Music of Serbia

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Music of Serbia has a variety of traditional music, which is part of the wider Balkan tradition, with its own distinctive sound and characteristics.

Music of the Middle Ages[edit]

Serb from Herzegovina sings to gusle

Church music was performed throughout medieval Serbia by choirs or individual singers. The songs performed at the time were derived from the Octoechos (Osmoglasnik), a collection of religious songs dedicated to Jesus. Composers from this era include nun Jefimija, monks Kir Stefan the Serb, Isaiah the Serb, and Nikola the Serb, who together belong to the "Serbo-Byzantine school".

Aside from church music, the medieval era in Serbia included traditional music, about which little is known, and court music. During the Nemanjić dynasty era musicians played an important role at the royal court, and were known as sviralnici, glumci and praskavnici.[citation needed] The rulers known for the musical patronage included Emperor Stefan Dušan and Despot Đurađ Branković. Medieval musical instruments included horns, trumpets, lutes, psalteries, drums and cymbals. Traditional folk instruments include the gajde, kaval, dajre, diple, tamburitza, gusle, tapan (davul), sargija, ćemane (kemenche), zurla (zurna), and frula among others.

Sung Serbian epic poetry has been an integral part of Serbian and Balkan music for centuries. In the highlands of Serbia and Montenegro these long poems are typically accompanied on a one-string fiddle called the gusle, and concern themselves with themes from history and mythology.

After the Ottoman conquest of Serbia, music was enriched with oriental influences. From Habsburg rule, Serbia was enriched by Western music.

Classical music[edit]

Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac

Composer and musicologist Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac is considered one of the most important founders of modern Serbian music.[1] Born in 1856, Mokranjac taught music, collected Serbian traditional songs and did the first scholarly research on Serbian music. He was also the director of the first Serbian music school and one of the founders of the Union of Singing Societies. His most famous works are the Song Wreaths, also known as Garlands.

During the 19th and 20th centuries numerous bands, both military and civilian, contributed to the development of music culture in Belgrade and other Serbian cities and towns. Prior to Mokranjac's era, Serbia's representatives of the Romantic period were world-renowned violinist Dragomir Krancevic (1847–1929), pianist Sidonija Ilic, Pianist and composer Jovanka Stojković and opera singer Sofija Sedmakov who achieved success performing in opera houses of Germany in the 1890s. For example, the promenade concert tradition was first established by The Serbian Prince Band founded in 1831, and its first conductor was Joseph Shlezinger, who composed music for the band based on traditional Serbian songs. This was a period when the first choiral societies, then mostly sung in German and Italian language, were being organized. Later, the first Serbian language works for choirs were written by Kornelije Stanković.

The Serbian composers Petar Konjović, Stevan Hristić and Miloje Milojević, all born in the 1880s, were the most eminent composers of their generation. They maintained the national expression and modernized the romanticism into the direction of impressionism.

The best-known composers born around 1910 studied in Europe, mostly in Prague. Ljubica Marić, Stanojlo Rajicić, Milan Ristić took influence from Schoenberg, Hindemith and Haba, rejecting the "conservative" work of prior Serbian composers, seeing it as outdated and the wish for national expression was outside their interest.[2]

Other famous classical Serbian composers include Isidor Bajić, Stanislav Binički, and Josif Marinković.

Serbian folk music[edit]

Ethno music[edit]

Excerpt of an accordion performance at the Pokrajniskom festival of Somboru in 2010.
Serbian gusle

The ethno genre encompasses both vocal and non-vocal (instrumental) music. Instruments include bagpipes, flutes, horns, trumpets, lutes, psalteries, drums and cymbals such as: Frula (woodwind), Diple (dvojanka, woodwind), Gajde (bagpipe), Zurna (woodwind), Duduk (woodwind), Tambura (lute), Tamburitza (lute), Gusle (lute), Kaval (šupeljka, lute), Davul (tapan, goč, drum), Bouzouki (šargija, lute), Tarambuke (drum).

Balkanika, Balkanopolis, Dvig, Slobodan Trkulja, Belo Platno, Teodulija, Kulin Ban are known Serbian musical groups that use traditional Balkan musical instruments and perform traditional songs and songs based on traditional music elements.

frula can be heard in this performance of a Serb folk song.

