Songlines Music Awards Winner

Best Artist: Goran Bregovic

Album: Alkohol (Wrasse Records)

Goran Bregovic Buy this issueClick to listen

click to download Songlines feature pdf

Perhaps feigning modesty, Goran Bregovic seemed delighted to hear that he'd won Best Artist in the Songlines Music Awards. "It's so weird for someone from where I live to know that even people in England are interested in what we're doing," he said on the phone from his home in Belgrade. "It's nice to know that people are interested in ".

Bregovic is certainly underselling the impact he's had on the profile of Balkan music in the West thanks to his soundtracks to Kusturica's films and his new incarnation as a live musician with his Wedding and Funeral Band.

He was born in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo to a Croatian Catholic father, Serbian Orthodox mother and he has a Muslim wife - a clear demonstration of why the break-up of Yugoslavia proved so painful. He first became famous as a rock'n'roll star in the 1970s with his band Bijelo Dugme. But then came the soundtracks for Time of the Gypsies (1988) and Arizona Dream (1993). Kusturica was in Paris working on the music for the latter film when the wars started in Croatia and Bosnia. "My grandfather and father were both officers in the army," says Bregovic, "so I was lucky I wasn't in Sarajevo at the beginning of the war." The siege of Sarajevo lasted four years, which Bregovic spent in exile.

"Suddenly I found myself in a situation where I had to start again from zero. Then I began to understand why such a huge part of the history of art belongs to exiled artists. From the distance of exile, you see your own culture better and have more confidence in it." After a "cathartic two years," came the brilliant Balkan brass score for Underground (1995), a darkly satirical film about the break-up of Yugoslavia.

"I always loved Gypsy music, right from the beginning. My first job as a teenager was playing in a strip-tease bar and my dad said 'I hope you're not going to do this Gypsy job!' But even as a rock'n'roll artist we'd have a Gypsy band as our support or have a traditional band on-stage."

Goran BregovicSongs like 'Ederlezi,' 'Kalashnikov' and 'Mesecina' (made famous by Time of the Gypsies and Underground) are now essential at every Bregovic concert and Balkan party. "They are a great way for the Gypsy musicians to make some tips," says Bregovic. He dismisses accusations of plagiarism or assuming authorship of traditional material: "What is the history of art? It's a history of stealing from life. Every composer has taken what's around him - Bartók, Stravinsky - it's the time-tested way of making music."

Bregovic's last album Alkohol was recorded live at the Guca festival in Serbia. "The musicians are not so good in studios," he laughs. "They are much better looking at women dancing and absorbing the atmosphere. It's how people understand music here. It's always for drinking so I don't have to make too many excuses for this."

Bregovic has been invited back to Guca for a concert on August 18 - as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations. I tell him that we have a Songlines Music Travel trip planned and he extends a kind invitation: "I hope you'll all come and have a drink with me."

Simon Broughton

Back to top