Singing Cities: Images of the City in Ex-Yu Popular Music

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Singing Cities: Images of the City in Ex-Yu Popular Music

Gradovi daleki
Koje želimo znati
Gradovi od pjesme
Gradovi daleki 1F

Music and the city present an interesting subject for analysis. With regard to former Yugoslavia, popular music in general offers a very entertaining resource for understanding the everyday life in relation to political mythology. Songs about the city, in particular, seem to reflect the regime`s attempt to modernise and urbanise the country. In this essay, I will examine the morphology of the city that may be re/constructed from textual analysis of selected songs counterpoised against historical context might offer some insight into the mythscapes of former Yugoslavia. The selection of songs covers the period between late 1950s and late 1980s. This period saw the rise of the city in the light of post-World War II rebuilding enthusiasm and subsequent problematisation of the city concurrent with the collapse of the regime. The turning point seems to be Tito`s death, after which the rifts in the state`s edifice became strikingly apparent. Attempting to sketch the city as represented in the lyrics, I will focus particularily on the soundscapes of Ljubljana, but try to relate imagery to Beograd and Zagreb as well.
The realm of music in former Yugoslavia, Mirjana Laušević maintains, allows for three expressive modes to be discerned: revolutionary songs, the work of cultural and artistic ensembles, and popular music. As far as popular music is concerned, its ‘many genres […] can be viewed as subcultural sounds and discussed separately’. But, what is important in this context is ‘their common feature: the capability of grouping people in categories other than national ones.’2F Two genres, significantly formed through intensive borrowing from foreign, predominantly Western, forms of musical expression and essentially related to the city, offer interesting readings. One is the genre of popular song, that flourished predominantly throughout 1950s and until early 1970s. It includes the type of easy-listening music that fits the category of canzona, Schlager, popevka, jazz and musical.3F It was mainly popularised through radio and festivals and later TV, thus made present and known throughout the country. The other one is the so called yugo rock, music that from the 1970s on played the role of one of the most prominent popular cultural frameworks. Peter Stankovič notes that ‘differences that existed on the level of aesthetics, did not prevent the feeling of being a part of a common yu-rock culture […] [what is more] yu-rock, divided into different genre manifestations, remained one of the few world-views that in the second half of the 1980s functioned integratively.‘4F Regardless of both genres being qualitatively rather different and not necessarily the most popular in terms of numbers, it is their trans-ethnic characteristics that renders them ‘Yugoslavian’ and hence appropriate for analysis of the imagery of the cities. Now, the retrospective gaze through the forms of popular culture reveals certain things and obscures others. One needs to take into consideration the following points: first, although a much greater variety of expressions of popular culture, art, etc., existed in the past, the limitations of technology did not allow to preserve as much as there can be preserved today – technical aspect. Second, the ideological apparatus was thus much more effective in selection of contents to be preserved, since the control over studios, cameras, recording devices could be more centralised – ideological aspect. And third, in retrospection therefore, the more distant past may appear more homogenous and unified as it actually was, as compared to the more recent past that due to its proximity and living histories may appear more fragmented and diversified. Inevitably, because of technological development and subsequent availability of necessary equipment, a variety of different genres and dispersion of content nevertheless occured.
The most important and strong connection between both genres is their undisputable origin in the city. The city in Yugoslavian quotidien played an important role. Republican capitals and other urban centres provided the nodal points in statewide network of cities. Also, they figured as a point of reference in relation to city`s vicinity. Viewed as a centre of bureaucratic machinery, of industrial development, a setting for meeting and trading, industry, sometimes the place of bonvivance, debauchery, the city ‘gives promise of increased economic opportunity, access to education, better facilities, [and] greater variety and freedom from traditional restraints of village life.’5F Moreover, as a node in the trans-border network of cities it is the ‘most frequent funnel for foreign goods, ideas and influence, and [it is] focus upon which lines of communication from the outside world converge.’6F Interaction and exchange between citizens, visitors, travellers, that make the city actually alive, facilitates the creation of symbolic tissue that is significantly defined through the inter-city and the city-vicinity polylogue. And as Henri Lefebvre states, ‘if there is a production of the city, and social relations in the city, it is a production and reproduction of human beings by human beings, rather than a produciton of objects.’7F However, people need to stabilise the fluidity and insecurity of existence by creating material anchors that allow for collective participation. In the city, it is the excess of materialised past constantly metamorphising the present in search for tomorrow that produces and conveys highly symbolical imagery. Before the spread of mass media, the imagery of the city found its place predominantly in personal accounts, postcards and photography. In the second half of the twentieth century films, TV-news, news-reels, documentaries, tourism, etc. became the major transmiters of the city`s images. (Popular) music, however, existing in flow between material and symbolical, is a powerful tool to capture images and merge them with highly individualised perceptions of the external world. Thus, it builds soundscapes fundamentally defined by presence of photographic and moving images through which the reality is mediated. Due to its extreme fluidity and flexiblity in invading listener`s concsciousness, popular music is tuning the listener into universality that guarantees the experience of collectivity.
In the post-war period, Yugoslavia was undergoing processes of rebuilding the country and building new symbolic tissue. The enthusiasm of renewal, at least in the realm of official politics, was fueled by the international position of the state and internal insecurity of the regime that provided raw material for motivating mythology of transition. According to the line in the song of the International: ‘Sav svjet iz temelja se mjenja/Mi nismo ništa, bićemo sve’,8F the state implemented politics of rapid industrialisation and modernisation, which both suffered time lag in relation to the rest of Europe. This meant development of heavy industries and growth of bureaucratic apparatus, which inevitably facilitated growth of the cities. Also, quite a number of cities was created ex nihilo, such as Nova Gorica, Slovenia, which was designed to be the shopping window of socialism. Processes of modernisation and urbanisation resulted in great numbers of people moving to urban(ised) areas. In the spirit of economic growth and alleged prosperity, cities, as opposed to the surrounding rural areas, figured as prominent centres around which the symbolic geography of the country was fabricated. Neverthless, the city had the dark side as well.