Old folk[edit]

The Serbian folk music is both rural (izvorna muzika) and urban (starogradska muzika) and includes a two-beat dance called kolo, which is a circle dance with almost no movement above the waist, accompanied by instrumental music made most often with an accordion, but also with other instruments: frula (traditional kind of a recorder), tamburica, or accordion. The Kolos usually last for about 5–13 minutes. Modern accordionists include Mirko Kodić and Ljubiša Pavković. Some kolos are similar to the Hungarian csárdás in that they are slow at the onset and gradually increase their speed until reaching a climax towards the end.

Famous performers of Serbian folk music are Predrag Gojković Cune, Predrag Živković Tozovac, Lepa Lukić, Vasilija Radojčić, Šaban Bajramović, Staniša Stošić, Toma Zdravković and others. Yugoslav singer, actress and writer, Olivera Katarina, has performed music of various genres, varying from Serbian traditional to pop music, and in numerous languages. She held 72 consecutive concerts in Paris Olympia.


A local genre titled novokomponovana (newly composed) is a result of the urbanisation of folk music.[3][better source needed] In early times, it had a professional approach to performance, used accordion and clarinet and typically included love songs or other simple lyrics (though there had been royalist and anti-Communist lyrical themes persisting underground).

Lepa Brena, arguably the biggest Yugoslavian singer
Šaban Šaulić, dubbed the 'King of Folk Music'

Many of the genre's best-known performers have included Silvana Armenulić, Toma Zdravković and Lepa Lukić. In 70s and 80s many novokomponovana singers emerged: Jašar Ahmedovski, Kemal Malovčić, Mitar Mirić, Nada Topčagić, Šeki Turković, Ipče Ahmedovski, Ljuba Aličić, Šaban Šaulić, Zorica Brunclik, Marinko Rokvić and others. Serbian folk scene was not homogeneous nor uniform. On one hand, following Western models, Vesna Zmijanac was creating a star-image, being sex-symbol, fashionista and gay icon as well. On the other hand, singers like Vera Matović, for example, have created folk subgenre, sort of rural folk, singing about works in field, domestic animals and themes from Serbian village. Louis was combining Serbian folk music with jazz. Novokomponovana music is embodied in the career of Miroslav Ilić, called Slavuj iz Mrčajevaca (Nightingale from Mrčajevci). With 25 albums, he is one of the best-selling performs in the history of Serbian recorder. The absolute record in sales is still held by Lepa Brena (Luda za tobom; Ti si moj greh; Robinja; Jugoslovenka; Uđi slobodno; Miki, Mićo; Hajde da se volimo; Golube; Udri Mujo; Hej, Šeki, Šeki; Čik pogodi...), not just another singer emerged in the '80s. At that later stage of novokomponovana, this popular performer used more influences from pop music, oriental music, and other genres, which led to the emergence of turbo folk. She has sold around 40 million of records and held concerts all over Balkan, which makes her the most successful Serbian singer ever. Next to that, due to her enormous popularity, Brena is considered the symbol of former Yugoslavia, of Yugoslavian unity and power, and after the break of federation, of so-called yugo-nostalgia. Dragana Mirković ruled the 90s and remains one of the biggest folk performers in the country. She has sold about 10 million records with her numerous hits (Sama, Plači zemljo, Pitaju me u mom kraju, Poslednje veče, Ne vraćam se starim ljubavima, Nisam ni metar od tebe). Recording company Južni Vetar (Southern Wind) reached the peak of popularity in (late) 80s with their famous quinto, consisting of Dragana Mirković, Sinan Sakić, Mile Kitić, Kemal Malovčić and Šemsa Suljaković. After they fell apart due to personal disputes and disagreements, and after Mirković'd left the group, Južni vetar had made strong promotion for the debut of Indira Radić – new singer who was supposed to fill the place of the absent Yugoslavia It girl. Indira couldn't pull through, and the company sank into oblivion. Radić however made big success 15 years after.


