Balkan musicians promote interethnic co-operation


Multi-ethnic music groups are travelling the region to show the power of joint efforts to overcome the past.

By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 06/12/13


Trombone player Nemanja Zlatarev joined the Backyard Jazz Orchestra in 2011. [Nada Bozic/SETimes]

About 50 classical music artists from the former Yugoslavia have joined the No Border Orchestra to promote dialogue and tolerance through the region.

Stanko Madic, the first violin player in the orchestra, said the project strikes a balance between social activities, political activism, humanity and artistic excellence.

"The promotion of co-operation between Balkan countries is the base of the orchestra's existence, since musicians from all the former Yugoslav countries are playing," Madic, who lives in Nuremberg, told SETimes.

"As our manifest says, the No Borders Orchestra is founded on two basic premises. The social aspect of the project is achieved by the deconstruction of stereotypes, overcoming of nationalism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, the gory legacy of the past and through the affirmation of cultural values that are in a complete state of disarray in local transitional societies. Being fully aware of the past, the orchestra is not a project nostalgic about ex-Yugoslavia. On the contrary, it is completely committed to the future," he added.

Artists from Belgrade, Pristina, Skopje, Zagreb and Ljubljana are joined by musicians who left the region during the conflicts in the 1990s, and now reside in Brussels, Munich, Nurnberg and Strasbourg. The orchestra, which was formed in 2010, travels to areas where interethnic conflict is still present.

The orchestra held performances in Pristina and Berlin in October, as well as in Kotor and Herceg Novi in Montenegro this summer and in Belgrade and in Novi Sad in March.

Maedic said a summer concert by the group in Trebinje, a multi-ethnic city in Bosnia and Herzegovina, was one of his most memorable experiences.

"In an environment that is extremely nationalistic, we were greeted with significant distrust since we have several Albanian musicians from Kosovo. But at the end of the concert, the audience reacted with standing ovations. They did not only accept the Albanians who were playing in their city, but numerous people at the city square also listened very carefully to the demanding classical music programme in a city where no symphony orchestra has performed before," Madic said.

Classical music is not the only tune in the region, however.

The Backyard Jazz Orchestra is a Balkan band comprised of 14 jazz musicians from Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania and Germany.

The orchestra was founded by German jazz musicians Peter Ehwald and Stefan Schultze, and is supported by the Goethe Institute.

The group travels through Southeast Europe and presents the rich musical heritage of the Balkans, while tearing down prejudice.

Nemanja Zlaterev, a trombone player from Novi Sad who joined the orchestra in 2011, said the group is a great chance to promote inter-ethnic dialogue.

"Generally, artists and musicians are the first to demolish barriers between people, connecting and building new, healthy relations. Young people should be encouraged to rebuild bridges in ruined human relations. States should ensure and support those kinds of things as a contrast to frustrations and political consequences," Zlatarev told SETimes.

Trumpet player Darko Sedak Bencic from Zagreb joined the group in 2010. He said this kind of initiative is a unique way to promote Balkan musical heritage and the region itself, and also to show the similarities of the people there.

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"This project is necessary to show to all, including to the officials of our countries, that the youth doesn't care about nationality or language," Bencic told SETimes.

The jazz orchestra has held performances in Belgrade, Skopje, Sofia, Brasov and Lasi in Romania, and there are plans for future performances, including in countries that do not have members in the group.

"We do not need a third party for talks, negotiations and co-operation. We can do that by ourselves," Zlatarev said.

What other cultural initiatives can bring people in the region together? Share your thoughts below.

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