Music, Folk, country and blues
Mostar Sevdah Reunion
© Mostar Sevdah Reunion

Time Out says

Four-night festival of ethno/folk musics

The Balkan region has arguably the richest and most unique range of folk musics in the whole of Europe; nowhere other than here can you hear styles, scales and rhythms from the near east (and far east) infiltrate into authentic, local European folk music. Therefore, it's no surprise to find that at this first instalment of the ethno music festival, organisers have chosen to champion the sounds of the region, with folk musics of Macedonia, Bosnia and Dalmatia among those celebrated.

The emotionally-charged sevdalinka or sevdah is a traditional folk music from Bosnia. At a push, it could be described as the blues or soul music of the Balkans and since emerging with their debut album in 1999, festival guests on the first night, Mostar Sevdah Reunion (pictured) have placed the music on the world stage. They have played at Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Barbican Center in London, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Konzerthaus in Vienna, the Kremlin State Theater in Moscow, the Art Palace in Budapest, the North Sea Jazz Festival, the Nice Jazz Festival, WOMAD Festival and have had several documentaries made about them. The word sevdah comes from the Turkish word sevda which, in turn, derives from the Arabic word sawda, a word often associated with a pining heart or unrequited love. Updating their line-up with fresh talent and new musical possibilities, the band's current lead vocalists are Milutin Sretenović and Antonija Batinić, the former enabling the band to explore a classic catalogue of Romani songs alongside their jazz-inflected sevdah songs.

On the festival's second night, world music diva Bilja Krstić appears with her longstanding collaborators, the Bistrik Orchestra. Bilja Krstić is a music graduate of Belgrade University of Arts. While still finishing her studies, she started her career in pop music, attaining success first in bands Suncokret, alongside Bora Đorđević and Rani Mraz, with Đorđe Balašević. She launched her solo career in the '80s, but arguably her most exciting period began in the '90s when she embarked on a path to revitalise and preserve disappearing folk songs. She spent more than five years collecting obscure folk songs from Kosovo, south Serbia, Macedonia, east Serbia, Romania and Hungary, the stunning results presented on the albums 'Bistrik' (2001), 'Zapisi' (2003), 'Tarpoš' (2007),  'Izvorištе' (2013) and their latest 'Traditional Songs from Serbia & The Balkans – Svod' (2017), from which the ensemble will draw on the evening.

The festival's third night celebrates music from the country which provides the Balkan region with its most unique rhythms, Macedonia. The group Ljubojna have been around for around a decade and a half. Like the richly diverse folk platter of their homeland, they incorporate a wide variety of influences into their sound, including chill-out, pop, funk, soul plus oriental and belly dancing music. This exotic and contemporary frame is used to reinterpret some music which is at real risk of disappearing, but it also provides the ensemble's musicians with a template from which they can improvise and explore. The band have worked in collaboration with some of the biggest names in traditional Macedonian music. 

On the festival's final night, Croatian music gets its serenade, with Dalmatia's most famous musical style taking centre stage. Klapa is an acapella singing style synonymous with Dalmatia and extremely distinct among the acapella styles of Europe. On this occasion, it will be presented by the esteemed Klapa Cambi group, fronted by one of Split's most popular female singers, Zorica Kondža. Kondža started her musical career as a pop singer, firstly in the Stijene band, then as an accompanying singer to the region's giants like Oliver Dragojević and Mišo Kovač. Like her collaborators, she has been a standout favourite at the locally-important Split Festival and in her later career has also devoted significant time to recording more traditional sounds.


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