Lyrical and Madly Danceable, an Interview with Goran Bregovic

Goran Bregovic
Sarajevo-born Goran Bregovic is a renowned European musician of mixed Serbian and Croatian heritage. In recent years he has been showcasing his music throughout the world with large ensembles. He is currently touring North America with his Weddings & Funerals Orchestra. In an interview with World Music Central, Goran Bregovic provides details about what North American audiences will be experiencing this year:

Could you tell us about the music you are presenting during the 2011 North American tour?

I shall come with my big band, the Wedding and Funeral Orchestra, which gives me an opportunity to present a large variety of my music. There will be 19 musicians on stage: a sextet of male voices, a string quartet plus my soloists: 5 brass players, 2 Bulgarian voices, a singer/drummer + myself. You will hear songs from my new album “Champagne for Gypsies” and from the previous album “Sljivovica”. Also pieces from my opera “Karmen with a Happy End” and some older favorites… But I shall also perform some parts of my lay liturgy “My Heart has become tolerant” and from my newest piece “Margot, memoirs of an unhappy queen”.

Tell us a little about the musicians you are bringing for this tour.

Like my music – my orchestra is an unlikely mix of extremes: gypsies, traditional musicians, Bulgarian voices, a classical string quartet, a sextet of male voices who sing spiritual music when they don’t perform with me…

How are American audiences reacting to your music so far?

They seemed to enjoy my previous two tours – I hope that will be the case with this one too.

How did you choose the name Weddings and Funerals Orchestra?

Goran Bregovic and the Weddings and Funerals Orchestra - Photo by Stephanie Berger
Brass bands in the Balkans originate from the military tradition, they begun in the period of the Balkan wars and the First World War. There were no music academies in these regions and they needed military music. The simplest way was to buy a trumpet for the Gypsies, because they are fast to catch on any instrument. Thus, from then on, there sprung hundreds of such bands in between Budapest and Istanbul and all stem from the military tradition.

Even today they play on those same instruments which, as much as you tune them, always remain slightly out of tune. Naturally, they started as military bands, but being in the hands of Gypsies, they soon started playing at weddings, for dancing. They also played at funerals as it is a custom here that at the funeral the deceased should have the music he liked in his lifetime, and after the funeral everyone eats and drinks for the soul of the departed, so funerals and weddings are not in essence very different here as they are in other parts of the world. Since some of my musicians – a great mix of classically trained and traditional players – used to play Weddings and Funerals, I started calling the band that name for fun and then it stuck….

Where are you based now?

In Paris, where my family lives. I live in Paris because it is one of rare places on earth where being Yugoslav does not necessarily imply that you are a pick-pocket or a manual worker: there it is possible to be Yugoslav and an artist. But since I am a local composer, I need to be located on territory where my music stems from – the Balkans, so I work in Belgrade and spend holidays in my house on the Adriatic coast.

Are you following the musical scenes in Sarajevo and Belgrade?

I play 150 concerts a year and compose & record new music – if the musical scene doesn’t come to me, I won’t have the time to follow it.

Why do you think there is so much interest in Balkan Gypsy music and brass bands?

Balkan music contains very strong and complex rhythms – this is what the audience likes in it. The good thing is that DJs have started to take interest in the Balkan music and opened it up to a young audience in dance halls. I heard that half of the audience in my concert at Lincoln Center in New York were DJs. That has a reverse effect and gives us the feeling that the Balkan music also brings something new. “Gas-Gas” (on my CD “Alkohol”) is the first song for which Universal Music gave the permission to be re-mixed and I am very happy about this adventure with Shantel. My arrangements are mostly somewhat baroque, it’s not a bad thing that sometimes someone simplifies them.

Your album Alkohol seems to have two volumes, Champagne and Sljivovica? What’s the story behind that?

My new CD is a live record entitled “Alkohol” and divided in two chapters: the first Sljivovica named after our national drink, plum brandy, was recorded live Guca in the Summer of 2007. Guca is a small town of maybe 20.000 inhabitants in Serbia that holds an annual contest of brass bands in August and swells to 150.000 people who – shaded by tents in scorching heat – drink, eat grilled meat and sourkraut the Serbian way and drink and listen to the music and drink again for three days…. which explains the title. Songs recorded in Guca have not been published before and are meant to be listened and danced to and accompanied by strong drinks…

Are you working on new albums or film music?

I am now finishing the second chapter of “Alkohol” entitled Champagne for Gypsies (to be released in 2012). It is meant to remind us of our favorite gypsy musicians who left a trace in popular culture around the world – Gypsy Kings, Ayo, Florin Salam, Stephane Eicher and who have accepted to perform my music on this CD…

I also work on my opera “Orfeo di Bregovic”, due in 2012-2013 composed for my Wedding and Funeral Band (the core of 9 musicians plus solo singer and a conductor) + local choir and orchestra, It will be made with a minimal set and costumes and the action will be placed in today’s context and sung part in Roma language, part in Italian. Our Orfeo will not play a lyre but he will sing with irresistible beauty. Music will range from lyrical to madly danceable, and will be an original work with only a few quotes from Monteverdi.

Last Sunday, October 16th, Goran Bregovic and the Weddings and Funerals Orchestra played for an enthusiastic audience at Page Auditorium at Duke University (Durham, North Carolina). The repertoire included film compositions as well as pieces from his most recent album. Expect the unexpected when you see Goran Bregovic and his Wedding and Funeral Orchestra live. There are moments when you may think you are at a classical music concert, but the ambiance will change abruptly with the powerful (and loud) sounds of the brass band. While at times the audience sat calmly, during other occasions, the Balkan beats got most of the audience up and dancing feverishly.

Bregovic’s Alkohol is his first album to be released in North America. Welcome to Goran Bregovic, his first best-of record, is also available in North America through Wrasse Records.

The orchestra of virtuoso musicians currently touring includes:

Goran Bregovic, composer, on guitars, synthesizer, and vocals

Brass band

Muharem Redzepi, drums, vocals
Bokan Stankovic, trumpet
Dalibor Lukic, trumpet
Stojan Dimov, saxophone
Milos Mihajlovic, trombone
Aleksandar Rajkovic, trombone

Bulgarian singers

Ludmila Radkova-Trajkova, vocals
Daniela Radkova-Aleksandrova, vocals

Vocal sextet

Dejan Pesic, tenor
Nenad Cica, tenor
Igor Arizanovic, tenor
Vladimir Rumenic, baritone
Dusan Ljubinkovic, bass
Sinisa Dutina, bass

String ensemble

Ivana Matejic, violin
Bojana Jovanovic, violin
Sasa Mirkovic, viola
Tatjana Jovanovic, cello

Remaining Tour Dates

10/19 – New York, NY – Carnegie Hall
10/21 – Toronto, CA – Sony Centre
10/22 – Montreal, CA – Metropolis
10/25 – Houston, TX – Jones Hall
10/26 – Los Angeles, CA – Disney Hall
10/27- Vancouver, CA – The Vogue Theatre
10/28 – Oakland, CA – Paramount Theatre

Buy Alkohol

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


2 thoughts on “Lyrical and Madly Danceable, an Interview with Goran Bregovic”

  1. Saw the free show in Toronto at a square in the downtown core. Thousands of people gathered around watched. Was a great show… the liveliness of the music goes hand in hand with alcohol. Just a good time all around and very different from the everyday boring norm!

  2. I would like to know who is singing and playing the accordion with Goran in Balkaneros? Thanks, D

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