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Balkan’s cheerful madness in Vilnius

  • 2010-12-16
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

COMMON AND DANCE!: Goran Bregovic and his Weddings & Funerals Orchestra come to Vilnius.

VILNIUS - On Dec. 28, Goran Bregovic and his Balkan gypsy-style brass band named Weddings & Funerals Orchestra will give their concert in the Pramogu Arena in Vilnius. The music, composed and played by Bregovic, is the spiritual food for musical gourmands: even the quite snobbish French Mezzo TV, which broadcasts only classical music and classical jazz, showed a concert by Bregovic and his orchestra. A couple of movies, in which Bregovic-composed music played an essential role, received the Palme d’Or (“Golden Palm”), the highest award at the Cannes Film Festival. At the same time, Bregovic’s music is not elitist: Bregovic and his orchestra performed in the Piazza St. Giovanni in Rome in front of 500,000 people, in a square in Montreal while closing the Montreal Jazz Festival for an audience of 200,000 and there were more of his concerts gathering audiences of over 100,000 people.

Bregovic, who shares his life between Paris and Belgrade, is 60 years old, and two years ago he sustained serious spinal injuries after falling out of a cherry tree in the garden of his Serbian home, but he is still energetic like a teenager. Bregovic was born into the family of a Serbian mother and a Croatian father in Sarjevo, the capital of Bosnia. Although this country is known worldwide as the land of hatred, Bregovic promotes tolerance: his music is based on the traditional music of the area, stretching between Budapest and Istanbul. It echoes Jewish klezmers and Gypsy bands as well as Bulgarian polyphonic folk singing, Orthodox and Catholic chants and Muslim invocations.

The best way to listen to Bregovic’s orchestra, of course, is drinking sljivovica (Serbian plum brandy) from a bottle and dancing half-naked in Guca, a small town in Serbia of some 20,000 inhabitants that holds an annual contest of brass bands in August when it swells up to 150,000 people who drink and listen to the music and drink again for three days. No wonder that the latest album by Bregovic is titled Alkohol, which consists of two parts: Sljivovica and Sampanjac (“Champagne”) – it is a strong and impact-making cocktail indeed.

The brass bands of the Balkans or Spain accent the emotion, not the cold musical perfectionism as in the Baltics or Germany, and nobody cares too much in Southern Europe that the local brass bands often play out of tune – to the contrary, this out-of-tune playing adds additional charm to their music. Although some ex-Yugoslavians accuse Bregovic of composing an export version of Balkan music, he has many fans from Belgrade to Zagreb who are singing loudly along with Bregovic’s gypsy-style lyrical song Ederlezi and who are dancing to the sounds of his energetic Kalasnjikov (“Kalashnikov”).

Bregovic became well-known across the Communist countries from 1974-1989 when he played guitar in the Yugoslav rock band Bijelo Dugme (“White Button”). When Bregovic started to play guitar in that band (“I chose the guitar because guitar players always have the most success with girls,” he said), he studied philosophy and sociology, which would most certainly have landed him as a teacher of Marxism in some Yugoslav university or school, but the success of the band made a musician and composer out of him. “In those times, rock music had a capital role in our lives. It was the only way we could make our voice heard and publicly express our discontent without risking imprisonment,” Bregovic said.

Later, he turned into a more folk style sound composing music for the movies Time of the Gypsies, Arizona Dream and Underground, which were directed by Emir Kusturica, the Sarjevo-born filmmaker who is also now known (if one believes the tabloids) for his current romance with Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Lithuanian international movie star.
Bregovic is very popular among Vilnius’ intellectual crowd and his concert is always an event here. Bregovic and his orchestra is the best way to go into the trance of the New Year’s celebrations. So, prepare yourself spiritually by listening to his Mesecina (“Moonlight”) on Youtube before the concert and start celebrating. Tickets to the Vilnius concert of Bregovic and his orchestra, who will perform their old hits as well as new songs, can be bought at