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Saturday, September 2, 2017

zeitkratzer / Svetlana Spajic/ Dragana Tomic/ Obrad Milic - Serbian War Songs (Karlrecords, 2017) ****½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

The memories of war still reverberate strongly in the Balkans. A unique European territory and a melting pot of numerous civilizations, the Balkans have remained somewhat prone to many of the aspects of the social life in the West. Poverty still is the main reason for this.

More importantly, the borders have changed quite a few times as the result of many wars up through the late 20th century. Even now, as these lines are being written, a small scale war is always a possibility, as the Macedonian state (one more small country that sprout from Tito’s former Yugoslavia) is falling apart affecting neighbors like Kosovo, Albania, Greece and Serbia.

War, too, is a main theme in art – especially traditional music – in the Balkans. Heroes are born and made, catastrophes are lamented, families separated, homes destroyed and crimes committed. It’s all there in aural tradition and literature. Nikos Eggonopoulos, one of the most important surrealist poets of Greece, once commented that this is the Balkans, it’s no fun and games.

Coming from Greece, I must admit that I have a strong affiliation with Serbia. Apart from the common religious history – which is none of my business – Serbians and Greeks have always felt a bond. In former Yugoslavia power rested in the capital of Belgrade and this power –very willingly indeed – took the role of oppressor during the civil war in the 90’s. The above fact makes a lot of people forget another fact: during the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia the partisan volunteer army was the largest one in Europe and fought fascism successfully. I won’t go on cry, like in Emir Kusturica’s movies, about a country that doesn’t exist. Who cares about states, people should be free.

But people in Serbia, young people under forty years old, have inside them an experience that no other European of the same age has: the noise of sirens prolonging another bombardment, the distress and anxiety of not knowing what will happen in a few hours.

The more I listen to zeitkratzer’s music, the more I become compelled by their vision and the praxis of it. I feel quite enthusiastic about the way they balance between modern chamber music and the free spirited way they present their material in the tradition of the Globe Unity Orchestra and I.C.P. Ensemble. Every artistic choice they make engulfs a big percentage of risk.

This is an important record, one that brings to the fore of the western avant-garde an almost neglected musical tradition. Songs with polyphonic voices, a minimalistic very rich approach towards singing, very common and popular in the area. The way they deal with their material and their collaborators from Serbia – Svetlana Spajic, Dragan Tomic, and Obrad Milic – seems, at least as the audio result, quite egalitarian. No one is leading, this is a joint collaboration.

Voices come first in the mix. These are songs firstly about the voice, of course. The sound is rough, aggressive like the feeling when you listen to the troops advancing and destruction is imminent. The three Serbian guests (or should I point out that zeitkratzer is the guest here?) present a small polyphonic ensemble of great capacity. zeitkratzer’s strings, many times, follow the path of their voices.

Placed, chronologically, around the first World War, the songs present clearly (even though I do not speak the language) that turbulent period of the Balkans. There’s a constant rhythmic throb – not only from the percussion instruments - that constitutes the formal basis of the songs and provide a backbone for the singers. Quite often you get the feeling of a chaotic free-jazz recording. When the reeds erupt it’s a battlefield and hell comes nearer to you. Noise, energy- a total blow-out.

These songs follow the paths of warriors. Of people fighting for all kinds of causes. Like in The Death of Artemio Cruz, Carlos Fuentes’ masterpiece, death will be the end of the road and freedom will never be totally gained – at last in this world. There will only be reminisces of it. Like these songs. This is a powerful recording.



Anonymous said...

Good review!
Small correction - Kosovo is integral part of Serbia.

Anonymous said...

Kosovo od not integral part od Serbia !!!!

MJG said...

Yes, very interesting review

As for Kosovo being integral to Serbia, it declared itself independent in 2008

from Wikipedia
"As of 27 February 2017, the Republic of Kosovo has received 115 diplomatic recognitions as an independent state. Notably, 111 out of 193 (57.5%) United Nations (UN) member states, 23 out of 28 (82%) European Union (EU) member states, 25 out of 29 (86%) NATO member states, and 36 out of 57 (63%) Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states have recognised Kosovo"

so it may well be the integral nature depends on from where you're viewing it

guy from Kosovo said...

Kosovo & Metohija are definitely integral parts of Serbia.