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This is day 8 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

081206.jpgNe vredi plakati is an ‘old city song’ (starogradska pjesma) that I learnt as a 22 year old student in Zagreb. Three and a half thousand of us from all over Yugoslavia (as it still was then), Central & South America, Africa & the Middle East lived in a kind of Olympic village of 9 ‘pavilions’ built next to a lake at the end of a tram line called Studentski Dom ‘Stjepan Radi? (see earlier entry & gallery). They were very different times – no mobiles, no PCs, no internet, no credit. You’d hang out in your room, people would visit each other, and there were parties every night somewhere. Within weeks of being there, I’d learned about a dozen of these songs by heart, because after a couple of glasses of wine (the one thing we never went without, even if there was sometimes no hot water), that’s what you did – you started singing. There’s absolutely nothing to compare it with in English culture, we just don’t have a repertoire of songs that people know, we don’t socialize in the same way, and we don’t break into song on social occasions.

These Balkan songs in 3 are particularly good for ronds de jambe exercises, because of their tonic stress and hence truly triple metre, so I’d been playing them for class for years – but it was only when Irena Pasarić joined ENB that someone finally knew what I was playing and could sing along with the exercise.

Ne vredi plakati (“No point in crying” – lyrics here)was one of the most well-known and often-sung of these songs. Until this morning, I thought it was a kind of folk song, but it turns out that it’s by the singer/songwriter Zvonko Bogdan (who also wrote Govori se da me varaš – another one that I thought was a folk song). I’m not the only one – apparently the locals know these songs so well, they assume they’re traditional, according to a moving article about Bogdan in the Balkan showbiz magazine where he talks about these songs.

He says “The wheel of history moves on; times, people and customs change. This is just a reminder of a time which will never happen again, it can only be different. God willing, things will be better, much better. But it will never be like that again, neither will the themes of 50, 100 or 150 years ago ever be topical again.”

»Točak istorije ide napred, menjaju se vremena, ljudi i obićaji. Ovo je samo uspomena na jedno vreme koje se nikad više ponoviti neće, može da bude samo drugaćije. Bože zdravlja da posle ovog bude bolje, mnogo bolje. Ali nikad više ne?e biti onako, niti će više ikad biti aktuelne teme od pre 50, 100 ili 150 godina.« 

Indeed. When I revisited Zagreb this year for the first time since my student days, I was a bit melancholic and chastened to find that I had been hanging on to something that changed long ago. When I went to a record shop to ask for some of these CDs as a souvenir, the people in the shop were helpful, and pointed me in the right direction, but it was clear that I was out of touch. Of course I would be – 25 years is a long time in any country’s history – but until this year, it had always felt like yesterday.

? (870kb/mp3)

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist