The Gothenburg Balkan scene is a wild fusion of many different styles of music from Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. I have visited numerous arenas, clubs, venues and forgotten dance-floors during my twenty-five years in this city on Sweden’s west coast – and here is my little guide to the Balkans in Gothenburg.
There are plenty of acts and artists that have had a major impact on the Balkan music scene in Gothenburg. I have met with most of these individuals, visited their sites and took part in their spirit and sound. Lyrics, fashion and music convey dreams, feelings of homesickness and wanderlust, love and desire for change. Loved and hated variously, and not always let into the great salons, Balkan music offers each generation of musicians in exile new communities and a free zone for personal expression.
There are a lot of musical gems to discover in this city. In the course of attending many concerts I have gotten to know “the scene”, as it were. Gothenburg (or Göteborg in Swedish) is one of those relatively small cities that punches far above its weight, music-and-culture-wise.
Sweden’s second largest city (roughly 550,000 inhabitants has given birth to some of the world’s best selling pop – both past and present. But this is just one side of the coin. The flipside is the Götenborg Balkan Festival, an event I started in 2013, with many local and international acts like Disciplina Kičme (Serbia), Leiner & Hrnjak Band (Croatia),Vlatko Stefanovski (Macedonia), Goran Bare & Majke (Croatia), Gipsy Groove (Kosovo), Darko Rundek (Croatia). Check us out at www.gbgbalkanfestival.webs.com.
The local Balkan bands worth mentioning are Dremka, Räfven, Andra Generationen, Svarta Safirer, Kopanitsa and Bosnia Express – the last of which was founded in 2001, inspired by street musicians from Africa and South America who performed on the streets of Gothenburg. Bosnia Express wanted to do something similar with Balkan music, presenting it to the Swedes. Mostar Sevdah Reunion was the role model, insofar as they preformed modern arrangements of traditional Bosnian sevdah music.
The band’s initial repertoire consisted almost entirely of covers of sevdah tunes. Right from the start they got people’s attention with their energetic style in jazz club, festivals, rock events and ethno gigs.
The line-up has changed over the years, as more than 30 musicians from all parts of the world ended up playing in the band. The current constellation consists of musicians from Sweden, Bosnia, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Mexico/USA.
In 2003 they recorded their first album Götenborg Sevdah Blues with covers of sevdah songs. In 2009 they recorded their second album, Too Much Balkan Business and the third Himzo & Hendrix, Himzo Polovina (1927-1986) being one of the best interpreters of Sevdah – Bosnia’s orientalized love songs. An interesting biographical note: as a neuropsychiatrist, he first started using music therapy in the treatment of his patients at the psychiatric clinic in Sarajevo.
The new album “Tito Naser Nehru” will be released in 2020. Stylistically, it bespeaks a mixture of Balkan, Gypsy, blues, funk and rock influences. An unusual repertoire and interactive stage performance makes the band an interesting live act to follow. Their songs are mostly in Bosnian and are often parodies of old songs. Often the humor they convey is impossible to translate for the wider Swedish public.
2017 was a particularly good year for Bosnia Express. In addition to the usual gigs. One of their songs was also used in a film, Vilken jävla circus by the famous Swedish actress and director Helena Bergström, in which the band members play a circus orchestra from the Balkans. On the website for Musikvcentrum Väst/MCV – a non-profit association and music agency for musicians in Sweden – they are presented as the best Balkan Gypsy Oriental rock band in Scandenavia. Check them out here at www.mcv.se/bosniaexpress.
By Alismir Jugo