My German cousin Georg and I share a love for Balkan music. With me no one knows quite where this came from. With Georg I am sure it has to do with the fact that he grew up in Dresden, which is something of a gateway to East Europe – and once you are in the East, if you are curious enough, sooner or later you will end up in the Balkans.
Georg, who is now celebrating ten years in Berlin, once played in a band called Marracash. One night I Dj-ed a Balkan-Oriental set at a wild record-release party of theirs at Dresden’s Ostpol club around 2009. Afterwards Georg regaled me with stories about the band’s numerous forays into East Europe, Czech Republic in particular, and about their ill-fated Goethe Institute sponsored Balkan tour.
The tour involved playing before a group of Balkan rednecks in Vukovar, doing a radio music hall show in Sofia before a crowd of ten people, and playing at jazz club in Prishtina, where they got bumped by Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and his entourage who wanted a night on the town but didn’t quite fancy Georg and his band’s brand of rock music. To make it up to them Thaci’s men set Georg and his band up in Prishtina’s most exclusive five star hotel (which admittedly probably sounds more swank than it actually is).
“It was so decadent,” Georg recalls. “All of us in individual suites. We decided to live it up with a nice glass of whisky in front of the fire place, all sophisticated, when suddenly we remembered that we had left the field recorder that we recorded all our shows with at the jazz club, and that it was still recording things that were happening there. And we were like, oh shit, what if the prime minister is firming up some new dodgy mafia deal and we will get busted for trying to sell the info to the CIA, or whatever?”
Then came a big hassle at the Serbian border. “Our guitar player had a little weed inside his tobacco pipe, just little crumbs. The border cop found that and said, ‘Well, well, what have we here,’ and then proceeded to give us the whole strip search routine.
“We had some more drugs on us,” says Georg. “I didn’t, personally. But another guy did. He was always wearing these fat, ugly boots rain or shine, even if it was like, forty degrees because his feet smelled. He had the drugs stashed in his boots. And when he stripped down for the cops he kept the boots on and said, ‘should I take off the boots as well, officer?’ And the cop took a look at these ugly boots and was like, “no, uh, don’t bother.’ So we escaped that one. It was a big relief, because I tell you, the worst border cops in the Balkans are the Serbs.”
In addition to Marracash, Georg had a kind of east European joke band called Dre Imbicz, where band members clothed themselves in delightfully naff threads, donned wigs and fake moustaches and did a Borat schtick, pretending to be Gypsies from East Europe.
It probably wasn’t the most politically correct thing in the world, but somehow the band got the attention of Berlin DJ Zigan Aldi, a Turkish chap who used to put on Balkan-Oriental X-Berger Nächteparties at the Cake Club on Oranienstrasse at the height of the Balkan craze around 2009. I interviewed Zigan once at the Rroma Café on Boddinstrasse (another great Balkan venue which no longer exists). For two hours Zigan told me his incredible life story (the subject of another blog, perhaps), during the course of which he spoke about being impressed by a pseudo Gypsy band that performed one night in a festival in Görlitz. He couldn’t remember the name of the band, but remembered their wigs and fake mustaches. I knew immediately it was my cousin Georg’s band he was talking about.
Well, there were some good times, some memorable concerts, but nothing ever came of either of Georg’s bands. It’s been ten years now since Georg moved to Berlin and today he has put down the bass guitar taken up the tuba and is celebrating the anniversary of his move from Dresden. Cheers, prost, na zdravi and živili. Have a nice one!