In her monthly report, Lucia Udvardyova tracks the movements in and from the best of the Central and Eastern European sonic underground, distilling the best of her Easterndaze blog. Read previous editions of the column here.
Our 2013 Balkan journey commences in Novi Sad, the capital of the Vojvodina municipality, a former Austro-Hungarian territory. From the eerie train station we head straight to CK13 to catch Ubuweb‘s Kenneth Goldsmith perform his “uncreativity” manifesto.
The next day we head towards the Serb-Bosnian border, incredibly picturesque, its hilly topography cloaked in late afternoon summer sunshine. We cross the border twice, accidentally, and after a downhill drive arrive into the valley of Sarajevo. The city seems fragile, surrounded by mountains; an easy target. I expect ominous atmospheres and wounded environs—a sort of post-cataclysmic voyeurism. Instead, it’s bustling with people roaming the streets, it’s Ramadan and the mosques are lit. Our frantic search for underground local musicians proves futile: everyone had escaped the city heat before we arrived, the harsh noise band and owners of the Zvukovina label, who I mentioned in the previous column, are holidaying in Croatia. The owners of the dance label Adriatiko only return after our departure.
The morning light reveals the omnipresent holes in the wall from the shrapnel and bomb particles but otherwise the city has been more or less been “rebuilt” from scratch. We pass the city market where dozens of civilians were killed two decades ago and head to the History Museum, where a permanent collection titled Sarajevo Siege displays mementos of the atrocities that this scenic city underwent in the ’90s. The makeshift DIY objects—a homemade lamp or a flask—catch my attention amid photos of the dead, injured, the guns and the war criminals. Even at the worst of times, the necessities of everyday life turn people into ad hoc bricoleurs. The unbearable heat mixed with the images I see makes me feel nauseous. Later, we meet Dženana Aganspahic, a musicology student and a musician who was born at the beginning of the war in 1992. We go to Baščaršija, the tourist-infested old town with an old bazaar built in the 15th century. Dženana performed at the AvantAvantGarde festival in Cologne earlier this year with her rotating pan, an archaic and traditional Bosnian technique practised by women in the villages who appropriated this cooking instrument as an impromptu sonic machine. How is life in Bosnia nowadays, twenty years later, we wonder (and realize that the war inevitably creeps into every conversation we have and how tiring it must be for the locals)? “I don’t know why but we are really happy. We enjoy life. It doesn’t matter if we have money or not. We have two marks, we drink a beer with two marks. People have a sense of humour and love other people, even the tourists who are visiting us. We are really open people, to others, but in our minds we don’t like anything, just what we need to. It’s like brainwashing.”
The following day we spontaneously decide to visit a musician from Banja Luka after he responds to our email. The description on his Soundcloud account states: “Audio-visual artist from the ass of the world with no money, no job and an old computer”—sounds promising. Banja Luka is the capital of the Republika Srpska region, one of the two main autonomous areas of Bosnia in the north of the country, the land that spawned Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić. Though its only about 140 km from Sarajevo, the coach ride takes about six hours. The landscape, once again, is beautiful. Hit by stifling heat, we stumble out of the coach and take the cab to the retirement home where the musician works as a waiter for 200 euros a month. We enter the luxury hotel-like premises, with several curious octogenarians shuffling about. Della La, his musical nom de plume, has just finished his lunch shift and we sit down and talk about music, making art in a void, messed up politics, the past and the present. A sense of hopelessness pervades the air, mixed with a peculiar opti/pessimism and resilience, which we’ve encountered many times before during our travels in this region. The post-communist malaise, perhaps. After an hour we leave and embark on another six hour bus journey back to Sarajevo and have a beer at the Caffe Tito decorated with various objects of Yugoslav nostalgia.
While my friends head to the Pyramids of Bosnia, “the most active pyramid site in the world dating the pyramid complex back 25,000 years”, apparently, I take a coach to Dubrovnik in Croatia. The latest EU member proves a different universe after Bosnia. I pay nine euros for a three minute cab ride and two euros for a bread roll at a local bakery. Turbo-capitalism at its best. Welcome to Europe. ~