Goran Bregovic brings curious Balkan mix to Prague

Goran Bregovic in Prague, photo: CTK

Prague residents had a rare opportunity this weekend to hear an orchestra whose music is so eclectic, even its band leader calls it "Frankenstein." That's because Yugoslav-born Goran Bregovic says the music of his Wedding and Funeral Band is made up of so many different parts, including traditional Roma and Bulgarian music, and even a little rock and roll. But don't let this former rock star convince you that his music is some kind of monster. In the 21st century, he says, Frankenstein is a beautiful thing.

Goran Bregovic in Prague,  photo: CTK
Goran Bregovic is best known for his soundtracks for films by director Emir Kusturica like "Time of the Gypsies" and "Arizona Dream." By his own account, the music Mr. Bregovic has been playing since retiring from rock music in the late 1980s reflects the ethnic complexity of his hometown, Sarajevo. He says that in the Bosnian capital, the Muslims and Christians clashed violently, but they still listened to each other's music.

This same conflict, which erupted into war in the early 1990s and forced Mr. Bregovic out of the country, breathed new life into his musical career.

"Once you are out, you start to understand why such a big part of the history art belongs to the exiled artists. Of course war is tragic for everybody, but being an exile as an artist is a good position. And without war would be today retired. ... I would be one of these retired rock and roll stars."

Mr. Bregovic played two shows in Prague this weekend, one of which was added due to popular demand. His 45-member orchestra represents the same ethnic collage that is found in his songs, which he says lends to the music's chaotic texture.

Goran Bregovic in Prague,  photo: CTK
"I like this way of performing music which is always a bit on the edge of suicide. It's completely technique out of reason. It's completely against any logic. It's an open way of singing without any control of tuning which you learn in school."

The Wedding and Funeral Band, named this because its musicians' used to play at such events, is a departure from Goran Bregovic's earlier classically-trained ensembles. The problem, he says, was tuning.

"When I started to play again, I started with a classical formation - a hundred people, like a classical orchestra and choir. And then I threw away what doesn't fit to me. Especially what doesn't fit to me are the instruments that gave too-well tuning. So I threw out immediately everything that is woodwinds. I replaced all the brass with Gypsy brass, because gypsy brass is with old military instruments, which is difficult to tune perfectly."