Thursday, October 23, 2008

Not only rock 'n' roll--Goran Bregovic at MIAF

I saw the most extraordinary gig as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival last week. In fact, it was so extraordinary I went back and saw it again—firstly at the Arts Centre and then a somewhat wilder version at Becks Bar. Anyone else who was there will already know who I’m talking about. It was Serbian composer and musician Goran Bregovic—surely one of Festival Director Kristy Edmunds’ greatest coups (and she’s had a few!). I have truly never been to anything like it. Even in the usually tame Hamer Hall, the atmosphere was electric and the audience was going nuts—dancing in the aisles and yelling for more… It is a cliché, I know, but his is the kind of music that plants a seed of pure joy.

What I previously knew of Bregovic’s music was through his soundtracks for films like Black Cat White Cat, Time of the Gypsies, Underground and Queen Margot. (My friend Pia was told by the leader of her Bulgarian choir that she must go and see this man at the Festival—he is the real deal.) He came with his Orchestra for Weddings and Funerals—a masterful combination of two superb Bulgarian women singers, percussionist and singer Alen Ademovic (also divine in all sorts of ways I won't go into here), a Serbian male choir and a gypsy string orchestra, with Bregovic’s own 70s rock sensibility. Not great footage but you can check them out here.

Bregovic became a teen idol in his home country with his first rock band, White Button. He says: "In those times, rock had a capital role in our lives. It was the only way we could make our voice heard, and publicly express our discontent without risking jail (or just about)...". A philosophy and sociology student, he was apparently set to become a teacher of Marxist thought had the gigantic success of his first record not taken him on this far more heady path. Now he is mixing up traditional Yugoslavian folk with electric grooves to create something truly exhilarating.

At Becks Bar, the Balkan Community was out in force (were there any Eastern European Melburnians at home that night?!), dancing on the tables in a kind of fevered celebration of everything that music stirs up for a culture that has suffered so much. It was like being at some rowdy, hot-blooded, exotic party where everything means so much more than could ever be said--or that any outsider could imagine. I have never before experienced anything like it. Mind-blowing.

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