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|Cultural origins||1980s, SFR Yugoslavia|
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Turbo-folk (in recent years referred to as pop-folk or popular folk) is a fusion genre of popular music blending Serbian folk music with other genres such as pop, rock, electronic or even hip-hop. It has similar styles in Greece (Skyladiko), Bulgaria (Chalga), Romania (Manele) and Albania (Tallava). Having mainstream popularity in Serbia, and although closely associated with Serbian performers, the genre is widely popular in Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Montenegro.
Background and characteristics
Turbo-folk music emerged as a subculture in the countryside in the 1970s, Yugoslavia, before migrating to the city during the eighties and reached expansion in the nineties during the regime of Slobodan Milošević, Yugoslav wars, inflation and political isolation.
The term, coined by rock musician Rambo Amadeus, refers to every folk music based song featuring elements of rock, electronic, dance, pop, hip-hop or other genres not related to true Serbian traditional music. Turkish and Greek folk music have also had great influences, with often cases of plagiarism without consequences due to political situation in Yugoslavia. Songs were primarily composed by acclaimed rock and pop musicians such as Milić Vukašinović, Goran Bregović and Kornelije Kovač with lyrics mainly written by Marina Tucaković. Most of the tracks involve themes of love, mainly adultery and sex, then materialism, alcohol and vice.
The visual image also went through changes and was heading towards MTV aesthetics. Music videos and editorials were mostly directed by former art photographer Dejan Milićević, who himself stated Baroque as his main inspiration. Turbo-folk was predominantly broadcast on RTV Palma and RTV Pink.
Performers and popularity
The record in sales is held by Lepa Brena, who has sold over 40 million records and held some of the biggest concerts on the Balkans, making her the most successful Serbian singer to date. Brena was also considered to be the symbol of former Yugoslavia, the country's unity and power, and after the breakup of the federation, of so called yugo-nostalgia.
Among various turbo-folk singers in the nineties, arguably the biggest star of the decade was Dragana Mirković, who has sold more than 10 million records. She was at the time signed to Južni Vetar, alongside other popular singers like Mile Kitić, Sinan Sakić and Šemsa Suljaković. However, Svetlana Ceca Ražnatović and Aca Lukas dominated in the late nineties and early two thousands acquiring enormous popularity despite their controversies. Ceca was married to Željko Ražnatović Arkan, war crminal and commander of the Serb Volunteer Guard, while Lukas is known for his troublesome lifestyle involving drug addictions and gambling problems. Both singers were arrested during the operation Sablja in 2003. Jelena Karleuša also rose to prominence in the mid nineties, recognised for her highly sexual image and provocative work. During this period, Croatia also had its own pop-folk stars like Severina and Magazin with its lead singer Jelena Rozga.
In the two thousands, the single-person dominated scene was replaced by diverse performers who remained popular for at least a year. New music and its performers were labeled as pop-folk [performers]. Serbian record label Grand Production gathered almost every singing person in the country, taking monopoly over the music industry with significantn media space for its TV shows, music festivals and magazines. Grand was held responsible for the success of the most of, at the time, popular acts like Seka Aleksić, Indira Radić, Saša Matić, Stoja, Dara Bubamara, Aco Pejović, Viki Miljković, Sanja Đorđević and many more. Popular reality singing competition Zvezde Granda also created many raising stars of pop-folk, such as Milica Todorović, Tanja Savić, Milan Stanković, Rada Manojlović and Milica Pavlović, whose careers were managed by Grand.
In the 2010s, pop-folk embraced even more pop influence and would often infuse electronic or hip-hop, leaning toward club music. Previously an underground hip-hop duo, Elitni Odredi gained enormous popularity after they had commercialised their sound by adding folk music. They were the pioneers of digital age in Serbian music, avoiding mainstream media and used YouTube as their main platform. Bosnian singer Maya Berović, who saw moderate success in two thousands, became really successful when she collaborated with rappers Jala Brat and Buba Corelli on her 2017 album, which was a mixture of contemporary R&B and pop-folk.
Although very popular, turbo-folk is described as pseudo-folklore, while often linking it to Serbian involvement in Bosnian and Croatian conflicts during the nineties. This left-wing section of Serbian and Croatian society explicitly viewed this music 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 refers to its look as "aggressive, sadistic and pornographically eroticised iconography". Along the same lines, British culture theorist Alexei Monroe calls the phenomenon "porno-nationalism". 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.
"As long as I am the mayor, there will be no nightclub-singers [cajki] or turbofolk parades in a single municipal hall", Anto Đapić, former mayor of Osijek and leader of the Croatian Party of Rights
The resilience of a turbo-folk culture and musical genre, often referred to as the "soundtrack to Serbia’s wars", was and to a certain extent still is, actively promoted and exploited by pro-government commercial TV stations, most notably on Pink and Palma TV-channels, which devote significant amount of their broadcasting schedule to turbo-folk shows and music videos.
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 Slobodan Milošević, "fully controlled by regime media managers". John Fiske feels that during that period, turbo-folk and its close counterpart Serbian eurodance had the monopoly over the 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.
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- Balkania Fanzine - Turbo-Folk and Balkan Music Video Culture Blog
- www.brigada.nl - CHALGA - TURBOFOLK musicvideos and mp3
- Report about turbo-folk, ceca and politics
- Muzika u vestima dana