Turbo-folk (a term coined by rock musician Rambo Amadeus) music emerged as a subculture during the Yugoslav wars and the breakup of Yugoslavia. Turbo-folk used Serbian folk music and "novokomponovana" as the basis, and added influences from rock, pop and electronic dance music. Most of the songs involve themes of sex, materialism, alcohol and vice. The last decade of 20th century witnessed birth and decay of various turbo-folk singers in Serbia, but most of them were at the peak of popularity during the 2000s. In the long list of those, notable mentions are Mile Kitić, Stojanka Novaković Stoja, Đani, Jana, Sanja Đorđević, Goga Sekulić and Đorđe Đogani with his dance-oriented band Đogani Fantastico, also big names such as Jelena Karleuša and Aca Lukas all had a turbo-folk phase in their careers. During the 2010s turbo-folk reemerged with performers like MC Stojan who brought hip-hop sound to the genre and would often collaborate with established stars from the previous decades.

Balkan brass[edit]

Goran Bregović performing live with his orchestra

Brass bands, known as "trubači" (трубачи, the trumpeters) are extremely popular, especially in Central and Southern Serbia where Balkan Brass Band originated. The music has its tradition from the First Serbian Uprising. The trumpet was used as a military instrument to wake and gather soldiers and announce battles, the trumpet took on the role of entertainment during downtime, as soldiers used it to transpose popular folk songs. When the war ended and the soldiers returned to the rural life, the music entered civilian life and eventually became a music style, accompanying births, baptisms, weddings, slavas, farewell parties for those joining military service, state and church festivals, harvesting, reaping, and funerals. In 1831 the first official military band was formed by Prince Miloš Obrenović. Roma people have adopted the tradition and enhanced the music, and today most of the best performers are Roma.

The best known Serbian Brass musicians are Fejat Sejdić, and Boban Marković and are also the biggest names in the world of modern brass band bandleaders. Guča trumpet festival is one of the most popular and biggest music festivals in Serbia[4] is a 5-day annual festival with 300 000 visitors.

Popular music[edit]


In the 2000s turbo-folk featured even more pop music elements, abandoning traditional influences of ethno or oriental motives of folk. With new changes, there comes the evolution of new genres, such as electronic. One person dominated scene is replaced with diverse performers who, at least for a year, succeed in holding the title of the star. New music and its performers were labeled as pop-folk (performers). First in line was Indira Radić who in 2002. has recorded a duet with Alen Islamović, once member of famous Yugoslav rock band Bijelo dugme, titled Lopov. A strange duo turbo-folk and rock star welcomed the birth of another kind of music, with less accordion and buzuki and more of guitar, drums and bass. Successful career step was followed with her best selling album Zmaj in 2004. and new songs, leaving turbo-folk epoch behind.

Ceca, arguably the most popular Serbian singer

Stars of the former Yugoslavia, Lepa Brena and Dragana Mirković continued to be successful as pop-folk performers, rather than turbofolk. Other performers started to follow, while some of the best-established names of pop-folk are Saša Matić, Seka Aleksić, Đani, Dara Bubamara and Aco Pejović. Aca Lukas has slowly but successfully created his path to the image of the biggest Serbian male music star. Staerted as a rock musician, he gained greater popularity when he embraced the Turkish melos. Despite drugs addiction, gambling problems and many criminal involvements he has made more than ten concerts in Belgrade, all of them visited by 15 to 25 thousands of people. His most popular songs are "Lična karta"; "Daleko si" and "Voliš li me". Svetlana Ceca Ražnatović, titled as the Serbian mother, debuted in 1988 to now be considered as the most popular Serbian singer. Her wedding with Arkan was broadcast on national television becaming the instant power couple and pattern for many singers who like Ceca started dating men connected with crime. And like her husband Ceca has criminal records, too, and was in jail twice. Nevertheless, she has released numerous top-seling albums, held the biggest concerts with many hit songs like: "Kukavica"; "Beograd"; "Ja još spavam"; "Nevaljala"; "Poziv"; etc.

The record-label company was something these musicians had in common, Grand Production (previously known as "Zabava miliona" or "ZAM") used to be the dominant production company which gathered almost every singing person in the country, after Južni Vetar had fallen apart. In 1998. the owners of Zam, Saša Popović and Lepa Brena have announced the rebranding of the company followed with the change of name, logo, exclusion of some singers and change of politics. Soon enough Grand took a monopoly on the Serbian music market, acquiring more media space with shows they used to broadcast on TV Pink, now days Prva TV ("Grand Show" and "Grand Parada"), Grand revija - official magazine of the company, Zvezde Granda - music competition similar to Idol and through Grand Music Festival. Many popular singers of younger generation came to prominence through Zvezde Granda, however Milica Pavlović is currently considered to be the biggest star among them with two best-selling albums Govor tela (2014) and Boginja (2016). Also with her hit 2014 song Moje zlato featuring MC Yankoo, Milica Todorović was the first Serbian performer to reach 100 million views on YouTube.


