VESA KURKELA (Internationales Institut Fur Traditionelle Musik e.V., Berlin, Germany)

Producing Oriental: A Perpective on the Aesthetics of Lower Arts in the Eastern Balkans

This paper can be seen as a reaction against the scornful attitude some Bulgarian and Romanian colleagues seem to have towards new local popular musics. Very often local 'ethnopop' is regarded as a valueless kitsch, which is not worth studying. These "lower musical arts", however, have their own aesthetics, which are especially interesting when trying to understand the myths of popular culture. This paper discusses mainly the oriental style played by Gipsy musicians, which seems to be the most underestimated genre of local ethnopop music.

New oriental ethnopop reflects the same mythical images of Orientalism that have dominated Western thought for several centuries. On a very general level, they stress the superiority of Western culture and the backwardness and cultural decay of the Orient. The Balkans has been a favorable soil for these myths, since, from the 19th century onwards, local nation-states have aimed to stress their belonging to Christian Europe and to forget their Ottoman past. Today, oriental entertainment may even be an important therapeutic means with the aid of which centuries old fears of the East can be handled with humour and lightness.

The popular images of Orientalism consist among other things of veiled harem women, minaret silhouettes, and camel caravans. Even today, we can meet these centuries-old images in Balkan cassette covers and video clips. The most interesting mythical combination, however, is connected with belly dance, and this very dance most effectively binds Balkan popular music to Orientalism. The most striking musical elements are connected to the rhythmic parts of music: a tsiftetelli rhythm mode (known as kocek in the Balkans) as well as a sound of the darabuka drum. More detailed analysis, however, unfolds several other musical references that tend to stress an oriental flavour (modalities, melodic formulas, sounds of electric instruments, singing styles etc.).

The special feature of the Balkan Orientalism is its close relationship to Gipsy culture. The reasons for this connection can be found in the Gipsies' historical and ethnic background, in their low social status as well as their unbelievable ability to carry out musical innovations.

Gipsy Oriental, however, is no bestseller in the eastern Balkan cassette market, when compared to various types of pop-schlager or 'party music' influenced by Serbian, Macedonian or Greek music. But today, the oriental stream goes beyond Gipsy music, and so eastern features are an important part of all kinds of popular hits. Accordingly, producing oriental means also producing a new super-style, which can succesfully compete with Western popular music in the Balkan cultural area.

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© 1996 Kabi d.o.o.