1. Grupa 220, “Kule od riječi/Fortresses made of words”; [Distant cities/We`d like to know/Cities made of song/Distant cities].
2. Mirjana Laušević, “The Ilahiya and Bosnian Muslim Identity” in Mark Slobin (ed.), Retuning Culture, Musical Changes in Cental and Eastern Europe, (Duke University Press, Durham and London, 1996), pp. 117-135, p. 118-20.
3. Alenka Barber-Kersovan, “Tradition and Acculturation as Polarities of Slovenian Popular Music” in Simon Firth (ed.), World Music, Politics and Social Change: Papers from the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1989), p. 73– 89. p. 75.
4. Peter Stankovič, “Uporabe ‘Balkana’: Rock in nacionalizem v Sloveniji v devetdesetih letih”, Teorija in praksa, let. 39, 2/2002, pp. 220-238, p. 226-228. See also Sabrina P. Ramet, Balkan Babel, (Westview Press, Boulder, CO and Oxford, 2002), “Rock Mucic”, pp. 127-150; “Shake, Rattle and Self-Management: Making the Scene in Yugoslavia” in S. P. Ramet, Rocking the State: Rock Music and Politics in Eastern Europe and Russia, (Westview Press, Boulder, CO and Oxford, 1994), pp. 103-132.
5. Andrei Simić, The Peasant Urbanites. A Study of Rural-Urban Mobility in Serbia, (Seminar Press, London and New York, 1973), p. 17.
6. Ibid, p. 11.
7. Henri Lefebvre, Writings on Cities, (Blackwell, Oxford, 1996), p. 101.
8. “Internacionala”; [The world is changing from foundations/We are nothing, we`ll be everything].

AuthorMartin Pogačar
2018-08-21T17:23:17+00:00 November 1st, 2005|Categories: Literature, Essays, Blesok no. 45|0 Comments