Bregovic has always been a controversial figure in the music world. In frequent conversations with musicians from the former Yugoslavia who now live and work all over the world I came across many different responses to his work. Many people are disappointed because he does not seem to write much new music in his film opus or for the live tours with the “Weddings and Funerals Band.” The rest of the world seems to love dancing under the stars to the sounds of the “Weddings and Funerals Band.”
The controversial ambassador’s more current creative work, his retrospective outlook on the transition from rock to Balkan ethnic music and development of hybrid genres are portrayed through “Bregovic about Bregovic” framework that is constructed from his descriptions and explanations about the evolution of his musical processes.
Significant aspects that are valuable to both my theoretical research and development of creative projects address Bregovic’s acknowledgment of the relationship between emotional, cultural and artistic connections with the homeland and his creative output.
He discusses the Yugoslav war and loss of homeland, on an emotional, artistic and creative, but not political level. Some of this discussion explains his choices to recycle music even in foreign productions. Bregovic even talks about his laziness. His discussion about the importance of mother tongue (specifically for songwriters and other text-based musicians) is particularly important.
The loss of homeland and of the opportunity to express his artistry in his mother tongue led Bregovic to collaborate with other musicians and appropriate his text-based works according to different project requirements.
Bregovic talks about all these aspects of his post-“White Button” career with funny, yet sentimental honesty.
I never liked working. My biography is a typical biography of a lazy man. As a pensioner I discovered that I liked working. I never worked in my life, except for the past two years, and that came as the result of the war. The consequence of the war is that I also do not have a homeland.
When I talk of homeland, for someone who writes songs that has different connotations then for those who simply left their houses. Of course, I left my house too, but that does not matter. In any case, I am left without homeland. That is a disability for those who write songs, because I can no longer write songs, can no longer write in my language.
That is why I only recycle songs now. I live abroad and when I give Iggy “On the Backseat Of My Car” he makes “In the Deathcar” as a result of it. I am forced to make compromised derivations; I can no longer control my materials from beginning to end.
I am extracted from my homeland, culturally, mentally and emotionally and in the beginning I was frightened and repulsed by it, but now I am enjoying it. If I look back now I feel my city and my country as some sort of a frame, and objectively a small frame, but the one I enjoyed back then.
(Bregovic in Popovic, 1996)
Both Arizona Dream and Queen Margot soundtracks show many examples of musical recycling. In the Arizona Dream soundtrack Bregovic displays several of his “White Button” songs as appropriated in collaboration with Iggy Pop.
In the Deathcar is an arrangement of Na zadnjem sjedistu moga auta (On the Backseat of my Car) from the 1979 album Bitanga i princeza (A Thug and a Princess). TV Screen was recycled from Da te Bogdo ne volim (I Wish to God I Didn’t Love You) that was on the band’s self titled album from 1984. The provocative 1986 album Pljuni i zapjevaj moja Jugoslavijo (Spit and Sing My Yugoslavia) seems to be the most resourceful source of materials that were recycled for the two soundtracks. Get the Money from Arizona Dream is an arrangement of Haj’mo u planine (Let’s Go to the Mountains).
There are several examples of recycled works from this album on the Queen Margot soundtrack. The most famous theme from this soundtrack is Elo Hi performed by Ofra Haza – this is an arrangement of the song Te noci (On That Night). The track titled La nuit that is heard in the opening film scene is an arrangement of the song Ruzica (Little Rose). La chasse – music for the hunting scene is developed from the recontextualised instrumental section of Nocas je k’o lubenica pun mjesec iznad Bosne (The Moon Over Bosnia Tonight is As Big and Round As a Watermelon).
Bregovic also recontextualises his use of various ensemble configurations.
Dreams from Arizona Dream and Le matin and Margot from Queen Margot exploit vocal writing in a similar fashion – large vocal ensembles accompany a solo female voice. In both cases the melodies are evocative of traditional Balkan and even of sacred Orthodox music –this musical quality highlights their conceptual importance and places them in the overall ideological structure of both the film and its accompanying soundtrack.
In his portrayal of the conceptual “otherness” Bregovic accentuates the traditional elements in original composition and diminishes the rock influences of his pre-existing materials. In Queen Margot we are audio conceptually brought to understand the “Orientalism” of Margot’s position through the power of her accompanying musical motives. The depth and importance of dreams and fantasy for the film characters in Arizona Dream are amplified through the quasi-liturgical qualities of Dreams.