Marija Šerifović, the winner of Eurosong in 2007.

Pioneers of pop music in Serbia are considered to have performed before and during the Second World War. The most prominent are Vojin Popović and Darko Kraljić. At the end of the 1950s Lola Novaković, Dušan Jakšić, and Đorđe Marjanović appeared on the music scene. The 1960s brought a new group of popular singers such as Miki Jevremović, Ljiljana Petrović, Radmila Karaklajić, Leo Martin, Sedmorica mladih and others. In 70s and 80s pop music began to lose its popularity due to the growing interest in rock music. Despite that musicians who managed to make significant careers include: Zdravko Čolić, Maja Odžaklievska, Aska, Bebi Dol, Zana and others. In the 1990s Serbian pop musicians combined pop music with popular genre in Europe of that time Eurodance. Popular musicians of this period are Tap 011, Dee Monk, Moby Dick.

In the 2000s and 2010s pop music increased its popularity by often mixing with folk sound. As an example, Jelena Karleuša started as folk singer, but quickly switched to more pop sound while gaining much attention. Soon she became a household name because of her extravagant fashion, energetic performances, bold statements and various scandals. She has also received worldwide recognition after American media started comparing her looks and style to Kim Kardashian, stating that her style has influenced Kim's.[5] On the other hand, arguably the most popular Serbian male pop singer is Željko Joksimović. Not only that he took second place at the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest and third at the 2012 he has also released seven successful albums to this day alongside numerous hits to his name. Currently, the only Serbian Eurovision winner is Marija Šerifović, as she won it in 2007 with the song Molitva. Other notable performers from these decades are Vlado Georgiev, Aleksandra Radović, Aleksandra Kovač, Jelena Tomašević, Goca Tržan, Emina Jahović, Ana Nikolić, Nataša Bekvalac, Saša Kovačević etc. More recent up-raising pop stars include teen favourites Nikolija, Milan Stanković and Sara Jo.


Bajaga i Instruktori, one of the biggest Serbian rock bands

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, of which Serbia was a part, was not an Eastern Bloc country, but a member of the Non-Aligned Movement and as such, was far more open to western influences compared to the other socialist states. The western-influenced pop and rock music was socially accepted, the Yugoslav rock scene was well developed and covered in the media, which included numerous magazines, radio and TV shows. Paralleling the breakup of Yugoslavia due to civil war, its rock scene also ceased to exist. During the 1990s the popularity of rock music declined in Serbia, and although several major mainstream acts managed to sustain their popularity, an underground and independent music scene developed. The 2000s saw the revival of the mainstream scene.

The most notable Serbian rock acts include Bajaga i Instruktori, Đorđe Balašević, Disciplina Kičme, Ekatarina Velika, Električni Orgazam, Galija, Idoli, Kerber, Korni Grupa, Laboratorija Zvuka, Partibrejkers, Pekinška Patka, Piloti, Pop Mašina, Rambo Amadeus, Riblja Čorba, Smak, Šarlo Akrobata, YU Grupa, Van Gogh, and others.


Jazz in Serbia appears in the 1920s when Markus Blam formed first jazz orchestra Studentski Micky Jazz. Jazz music was played mostly in salons and clubs, but it is also known that jazz orchestras toured in spas over the Serbia. This style of music has been present on the radio as well as in specialized magazines. Radio Belgrade started to work in 1929, every night after 22:30 h Radio Jazz Orchestra played popular songs. First jazz society in Serbia was set up in 1953, but to the development of jazz the most contributed hosting famous musicians, among whom was Louis Armstrong in 1959 and 1960. The first Serbian musicians to rise to international fame were Mladen Guteša who worked for famous musicians such as Lee Konitz, Benny Goodman and others and Duško Gojković. These two entered The 1956 Encyclopedia Yearbook of Jazz of Leonard Feather. Other prominent names of Serbian jazz include Bora Roković who composed jazz suite The Human Piano, Mihailo Živanović, Branislav Kovačev, Branko Pejaković, Milan Lulić, Boris Jojić, Jovan Miković and others.[6] Among the most popular singers of jazz and blues in Serbia was Šaban Bajramović known as King of Romani music. The magazine Time included him on the list of top 10 blues singers in the world.[7] In 2015 artist Marko Louis recorded album, Shine on me” on English for global market. Vladan Mijatovic (Jazz pianist) is the young ambassador of the Serbian Jazz music in America.


