Non-Aligned Prog: The Music of Yugoslavia (Part I)

Progressive Music in SFR Yugoslavia

A Historical Perspective

Historically, the former Yugoslavia (officially The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) was a state formed in the middle of World War II whose existence ended in 1992 due to the escalation of what is now known as the Bosnian War.

As one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement, and because it was not a member of the so-called Eastern Bloc countries, Yugoslavia presented a good balance between the East and West, not only in politically, but in many ways culturally as well. Music, as an example of culture, played a big role in the lives of many young people, especially during 70′s, but the main goal of this article is to show how the music styles in the former Yugoslavia were established and how it all began. From the beginning he western influences in pop and rock music were widely accepted by youngsters in the country – bands started to form rapidly, and they were widely supported by radio and TV stations, magazines, and authorities. Some musicians played for the president, Josip Broz Tito. It must be mentioned that Yugoslavia was the only “Communist” country that took part in the Eurovision Song Contest of 1961. Many of you might find it strange that a dictator like Tito would allow people freedom of expression in this way, but in fact his policies rarely affected everyday activities – true, he was politically repressive to people he thought sympathized with Russian Communists (among others), but he allowed people to enjoy aspects of culture such as popular music without harassment.

Early Beginnings, the Establishment of Rock Culture in the Early Years

The roots of modern Yugoslavian music date back to the 40′s, when Ivo Robić, a Croatian, created a relatively successful international career. What success did he have, exactly? I will tell you right now that Ivo was one of the original performers on Bert Kaempfert‘s song “Strangers in the Night”, which years later brought success to the widely known American performer and entertainer, Frank Sinatra. It does not end here for Robić. After seeing a promising young band from England in the early 60′s at Top Ten Club in Hamburg, Robić tried to convince Kaempfert, who was Polydor‘s agent, to give a chance to this young act. This group of youngsters was The Beatles.

The real rock and roll scene in Yugoslavia started to take shape during the 50′s, during which it was mostly influenced by Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and other American contemporaries. This electric music was a revelation for many young people throughout Yugoslavia. “Električari” (the electricians), as they were popularly called, started to make music that was similar to the aforementioned rock stars. Milan “Mile” Lojpur is considered for the first Yugoslav (in this case Serbian) rock and roll musician, who actually was the one of the first musicians that has performed so called “electric music”. From Croatia emerged Karlo Metikoš, who after moving to Paris, under the pseudonym Matt Collins made himself an international career working with Philips Records and legends such Paul Anka and Jerry Lee Lewis. Đorđe Marjanović, on the other hand, has been from the start considered to be one of the first Yugoslav and later Serbian megastars inside the country.

The 60′s brought further development to rock and roll in Yugoslavia. Mostly inspired by popular bands such as The Shadows, The Animals, The Byrds, The Who and of course The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. It can be said that former Yugoslav bands of that time, besides absorbing the huge impact from western groups, started to develop something unique and completely new. As I will soon be focusing on progressive rock bands, I will right now only go over some of the early bands that aided the development of the of rock and roll scene. There were acts like Bijele Strele (The White Arrows), Siluete (The Silhouettes), Crveni Koralji (The Red Corals), Zlatni Dečaci (The Golden Boys), Samonikli (Indigenous), Crni Biseri (The Black Pearls). Bisbez from Skopje, Macedonia were considered The Macedonian Beatles, Indexi from Bosnia/Herzegovina were one of the most prominent acts of former Yugoslav rock and roll scene. One of the Indexi members, Kornelije Kovač, left the band in 1968 to form his own group called Korni Grupa (The Kornelyans). In the late 60′s, during the expansion of hippie culture throughout the world, Yugoslavia joined in the psychedelia and the trend continued in the shape of a Croatian group called Grupa 220. Also in the 60′s, many bands followed in the footsteps of singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, such as the Croatian Ivica Percl, originally from Roboti (The Robots). Yet another popular group in late 60′s was Ambasadori (The Ambassadors), which featured Zdravko Čolić, who later as a solo artist became the biggest pop star in the former Yugoslavia.

For most people the 70′s were the golden age Yugoslavian rock and roll. This decade witnessed the birth of acts such as YU Grupa, Time, Smak, Atomsko Sklonište, Leb i Sol, Galija, Bijelo Dugme, Tako, Buldožer, etc. For many people, the 70′s and especially year the 1977 will stay remembered as one of the most important years the rock history of Yugoslavia. This was the year that Bijelo Dugme (The White Button) played a famous concert at Hajdučka Česma in Košutnjak Park in Belgrade on August 22, which was attended by around 80,000 people.

As everywhere around the world, the 1980′s brought New Wave and Yugoslavia followed the same trend. The crucial year was 1982, when many new bands formed and many existing ones changed their musical approach. Among these bands were: Disciplina Kičme (Spinal Discipline), Partibrejkers (Partybreakers), Idoli (The Idols), Prljavo Kazalište (Dirty Theater), Film, Azra, Električni Orgazam (Electric Orgasm), etc. Bajaga I Instruktori (Bajaga and the Instructors) were founded in 1984 in Belgrade, and since then have been one of the most popular ex-Yugoslav acts.

The 90′s brought about the end of Yugoslavia, as Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia/Herzegovina and Macedonia proclaimed themselves independent states, while the authorities of Serbia and Montenegro decided to form a new federal state called the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which existed for 11 years (1992-2003). The majority of former Yugoslav bands ended their careers or changed their musical directions, but new bands also formed in this era. What has remained is a musical legacy that ties these many disparate nations together. Many people may no longer know of Yugoslavia, but I am using these articles to get the word out.

As you may notice, the final two decades are not given a detailed description, and this period will be canvassed in further parts of this article series, one for each of the former Yugoslavian states.

THE END OF FIRST PART – NEXT UP: Progressive, psychedelic and symphonic rock in Serbia

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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