The recycling of old materials have resulted in the recurrence of musical forms in Bregovic’s soundtrack opus. Elo Hi from Queen Margot and In the Deathcar from Arizona Dream have a similar structure. Both works are recycled from Bregovic’s pre-existing rock materials. The melodies of the verses are as similar to the old versions in Serbo-Croatian as possible because the new texts are written in other languages. Bregovic also develops the second melody that sometimes serves as the counter-part to the sung one or as an instrumental bridge between verses.
Finally, the portrayal of the “Orient-Occident” duplicity and the introduction to big “turning points” in all three films is expressed through big choral and electro-symphonic writing. The representative compositions include the two versions of Ederlezi (the electro-acoustic version heard in the scene of St George’s Day celebration and the vocal version from the scene of Azra’s death), 7/8 & 11/8 and Death (from the scene of Dooey’s journeys through Alaskan whiteness and the scene of Grace’s death) and La nuit de St Barthelemey (from the scene of St Barthelemy’s night massacre.)
Bregovic – the controversial Balkan musical ambassador also discuses those less flattering aspects of his creative history. Using informal Serbo-Croatian full of colourful expressions that describe his lack of formal musical training Bregovic talks of his work, of the democratisation of music and its accessibility to people with different levels of ability and educational background.
Fortunately we always had enough money, to pay someone who knew what I needed - I always had the best musicians and conductors. And my role was to have it all blowing around me.
(Bregovic, October, 2001)
Bregovic’s work with different aspects of traditional music has not only led him to expose the Balkan music in cross-genre collaborations, but has also provided solid ground for many other artists with similar interests and led to various further collaborations. It is also interesting that many of Bregovic’s partners from film projects have some collaborative past among themselves. One of such collaborative partnerships is between Iggy Pop and Ofra Haza.
Haza also remains one of the key musicians that inspired Bregovic to continue the work with traditional music. He frequently talks about the impact she had on his understanding of the importance of traditional music both on the world music scene and in the development of any individual musician’s creative consciousness.
I remember the first intense emotion on the MTV awards night. Can you imagine what it looks like, what a parade of stars? Ofra Haza appeared in the middle of it all. She came on all alone, dressed in a traditional costume and performed a traditional song. The night had been full of good music up until that point, but what made me say “God why haven’t we got this?” was the pride and conviction with which she performed that song. Proud that she sings a song from Yemen, the country that is difficult to find on the map, but she believed that what she had sung is valuable, worth singing that night – that is something we have always missed.
(Bregovic in Popovic, 1996)
The beautiful voice behind the most famous Queen Margot soundtrack number Elo Hi remains one of the contributing forces that inspired Bregovic to make a new creative beginning built upon recycling of his old materials. International success has not changed Bregovic’s views on the importance of traditional music. He discusses his choices through various quirky metaphors.
It’s like going for a quick bite in Macdonald’s. When you are eating seriously, you eat your food, the same with music. You listen to MTV quickly, but seriously you listen to your own music.
The second part of the title “The Sound Synthesis of the Balkans” was extrapolated from the journalist Alvaro Feito’s article with the title: “Bregovic-Sound Synthesis of the Balkans” (El Mundo, 26/04/01)
To pre-empt some of the topics from the final chapter I connected Bregovic’s techniques of appropriation to some ideas about Vasko Popa’s (the writer whose poetry I used in the creative project) work. According to Ted Hughes (see reference list) “Popa’s language is universal (and close to music, in that respect), therefore when the poetic texture of the verbal code is cancelled (in translation to other languages) the readers are left with a solid stream of events that are meaningful in a direct way.”
Gourgouris, S., (2002) Hypnosis and Critique (Film Music From the Balkans), In: D.I.Bjelic& O. Savic, Balkan as a Metaphor; Between Globalisation and Fragmentation, Cambridge, London, (part III)
Ditchev, I., (2002) The Eros of Identity, In:D.I.Bjelic& O. Savic, Balkan as a Metaphor; Between Globalisation and Fragmentation, Cambridge, London, (part II)
Paraphrasing Ditchev’s terminology for the Balkan artists promoting the local culture
Iggy Pop (Bregovic’s main Arizona Dream collaborator) appears on Ofra Haza’s album Kirya, as the narrator in Daw Da Hiya, an ethno-pop number about traditional life-style in the Middle East. For further details access: Haza, O., (1992) Kirya Shanachie Entertainments Corp./East West Records, Germany.