Welcome to our blog!

Day 9: Faces of Serbia

By Folk Combo, Feb 12 2015 09:50PM

On how Folk Combo went to Serbia, jammed with gypsies, were adopted by the lovely couple Zivena and Charles in Belgrade, visited the Küstendorf Film Festival in Mokra Gora, met Mara from the MakaMara and other unforseen adventures starring mud, snow and rakija.

We entered Serbia and took the national roads in the direction of Belgrade. The fog was so dense we could hardly see a thing. Suddenly, on the side of the road, we saw smoke, flames and silhouets of people...with instruments! We looked at each other, stopped, reversed, and parked the Villa next to a gypsy party. They were celebrating the Orthodox New Year, playing and singing, drinking, eating and making a fire...with car tires. We introduced ourselves, grabbed our instruments and played along. The wine bottle went from hand to hand and we were invited to join their dinner, a menu of frozen pork, bread and very spicy chilli peppers. After the dinner we gave them a taste of our Folk Combo repertoire. When the smell of burning rubber was getting a little overwhelming, we thanked them for the party, the drinks and the food. But they didn't want us to leave! The father reached for his pockets and wanted to pay us for our music, a gypsy custom. He became quite emotional, giving us big hugs with kisses when we left. We got back in the car and drove off, leaving in a haze of rubber fumes, alcohol and music. Finally, we found genuine gypsy musicians!

We arrived in Belgrade later that evening and went for a busking session, eager to test the water of this Balkan metropole. After getting a good buch of reactions, charming winks and dinnars ;-) the cherry on the top was still coming. Half way in one of our songs a man and woman came to us, they asked: "Where are you sleeping?". "In the car", we replied. "Ohh, well, you can stay at our place" they told us. Astonished, together we drove with them to their house. Charles and Zivana Alverson live in a beautiful apartment in Zemun, a city on the other side of the Danube river touching Belgrade. In our conversations with Zivana we had the chance to learn and understand the history of Serbia through her experienced eyes of a journalist. Endless nocturnal conversations spiced up with cigarres and good laughs led to deep reflections on how history develops more through people lives than through static monographs inevitably conditionated by the one who writes them. Charles Alverson shared with us the adventures he went through being a young freelance writer traveling from the Caribbean till Morocco and how now, overseeing his 70’s, writing is still a way to keep travelling . Both young spirits offered to us everything they have and gave us the opportunity to see the Symphonic Orchestra of Belgrade and to meet its musicians, to discover the markets, streets and corners of Zemun; in other words, to be part of their everyday lives. Our project also inspired them to get an interview for us with Radio Belgrade 2 by Miska Knezevic. Here we would like to make a special thanks to them, for their kindness, generosity and hospitality. Dear Zivana and Charles, thank you so much for everything!

In the library of Belgrade we met Vesna Aleksandrovic, a teacher and professor at the department of music. She was very friendly and helpful in our search of Serbian folk music. Together we selected a compilation of recordings and transcriptions to add to our music database. We also talked about the state of art of folk music in Serbia, which seems to be in an endangered state due to a new predator, the loud and noisy turbofolk. This modern and speeded up version of what used to be folk music is gaining a lot of popularity, subculture like, as the music of the nouveau riche. Allthough, at that point we haven't listened to any turbofolk, we would get our share of it the next evening. We ended up in a bar where we expected to find traditional music but found this instead. No acoustic instruments and traditional costumes but keyboards, electric guitars, the latest fashion trends and a decibel level so unnaturally loud that it makes the ears bleed. In probably less than half an hour, we looked at each other and got the folk out of there.

After Belgrade, we went to Mokra Gora to attend the Film & Music Festival in Küstendorf, a village created by the film director Emir Kusturica. Our main reason for going were the Taraf de Haidouks, the famous gypsy ensemble that would perform there. At the festival we ran into Zivana and Charles from Belgrade which was a very nice rendez vous. Zivana even talked to Mr. Kusturica to ensure that we wouldn't be kicked out of the parking lot where we were camping with theVilla. We didn't have any accreditation for the festival and the overseer was getting a bit annoyed with our presence (thank you Zivana, again) So we could stay and hang around as musicologists. We recorded some of the music concerts and met some interesting people among the other visitors, like the future of Serbia, a group of inspirational youngsters with whom we talked and discussed until the late night hours. The highlights of the festival were Adam Stinga with the Novi Sad Big Band, who completely blew our minds, and the movie The Owners by director Adilkhan Yerzhanov.

From Mokra Gora we went to Uzice. First we didn't think much of this city but luckily we discovered its beautiful parts a while later. We went for a busking session which seemed to cheer up the people who were really enjoying our musical contribution on that greyish afternoon. Afterwards we got kicked out from our spot by the police for bringing all this positive energy and musical vibrations. In those circumstances we met Mara, who invited us to play at his bar after hearing our street performance. At his bar, the MakaMara, we played a gig for a slightly indifferent audience - the paradox of the context: in the streets music colours the space while in a room fights for attention -. Next day, after a walk in the canyons around Uzice by Mara’s hand, we discovered the poet inside of this man of humble smiles, simple, peaceful life with effective proverbs that Gijs would repeat for a few days: “Traveling is the treasure of the mind”. We had lunch together at a picturesque fish restaurant in Potpeće and, after that comforting afternoon, we said goodbye to Mara hoping that one day his travelling nature will bring him to Spain or the Netherlands where we could return the favour of sharing such a nice time with us.

We left Uzice and went to Visočka to find the natural thermal pools hidden in the mountains. We found the pools but while trying to park the Villa it got stuck...again! The ground next to the river was very soft and, without us realizing it, one side of the car was slowly sinking into the mud. Since the probability of another cavalry rescue unit from Romania was quite small, we had no choice but to stay there that night and await the light of day to look for help. Trying not to think about the poor Villa, we went on with our bathing plans. The next morning we woke up covered in snow and, unable to recognize the tracks, our chances to escape seemed to shrink with every snowflake. While David was digging out the wheels of the car with a snow scraper, Gijs walked up the hill to find somebody that might offer us a helping hand. He found a house, knocked on the door and a man and woman opened. Gijs was invited in and tried to convey the message about the situation with the car using a pen and paper to draw pictures after which they seemed to understand the situation. The woman made coffee and the man poured him a shot of rakija, and another one, and another one, živeli! at 11 o'clock in the morning. In the meantime David had been working in the dirt with frozen hands and no coffee or drinks for consolation. Gijs, cheerful and tipsy, came back with Mr. Vukosav and together with his help we managed to put the Villa back on solid ground. More rakija's were poured after this victorious liberation and we thanked Mr. Vukosav, our savior in the snow, for all his help. We made our way out of the snowy mountains trough a tricky and treacherous road and after having survived this perilous journey we concluded our time in Serbia with the concert of the Taraf de Haidouks before heading on to the next chapter.

Feb 14 2015 04:47PM by Patrice

Wauw, what a very nice story David and Gijs!!

Add a comment
* Required

Welcome to


The Balkan Adventures

Folk Combo