Spirit of the Balkans
The idea of developing a great musical and historical project about the peoples of the Balkans and the Gypsy and Sephardic diasporas was born at the end of the year 2011 during the preparation of the concert "Homage to the city of Sarajevo" that we gave at the Grec Festival in Barcelona on 9 July 2012.
Twenty years ago, during the tragic events of the war of disintegration of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, that city suffered a terrible siege by Serbian troops; more than twelve thousand people were then killed and more than fifty thousand suffered serious injuries.
Europe in particular and the world in general responded with absolute silence and a more than debatable decision not to intervene in the conflict., which resulted in the prolongation of the fierce siege of the Bosnian capital for four years (1992-1996).
International intervention would only come decisively in 1995, but then more than 20 Millions of kilos of projectiles and shrapnel had already disfigured forever the physical and human geography of that city..
from ancient times, Sarajevo had been the cultural crossroads of the Balkan peninsula where the traditions of the Slavic world, ya sea of orthodox or catholic faith, they mixed in perfect harmony with the newly arrived cultures, like those of the Islam of the Ottoman Turks, who dominated the Balkans for more than four hundred years, or those of the Judaism of the Sephardim, who found refuge there after their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492.
"That last war in the Balkans - Paul Garde points out - suddenly broke out in a Europe that had been deeply pacified for half a century and without recollection of the harshness of history.
Hence the misunderstanding, the suspicion regarding that region and the resurgence of stereotypes that describe it as eternally condemned to crime and disgrace».
Still considered the "powder keg of Europe", we must not forget, como subraya Predrag Matvejevic, that this peninsula was also "the cradle of European civilization".
That peninsula of the Mediterranean world extends from the island of Cythera in the south to the Danube and the Sava in the north.; According to Georges Castellan, in her, "actually, the olive tree does not reach Istanbul and the Bulgarian regions owe nothing to the winds of the Mediterranean.
However, from the Peloponnese to Moldavia, Although the landscapes change, cities and towns have common features: everywhere churches with byzantine domes, often a mosque, and those houses with large galleries (pergola) or those inns (an), caravan stopping points, that we found both in Patras and in Bucharest, in Skodra as in Plovdiv, without forgetting the street stalls where the craftsman offers a Turkish coffee, still hammering the copper plates.
a family resemblance? Definitely, that of diverse peoples that, after having lived a long common adventure, have ended up constituting within Europe a specific cultural zone».
Insightful travelers will observe a certain art of living, a kind of Spirit of the Balkans who knows how to associate leisure, conviviality and, especially, sense of hospitality, an essential value always highly respected by all Balkan societies and cultivated especially in rural areas.
However, to fully understand this Balkan specificity, we must go to history.
The fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century gave rise to, in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, to the creation of the Byzantine Empire – whose capital Constantinople would be the largest and richest city in the Balkans for more than a thousand years, until 1453– that would unify the peninsula politically and religiously, installing the heritage of Orthodox Christianity that remains an essential feature of a majority of Balkan countries.
However, in the sixteenth century, the entirety of the Balkans would pass into the hands of the Ottoman Empire which, from what would be from 1453 Istanbul, would adopt the tolerant attitude of traditional Islam towards the Christian majority as "people of the Book", as long as it accepted Muslim rule and paid the taxes that exempted its members from military service.
That Ottoman conquest also brought about considerable changes in the human geography of the region..
On one side, introduced a third religion, el islam, and at the same time caused devastation and massive migrations that resulted in an inextricable mix of populations, languages and cultures.
As Manuel Forcano remembers, after that invasion the ottomans refer to the peninsula with the word balkan, from two Turkish words, bal and khan, What do "honey" and "blood" mean?.
They not only discovered the richness of the area (its fruits, the sweetness of your honey), but also how brave, bellicose and rebellious that were its inhabitants, since they stubbornly fought against the invaders.
The Ottoman Empire began to lose power in the late 17th century.. The Austrians reconquered Hungary, Voivodina y Eslavonia. By last, in 1739, the Treaty of Belgrade was signed, ending a protracted war between the two empires, and the border stabilized for a century and a half on the Sava, the Danube and the peaks of the Transylvanian Alps.
In the XIX century, national feeling developed throughout Europe and, in that same impulse, all the Christian nations subjected to the Turks were rebelling against them: Serbia (1804), Montenegro (1820), Greece (1821), Wallachia and Moldavia, that came together to form Romania (1877), Bulgaria (1878).
We are witnessing a cultural renaissance, linguistic and literary of the different peoples: hungarians, romanian, Slovenes, Croatians, serbians.
In 1912, the first balkan war broke out: Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro managed to ally themselves to fight against the Ottoman Empire.
The second broke out a year later and ended with the defeat of the Bulgarians; Serbs and Greeks partitioned Macedonia, and Albania became independent.
