Special Issue "Balkan Music: Past, Present, Future"

A special issue of Arts (ISSN 2076-0752). This special issue belongs to the section "Musical Arts and Theatre".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 1 November 2019

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Dr. Ivana Medić

Senior Research Associate, Institute of Musicology, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Knez Mihailova 36, 11000 Beograd, Serbia
Website | E-Mail
Interests: Balkan music; popular music; Russian/Soviet music since 1950; Serbian music since 1950

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue on Balkan music gathers together scholars from different disciplines (historians, historical musicologists, ethnomusicologists, ethnochoreologists, anthropologists) and from 11 countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Japan, and New Zealand) who have engaged with the music of the Balkan Peninsula. The essays in this volume cover various regional traditions and styles, including both authentic and stylized folklore music and dance, as well as urban popular folk music, several genres of contemporary pop-folk (turbo-folk, manele, chalga), music of specific ethnic groups or distinct regions within the Balkans, etc.

The main idea for this Special Issue is to "deconstruct" and then "reconstruct" the meaning of the term "Balkan music" for Western readers. The majority of Westerners have very vague preconceptions (and little actual information) about Balkan music and how many diverse traditions and musical styles it encompasses; hence, they only associate Balkan music with brass bands, or commercial pop-folk, Romani music, etc. Therefore, the goal of this volume is to demonstrate the versatility and multiple uses of the term Balkan music and to illustrate it with case studies from all countries that occupy the territory of the Balkan Peninsula, with shared historical and cultural heritage.

Dr. Ivana Medić
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Arts is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

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  • music in the Balkans vs. "Balkan music"
  • Ottoman and/or Byzantine heritage
  • (West) European influences
  • folklore
  • popular music

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission, see below for planned papers.

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Preliminary Topic: Making a Case for Balkan Music Studies

Abstract: In his seminal comprehensive history of music(s) in the Balkan region, Jim Samson shunned the term "Balkan music" in favor of the less-binding title Music in the Balkans (2013). This, however, should not hinder us from probing the term "Balkan music" and its many usages by scholars, amateurs, music critics, bloggers or music industry professionals. In this introductory essay I aim to dissect the umbrella term "Balkan music" and its actual and presumed meanings and implications, while overviewing many different music traditions and styles that this term can (and does) encompass. I will also make a case for the establishment of the discipline of Balkan Music Studies and attempt to outline its scope and outreach.


Preliminary Topic: Byzantinism as Balkanism

Abstract: In this paper I discuss a number of approaches to the idea of "the Byzantine" in the Balkans (specifically Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Serbia) as expressed in church music but also in music that stands at some remove from a specifically liturgical purpose, with the intention of examining the common (but differently realized) aim of continuing the Byzantine legacy and engaging with modernism, as part of the rise of the nation-state during the course of the long nineteenth century and beyond. As part of this examination, I examine the question of this tendency as a pan-Balkan quest.

Composers whose musical aesthetics and approaches will be examined include Dobri Hristov and Petar Dinev (Bulgaria), Petros Petridis and Emilios Riadis (Greece), Ioan Chirescu, Nicolae Lunghu and Paul Constantinescu (Romania) and Milenko Živković, Milivoje Crvčanin and Ljubica Marić (Serbia).


Preliminary Topic: De-Balkanizing the Balkans: Case Studies in Romanian Modern Music History

Abstract: What is "Balkan Music" for Romanians? Most of them love to hear it, but few would accept it as an integral part of Romania's musical culture. Even fewer Romanians possess any knowledge of this genre beyond the sounds of brass music, or modern-day commercial folk. For ordinary music fans, "Balkan Music" is something which lies outside of Romanian culture, while simultaneously remaining central to their taste in music. Historically, such a paradox might find a partial explanation in Romania's process of nation building, which combined an avid obsession with Western models with an attempt to find its own cultural originality. This article will tackle in more detail this particular paradox, based on examples drawn from various music genres, such as classical music, rock music, and modern-day folk music. While its focus will be on present-day constructions and deconstructions of "Balkan Music", the article will also integrate case studies starting from the late nineteenth century.


Preliminary Topic: Balkan, Rumeli or Thrace Music?

Abstract: Toponyms Balkan, Rumeli and Thrace connote various meanings in terms of history, politics and culture depending on the context. Sometimes they are used interchangeably, although their territories differ from each other. Similarly, the musical cultures of these regions are also considered as intertwined. On the other hand, they may also be amorphously denoted in three. Music from the Balkans and from Rumeli is mostly designated to the regions outside of the borders of Turkey, although the former can be sung both in Turkish and non-Turkish languages and the latter just in Turkish, whereas music from Thrace is within the borders of Turkey and only in Turkish language.

