Turbo-folk is a popular musical sub-genre that originated in
Serbia, Balkansduring early 1990s. Though it is closely associated with performers from Serbiaand Croatia, it continues to be very popular in the other former Yugoslav republics, namely Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republic of Macedonia, and Slovenia.
A very similar style of music is popular in
Romania, where it is known as " Manele".
The term "turbo folk" itself was coined by
Rambo Amadeus, who used it jokingly during the late 1980s in order to describe his own strange smorgasbordsound combining various styles and influences. At the time, the term was nothing more than a soundbite, the phrase being intentionally humorous for combining two contradictory concepts - " turbo," evoking an image of modern industrial progress and " folk," a symbol of tradition and rural conservatism.
Pre-origin of "turbo folk" in its native sense was in 1991. There were several illegal radio-stations in
New Belgrade's Blokovineighbourhood. Owner of one was DJ W-ICEwho mixed folk songs with dance rhythm, and broadcast them. Later he apperead in Zorica Brunclik's video, and then in other commercial folk performers' videos.
However, a few more years would pass before the term "turbo folk" made a comeback in earnest. Year 1993 was the one of severe economic hardship and galloping inflation in Yugoslavia. War was being fought only a few hundred kilometers away and the country was under an international trade embargo; and many Serbian citizens sought solace in the escapist sounds of commercial folk music.
Though always kitschy in nature and appearance, commercial folk seemed to take its presentation up a notch in this period. Hedonism and a flip-off attitude became prominent themes. Songs like "Ne može nam niko ništa" ("No one can touch us") by
Mitar Mirić, singing about a couple's love surviving against all odds but also implicitly defiantly celebrating Serbia's isolated international position appealed to the general sentiment and the strength of the Serb people.
Still, if there is a single song that widely launched the turbo folk phenomenon, it would be 1994's "200 na sat" (200 per Hour) - a mindless tune about speed and sports cars performed by
Ivan Gavrilović. The song is a cover of 2 Unlimited's eurodancehit "No Limit." The same song was later covered, by Croatian parody group Vatrogasci, as "Nema ograničenja" in which the phrase "turbo folk" is explicitly mentioned in the chorus line.
Soon, a distinct style would be known by that name. Short-skirted, leggy girls such as Ceca,
Mira Škorić, Dragana Mirković, Snežana Babić Sneki, and so on, all of whom were already established performers (though with slightly more demure attitudes), quickly embraced the new style, letting go of most inhibitions and going on to become some of turbo-folk's biggest stars.
The mix of scantily clad young women, lascivious stage movements and innocuous, accessible lyrics proved to be the winning combination that launched many performing careers and ensured high ratings for plenty of television stations across
Asked to comment,
Rambo Amadeusstated that "I feel guilty for turbo-folk exactly as much as Albert Einsteinfelt guilt over Hiroshima & Nagasaki."
Production and marketing strategies in turbo-folk emulate and worship global main-stream trends in music,
fashionand design. It is basically only the vocals using the characteristic rhythmic ululations techniques that distinguish it from Western pop music.
As mentioned, turbo folk is strongly rooted in commercial folk and neo-folk ("novokomponovana muzika") which had already been massively popular throughout entire SFR Yugoslavia in the 1970s and 1980s, making it difficult to exactly pinpoint where one ends and the other begins.
Musically they sound very much alike; both are blends of
Roma music, Middle Eastern beats, Turkish Arabesque music & Greek pop folkmusic, and Serbian brass bands on one side, as well as rock and rolland contemporary electronic dance music on the other. The major differences lay in visual and lyrical presentation. Turbo-folk is unabashed in its delivery of in-your-face sexuality with half-naked bodies, banal love stories, and suggestive lyrics, while traditional commercial folk at least tries to put up a more dignified front, though not always successfully. Since both subgenres pick from the same pool of musical talent, the most obvious differentiation goes along the lines of a given performer's age. Younger singers (under 35 years of age or so), especially women, usually play the sex card with provocative, revealing wardrobe on-stage and scandalous, jet-setting, bed-hopping lifestyles off stage. Older performers, whether by necessity or by choice, concentrate merely on vocal abilities and usually stay clear of risqué lyrics. In that sense the ages between 35 and 40 seem to be the upper limits for a turbo folk career.