Then it started right away, because of the balkans, the first World War, After the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand the 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo.
melting pot of peoples, tongues, beliefs and cultures, the Balkans represent the most mysterious image of that "other Europe" that, due to its belonging to the Ottoman Empire, lived more than four hundred years almost totally outside the main cultural and social currents of Western Europe.
The Balkans have been a hotly contested crossroads: rich meeting place and, both, terrain of dramatic confrontation.
Despite the violent upheavals that mark its history, as well as its linguistic and political fragmentation, the peoples of the Balkans continue to share a significant number of cultural characteristics and the heritage of their historical past.
It is precisely these characteristics that we want to highlight in this first recording with the musicians we have invited and who belong to these different cultures., religions and regions.
Together with them we have deepened, selected and recorded different music in order to gather a beautiful ancient musical florilegium, traditional and popular at the same time, coming from that fascinating and still very mysterious part of Eastern Europe.
We are convinced that thanks to the emotion, the vitality and beauty of all that music, we will be able to better understand that feeling that we like to define as the musical image of an authentic «Spirit of the Balkans».
in western europe, today gives the impression that the 'Balkan' culture, popularized by the films of Emir Kusturica or the music of Goran Bregoviç, has become a safe value.
Balkan music festivals multiply, concerts by Fanfare Ciocârlia or Boban Markovic fill the halls.
Balkan traditional music, or at least, Westerners' idea of it, already occupies a place in the World Music section of every well-stocked record store.
Instead, we know very little about the less «folkloric» repertoire, that does not respond to the mental projections of the western public.
Let's not forget that the essence of Balkan music has had a strong influence from Roma culture (see the article by Javier Pérez Senz «Music with a Romani soul»), something that on the other hand seems to forget all the musicologists of the region, who talk about «Serbian» music, «Bulgarian» or «Macedonian», not to mention that their sources and their interpreters are very often "gypsies".
With some of the greatest musicians from the different cultures of that part of Eastern Europe and the soloists of Hespèrion XXI, we wanted to address this extraordinary historical musical legacy, traditional and even modern, to study it, select it and interpret it together, creating at the same time a true intercultural dialogue between these different cultures often torn apart by dramatic and very old conflicts.
The selection of the music for this recording has been made based on our research on the Sephardic and Ottoman repertoires preserved in the main cities of the Balkans and, especially, from the proposals of the different musicians and specialized ensembles such as Bora Dugić, Tcha Limberger, Nedyalko Nedyalkov, Dimitri Psonis, Gyula Csfk y Moslem Rahal, invited to collaborate in the project.
We want to record our gratitude to all of them for the formidable commitment and the wonderful musical interpretations that, with its variety and diversity, contribute to giving shape and meaning to this "Spirit of the Balkans".
Music of ancient and modern traditions, rural and urban music, music of celebrations (the part number 14 Ciocârlia was composed and performed on the occasion of the inauguration of the Eiffel Tower in 1889) or evocations: songs and dances of very diverse origins, going from Bulgaria to Serbia, from Macedonia to the Turkey of the Ottoman confines, from Romania to the Hungarian border, from Bosnia to Greece, From Sephardic music to Gypsy traditions.
authentic mosaic, these musics are interpreted with the instruments of origin of each culture: cunning, gûdulka (Bulgarian lira), tamburitza, greek lyre, kemancha, canon, oud, drum, ney, are fed, saz, violin and double bass, flute, hungarian cymbal, accordion, organ and guitar, etc.
The set of these musics allows us to evoke a true multicultural map of the musical traditions of that rich part of Eastern Europe that surprise and captivate with their vitality and passion., but also for its beauty and its spirituality.
We then find that, despite the different national characteristics, the different peoples of the Balkan peninsula are often united at a deeper level by the same features.
This first recording Spirit of the Balkans is a prelude to the great project of the book-cd Miel y Sangre about the music and history of that region that we are preparing for the end of the year.
The consolidation of peace on that peninsula is still a difficult undertaking; difficulties especially accentuated in the regions most affected by the wars: Bosnia y Kosovo.
But nevertheless, understanding and integration between the different peoples of the Balkans can only be achieved through true reconciliation – similar to that carried out half a century ago by the French and German peoples – and through the integration of all the countries of the peninsula into the Union European.
As Paul Garde says, "they don't have to become Europeans, they are".
But nevertheless, the "angel of history" advances looking back, and all this requires an important process of reconciliation between the identities and the pasts of each one, integrating all layers of Balkan history; especially, ottoman heritage.
We also believe, as distant Jean-Arnault Dérens and Laurent Geslin, that "in this rediscovery of their own history and their multiple identities, the peoples of the Balkans will finally be able to once again be fully masters of their destiny, at the same time outlining another way of being European that will not cease to amaze and amaze Westerners».
Jordi Savall. Bellaterra, spring 2013