In this article, these musical cultures are examined by looking at music albums, scores of music repertory and my fieldwork recordings from the Thracian region of Turkey and the region where Turkish speaking people live in Bulgaria, with an aim to define their features and the preferences for using either of these denotations.


Preliminary Topic: Idealization of the Balkans in Serbian Pop-Folk Music: Crossing the Boundaries of Music, Ethnicity, and Experience

Abstract: This article explores the factors associated with the phenomenon of idealizing Balkan imagery and stereotypes through the pop-folk music that has flourished as turbo-folk in Serbia since the early 1990s in connection with the relationship between locality/regionality and ethnicity in the music and in society. The term "Balkan" and its derivative words (Balkanac, Balkanka, balkanski, etc.) began to appear in the lyrics of pop-folk songs from the 2000s, despite these negative connotations.

The pop-folk idealizing the Balkans prompts the Yugoslav diaspora and even audiences within Serbia to not only affirm their present situation but also to self-affirm, by illuminating the multiethnic identity held by the Balkan people. The article demonstrates that pop-folk since the 2000s can be considered as music that overcomes both the nostalgia that makes people feel stuck in the past and the nationalistic consciousness.


Preliminary Topic: "Perverting the Taste of the People": Lăutari and the Balkan Question in Romania

Abstract: My article concerns the polyvalent term "Balkan" in the context of Romanian Romani music-making in Romania and beyond. The expression is often used pejoratively or as a verb in the "west" to describe something "barbaric" or fractured. In the "world music" era, "gypsy" (Romani) or "gypsy"-inspired music from the Balkans has become highly regarded.  From this perspective "Balkan" is seen as describing something positive, something desirably "oriental" and "exotic". The Romanian "gypsy" band Taraf de Haïdouks are arguably the most prominent exponents of this subgenre. I will investigate this paradox using the case of Taraf de Haïdouks as the prime illustration of my argument.

Various scholars have outlined difficulties in locating Romania's cultural and physical position within Europe. This discourse is reflected in Romanian society itself, where many reject any association with the Balkans in favour of Romania's recognition as a modern Western European nation. This conflict has been contested somewhat through manele, a Romanian popular musical genre that is largely performed by male Romani singers and musicians. Its detractors regard manele as the epitome of poor taste. But significantly, manele is also seen to be too "eastern" in character, an unwelcome reminder of earlier Balkan and Ottoman influences on Romanian culture.

I will use these two examples of Taraf de Haïdouks and manele as the bases for case studies in my investigation of the "Balkan" construct as it relates to Romanian music, both in Romania itself and in the "west", with particular reference to the United Kingdom.


Preliminary Topic: The Balkans of the Balkans: On the Significance of Auto-Balkanization in Regional Popular Music

Abstract: This article proposes the discussion on the use of the term "Balkan" in the regional popular music. Balkan popular music is contemporary popular folk music made in the countries of the Balkans and provided for the Balkan markets (i.e. people in the Balkans and diaspora communities). After the global success of "Balkan music" in the global world music scene, this term influenced the cultures of the Balkans itself; yet, interestingly, in the Balkans it is not connected only to the musical characteristics of this genre — namely, it can be found in derivates of the genre of the "newly-composed folk music" in the Western Balkans. The most important similarity is the discourse on Balkan stereotypes, so this article will reveal new aspects of auto-Balkanization in music. This research starts from several questions: where is "the Balkans" which is mentioned in these songs; what is the meaning of the term "Balkan" used for the audience from the Balkans; and, what are musical characteristics of this genre/these genres? Special focus will be on the post-Yugoslav market in the twenty-first century, with particular examples sung in Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian languages.


Preliminary Topic: Balkan Music as an Important Component of the Black Sea Cultural Basin

Abstract: The Black Sea is an inland sea with many harbor cities and trade routes which still preserve their importance at almost all times in the historical process, with valleys and mountain settlements crossing to inner sections through various connections. The Black Sea culture basin is defined as a very wide area that unites the geographies of the Balkans, Crimea, Azov, Caspian, Caucasus and Anatolia. Dozens of states were founded in this basin throughout its history, and communities of various origins have lived there. Undoubtedly, this situation has led to interactions that come from endless and limitless aspects through the transformation processes. Although many studies have been carried out over such processes in the micro-scale almost in every region around the Black Sea until the present day, hardly any macro-scaled study has been conducted from a broad perspective by looking at interactions in the music field across the entire the Black Sea culture basin.

