Balkan Bands are Raising Their Voice and Refuse to be Brainwashed – huckmagazine

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GG-HUCK-MagazineGipsy Groove – Balkan Bands are Raising Their Voice and Refuse to be Brainwashed

Last summer, in the Serbian city of Novi Sad, which lies on the banks of the Danube, Kosovan band Gypsy Groove performed as part of the city’s Street Musicians Festival. It’s a notable occasion. Read the papers, watch the football hooligans, and you might assume that Kosovans and Serbs don’t
get on, that there’s no shared interest, no shared identity.

“Two thousand people came to see us,” says Kafu, lighting a cigarette outside Dit’ e Nat’ in Pristina. Kafu – born Bajram Kinolli – is lead singer of the band. “They were dancing and were so happy and it was so nice, man. I said to everyone, ‘Don’t listen to the politics, come and visit Kosovo and see for yourself.’”

He pauses to inhale. “I don’t believe in nationalism. I believe in brainwashed people.”

Gypsy Groove’s blend of traditional Balkan Romani folk with more contemporary Western styles – jazz, reggae, punk – has lent them some notoriety in Pristina, and now the wider region, which allows them to travel from time to time. They are one of few bands that are afforded the privilege. Stiff visa regulations mean people from Kosovo find it tricky to visit any but a few select countries. “All bands here talk about freedom,” he says. “There are a lot of good musicians who can’t travel. How can we change ourselves, our society, if we can’t see other places, if we are not free?”

This frustration is helping ignite an independently minded music scene in Pristina. Similar to elsewhere, it rallies around a shared desire to express itself – as members of a young society, as individuals – and to establish an identity. Except here, in a country yet to celebrate its seventh birthday and where an often fierce nationalistic rhetoric steals headlines, there’s seemingly more at stake.

Often musicians come together to share instruments and swap ideas. Kafu tells me that there are some excellent jazz musicians in the city, and a good punk scene, too, which orbit around various rented garages. “It’s real punk,” he says. “Punk is way more Balkan than London, man.”

Culture For All, an EU initiative established to foster cultural diversity and dialogue in Kosovo, part funded the band’s second album. With little financial support for independent musicians in Pristina and such a small countrywide population – “From 2 million people I can say maybe 2,000 people listen to good music,” says Kafu – it’s a necessary alliance. But Kafu was determined to maintain the band’s independence. “If you want to give me money to record a CD, you are only giving me money to record a CD. If you want to control my lyrics, no fucking way. You are not artistic, you are a fucking politician.”

“The main thing with Gypsy Groove, is that we are focused on social issues,” he continues (one online article refers to him at ‘Kosovo’s Bob Marley’). “I think most of the problems that we face as young people in Pristina, in Kosovo – not just as Roma or Serbian or Albanian – is because of politics. They don’t have good communication with the youth here. And so I think music is the only way to communicate. Only through true music can we say something.”

Freddie Reynolds – HUCK Magazine


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