It should be noted that there are those who don't consider turbofolk to be a distinct genre or even a subgenre, but merely the next stage in commercial folk's evolution. [http://www.sac.org.yu/komunikacija/casopisi/fid/XXV/d10/html_ser_lat] They point to what they see as a clear generational trend over the last 30 years or so, and their argument goes as follows: The 1970s commercial folk had the buttoned up
Lepa Lukićand Silvana Armenulićas its biggest stars - singers who made names because of exceptional, or at the very least above average vocal talents. Then in the 1980s, the places at the top were taken over by Lepa Brenaand Vesna Zmijanacwhose huge popularity was thought to have more to do with their physical than vocal attributes; to some it appeared that their love lives were more important to their popularity than the quality of their music. The fact that the 1990s and 2000s brought Ceca and Jelena Karleušato the top of the commercial heap was the next logical step according to this view. It was only natural, they argue, that considering the trend up to that point, the next step in commercial folk would be open disregard for the vocals & music and complete focus on the physical.
ocial and pop-culture aspects
Initially dismissed as benign lowbrow entertainment targeting consumers' basic instincts, turbo folk began to acquire a deeper social dimension during mid-to-late 1990s. Two events that triggered this in large part were the
Ceca- Arkanrelationship and the launch of Pink TV. The former quickly grew to represent more than just a matrimonial union between two individuals, one of whom happens to be a popular singer and the other a paramilitary commander with a checkered past. In addition to being a major media event covered live on Pink TV, in the eyes of some, their lavish February 1995 wedding was also the unofficial merger of two worlds.
Left wing criticism
According to this persuasion, turbo folk and Serbian involvement in Bosnian and Croatian conflicts would become inextricably linked from then on. [ [http://www.inthesetimes.com/issue/25/07/hockenos2507.html In These Times 25/07 - Serbia's New New Wave ] ] They point to appearance of Pink TV on Serbian airwaves in 1994 along with its considerable commercial success through promotion of this lifestyle as further proof of their theory. This left-wing section of Serbian society explicitly viewed turbo folk as vulgar, almost pornographic
kitsch, glorifying crime, moral corruption and nationalist xenophobia. In addition to making a connection between turbofolk and "war profiteering, crime & weapons cult, rule of force and violence", in her book "Smrtonosni sjaj" (Deadly Splendor) Belgrade media theorist Ivana Kronja [A short biography of Ivana Kronja in Film Criticism: http://filmcriticism.allegheny.edu/archives30_3.htm] refers to its look as "aggressive, sadistic and pornographically eroticised iconography" [http://www.nspm.org.yu/Intervjui/2005_cirjak_turbofolk.htm Komentari ] ] . Along the same lines, British culture theorist Alexei Monroecalls the phenomenon "porno-nationalism" [ [http://www.ce-review.org/00/24/monroe24.html Central Europe Review - Balkan Hardcore ] ] .
Furthermore, left-wingers considered Pink TV to be the major pusher of this deplorable material with the calculated intent of providing Serbian citizens with mindless, sugary entertainment to get their minds off the brutal war being waged just across the border in Bosnia and Croatia with the help of the authorities those very same citizens helped elect.
However, turbo-folk was equally popular amongst the South Slavic nations during the brutal wars of the 1990s, reflecting perhaps the common cultural sentiments of the warring sides. When a
Bosniakmarket seller in Sarajevowas asked why in the midst of a Serb shelling of the city he illegally sold CDs by turbo-folk superstar Ceca, a wife of the notorious Serbian warlord Arkan, he offered a laconic retort: "Art knows no borders!"
Indeed, one of Ceca's greatest hits at the time, featuring lyrics "If you were wounded, I'd give you my blood..." could be heard in the trenches of both sides.
