SARAJEVO The club is dark and sweaty, the beats
hypnotic. The rallying cry of Bosnian hip-hopper Frenkie is
"Rise Sarajevo and fight."
Frenkie, alias Adnan Hamidovic, is one of a new breed of
Balkan musician-activists launching a musical offensive against
nationalist politicians, corrupt businessmen and priests
meddling in politics.
In their songs they condemn injustice and corruption. On
stage they call on fans to rise and fight back.
"The more people listen to this music, the more they think
about these problems. The more they talk about them, the more a
critical mass grows," Frenkie said. "I understand (activism) as
an obligation, it doesn't make sense to write about other stuff
at this time."
Hip-hop was a fringe scene in the Balkans before the wars
that tore the former Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s.
The musical forms that first sprang up in the successor
countries during that period were a sign of the times, such as
'turbo folk', a high energy mix of techno and folk themes with
lyrics extolling patriotic virtues and conspicuous consumption.
In Bosnia, the artistic heart of Yugoslavia before the war
and the region that suffered most from the conflict, post-war
numbness resulted in musical inertia. Until hip-hop came.
Bosnia-born Edo Maajka, the region's biggest hip-hop star,
was the first to hit hard with songs focusing on the problems
of the post-war society. His songs speak of traumatized
ex-soldiers turned criminals, of the selfish, nationalist
nouveaux riche, and disoriented youth who see no future.
"We are forced to deal with these topics because this is
our reality," said Maajka. "There is no other option."
These artists have been eager to erase the emotional
borders created by war, rapping in a language intelligible
across the 20 million people previously grouped under
Bosnian hip-hoppers cooperated well with their colleagues
in neighboring Serbia and Croatia, Frenkie said and all were "a
balance to kitsch, turbo folk and old wasted rockers."
Some artists are mobile, like Maajka who lives in Croatia.
Others, like 24-year old Marko Selic, aka Marchello, Serbia's
biggest hip-hop star, command respect across the region thanks
to catchy songs broadcast on regional networks like MTV Adria.
"I believe I represent the common people, but with an added
poetic dimension," Marchello said.
"What we're offering is an alternative to MTV and to
American hip hop. Our fans are not looking for a gold chain and
a gold tooth. They already have that in turbo folk, so hip hop
is seen as something rebellious outside the slimy mainstream."
Fedja Dimovic, the frontman of the Beogradski Sindikat hip
hop collective, said their songs were a message to Serbia's
youth to build a better future, away from the attitudes that
made the country an international pariah in the 1990s.
"My first song was against (former president) Slobodan
Milosevic," Dimovic said. "I want my generation to draw the
line and build a new Serbia. Our messages are more social than
political, we are for the little man, the one who suffers."
Themes are similar across the hip-hop scene in the region.
In Kosovo, where ethnic tensions still run high, ethnic
Albanian group urbaNRoot rap for tolerance and against
"We want to change the way people are thinking in Kosovo,"
said 24-year old frontman Burim Kursani, alias Bimi. "We are
fighting the enemy inside. People here have no more love,
respect and justice for each other."
Brano Jakubovic of Bosnian group Dubioza Kolektiv says
music activism in his country boomed in the run-up to the
October election, fighting against nationalism and corruption
along with youth groups and non-governmental organizations.
"The front exists although it's a guerrilla fight, because
politicians are untouchable, like fighting ninjas," Jabukovic
said. "Music can't directly change things but it can initiate
changes. Music pushes the stone from the hill, then it rolls
(Additional reporting by Monika Lajhner in Belgrade and
Fatos Bytyci in Pristina)