and Serbian--with even one song in English. But as he says, "I rely on that first
language, music, to make a bond with my audiences."
His twenty-piece Wedding and Funeral Orchestra, consisting of a Serbian Gypsy brass band, a classical string section, a male choir, and two Bulgarian women singers, decked out in their traditional folk costumes, fans out in a semicircle on the stage. Bregovic sits with a Fender electric guitar in his lap and shares center stage with his drummer who, though playing a significantly stripped-down version of the typically massive rock 'n' roll drum kit, never lets you forget Bregovic's rockin' roots. "Although drums are very important, it is the drummer's voice that occupies the central place," he recently explained. "I chose this drummer's voice because it is very open, bright, and brings a particular sense of joy into my music." Which, after all is sung and played, is what Bregovic's concerts are about--joyful celebrations.
[Originally published in October, 2011.]