Right wing criticism
On the other hand, turbo-folk music was not without its detractors on the right wing either. In fact, Serbian conservative nationalists often described it as an example of undesirable Turkish elements, left behind in the national psyche by Serbia's medieval occupiers. Seeing it as something that carries a strong Islamic, oriental, and "un-European" sentiment they talk of it in terms of a repulsive "Teheranization of Serbia" as one of the MPs put it in his speech before the Serbian parliament during mid-1990s. [http://www.nspm.org.yu/Intervjui/2005_cirjak_turbofolk.htm]
Still, turbo-folk had a considerable following among the urban youth, with no parallels in its Balkan commercial folk predecessor. "Dizelaši" (approx. direct translation as "Dieselites") (as they were called, due to their fondness for Diesel clothing), a new stratum of young men favouring a healthy, sporty lifestyle and macho values, widely embraced turbo folk and were for years its core audience.
General non-ideological criticism
As mentioned, turbo-folk culture was, and to a certain extent still is, actively promoted and exploited on commercial television, most notably on Pink and Palma TV-channels that featured many turbo-folk
filmed visual presentations are criticized by some for celebrating the external symbols of easy acquisition of wealth, being too eroticized, and promoting violence. However, others respond to this critique by arguing that precisely such content is representative of the global pop-cultural scene. They point out that an average music video shown on
MTVdepicts just as many if not more "women treated as objects", golden chains on muscular bodies, and generally everything that is recognized and condemned as banal, sub-intellectual and unsophisticated.
In Western pop-rock music all of this is typically defended as being motivated by its potential to provoke and challenge "safe" value systems of the civic order. The subversive potential of turbo-folk is to be found in the fact that this phenomenon represents an imitation of global trends in popular culture but is, both by its critics and by its fans from abroad (including
cyberpunkauthor Bruce Sterling), treated as in opposition to those trends.
Others, however, feel that this neglects the specific social and political context that brought about turbo-folk, which was, they say, entirely different from the context of contemporary western popular culture. In their opinion, turbo-folk served as a dominant paradigm of the "militant nationalist" regime of
Milosevic, "fully controlled by regime media managers" [ [http://www.maney.co.uk/contents/slv/16-1#a1 Ivana Kronja, "Politics, Nationalism, Music, and Popular Culture in 1990s Serbia" Linacre College, University of Oxford] ] . John Fiske feels that during that period, turbo-folk and its close counterpart Serbian pop-dance had a monopoly of officially permitted popular culture, while, according to him, in contrast, Western mass media culture of the time provided a variety of music genre, youth styles, and consequently ideological positions [John Fiske, "Television Culture", February 1988, ISBN 0415039347] .
Following the 5 October regime change in Serbia, turbo-folk entered its own transitional phase. Due to the style's ties to Milošević's establishment (whether perceived or not), many Serbian media outlets suddenly weren't as open to it as they once used to be. In some of the media this was a response to an authentic lack of public desire to see and hear something that reminded many people of the lean Milošević years, but for many others, including Pink TV, it seemed like an opportunistic attempt at ingratiation with the new authorities.
Many performers responded by incorporating even more pop elements into their sound, making the line between turbo folk and Western pop blurrier than ever. Ceca, turbofolk's most prominent star, started putting out highly produced records packed with polished dance tracks.
This period also saw the emergence of new acts like
Željko Joksimović, Romana, Goca Tržan, Leontina, and Nataša Bekvalac, performers who can't outright be classified as turbo-folk, but who definitely toy with it in certain capacity throughout many of their songs.
Still, this temporary TV scale-down and partial abandonment by some of its biggest stars never really endangered turbo-folk's survival or its essential popularity.
Turbo-Folk is also used as a bear deterrent [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7295559.stm Bear Deterrent] ] .
Kristina Mišovič( Slovenia)
Nedeljko Bajić Baja
Urška Čepin( Slovenia)
authorlink =Matthew Collin
title =This is Serbia calling
edition = 2nd edition
pages =pp. 78–84
authorlink =Eric Gordy
title =The Culture of Power in Serbia
Penn State Press
chapter = The Destruction of Musical Alternatives
* [http://www.ceca.de/ceca/newspress/turbofolk_politics.php Report about turbo-folk, ceca and politics]
* [http://www.last.fm/group/90te last.fm turbo folk group]
* [http://turbofolk.blogger.ba/ TURBOFOLK]
* [http://www.folkshowbiz.bloger.hr NAJBOLJI FOLK PORTAL!]
* [http://www.folk-estrada.bloger.hr FOLK ESTRADA - NAJBOLJE OD FOLKA]
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