INTERVIEWSROBERT ŠOKO in INTERVIEW for a HUNGARIAN MAGAZINE ➥ SEPTEMBER 2015
Culture recycling – this is on the opening page of your website. What does this culture recycling mean to you?
More than just a cultural project, it is a cultural battle – a fight for the beautiful elements which constitute this culture of mine not to be forgotten, to remain actual. By playing original or remixed versions of these traditional tunes, I give them a space not only on my dancefloor and in the world music scene, but also in the memories of the young people who constitute my audience.
Do you remember your „first date” with the balkan music?
I remember my father used to sing a lot when I was a kid. I made a remix out of these memories, “Bembasha”, which is in my latest album, Soundlab. He sang it to me when I was small, and a few years ago, I was looking over the roofs of Sarajevo, when a waiter played this song. That was a magic moment. As for my first date with BalkanBeats, that was back in 1993. As Yugoslavia was torn apart, I wanted to bring my country-mates under the same flag again, that of music. We would celebrate Tito’s birthday together, out of irony and nostalgia, at a time when “Balkan” only rhymed with war and refugees.
What makes balkan music so special for you?
First, it’s the music of my soul, that in which I “marinated”. For all the years of punk and rock I have listened to, when I am truly vulnerable, I want Balkan sounds. I think what makes our region of the Balkan special is that it is a point where Eastern and Western cultures meet. Truly. They have lived together for centuries and none of them has really taken the upper-hand. Both cultures just have to compose with each other. This transpires in the music and is what makes it universal, and modern.
As I know you performed balkan parties in Mexico and in Japan. What was their reaction for this very distant, very unique music?
Well, that’s the thing about BalkanBeats. Wherever I go, the audiences just embrace it immediately. From the East to the West. Everyone understands the language of trumpets. Of course, it is also a skill I have developed over the years: to rapidly analyze the dynamic of the crowd and get my “musical dosage” right, depending on their ears. My job is to make this music palatable to everyone, and it looks like I’ve done a pretty good job so far!
You started to organize the BalkanBeats events in 1993. According to the last 20 years of the shows, which was the golden age of the Balkanbeats? Does this music find its way to the youth of the XXI. Century?
Come to my parties in Berlin or elsewhere and you’ll have an answer! In Berlin, I have people who have followed me since my very first parties and people who are here for the first time and are almost the age of my young son. That’s the great thing about culture-recycling: the music can develop depending on new trends, yet retain its authentic essence.
As for the golden age, it is difficult to say. We had a peak of interest at some point, which lead to “Balkan parties” mushrooming in Berlin and elsewhere. Now this wave seems to have passed, leaving BalkanBeats as an established World Music genre. I believe we are entering a new phase, and I am very much looking forward to it.
You’ve already had 3 Balkanbeats sets in the last few weeks in Germany and in Barcelona. Did you have any remarkable moments during these shows?
Those shows are a good illustration of what I previously said. I never played in Konstanz, and the party was so hot that the organizers starred at me in disbelief. I did not expect such an explosion, but it naturally happened. It was the same in Barcelona, although I could not speak with people there, who all proudly use Catalan. In Berlin, I have had parties for 25 years, yet, the explosion was there once again. It does not happen every time, but for some reason, the energy which came out of these three sets was incredible.
If you could make a live balkan-style band, which musicians would you choose for the line-up? How many instruments would you use?
I will stop you there: I am no musician. My art is to know how to make a group of strangers who have never listened to Balkan music before jump of joy for hours in a circle where they suddenly have friends. I can tell you what’s going to be hot on a dancefloor, or how to make a song dancefloor-audible, and when to play it. Everything else, I leave to musicians. They create, I spread. I see both roles as complementary.
Do you have favourite parts of the Balkan zone? Because of the musical roots, the landscape, the people, etc. ?
You’re asking a Bosnian what favourite part of the Balkan is his?
The Dalmatian coast (Croatia) will always be the most beautiful coast to me, and Belgrade (Serbia) the sexiest city of all. Other parts of the Balkan, such as Mostar (Herzegovina), Albania, Montenegro or Bulgaria are also breath-taking.
However, if you really have to ask me what part of the Balkan is my favourite, it has to be Bosnia.
Interview by Blahó Dávid / Budapest, Sept. 2015
Photo by Ignace Corso / Montpellier, May 2015