In this study, this issue will be discussed comperatively in terms of historical, social and cultural interconnections of the communities living around the Black sea area and the other geographies through the formation and transformation of daily music practices and the interactions with the Balkan music. It will be discussed how important the Black Sea is for the geography of the Balkans and how music mediates the Black Sea basin that is significantly too wide to create common and similar structures in different geographies.

The aim of the study is to follow the footsteps of musical interactions in the Black Sea basin on local cultural products, to look through Balkan music that is one of the main components within this cultural structure from a broader perspective and to associate and interpret patterns of various performances of Balkan music with the Black Sea culture basin.

The research process was initiated by examining the historical sound sources related to the Black Sea basin stored in Berlin and Vienna Phonogramm archives as of 2013, following with the examination of the historical background of the subject in the literature and with the evaluation and analyzing of these sound sources. Subsequently, fieldworks were carried out in different geographies of the Black Sea basin at different times. The sound sources obtained from the local and national archives of countries bordering on the Black Sea were also utilized.


Preliminary Topic: Macedonian Dance on Balkan Crossroads

Abstract: The Balkans are composed of a multitude of specific cultural units that are in the process of permanent interaction and exchange. Macedonian dance constitutes a part of this polyvalent cultural structure. In the days of socialism, the accent was put on the creation of supra-national Yugoslav culture. There was a tendency to foster it by promoting folk dances of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as multicultural products. This can be observed through a series of activities that were purposefully realized as a part of the cultural plan and strategy. "The Balkan Story" was again actualized after the disintegration processes in 1990s. Forms of dance, regardless of the style profile in the new states, demonstrate a trend of intercultural collaboration, but in this case offered as "Balkan" products.


Preliminary Topic: Authorized and Newly-composed Folk Songs in Bulgaria

Abstract: The authors' folk songs in а people's spirit are a modern and multifaceted phenomenon, which has accumulated a rich history in the Bulgarian musical culture. This research will present essential characteristics of the authorized folk songs and the newly-composed "folk" songs in а people's spirit in Bulgaria.


Preliminary Topic: Rock'n Roll Stories from the Past: Eric Clapton, the Juniors and the Glands

Abstract: Athens, 6th of September, 1965. John Baily, a guitarist, has just arrived in the city railway station from London. He is a member of the R'n B' band "The Glands" formed by British graduate students and is looking for a venue for them to play. Having just graduated from Oxford, they dream of the idea "of a band on the road to go round the world". They buy a clapped-out Ford Fairlaine Country Sedan, the "Glandsmobile", and plan to travel overland from the U.K. to Australia. Eric Clapton is ready to give up his job with John Mayall's "Blues Breakers" and join the group in their eventful journey. Driving through Germany and Ex-Yugoslavia, the band arrives in Athens, where they meet several people involved in the local rock music scene, such as band managers, club owners and musicians. They arrange to play as support group to "The Juniors"—a then popular Greek rock goup—at the Igloo Club, one of the most famous rock venues in the city.  A tragic event will affect their fates in the Athenian capital: the car accident that killed "The Juniors", except for their guitarist, Alekos Karakandas. Eric Clapton is offered to play and help the band to regain strength. Things are getting worse when "The Glands" found themselves being chased by the police for not having work permits. On top of that the manager of the hotel where they stay complains for not receiving any money from the club owner. Feeling frustrated, the group is urged to leave Athens and return home.

The adventures of "The Glands" in Athens open a window to the rock musical scenes of the mid-1960s in the Greek capital, an era defined by political turmoil locally and abroad. Using a personal diary as a source, the article brings into light episodes of the local rock musical trajectories and performances based on first-person narration serving as the vehicle for knowing an adventurous urban musical counter-culture nurtured in the context of the post-WWII and post civil war changing realities, and no less framed within cold war Europe, its projection on Greek popular music history and its (re)positioning in the Balkans. A history staged and claimed at the fringes of Europe, then also imagined and cherished as a countercultural heaven for escaping, if not tacitly contesting, capitalist sensibilities of happiness and successful living. We get to know aspects of a music scene connecting Greece with the "West"—one that defined the cultural anxieties and political orientations of the local youth.

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