Serbian hip hop emerged in the early 1980s, with the birth of b-boy crews. The first Serbian Hip Hop record release was the Degout EP by The Master Scratch Band, which was released by Jugoton in 1984. But the Hip Hop Scene in Serbia was not open and popularized until the Demo of the Badvajzer (Budweiser) crew who became extremely popular in 1987.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, bands such as Green Kool Posse, Who Is The Best and Robin Hood came into being all together starting the first Hip Hop scene in Serbia and former Yugoslavia.

The music spread slowly until 1995, until Da li imaš pravo? by Gru was released, marking the beginning of the first wave of Serbian hip hop, which reached its peak in 1997-98, when many new groups started to break out from the underground: Ding Dong, Voodoo Popeye, Straight Jackin, Sunshine, Bad Copy, Belgrade Ghetto, CYA, 187.

In 2002 the Bassivity label was formed, which made Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian hip hop widely available in record stores. Their first release, V.I.P. - Ekipa Stigla, was one of the two albums which marked the beginning of the second wave of Serbian hip hop. The other was BSSST...Tišinčina by the Belgrade group Beogradski sindikat. In 2003 Marčelo's debut album De Facto, also released on the Bassivity label, came out to both public and critical acclaim, and he was branded as the voice of a new generation. Trappers like Surreal and Fox also came to prominence in 2010s. Two of the most popular female performers of this period are Mimi Mercedez, who kept her street-style vibe influenced by 90s subculture, and Sajsi MC with her alternative style and political mixed with sexual themes.

At the beginning of the century came a new generation of more commercial performers influenced by world pop-rap, EDM and trap scene. Some of the best genre-defining artists are Elitni Odredi, Cvija, Rasta and Coby. By switching to more pop sound, working as producers, expending their brands and collaborating with popular Serbian singers these performers achieved mainstream attention. Although being criticised for the shallowness of their music, sending a bad message to younger generations and using auto tune no one can disprove the popularity of this style.


Exit is an award-winning summer music festival which is held at the Petrovaradin Fortress in the city of Novi Sad, officially proclaimed as the "Best Major European Festival" at the EU Festival Awards. Other festivals include Belgrade Beer Fest in Belgrade, Gitarijada in Zaječar, Nišville in Niš and Guča Trumpet Festival in Guča.

In the town of Guča, near the city of Čačak is an annually held brass band festival called Guča trumpet festival in the Dragačevo region of western Serbia with 600,000 visitors per year. Other popular festivals include Rock festivals Belgrade Beer Fest and Gitarijada, and Jazz festival Nišville.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Stevan Mokranjac, composer". Serbian Music. Serbian Unity Congress. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2013-09-22. Even though many say that the stimulus Mokranjac gave to Serbian music was more important than his compositions, many musicians who sing or listen to his works state that the true Mokranjac is exemplified in the Song Wreaths. ... From the moment they were composed, Mokranjac's Song Wreaths played an important role in singing societies.
  2. ^ Serbian and Greek Art Music: A Patch to Western Music History, p. 81, at Google Books
  3. ^ Warrander, Gail (2011). Kosovo. Bradt Guides. p. 41. ISBN 9781841623313.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-02. Retrieved 2011-06-21.
  5. ^ "Kim Kardashian Copying Jelena Karleusa's Style? Stealing Or Not, Kim's Paris Looks Were Very Similar To This Serbian Pop Star's!". hollywoodtake. Hollywood Take. 13 March 2015. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
  6. ^ Počeci džeza u Jugoslaviji
  7. ^ "Nišvil": Džindžer Bejkeru uručena nagrada "Šaban Bajramović"
  • Burton, Kim. "Balkan Beats". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 273–276. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

Further reading[edit]

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